Wednesday, April 24, 2019

passing the ball to mom

In every family, one parent is a sports fan. Usually, it is the Dad.

That was not true in our family. Our Dad taught Darrel and me several skills every boy should know. How to be a good Boy Scout. How to sharpen a knife. How to properly treat firearms. And how to avoid being a defensive driver.

But, when it came to sports, our Mom ruled. And still does.

She developed a love for basketball during her Powers High School days -- a love she has never abandoned. She taught us how to play baseball in our back yard and cheered us on in our benighted little league careers. But it was basketball that thrilled her.

When the Portland Trailblazers rolled into town in 1970, she immediately jumped on the fanwagon and has been there ever since. She lived in Portland then, and often attended the games. Television is now the mainline for her addiction.

I have always enjoy watching games with her. It reminds me just how tribal sports can be. Referees are forever making bad calls to the cost of her beloved Blazers. And the referees are not simply mistaken, they are intrinsically evil. They all gamble on the games, you know.

This year was a special visit for me. It is playoff time. I sat through the five games of the Portland-Oklahoma City shootout. It was good basketball made even nicer by sharing it with my 91-year old mother, who knows more about the game than most of the commentators. Her vocabulary certainly is better.

Last night the Blazers advanced to the second round of the playoffs. If you have read your sports pages, you already know it was one of the most exciting games of the season -- with the score see-sawing back and forth the entire game only to have the outcome decided by an improbably half-court shot at the buzzer. Such games are fought to be remembered around future campfires.

It was a nice way to sum up my visit this week. Amazon finally delivered my new Surface yesterday afternoon, and my head cold has settled enough to let me fly this Thursday and Friday.

But, best of all, my Mom has kept me interested in one of her true joys in life. And sharing another's passion is about as good as life gets.

For Mom, it is one three-point shot after another.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

peppering the knowledge

Some youthful experiences appear to be almost universal. At least, for those of us who share the age burdens of the Boomer class.

Whenever I start reminiscing about our family's first set of encyclopedias, I meet with knowing nods. Especially, when I describe how I opened volume after volume to follow related subjects until most of the set surrounded me on the living room floor as if I were being attacked by high-grade paper bombers.

That bit of nostalgia wandered by while I was reading The Oregonian this morning. Apparently, the queen of the 30-minute meal, Rachel Ray is returning to the Food Network. But that fact is not what triggered my encyclopedia reverie.

Describing how American tastes have broadened in the last thirty years, the article noted: "Today, she is as likely to pull a bottle of gochujang out of the fridge as she is a bag of tater tots from the freezer."

My memory for nouns is not what is was. (Well, it probably is what it always was -- faulty -- but we seniors always think forgetting a word is just one step away from being warehoused for senility.)

Gochujang? I knew I knew the word. But it just hovered in the back of my mind hiding behind gorgonzola, 
gefilte fish, and giblets.

So, I relied on what now substitutes for my memory. The Internet. And I nearly slapped my forehead when I realized not only do I know what gochujang is, I have almost a half gallon of it in my refrigerator in Barra de Navidad.

It is a fermented chili paste. I use it in a lot of my cooking. Especially, soups.

Of course, I could not stop there. As I read through the article, another fact caught me up short. This one, I have long known. Or I have known it, at least, since 2011 when I read Charles Mann's 1493: The New World Columbus Created (strangers in the garden).

Before then, if you had asked me about chili peppers, I would have assumed that the cuisines most famous for their spicy dishes (Szechuan, India, Thailand) had used chilies for millennia. And I would have been wrong.

As we almost all know now, the DNA in every chili on the face of the planet came from Mexico (though there are some botanists who contend at least one chili, the habanero, originated in the Amazon). With that one possible exception, you can thank the early inhabitants of Mexico, a people about whom we know very little, but who predated the great Mesoamerican civilization, for developing the cultivar version of the chili pepper, as well as maize, beans, and tomatoes. Whoever they were, they may have been the world's most successful developers of new farm crops.

Europe, Africa, and Asia were naive to the existence of the culinary magic of chilies until Columbus took samples home to Spain, where it was grown as a substitute for peppercorns, one of the items that had spurred Columbus to sail west.

The Portuguese were quick to learn the value of chilies as a trade commodity. By the end of the 1400s, they had taken chilies to their colonies in Africa and Asia. The result is that we now think of Thai chilies as being endemic to Asia when they are nothing more than descendants of their Mexican mothers.

On my Australia cruise, most of the food was bland enough to be served in a Manitoba rest home. The only exceptions were the Indian dishes and the occasional Szechuan and Thai stir fries that added layers of taste and tear-certifying piquancy. And for that, I thank Columbus and some anonymous Portuguese traders for distributing the hard work of a series of unknown Mesoamerican geniuses.

As soon as my cold clears a bit more, I will put all of their contributions to good use in my Mexican kitchen. But I need to get there first.       

Sunday, April 21, 2019

up from the grave he arose

Happy Easter to all of you.

For the past week, I have been living my own Easter passion. That is why I have been absent for seven days.

When we last talked, I was sitting in the Cathay Pacific lounge in Singapore. During the last week of our cruise, I started to develop a slight cough. By the time I arrived in Hong Kong, the cough had developed into one of those racking affairs that could qualify me as patient zero for the next SARS outbreak. I faked radiant health as I walked past the Hong Kong health inspectors with their fever meters.

But it was just an act. By the time I arrived in Bend, I was barely ambulatory. Darrel and I stopped at Best Buy to look at a replacement computer, but I simply could not decide what I wanted -- other than I wanted to go to bed.

And so I did. Between the cold (that continued to worsen) and jet lag, I stayed comatose in bed until late Friday afternoon when I decided it was time to talk with a doctor.

I do not readily seek medical help. After all, I am the guy who was one day short of having his left leg amputated before he went to the hospital a few years ago.

The doctor prescribed antibiotics for the infection I already knew had settled into my lungs. And back to bed I went.

This is the day Christians celebrate the messiah's resurrection in a body incorruptible. My resurrection today is in another league. I am still hacking and sniffling, but I feel well enough to at least let you know why there has been silence on my end of the internet highway for the past week.

So, on this special day, I wish the best for you and your families.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

speeding over the travel bumps

Travel is filled with some of life's best moments.

But there are also traps along that yellow rick road. One of the worst is the dreaded cancelled credit card.

Losing a credit card is bad enough no matter where you are. But having a credit card publicly refused adds that additional element of embarrassment -- as if you were re-living a scene from Best of Show.

At some point after our stop in Brisbane, I tried to download my bank account information to Quicken. Everything worked fine except for one credit card. I did not think much of it. Quicken can be quirky. But each day it refused to download.

A week later, I decided on my way back to Mexico, I would take a side trip to Oregon. Primarily to see my family, but also to buy that computer that slipped my grasp in Los Angeles three weeks ago.

I picked my flight and my seat. The only thing I had to do was pay for the privilege of joining a group of strangers hurtling through the air at speeds filled with the possibility of death.

When I hit "Purchase," I was informed I had made an error. That was not a surprise. I never seem to click every box that needs attention -- whether on reservation or tax forms. So, I tried again. Kicked back again.

Then, I noticed the message at the top of the page. My bank was declining my card. Alaska not-so-helpfully advised me to contact my bank. Easier said than done in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I tried calling on MagicJack, but the call kept breaking up.

When we ch
ecked into the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, I handed over my credit card. Let me tell you a little about that process.

Because we were staying in one of the hotel's exclusive suites, the four of us were ushered away from a giant line that snaked through the lobby up to the reception desk. The lounge was a sanctuary with four attractive young people assisting guests to sign in. Neiman Marcus must have something similar for its high-roller customers.

When Andria ran my card, she looked quizzically at the machine and slightly scrunched her nose as if someone had just opened a bottle of 1949 Chateau Margaux that had corked. She ran it again. Same look.

She handed the card back to me apologetically informing me that something was wrong with the card. I told her I would call my bank.

After about a half hour on the telephone, I discovered the problem. My card information had been compromised at what the bank nebulously labelled a "point of purchase." The security agent would not be any more specific.

My card could have been cloned. The merchant's card base could have been hacked. Someone might have intercepted my card information on-line. She was not talking.

At least, I knew the reason my card did not work. My bank had cancelled it without informing me. The agent told me not to worry. My new card should have arrived at my house already. She was a bit concerned I did not have it.

She must have missed the part of my story that I was in Singapore. She did offer to ship a new card to to me at the Marina Bay Sands. But it would take two weeks. I told her not to bother.

It turns out the card had arrived at the house in Reno. Roy's sister picked it up and will mail it to Bend. If all goes well, card and Steve should be united on Tuesday.

I always travel with two credit cards and a debit card for possibilities like this. I used the debt card for the hotel. And I was able to activate the new credit card from my computer and use it to purchase my flight to Bend.

As disconcerting as it was to have my card cancelled without notification, the story turned out quite happily. If all goes well, I should be back in Mexico with a new computer and telephone some time next week.

Oh, and that photograph. Remember our toilet discussion from the Brisbane stop? The photograph is of an Asian toilet in the Singapore airport. (The French have nothing to do with it.) You can see the connection with the sign in that essay.

The tourist road is filled with unending diversions.  

Saturday, April 13, 2019

living high in singapore

Singapore is a magical place.

At least, that is what its government would have you believe.

This independent city-state at the end of the Malay peninsula has a reputation for being a very orderly and tidy place. Chewing gum is illegal. Cigarettes are treated as a social pariah. Vandals are caned. Drugs lead to execution. It is the sort of place that gives libertarians the willies.

As is true with anyplace on the planet (and on other planets, as far as I know), there are historical reasons for Singapore's less-than-enthusiastic approach to freedom. Like Hong Kong, Singapore makes its bread from trade and financial services, and there is very little regulation in those areas. But, the government has decided that political and social freedoms need to be closely controlled for a population of 5 million squeezed onto an island about four times the size of Washington, DC.

The result is a stunning city. A very rich city. For living cost, Singapore is currently the most expensive city in the world.

Our hotel is an example. Because we were going to leave our ship in Singapore, Nancy decided it would be nice to splurge by staying two days at one of Singapore's premier hotel's -- the Marina Bay Sands. And it is luxurious.

I booked myself into a suite. For modern travelers, the word "suite" has been devalued to meaning your room will probably have a couch and a chair.

The Marina Bay Sands uses the term as it was once (and still is) used at Brown's. My room contains a full living room-dining room combination, a bathroom the size of my full cabin on the ship, a dressing room, and a bedroom-sitting room with a view over the city. All in a very subtle and classy design.

Luxury does not come cheap. Nor does the food. When we arrived, we looked for a snack near the hotel's trademark infinity pool on its 57th floor. 

I have a general rule that it costs about a dollar a floor when eating at high-rise view restaurants. And that was just about right. Drinks for the three of them and two flatbread appetizers for the four of us came to just under $200. A small plate of pasta at a ground-level Italian restaurant cost me $47.

This is not a bargain town. That is evident from the extremely-high-end stores that make up the shopping center surrounding the hotel.

But some pleasures are there merely for the viewing. Last night we walked through the gardens bordering the hotel. Like most features created for the awe of tourists, the garden does have a certain Disney feel. And that is not entirely bad.

The gardens are centered around two domes that house plants and flowers. But the park itself is anchored by The Supertree Grove -- a series of structures built to evoke the wonder of giant trees and to present a nightly sound and light show that draws in flocks of tourists. Including us.

On the other side of the hotel is another light show on a man-made lake. If you have seen Disney's World of Color show, you know the concept.

Today we are heading out to see the portions of Singapore I missed when I was last here in October 2001. I suspect it will be just as magical.

Friday, April 12, 2019

two days in darwin

Darwin bore the heavy burden of high expectations after two failed attempts to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef. The whole Australia experience was at stake.

That is a lot of weight to pile on a town with very little history. Its European narrative began in 1838 when the HMS Beagle anchored in its harbor. The captain named the prospective port Darwin in honor of the Beagle's recent passenger -- the British naturalist, Charles Darwin.

The town is now home to about 150,000 and is the capital of Australia's Northern Territory. It is closer to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, than to the Australian capital, Canberra. Think Anchorage in 1955. But with palm trees, heat, and humidity.

Darwin is defined by tragedy, and the population wears the survivor badge proudly. The place was leveled by a cyclone in 1897, when it was not very large, and by another cyclone in 1937.

The residents rebuilt after the 1937 cyclone only to have much of the town leveled in 1942 by the same 188-plane Japanese air fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbor. In response, the citizens secretly built tunnels in the escarpment the town rests upon. As luck has it with such bureaucratic projects, the tunnels were completed just as Japan surrendered. That should be a cautionary tale for people enamored of economy-boosting infrastructure projects.

But that was not the end of Darwin's tales of woe. On Christmas Day 1974, a cyclone named Tracy, with 135-mile-per-hour winds, leveled 70% of the town's buildings -- including some colonial stone buildings that had survived the earlier attacks on Darwin.

If you are searching for charming colonial buildings from the Victorian era, you will not find them in Darwin. There are some remnants. But most of Darwin's architecture reflects the nature of the place -- a young outer-looking port.

Of course, there are the odd pieces that look as if they are essentially fortresses. Like this church.

I have seen similar churches in Yucatan. But they were designed to be Spanish defense works during uprisings. This church is a fortress designed to defeat cyclones. Form follows function.

I long ago discovered the best way to get a feel for a new place when time is limited is to walk its streets. That is what I did in Darwin.

Last week's edition of The Economist reviewed Erling Kagge's Walking: One Step at a Time, a pedestrian paen. The reviewer passed along this gem, and I am now sharing it with you.

"He who walks lives longer," he writes, "but that is only half the truth." The other half is that the art of walking also slows down time, and forces you to consider your surroundings. "The mountain up ahead, which slowly changes as you draw closer, feels like an intimate friend by the time you've arrived." Walking, in other words, prolongs the experience of life, as well as life itself.

And so it did. I walked through the streets to one of the post-Tracy creations of Darwin. The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens.

There has been a garden on the site for decades. But it was almost stripped clean in 1974. In 45 years, the plants have recovered nicely. After all, this is the tropics.

The place is nice. Not one of the best gardens I have visited. But it has that slightly-cluttered and comfortable feel of a British garden -- like a pair of old slippers.

Along with the obvious surrealistic streaks that tropical plants add to any garden. You can almost imagine Salvador Dali's rhinoceros wandering by.

And just a little further south, you can be entertained with the antics of wallabies -- those whimsical pint-sized cousins to the kangaroo.

For those of you who quailed when I started this essay with "its European narrative began in 1838," I know exactly how you feel.

History in this corner of Australia did not begin in 1838. People began arriving here 40,000 years ago. When the Dutch and British arrived, the Larrakia clan occupied 1500 square miles of the land around Darwin.

I came to Darwin in search of the art of these sea-faring, trading people. And I was pleased with what I found.

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is one of those parochial repositories of local natural history that features venomous snakes, lethal spiders, and stinging corals. But not everything is an advertisement of death in Australia.

The museum has produced an exhibit entitled "Between the Music and the Stars" that showcases contemporary aboriginal art in conjunction with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. That may sound a bit odd until you recall the mystical (and fanciful) connection between John Glenn's Friendship 7 "sparks" and the aboriginal bonfires in The Right Stuff.

Like all Australian aboriginal tribes, the Larrakia rely heavily on astronomical sightings for both their culture and their art. To them, that "and" is redundant. Their art is their culture; their culture is their art.

All of the aboriginal pieces in the exhibit reflect the sky myths passed down by elder men in specific or related clans to the next generation of men. In this exhibit, the myths revolve around the dream myths that explain the creation of the lights in the night sky.

These morning star poles represent the movement of Banumbirr, the Galpu clan name for Venus. 

Like all aboriginal art, the poles are part of a cultural ceremony. These poles are used as part of a mourning rite that starts at dusk and continues until morning with the rising of the Morning Star. The star acts as a guide for the dead to the spirit world. Dante and Virgil in the desert.

There was also sculpture. Most aboriginal art is intricately decorated with symbols. You can see the detail in this figure of a moon man.

The moon holds a special place in aboriginal mythology. The full moon is a reminder to all Gija people to respect the rule of right-way marriage.

Garnkiny did not follow the rule. He fell in love with his mother-in-law, an almost-universal taboo. Despite his protest of Edwardian "woman-he-loved," his village exiled him. He climbed a hill and became the moon.

He then cursed the villagers to death. Without that curse, the clan believes its members would have all been resurrected within three days of their physical death.

The painting, showing Garnkiny transforming himself from human form into the moon, adopts the style of merging European abstract expressionism with aboriginal symbols.

This detail also demonstrates how aboriginal dot paintings can incorporate blendings that are almost pointilism.

These two pieces reflect the same myth -- but with notable variations in the tale. A painting that looks almost Polynesian in its complex form.

And a sculpture that blends surrealism with native forms.

These works have created controversies amongst anthropologists, art critics, and the aboriginal clans -- on several levels.

The first is traditional. A large share of contemporary aboriginal artists are women. Traditionally, only men could learn the secret language of the symbols. The fact that women are divulging what were once clan secrets has raised cultural appropriation issues -- that is, if people within the same culture can appropriate their own culture. I will leave that argument for others.

The second level of criticism is the medium of choice for contemporary artists. A large portion of the women artists have adopted European-style canvases and art forms. The line between surrealism and abstract expressionism, and traditional aboriginal symbols is very thin. Picasso's reliance on African symbols during his cubist period is an example how cultures can share forms.

This criticism strikes me as being a bit hollow. The contemporary artists do not masquerade as traditionalists. Their art is to take the traditional and use it within another medium. Just as the 
"Between the Music and the Stars" exhibit successfully melds aboriginal art into a celebration for humanity of the moon landing.

Our two days in Darwin turned out to be a satisfactory make-up for our days not spent on the Great Barrier Reef. And I have a much better feel for aboriginal art having shared part of a day with Nancy among these amazing pieces.

Tomorrow morning we are in Singapore for two days before flying off to our group's respective NAFTA nests. 


Tuesday, April 09, 2019

shelling tacos

My Darwin essay is going to wait for another day.

Once again, food has bumped it from the front page.

The ship's buffet has been my culinary mainstay on recent cruises. I would take most of my meals in the dining room in days of yore. But no more. Both the quality of the food and the service are no longer what they once were.

But the real reason is the type of food that shows up on dining room menus. It is served in four- or five-course dinners. And that is just not how I eat any more.

On most ships, there is a greater variety of food at the buffet than in the dining room, and the food is refreshed regularly. Because cruise ships serve an international clientele (at least, a clientele with international tastes), there is food from almost everywhere in the world on offer.

My go-to choice is always Indian if I cannot find anything else to eat. A lot of the cooks are Indian, and they seem to be given a free hand to spice up their creations.

I often wonder just how "authentic" (even though I despise that question -- splitting the difference) some of the ethnic offerings are. Last week I asked an Indian couple what they thought of the offerings on the Indian portion of the buffet.

The husband reacted realistically. "It is not the best. My wife -- and then my mother -- cook the best Indian food. [His wife beamed at the order.] But I am surprised how good it is."

Even though I have long cooked Indian food, I would never use mine as a standard. I was pleased to hear the Indian food would pass muster in India.

That is not always true with the buffet's ethnic attempts. Today was taco day. In the same spot where the Indian food is usually offered. I know a little bit about Mexican food. But Omar would have been rolling on the floor.

It looked a bit like what would be offered in Alice Springs on Mexican night.

I asked the cook where the tortillas were. He had to check because he was not certain what a tortilla was. There were none.

You can see why I asked. The foundation of the tacos was one of those crispy corn chip shells that mothers use to pass off as tacos in the 1950s to naive children. I can still remember the boxed kits.

But that was just the start. There was no cilantro. No beans. No habanero salsa. In fact, no salsa other than something that looked as if it had been poured out of a Pace Picante jar. I used some sambal chili paste instead.

To be fair, I do not like tacos. I have not had one in Mexico for probably five or six years. And there was no reason I should have expected the tacos on board would be the equivalent of what I can buy on the main street that runs through my neighborhood.

Because it wasn't. One bite convinced me that not even Taco Bell would have made a taco with these ingredients.

So, I wandered over to the temporary home of the Indian dishes and had a delightful okra curry with enough spice to brighten my eyes.

And what is the moral of this little drama?

Morals tomorrow, comida tonight.*

* -- And, yes, that is another of my Sondheim self-amusements.

Monday, April 08, 2019

soup nazis

Some things stop me in my tracks. This was one.

I know I should be writing to you about our two days in Darwin. And I will do that. But some topics simply trump others.

After returning to the ship this afternoon for lunch, I was walking along the buffet line when I spotted this sign. Usually, the signs posted on top of the buffet describe the dishes below.

Based on the title, I almost expected to see slabs of this:

Hermann Göring, that bulbous buffoon who served as Hitler's luftwaffe stooge, was fat enough to serve as a roast -- though I suspect there is not enough gravy on earth to cover up his deplorable taste. Certainly, there must have been some mistake.

Well, yes and no. This is what was underneath the sign.

It is a rather mundane version of fried rice from Indonesia. But I know it as "nasy goreng." Fried rice with meats, vegetables, and spices -- often called the national dish of Indonesia.

But why the difference in names? Admittedly "nazi goering" and "nasy goreng" sound similar.

When I asked the head waiter, he said the Indonesian food staff translate "fried rice" as "nazi goering." When I pointed out that all the references I could find on line were "nasy goreng," he shrugged in his Slovenian way and walked off.

I really do not have a dog or a "nazi" in this fight, but it seems odd that a company like Royal Caribbean had the option of using "nazi goering" and "nasy goeng," and chose to use the one that is far more likely to cause at least a bit of offense.

Or maybe I have it wrong. Maybe it is a riff on "Inglourious Basterds." It may be the ultimate revenge fantasy. Eating our way through the monsters of the twentieth century. Stalin steaks. Mao burgers. Pol hot Pots.

Nietzsche may have had it almost correct. What we eat makes us stronger.   

Friday, April 05, 2019

listing to starboard

I like to plant prose bombs in my essays. I call them Hamas Easter eggs.

Take this one. "The weather was perfect -- especially after a stormy day at sea where a microburst of wind tipped our ship far enough to baptize two decks of portholes.  " It appeared in Sunday's essay: a brisbane too far.

I thought someone would ask about it. Not even the anti-cruising troll responded. Maybe everyone could hear the timer ticking.

It was one of the more interesting experiences I have had in 43 years of cruising.

The four of us were sitting in the Star lounge -- the venue for our favorite cruise pastime: progressive trivia. We had just begun the first round. Our host Angelina was reading the fourth question of the day. "What is a female ferret called?" (The answer is "jill.' A male ferret is a "hob." We answered incorrectly.)

Sophie, Nancy, Roy and I started unpacking the boxes stored in the far recesses of our memories. None of us had any idea. We were about to desperately settle on submitting "vixen" on our answer sheet when the ship began to roll.

We had been sailing through a mild rain shower. The seas were slightly choppy, but there had not been much wind.

None of us thought anything of the roll. We had all been through hurricane-force winds on prior cruises. Ships roll and correct. Yaw and correct. Pitch and correct.

But this roll was different. It did not correct.

Whatever had happened, something was forcing the ship to stay in a roll to starboard. The angle was severe enough that glasses started falling off tables. The shelf behind the bar disgorged its liquor and glasses onto the deck in a shower of glass shards.

For a moment, I wondered if we had stumbled onto a Irwin Allen sound set. I swear I saw Ernest Borgnine leading Stella Stevens and Red Buttons down the hallway.

I do not know how long we stayed in that position. It felt like minutes, but it was most likely only seconds. The roll felt as if it had transformed itself into a list. We were impersonating Graf Spee in Montevideo harbor.

We later discovered the list was so pronounced that the portholes on the starboard side of the ship were submerged. And the liquor and other liquids in the ship shop looked as if Carrie Nation and her hatchet had stopped by for a reforming moment.

Roy and I speculated on the loss of a stabilizer. We were wrong. Mother nature was the culprit. To be exact, we had been hit by a microburst.

The term was new to me. Or, unlike "jill," I may have heard it before and simply forgot it.

But I am very aware of one of its effects -- wind shear. When the Air Force spent taxpayer money to teach me to fly in Laredo, wind shear had become an aviation topic of interest.

The phenomenon had existed as long as there was weather. But, as aircraft proliferated in areas with weather that created shears, more aircraft were crashing. Most often during takeoffs and landings when wind shifts can defeat the physics of flight.

Microbursts often cause wind shears. The bursts come in two varieties wet (with rain) and dry (without). But both are sudden small-scale downdrafts of intense wind.

In our case, it was a dry microburst. When the downdraft hit the surface of the ocean, the wind rushed across the surface of the ocean. When it hit our ship, the ship listed. And it remained listing until the force of the wind died down.

I have not talked to any of the ship's officers about the incident, so I do not know if the ship could sustain structural damage by being forced into the position we were in. I suspect not.

I am quite certain there was no danger that we would be capsized into performing a Poseidon dead-bug. I have seen videos of huge waves hitting what appear to be top-heavy cruise ships, and they have weathered storms easily. There is enough weight in the lower portions of the ship (hull, engines, fluid tanks) that the odds of flipping over like a Pirates of the Caribbean ship are almost nil.

But those are facts and logic. And they are not always the prime calculation of the mind when faced with what appears to be danger. If we were solely a logical species, we would have gone extinct on the savannas of Africa.

Fortunately, we didn't. If we had, I would not be experiencing these sea days with my friends.

One of my more waggish friends sent me an email contending I was just faking having fun. He characterized my description of the trip as "nothing better than being stuck in the Atalanta airport for 15 days."

And to that I say -- not true. After all, we have trivia to play and dinners to dress up for as if we were Jack Dawson. The Atlanta airport does not have that.

Though, maybe that is why I am now telling you about the microburst instead of the interesting sights I saw today in Australia. 


Wednesday, April 03, 2019

ship of fools

It is just after 7 in the morning in Australia.

We are sitting off the coast of Cairns with the not-unrealistic expectation of making up for our lost day of snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. At least, that was what we had hoped.

But, unlike what the tag on my stateroom door says, I am not catching some thrills. I am sitting here writing to you. And that is thrill enough for me.

Once again, the weather has conspired to keep us on board. The rains, winds, and seas are simply too dangerous to tender us from the ship to shore. And, even if we could get to the snorkeling platforms on the reef, the seas are too rough and the light too subdued to make snorkeling worth the effort. It would be like visiting the Picasso Museum during a power outage.

That is too bad because I was looking forward to the experience. But I long ago learned I control very few circumstances in my life, and weather tops the list of things I need not worry my head about.

After we could not land at Airlie Beach two days ago, the captain took us on a circuitous route for a day and a half. Missing ports is not an uncommionevent in the cruise world. I have missed at least one port in about every third cruise I have taken.

Captains have a regular alternative. Because most passengers are interested in spending time in the sun, the captain will take his ship on a zig-zag course through the ocean at saunter speed hunting for any holes in the clouds. He will then slow the ship to take advantage of a bit of spotlight in an otherwise-existentially-bleak world.

I just returned from the Customer Services desk. While I was there, a North American, in a bull-in-rut voice, was lecturing the customer representative on how the entire cruise line should be run. Apparently, he had not bothered to read the adhesion contract he approved by buying his ticket.

Frustration had driven him to the edge of foolhardiness. Well, not the edge. He was well on his way to being crowned King of Fools -- a role I had auditioned for when I first boarded the ship. But that is a tale that will be probably be left untold.

Not being able to wave my magic wand to change all of this, I am going to take advantage of some more free time on board to exercise and read. Of course, I could do that at home. But I am not there. I am here. And the day is to be enjoyed.

Unless we encounter a cyclone,. we will be able to get off the ship for a bit at Darwin. We will overnight there, so I should have some Australian tales to tell -- before we head off across the Indian Ocean to Singapore.

See you then.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

breaking the barrier

This is what I should be seeing today.

We were scheduled to stop at Airlie Beach, Queensland where we would tender for two hours one way to the Great Barrier Reef. The afternoon would then be ours to explore the reef.

With lots of fish, eels, turtles, snakes, corals to amaze us.

Well, at least for now. Before the chemistry and temperature of the seas bleach out the coral colonies and the reef become nothing more than a hazard for punching holes in the bottom of unwary boats.

Instead, this is as close as I got to the great reef today.

You can barely see the outlines of the reef as the waves break across its edges. But that is a portion of it

As is often the case with nature outings, the weather was not a good partner today. The cloud cover was welcome. The unshielded sun can be rather relentless on the reef.

But with the clouds came winds. Not large winds. But large enough to whip up the waves enough to create a hazard for boarding tenders. Even if boarding had been possible, the waves would have made snorkeling less than pleasant.

For our own safety, the captain waved us off. We are now slowly plowing the South Pacific looking for patches of sun to bronze the tan-seekers beside the pool.

Like everything in life, an opportunity missed is merely a chance to have a greater adventure. Nancy, Sophie, Roy, and I elected to have our excursion tickets switched over to another go at the reef during our Cairns stop -- two days from now.

And rather than play tan god, I am going to write to you and then catch up on my backlog reading of The Economist and National Review.

Flexibility is a traveler's best companion. 

Monday, April 01, 2019

the brexit is dead; long live the brunity

In a surprise announcement this morning in Brussels, the Brexit drama came to an end.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, quoting Shakespeare announced that Britain will not be leaving the European Union on 12 April. Instead, the Council has invited Queen Elizabeth II to be Queen of Europe.

"During our negotiations, it became apparent that we were all asking the wrong question, " said Tusk. "Britain wanted to leave the EU because its citizens were concerned that they were losing their much-cherished sovereignty and liberty. As the former prime minister of one of the smaller countries in Europe, I understood that concern.

"But, it occurred to me that we were all taking the wrong path. Britain did not need to become less European; Europe needed to become more British."

Tusk said the leaders of all of the smaller countries in Europe met last night after the British Parliament once again rejected the divorce package negotiated over the past two years. They concluded the deal was stuck in a cul-de-sac (though Hungary objected to the use of any French analogies).

With France distracted by its swarm of yellow jackets and Germany worried about an impending recession, the other nations agreed that Britain had a point. More Locke and less bossy bureaucracy would make voters in their countries less testy about bothersome social issues.

The details are simple. As of today, 1 April, Tusk will invite Queen Elizabeth to assume sovereignty over the other 27 members of the European Union. After all, the blood of several European nations runs in her blue veins. As he put it: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this daughter of York and Lancaster and Europe."

Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach of Ireland, had been expected to object to the proposal for historical reasons. But, he said: "The Easter Rebellion pales in the face of a hard border. We are living in a time of new possibilities. In a way, Ireland will finally be re-united."

Tomorrow Tusk will invite Parliament to oversee the unruly affairs of Brussels. He will open negotiations seeking some European representation in the Palace of Westminster -- perhaps one MP per European country and a handful of lords. He said he would be open to being a baron.

"A lot of my fellow Poles, many having spent years in Britain, are looking forward to a continent where a pint of bitter will be as common as spaghetti or bratwurst. And, with the exception of this Brexit nonsense, the continent could use a little British common sense."

When asked how Theresa May had reacted to the news, Tusk responded: "Who?"

He continued: "My one fear is that the Russians are already trying to take advantage of this new institution. Some guy named Boris keeps calling me saying he is the prime minister of Great Britain. I thought the Russians had developed some subtlety by now."

It is amazing how one special day can change everything.