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The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.
Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

Dry skin wet eyes

Dealing with bottled up emotions, the renaissance of extreme femininity, and a tsunami, on a duty-free shopping binge aloft.


Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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What happens when 5,000 litres of spa water gets loose

I SCANNED THE shopping pages, and there among the gloss and glitter I spotted a small mischievous bottle of pale luminescent sea green. This was the BIOTHERM Aquasource with not just one but “36 vital nutrients” to stave off the sort of arid Mojave Desert dryness that threatens to turn even a well greased businessman’s skin into shrivelled parchment 30,000ft aloft. I read on. “Aquasource contains the equivalent of 5,000 litres of spa water in a jar.” How on earth did they manage this? Imagine carting around the Pacific Ocean in your handbag. Small wonder airport security bans liquids and gels aloft. “Take this plane to Kabul or I swear I’ll... I’ll open this jar and moisturise my face."

Fear stalks duty-free shoppers aloft. I could see the banner headline: “IDIOT EDITOR DROWNS IN 5,000 LITRES OF SPA WATER.” Of course I could desist from opening the jar and make 50ml last a lifetime. How’s that for thrift? But then as anyone with a large wrench standing in front of a gleaming red fire hydrant knows, sometimes, as Nike insists, you have to just do it.

No longer is duty-free shopping an insouciant diversion for the light of heart and heavy of wallet. It threatens the very survival of the human race. I must fess up I did not stumble upon this through diligent editorial enquiry. It was purely by accident.

Recently I had the good fortune to be airborne, upgraded to the relative comfort of business class, a fact attested by the free airline pen clutched triumphantly in my hand and a wad of feedback forms bigger than an average tax return in my lap. Thus dulled into a weaker moment, and mimicking the artfully superior style of my fellow passengers, I picked up the inflight shop magazine.

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That’s when the lotions caught my eye. As a kid at the tender age of six I was told by a doctor that I was suffering from desquamative dermatitis, a Latin term suggesting some frightening malady (with a generous bill to match) but in plain English, simply dry skin. By the time I was old enough to look up this term and calm my mother, who had proceeded to cart me to every quack in town with cures ranging from ultraviolet radiation to even grander Latin phrases, a small fortune had been spent.

No longer is duty-free shopping an insouciant diversion for the light of heart and heavy of wallet. Jars of spa lotion now threaten the very survival of the human race

Doctors have a way with words. I missed an appointment with a lady in London once who later explained to me that she had been diagnosed with a strange tropical malady. It seemed a terrible affliction and my mind raced through possible culprits – typhoid, cholera, schistosomiasis... At length I summoned the courage to ask. “It was terrible,” she whispered, over her cup of tea, “it’s something called prickly heat.”

I ploughed through the duty-free shopping magazine. Biotherm is all very well, but what about this? Kiehl’s ultra facial cream contains “Antarcticine, a glyco protein extracted from sea microorganisms.” This is as alarming as it is incomprehensible. Pity the poor microorganisms. How many were ravished to fill one 125ml jar? How many will perish to save one square centimetre of some frequent flyer’s skin? I regarded the sea with a more profound respect. Kiehl’s also contains an extract of cylindrica which, despite the scientific italics, sounds suspiciously like leftover oil from an engine cylinder. Cylindrica is actually an Australian plant that has survived in one of the world’s most inhospitable and bewildering environments - that includes Aussie Rules Footy - and evolved to deal with extreme water deprivation. Brilliant. So after millions of years of evolution, just as all was going well, someone noticed they had dry skin and, whoops, goodbye cylindrica.

Do you ever wonder who dreams up all those creative lines that fill duty-free magazines and inscrutable French menus leaving everything in tantalising soft focus, quite beyond the reach of average well educated, intelligent adults? Rule number one of copywriting is to make the simple complex. If people do not understand something, they will desire it immensely. This is why men like women. The same is true for shopping.

Consider this phrase. “A complete palette of honey and vanilla.” Why didn’t I think of this after my first kiss? But it’s not kissing we’re talking about, unless your gal is a 30-year-old Scotswoman called Ballantine’s.

Perhaps you have a “strong personality” but remain “surprisingly fresh” (Coco by Chanel). And may I introduce you to another friend? J’adore is “radiant, sensual, sophisticated [and] celebrates the renaissance of extreme femininity and the power of spontaneous emotion with a brilliant bouquet of orchids, the velvet touch of Damascus plum, and the mellowness of amaranth wood.” Hold on, I need to see my shrink and buy a LARGE dictionary.

It’s all academic though. All this is for the bon vivant dextrous but not, sadly, for the journalisticus impecunious. I have my surfboard. Now all I need is that 5,000 litre spa-water tsunami.

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