Monday, April 30, 2012

the center space is free

I know very little about Bingo.  We played it as children at my grandmother’s house.  But that was long ago.

To me, it has always been one of those diversions for VFW halls, Catholic churches, and retirement homes.  The ideal demographic for Bingo players would appear to be Catholic veterans of a certain age.

And this cruise has plenty of the white-haired group.  Bingo would seem to be a natural match.

I watched portions of two games -- one of them the big final session with a grand prize in excess of $3000.  But there were not very many players.  At least, fewer than I thought there would be. 

Almost all of the players looked as if they would qualify for Social Security.  But why were so few of them playing?  After all, it was gambling and there was good money to be won.

A quick check at the cashier gave me my answer.  Depending on the cards played, it costs either $22 or $32 (that is US dollars, not pesos) to play a series of four games.

Most of my fellow cruisers are a frugal lot.  They will pour into a shopping mall squeezed thigh to thigh merely to grab a bit of free internet.

This would be a far more interesting tale if I had been seduced by the possibility of winning the evasive $3000 jackpot.  But I wasn’t.  Instead, my investigative reporting dug up an old Steve memory.

In 1988 I ran for a seat in the Oregon legislature.  As part of my “get out and meet people in the community,” my campaign manager and I headed off to the community hall in Boring where some townies were gathered to play -- you guessed it -- Bingo.

It was not a very good idea.  Bingo players are there to play, not to chat. So, my campaign manager and I sat down and played -- pretending we were local citizens who had stopped by to spend an evening at the Bingo tables.

My campaign manager pretended far too well.  She won two games in a row -- earning the undying animosity of the other players.  I suspect the evening was a net loss in the vote-garnering game.  I have not played since.

Of course, I will have plenty of chances to play Bingo on the road to Dubai.  My grandmother would approve.  Just as long as cards and dice are not involved.

day 17 – barcelona, spain

This marks the end of the first leg of this cruise.  Most of the people I have met will be heading off to their various countries today.

Me?  I am not certain.  Well, I am certain I am not flying today.  But I do not know what I will do in Barcelona.

Barcelona is one of my favorite cities.  I have even considered placing it on the “possible places to spend some retirement” list.

Walking into town is not an option.  It is too far. And getting a taxi will be problematic with the number of people disembarking.

I may be forced to bite the proverbial bullet and take another bus excursion.  Or I could see the Picasso Museum.

Whatever I do, I will need to get my luggage to my new cabin.  And, at 10 PM we will be on our way to Egypt, Jordan, and Dubai.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

rockin’ in the diner

I have never eaten at a Johnny Rockets on shore.  But I love Johnny Rockets At Sea.

It may be the nostalgia (and campy-ness) of eating in a mock diner on the stern of a giant cruise ship.  Maybe it is nothing more than the comfort of eating food that will guarantee my next cardiac arrest.

Or it may be nothing more than the place is a stranger to pretension.  Patrons are greeted by a big “hello” (from staff and other diners) when they walk through the door.  And the waiters periodically break into line dancing to the booming voice of Gloria Gaynor.

The food?  Exactly what you would expect.  Burgers.  Hot dogs.  Fries.  Onion rings.  Milk shakes.  All tasting just like the food of your favorite little hamburger joint on McLoughlin Boulevard. Back when The Day was Doris.

Johnny Rockets is not a regular eating spot for me.  I doubt my arteries would take it.  But I stopped by twice on the New Orleans-Dubai leg of my journey.

On visit number two I tested the diner’s flexibility.  There is a chili dog on the menu, but no chili burger.  So, I tried improvising.  What arrived was a hamburger with barbeque sauce.  Not what I anticipated.  But it was a great lunch.
The cook seemed to be as confused as the older guy in the next booth who ordered a Double Whopper.

Eating here reminds me that going out to eat is only partly about food.  We Americans have reduced our relationship to food to the same relationship we have with gas pumps.  We treat it as mere fuel.

It is not.  Eating is one of the great pleasures of life.  It should be savored.  And fun.

And this diner on the ship is all that -- and more.

day 16 – valencia, spain

I visited Valencia in the mid-70s.  And I remember nothing about it.

I am considering a bicycle tour of the city.  There are advantages to touring on a two-wheeler.  The most obvious is experiencing the city outside of a bus.  And that is good enough for me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

squares in the atlantic

By Mexican standards, Ponta Delgada is a young city. 

The Maya and Aztecs were living in large urban centers when, in 1450, the Portuguese founded their tiny village of Punta Delgada on São Miguel, the largest of the islands that make up The Azores.

The Azores are unique in imperial history.  They are Portugal’s only territorial acquisition where other inhabitants were not subjugated.  Because they were no people living on the islands when Diogo de Silves bumped into them in 1427.  They were just too far away from any of the continents.
I have been to São Miguel several times.  On one of my first visits, I was cruising with my friends Roy and Nancy, Roy’s sister, and Nancy’s mother.  The five of us managed to eat a 2 kilo round of goat cheese while sitting on my balcony.

On prior visits I toured most of the island.  This time I decided to walk around Ponta Delgada. 

It is not a big city.  Only 21,000 people.  A little larger than two Melaques.  But Ponta Delgada is worlds away from my little fishing village by the sea.

The Azores were, at one time, little more than fishing islands.  Some of the finest Sperm whales were taken near its waters.  And those carcasses made the islands relatively wealthy.

The islands are  now primarily agricultural -- particularly pineapple for European tables.

As I said earlier, the city is not Melaque.  Start with the sidewalks.  They are little works of mosaic art.  Black volcanic stones mixed with white stones to create interesting designs.  Beautiful and functional.

Like other European cities of its age, Ponta Delgada’s streets are very narrow.  But it is also filled with squares of all sizes. 

Whenever I encounter sycamores pruned like this, I always know which continent I am visiting.

This is one of the smaller parks.  I apologize for the cliché post card photograph.  But the blue building framed by the park was too compelling to pass up.

This park, on the other hand, seemed a bit more unique -- with its green grass and blue water reflecting the sky.  Take a look at the buildings surrounding the square.  Some new.  Some old.  (This is the same park where I shot the children photograph I published earlier.)

And if I had any doubt about the heritage of the inhabitants of Ponta Delgada, I offer this vignette. Urban European writ large.

I do not know much about the local politics of The Azores, but there appears to be a group active in seeking its liberation from Portugal.  I suspect much in the same way that several regions of Mexico would prefer to be freed of Mexico City’s grip.  Almost every wall in the blue building square was covered with similar graffiti.

So, there you are. My impressions of The Azores.

And, Roy.  Sorry.  But no cheese this trip. 

day 15 – cartagena, spain

Cartagena is new to me.  I don’t have an excursion planned.  But it is an ancient city -- one of the prizes of the Punic Wars.

I am certain I will find something to do.  And to tell you about.

Friday, April 27, 2012


This is a prose blog.  But, now and then, a photograph comes along that would be lessened with an essay.

I have only one comment.  One thing that Europeans earn points for.  They are self-confident enough to wear clothes like this in public.

More power to them.

day 14 – malaga, spain

The last time I was here was in the mid-70s – when I met my good friends Bob and Hilary Wells.  When they were still The Wellses.

I suspect Malaga has changed, as well.  It was a rather drab town back then.  Readying itself from the onslaught of holidaying Brits who would turn it into a warmer copy of Old Blighty.

But it is also the port that allows the best entry to Moorish Spain.  To Granada, the capital of the Moorish kingdom, and home of The Alhambra. 

I still have not decided whether I would like to make a second visit.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

it’s a mystery

One of my favorite diversions on cruise ships is murder mystery night.  Probably because it combines two of my favorite things -- live entertainment and good food.

The concept of murder mystery dinners is very simple.  A group if actors puts on an Agatha Christie-like playlet.  Between acts, the guests are served dinner.  When I lived in Oregon, I served on both sides of the proscenium arch.

On the Voyager, the dinner was served in Portofino -- the Italian specialty restaurant that serves $100 meals for a $20 cover charge.  It may be the only excellent food on the entire ship.  Other than the appetizers I make in my room from Boar’s Head pepperoni and Tillamook extra sharp cheddar cheese.  

We had a four-course dinner. Starting with a rather ordinary caesar salad.   Followed by an antipasti plate with soppressata, bresaola, proscuitto, fresh mozzarella, marinated artichokes, Italian green and black olives, grilled zucchini, and arugula.  Then by an extremely tender beef filet with raddicchio, broccolini, and baby carrots.  Topped off with an original tiramisu.
The play was exactly what it should be for a venue like this.  Cheesy with one-dimensional characters.  And flexible enough that any of the suspects could be the killer.

A selection of the singers and dancers on board fill out the cast in a manner that only young people can.  The sight lines in the room are difficult and the restaurant does not have an adequate sound system to amplify their voices.

But they acted their parts valiantly, humorously, and with all their campy hearts.

The combination was enough to tempt me to book for a second performance on the Barcelona to Dubai leg.

day 13 – at sea

This is the last sea day for The Crossing.  We are now looking forward to four port days to explore the wonders that once were glorious Spain. 

Ancient Spain.  Moorish Spain, Imperial Spain..  And now one of the sick men of Europe.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

shanghai on red

For the past week our ship has been crippled.  At least its revenue has.

Just before we set sail, the cruise company announced some areas of the ship would be closed for refurbishing the ship for the Asian market.  One closure in particular caused a real brouhaha on the message board -- the casino.  It was scheduled to be closed for at least the first eight days of the cruise.

I cruise for live entertainment.  And, other than the stories I harvest in the casino, it has no interest for me.

But there appears to be a large contingent of cruisers who think going to sea is a chance to lose the grandchildren’s inheritance with one last slot pull.

For the ship, it has mean the loss of foregone betting.  Assuming, gamblers operate on an economic model.

But that changed last Saturday night.  The casino threw open its doors to -- well, a less than overwhelming crowd.  I walked through a half hour after it opened.

Waiters were there with trays of cheap sparkling wine.  Officers stood at the ready to greet the prodigal crowd.  But there was no crowd.

Gambling is not my vice. But the place looked good.  In a gaudy trailer trash way.  Just like most casinos.

The big change was the removal of banks of slot machines.  In their place are at least 15 new tables.  Along with blackjack, baccarat,    roulette,  poker, and (a new one for me) sicbo, The casino is now primarily a table game house.  But there is still a good representation of video poker and slots.

The most notable addition is a mid-roller room with three baccarat tables.  Where those so inclined to bet $10,000 can feel at home.

For gamblers who find that amount to be chump change, the former cigar room is in the process of being converted to a stratospheric roller room.  If I remember correctly, the limit is $50,000.  Give or take ten grand.

If you missed my subtle reference earlier, this ship is soon to ply Asian waters where gambling is serious business.  Especially by wealthy Chinese from the People’s Republic.

And that is irony on stilts.  Royal Caribbean once based its cruise experience on egalitarian principles.  The cabins may have varied in size, but the rest of the ship was open to everyone with little regard for wallet size.

That attitude started changing with Americans who cruised often wanting to be treated better than The Others.  Special check-in lines.  Restricted seating areas and parties.  All of the attributes of gas station royalty.

And now the Red Chinese are showing what a true class system should look like.  If you thought Titanic was a Marxist screenplay, just wait until you see the real thing played out on a baccarat cruise table.

It may be worth another trip to China to get a better view.  You can bet on that.

day 12 – at sea

Well, we are off once again.  But this time there are only two sea days until we see land again.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

day 11 – ponta delgada, Azores

After a full week of sea days, it will be good to get off the ship and stretch my legs.  Not that I have anything against sea days.  There is no better way to relax than knowing there is little chance of catching a taxi into town.

I have visited The Azores a few times and seen its bucolic pleasures.  A nice place to visit, but it has never been on my “places to retire” list.

Instead, I will wander through Ponta Delgada.  Find an internet café.  And eat lunch anywhere than on board the ship.

My niño Spanish has never served me well in this little Portuguese port town.  But, being a shipping center, English is traded freely.

I will write a bit more later in the week.  For now, I will forgo my usual pathos in favor of a bit of bathos -- at the top of this post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

time out

Jet lag is well-named.  And we all know why.

You can fly across a continent in hours.  And leave your circadian clock behind.  Especially flying east to west.  For some people, it takes days to catch up.

Trans-Atlantic cruises are not fast.  But passengers face a similar problem.  The time in The Azores is nine hours different than the time in New Orleans.

Rather than save up the time change until we dock in Ponta Delgada, the ship takes advantage of an interesting coincidence.  The ship traverses approximately one time zone each day.

So, each day at noon, we lose an hour.  The clock jumps from 11:59 AM to 1:00 PM.  It is almost like switching to daylight saving time nine days in a row.

And the results are about that mixed.  People who get groggy with the spring jump forward get really groggy with nine doses.  (I can hear a certain blogger with children sighing right now.)

And then there are the people who stay up until the wee hours with multiple drinks in their hands who blame the time changes on their lack  of focus.

I fall in the grateful camp.  The noon change seems to be a clever way of dealing with an old problem.  I will admit that the time changes have left me a little tired. 

It certainly has thrown off my appetite clock.  And not to my benefit.  Pizza at 2 in the morning seems to be as predictable as speedos on Europeans in their 70s.   

And I had best make the time changes my friend.  I will have plenty more before we get to Dubai.

cruise -- day 10

This is our last sea day before we dock at The Azores.

Of course, there will be plenty more sea (and a few more port) days before we get to Dubai. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

touching through the dark

When I started cruising in the 70s, communications with folks back home was extremely limited.

Post cards were mailed from exotic ports -- and usually arrived a month or two after I returned home.  And that was about it.

There was, of course, the ship telephone.  But no one used it without fear of taking out a second mortgage on the house.  It was reserved for the details of funerals for very close relatives.

About a decade ago, cruise lines took advantage of satellite technology by installing internet cafés on board.  Grandmothers could keep in touch with grandkids who never bothered responding.

That was soon followed by wireless connections on board.  Passengers could search out the various hot spots (inevitably located in areas where various goods and services were sold) and check on the status of that financial portfolio.

Personally, I find it a great luxury.  Even before I started writing this blog, I liked the idea of being able to stay in touch with everyone -- as if I were on land.

Well, not exactly like being on land.  Internet speed (and its concurrent cost) are quite different than connections at home.

In Oregon, I paid about $80 a month for blazing fast internet.  In Mexico, I pay about $50 a month for a rather plodding internet speed.

At sea, I pay $.65 a minute for a connection that would lose to a liveried footman delivering notes on embossed stationery.  Or, at least, it seems that way.

I have been preparing my photographs and drafting my blogs offline to conserve online time.  Even with those precautions, it usually takes me close to a half hour to post a short blog with two photographs. 

So, I purchased one of the discount packages.  For $150 I get 500 minutes of internet time.  That is about $.30 a minute.

On my last trans-Atlantic cruise, I had minutes left over.from a similar package.  Not so this trip.  In four days I have burned through half of those minutes.

Before the trip is over, I may end up spending more for computer time than the cost of my Dubai to Los Angeles air ticket.

And that may not be a bad comparison.  The benefit I get from keeping in contact with friends and relatives is money well spent.  Certainly far more enjoyable than spending 16 hours in a cramped airline seat.

cruise -- day 9

A couple of days ago (when I was not quite in a writing mood), I took a tour of the ship’s bridge.

To a pilot, the instrumentation seems rather simple for a vessel of this size.  Of course, they are spread over what could be the lobby of a modest hotel.

(A little detour here.  Nautical terminology sounds vaguely familiar to those who fly airplanes.  Like a dialect of pilot-speak.  For instance, both ships and planes have cockpits.  That is not an accident.  When aviation began, it borrowed heavily from ship jargon.)

Cruise ship captains, who spend a good deal of time pressing the flesh and having their photograph taken with that nice couple from Akron, are frequently (and repeatedly) asked: “ Who’s driving the ship?”  The answer is: “The same person who steers the ship for almost the entire cruise.  The computer.”

The array of computer and radar screens is impressive.  Not to mention several panels showing the status of water-tight and semi (yikes!) water-tight doors. 

As a terrible parallel parker, I have always been impressed with how easily the officers take the ship in and out of dock.  The days of tugs are gone with the advent of bow thrusters and azipods.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

tuna touchdown

There should be happiness in at least one cabin today.

The tuna wraps are the green creations at the bottom of the photograph.  The chef has encased the tuna in spinach wraps. 

I suspect there may be a sequel to this great fish story.  Having just watched The Help, The Tuna Lady may be getting off easy.

cruise -- day 8

Today marks the half-way point (at least, in days) between New Orleans and Barcelona.

Still at sea.  Still plenty of water.

I am considering posts on entertainment, food,and the internet.  All topics dear to my heart and/or girth.  Interested?

Anything else that will ping your interest?

Friday, April 20, 2012

fat at sea

It appears that political correctness has even gone to sea.

What doctors call “morbidly obese” has been prettied up as “large person.”  John Wayne was a large person.  But I suspect the extensions are meant for another class of cruiser.  Based on my observations, limiting the extensions to 50 on this ship is a Titanic remake waiting in the wings.

Of course, I may be one buffet line away from having my name embroidered on one.

cruise -- day 7

Water, water everywhere.  But lots of drops to drink.

On board, at least.  But looking over the edge of the ship, what you see at the right is what there is to see.

An occasional passing ship.  A dollop of seaweed.  One or two porpoises.

I do not have a balcony on this cruise.  I miss that.  One of my favorite pass-times on cruise ships is to sit and watch the light and wind change the sea.

I can do that on the public decks.  But usually with refrains of reggae music.  And folks interrupting to talk.

Another day enjoying the sea.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

cruise -- day 6

Well, let's see.  I told you we had seven seas days ahead of us before we saw land again.  At The Azores.

Since this is only our second sea day, I guess we are somewhere in the Atlantic.  Actually, I can simply look at one of the many monitors around the ship to see exactly where we are.

But looking over the side of the ship is easier.  We are in the middle of a lot of water.  Enough water to make me wonder how Columbus ever made his trip successfully.  Of course, he didn't.  He never realized he had failed to reach the East Indies.

Not even this policeman could have given him good directions.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

would you like dinner with that whine?

Let me introduce you to The Tuna Lady.  In a moment.

First, we need to set up this tale.

The cruise social season is in full swing.  Or, so it would seem, from the invitations stacking up on my bed.

”On my bed” may stoke imaginations steamier than the life I lead.  Lacking a silver tray and liveried footman in the hall (in fact, lacking any semblance of a hall), my bed is the default mailbox.

The cruise social calendar does not lend itself to dinner parties at Number One, London or tea with Lady Astor.  I suspect cruise life may be a bit more fun -- in an Anglo-Saxon family summer camp sort of way.

Here is a sample of the current pile.  A Meet and Mingle Party for a computer message board. A Welcome Back party for prior cruisers.  A bridge tour.  A theater tour.  A cocktail hour for frequent cruisers -- and people who empty their wallets for suites where they can actually turn around in their bathroom.

Plus impromptu dinners with new friends.

OK.  It is a bit Babbitish.  But almost all are attended by good people who are doing their best to enjoy life.  And life on a cruise ship ain’t bad.

I hope you caught the “almost.”  On every cruise there is a small minority who seem to believe everyone on the ship is there to polish their troubled lives.

Ten years ago I took a cruise from South Africa to Lisbon. The ship had several passengers who boarded in Los Angeles in an almost-around-the-word cruise.

I met one of them in Cape Town.  An American woman living in Morocco.  What could have been more exotic than that?

I was curious how she had enjoyed that many days at sea.

”Marvelous,” she said.  “I’ve had a great time.”

”Except for one thing that’s completely ruined this cruise for me.”

What could have been so disastrous?  A stolen purse?  A lost camera?  A dog eaten by an Indian crocodile?  I furrowed my brow in empathy.

”This ship has no half and half.”

I laughed.  Loudly.  Thinking I had been the butt of a very good joke.

But she was serious.  And told me so.  She was in high dudgeon over the lack of a dairy product.

That seemed to be her mode. The next time I saw her she was surveying fellow passengers on how much they had paid for their cabins.  Because she felt she had been overcharged for hers.  She was determined to ruin a “marvelous” time.

I had almost forgotten about her.  Until today.

I was sitting in the concierge lounge reading when a woman burst through the door under full steam.  Angry as only a wronged mother can be.

”This has to stop,” she announced to the concierge -- and the rest of us who had not yet figured out that attention must be paid.  “Two things are ruining this cruise.”

In a calm voice, the concierge asked: “How may I help you?”

And then we heard the catalog of her parade of horrors.  “There is no tuna on the buffet.  And hasn’t been for days.  We - had - to - ask - for - it.”

It was a great setup.  I waited for the punch line.  But I figured out she was serious just about the same time as the concierge.

”And the second?”

”There has not been any Bailey’s at the cocktail hour.  Even Carnival has Bailey’s.”

The resolution of these disasters is unimportant.  The fact that an adult could get that upset by the lack of canned cat food and booze is a testament to how a bit of money can turn nice people into the darker side of Hyacinth Bucket.

Now that you have met The Tuna Lady, I’ll let her sit at your table.

cruise -- day 5

One of the best aspects of repositioning cruises is the series of sea days -- with no ports to break up the cycles of my day.  This cruise has two of them.  Six days each.

This is day one of that first stretch.  Time to read.  Sit in the sun.  Look for a trivia game to amuse myself.  Or just to sleep in.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

walking the ramparts

George Patton may have been correct.  Fixed fortifications are monuments to human stupidity.

That certainly was true of the early forts that guarded Nassau, capital of The Bahamas, in the mid-700s.  They simply were ineffective.

During the War of Independence, the fledgling American Navy seized the town.  After the Americans returned the city to the British, the Spanish invaded, and then the Americans took the city from them. 

When the Stars and Stripes and Bourbon banner were carted off, the  British decided enough was enough.

They built a new fort (Charlotte) at the top of what passes for a hill in The Bahamas,  Started in the 1790s and finished in the 1820s, it was designed to defend against Britain’s many enemies: Spain, the United States, and pirates. 

In an irony that would do justice to a Noel Coward play, the fort’s primary purpose shifted to deterring slave revolts.  The slaves of Haiti had just seized their freedom from France in history’s only successful slave revolt.

But the Caribbean slaveholders did not have crystal balls.  And many of them believed that their slaves would be the next to revolt.

So, the British garrisoned the fort.  First, with European soldiers who quickly died off.  And then with African slaves.  Slave soldiers are quite common in history.  But they made the slave masters a bit nervous.

The fort is an engineering marvel.  Most of it is underground -– hewn out of the limestone that forms the knoll on which it is built.  And ringed with cannons that could fire from any direction.

But no one ever came to fight.  Not the Americans.  Not the Spanish.  Not the pirates.  And no slave revolt.  It last saw duty in the First World War.  And now serves as a reminder of a time when men placed their security in limestone walls.

But Nassau is more than old forts.  When we docked, there were five other ships in port. Foreign soldiers may not have invaded The Bahamas lately, but plenty of foreign tourists did this morning.

I have spent enough in the pastel shop fronts of Bay Street to know that it offers little more than what can be purchased at your neighborhood Import Plaza.  I wanted to see some of the sights I had not seen.

So, I headed up the hill to Government House -- the official residence of the Queen’s Governor General.  One of those buildings that looks far older than it is.  It looks like Tara, but is barely a hundred years old.

Statues of Columbus are scattered throughout the Caribbean.  The one in front of Government House captures The Admiral looking far more like a Civil War Cavalier than the discoverer of The Bahamas.  (His first land fall was on one of  the islands in the chain.  No one knows which for certain.)

But this woman is far more emblematic of modern professional women in the Caribbean.  The suit is feminine and powerful.

On my walk over to the fort, I walked by several houses in this state.  They are good reminders that The Bahamas are a delightful place to live.  But hurricanes keep it far from paradise.

And now we are off to The Azores.  Arriving in another seven days. 

Plenty of time to relax.

cruise -- day 4

We are in The Bahamas today.  Nassau to be more precise. 

I plan to do nothing more than walk around the town.  It is one of those places you think should have more than it does.

Isn't this where Hannibal Lecter stalked Dr. Chilton?  Naw.  That was Bimini of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. fame. 

Little chance of running into anyone in that trio.

Monday, April 16, 2012

cuba on the horizon

We are somewhere between Florida and Cuba.  If I could see over the horizon, I could see Felipe and his Child Bride tooling along in a vintage convertible.

I am not in a vintage convertible.  But I am on an old cruise ship.  That seems odd for me to say.  This ship (Voyager of the Seas) had just been launched when I started my second stage of cruising at the turn of the millennium.

Back then, it was a giant.  Today it is nice, but there are far larger ships.  All of them big enough that they cannot fit their hefty sterns through the Panama Canal.  At least, not until the new canal is dug.

But it is big enough to keep me occupied for its 16-day crossing to Barcelona from New Orleans.

We are now on day three.  So far, I am not really into the swing of this cruise.  My one foray into trivia competition was less than satisfactory.  Picking trivia team members is almost as important as picking good dates.  Half of the team was delightful.  The other half -- less so.

And the food is nothing to write home about.  Though, I guess I am.  The dining room food on ships is the type of fare you would expect to find at a political fundraiser.  Cheap meat tarted up as nouvelle cuisine.

But, cruise ships do have good food.  Usually, in their specialty  restaurants.  My favorite is Chops – a steak house that can rival the best.  But this ship is Chops-less.  Instead, the Voyager offers an Italian restaurant (Portofino) with adequate food.

The chief reason I cruise, though, is to meet new people.  And that has been an unqualified success.  I have met people from Australia, Canada, the United States, England, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Vietnam, and Sweden.

Most of the Europeans and Asians are treating this repositioning cruise as a commute.  Come to think of it, so am I. 

The choice is a reflection of a relaxed lifestyle when The Crossing meant 5 or 6 days on board ship with people you would like to know.  Rather than being crammed into an aluminum tube with a mob of strangers and being hurtled at 500 miles per hour through the atmosphere.  The retro feel of this ship is enough to keep me coming back on cruises.

And, of course, the ship is big enough that when I want solitude, it is easy to find.  I brought enough reading material to keep me occupied until Dubai.  And I have put it to good use.

What I forgot to bring was my Spanish language study material.  It would have been a great opportunity to study -- without excuses. And to then apply my new skills in the three Spanish ports.

Instead, I will read my Economist, eat some linguine, and chat up the Europeans with their collapsing welfare states.  That should keep me amused for the month.

cruise -- day 3

Another day at sea.  Still on our way to The Bahamas.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

cruise -- day 2

We are in the Gulf of Mexico.  On our way to the Bahamas.

As a side note, the Titanic sank 100 years ago today.  Just in case the news of the sinking had not yet reached your shores.  No icebergs are reported in our path.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

cruise -- day 1

I am assuming that all has gone well.  And that I am now on my way to Dubai -- with several stops on the way -- on the Voyager of the Seas.

Depending on internet coverage, more missives (I need to find a better word) will follow.  I know from experience that internet on board is rather spotty.  And SLOWWWWWWWWWWW.

But there are enough ports along the way to find an internet cafe to keep in touch.

sitting on the dock

It is a five star Faulkner morning.  Other than the fact that I am in Louisiana, and not Mississippi.  And I am surrounded by Yankees and Germans rather than hordes of Snopeses.

Instead of heading out to the quarter to stuff in a few more Tourist Moments, I decided to sit in the hotel courtyard next to the pool and enjoy a bit of Southern solitude. 

Of course, bringing my computer down here rather defeats that purpose.  Like all gadgets, it is an electronic barrier to being part of the experience.

Before I left Mexico, I received a lot of mixed messages about our first cruise day.  We were initially scheduled to leave port at 5.  That time has been moved back to 9. 

The ship is going through a bit of renovation on our way to Barcelona, and the company needs to get everything on board to enact the equivalent of This Old Ship.  Thus, the later sail time.

The big question was whether we would be able to board at 1 or, as some rumors had it, we would have to wait for 5.  It turns out that 1 is the magic hour.

That will give me enough time to fit in another day in New Orleans.

Once I am settled on board, I can get off again and enjoy the city.  New Orleans is one of the few cruise ports where you can step off the ship into the middle of an interesting city.

So, rather than keep on typing, I will close for now (not knowing when I will write again).

What I do know is that I have a great month ahead of me.  But isn’t that true of every month?

As a parting shot.  Wouldn't you love to be at a dinner party with the lot at the top of this post.  Some artist has an interesting sense of irony.

Friday, April 13, 2012

walk with me

What would cause a group of otherwise  sane people on a French Quarter street to look as if they had gone celebrity-crazy?

A surprise spotting of Lady Gaga?  Zack Efron on his balcony?  A Princess Diana impersonator?

Nope.  Even better.  It was an outrageously self-promoting parade led by the board of directors of the French Quarter Festival.

Well, they were second in line.  This guy was leading it with high kicks and splits.  And the cameras loved him.

That bit of excitement was what greeted me on my way to the waterfront this morning.  Yesterday I spent more time taking photographs than enjoying the music.  I decided that would change today.

I sat for about an hour at the Cajun stage.  And was well rewarded for it.  Too often at these festivals bands play music that everyone knows and could hum in their sleep.  Not the Cajun bands. 

They played a lot of their own music.  And often with self-deprecating humor: "I wrote this whole thing while driving across that bridge back there.  That gives you an idea how complex it is."
Dixieland is not my favorite music, but I sat for another hour listening to a rather traditional group play some very traditional music. 

"Just a Closer Walk With You" must be one of America's favorite hymns.  This group gave it -- and several others -- the full Dixieland treatment. 

And the crowd loved them.  With a couple of extra tambourines, we could have recreated Sundays in my little Pentecostal church.

Yesterday I did not indulge in any of the local food sold at the food stalls.  That was not going to happen again.  There were plenty of choices.  I opted for the Louisiana crawfish étouffée.  Crawfish is one of my favorite proteins and no one can prepare it the way they do in Louisiana.

I sat down to enjoy it while I listened to a young rock band play James Brown classics.  Neither experience was very good. 

I did not expect much from the étouffée.  And it met my expectations.  After all, the food has to be prepared in advance, and is then served in less than ideal circumstances. 

It was better than a hot dog.  But I suspect the roux owed more to food coloring than browning, and the crawfish must have spent a bit of time in a freezer.

But I did get a kick out of the antics of these children.  There was a large group of them on the perimeter of the rock band audience.  Their teachers were valiantly fighting a losing battle to get the kids away from this sculpture. 

There was no need.  They were having a great time pretending they were part of the artist's concept.  I suspect the sculptor would have smiled.

Before I headed back to my hotel, I took a detour through the federal area of New Orleans.  That may sound odd until you understand a bit about my past.

Somewhere in the mid-1960s, I became a big Kennedy assassination buff.  I never did sign on to any specific conspiracy theorist, but the Warren Report was not very satisfying to me.

I bought the books.  Watched the Zapruder outtakes.  And almost bought a primitive video recorder to capture some of the material that was available on television.

I was not going to leave New Orleans until I had seen what is undoubtedly one of the most famous corners in the conspiracy litany: Camp and Lafayette.  This is the spot where the fevered mind of District Attorney Jim Garrison linked Lee Harvey Oswald with the federal government.

544 Camp was the address stamped on some of the pro-Castro literature Lee Harvey Oswald distributed.  531 Lafayette was the office of Guy Banister, a private investigator and former FBI agent with anti-Communist leanings.  Garrison believed the two addresses led to the same offices, and it was proof positive that a conspiracy, with links to the federal government, planned the president's death.

For me, it would have been up there with a visit to the holy grail.  I say "would have" because the building has been torn down and replaced with a federal building and courthouse. 

If Garrison were still alive, I am certain he would call it a coverup.  A concrete coverup.

But Lafayette Park is still there.  A lot of its charm and beauty was restored in the 1980s. 

And is another reminder of Louisiana's French heritage.  Lafayette, one of the foreign heroes of the Revolution, was offered the first governorship of Louisiana.  He turned it down.  If he had known what the Long-Edwards tradition offered him, he night have taken the job.

Having scratched that itch, I wandered back to the hotel room.  But there are three vignettes I wold like to share with you.

First, a dog. 

Photographs of dogs are always popular.  And photographs of golden retrievers are popular with me.  A young girl with a neurological disorder was sitting in front of the supreme court building with her family.  Based on their shirts, they appear to have been there through the Make a Wish Foundation.

This was her service dog.  I really like the mardi gras beads.

Second, I keep forgetting how many small residences still exist in the French Quarter.  All of them a photographer's dream.  But I particularly liked this one.

I have several works by Igor Medvedev.  He specializes in painting architecture of small buildings that are facing destruction.  Especially, in the Mediterranean.  He is all about color, angles, and shadows.  This would be a great model for one of his works.

Third, I sometimes believe that the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce must hire people as humor actors. 

Words fail me on this one.  (And before anyone gets on a high horse, this couple had asked a promoter to take their photograph under his sign.  Of course, they were being shot from the other side.)

And that was my day -- so far.  I am changing for dinner at Iris tonight. 

Dinner is not until 9:00.  But I will get spiffed up and head down to the waterfront for more music until my table is ready.

I have a feeling my étouffée experience earlier today will soon be forgotten.