Trans-Atlantic Travelogue #5

We Take to the High Seas, and Eat a Lot
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
May 1, 2001
Scoreboard: 6000 miles; 2 Countries, 20 states

The last week in Miami was almost too relaxing. We’ve been on the road for more than a month now, we think we’re authentic gypsies, you can’t just hand us a pool and ping-pong table and expect us to be satisfied.

Of course, the reality is that we aren’t seasoned gypsies, not savvy enough not to leave things lying up against the side of the tent in the rain, not experienced enough to notice that all the other campers were checking the weather broadcasts, packing up their tents, and heading for the nearest Motel 6.

No matter, my copy of The Nag Hammadi Library now looks like the ancient document that it is.

There were numerous logistical difficulties in getting all of our stuff from the campground to the boat, while at the same time picking up the rest of our stuff from the train station. Precise details elude me but suffice to say that we were delighted to arrive at our ship, The Grandeur of the Seas.

Until we realized that we had to wait in line nearly three hours to get on. No matter.

I can’t say that I left with a real positive sense of Miami. It’s way too big and sprawling, overgrown, like L.A., self-absorbed and self-conscious but without the presence of The Industry, and with a foreign feel. I don’t think that half the people I spoke with in Miami proper spoke English. Our Cuban cabbie was a really great, helpful guy; he’d lived in Miami for 28 years and his English was still very shaky, there’s just no necessity to learn it.

Which reminds me that I need to learn some other languages very quickly. Anyway, Miami has a rollicking quasi-Caribbean feel, but also a lot of traffic, smog, and people who do their hair to go to the health food store, and make sure their tank tops are just so.


Arriva derci….America

There aren’t a lot of things in life guaranteed to get your happy heart a-yippin’ like boarding your first cruise ship. I was almost even glad that the freighters wouldn’t take us (no young children, the fault of insurance lawyers no doubt).

Our fellow passengers are a pleasant easy-going lot, but there’s no point pretending that we fit in here any better than anywhere else. Most of them consider casual attire to be something that you tuck in. We came swarming on board in rock ‘n roll t-shirts, jeans with holes and patches, and bare feet.

The Jamaican workers, who had been standing around by the pool bar, arose as one cheering, “Jah! Rastafari! Irie!”

I think Karl Marx may have had something akin to cruise ships in mind when he fashioned the social dichotomy of the bourgeoisie and proletariat.

If the ship workers constitute the proletariat they don’t appear particularly revolutionary, unless your tip is unsatisfactory (which has led to absurdities such as tipping a guy 40% for bringing a cheap bottle of champagne thirty feet), and they’re far from disgruntled. They seem to be from everywhere. One Portuguese cabin guy saw us all rambling along and asked “Are they all yours?”

“Yep,” we said proudly.
“You never watch tv?”

I had a pre-conceived notion about cruise ships, having watched The Love Boat regularly in college, and yes I did sing The Love Boat theme aloud as I walked up the gangplank. “Love, exciting and new…..and love won’t hurt anymore…

Most of what I figured was bad about cruise ships doesn’t exist. I was prepared for gaudy, over-priced, self-congratulatory, ridiculous ornamentation in the tradition of La Jolla. Instead the ship is full of excellent paintings, three-dimensional art, sculptures, etc. The great operas are a recurring motif, my favorite is a sculpture of Don Giovanni. (yes, I immediately blasted forth accusingly in my best baritone, “Don Giovanni…la la la la” [I don’t know the rest]). Really nice stuff, I like most of it which means that it’s good.

The fellow passengers remind me of the simple truth that western bourgeoisie is a liberal social class. They may vote for people I wouldn’t trust walking my dog and who say things that sound very strange to my ears, but in their personal encounters with others they are polite without exception, gracious, complementary, and tolerant.

There are no eyebrows raised at same sex or interracial couples, we receive constant complements on how well behaved our children are even when they’re pouring salt on the floor or are only inches away from dumping ice down the back of an evening dress. No one is anything but slightly bemused at the sight of a couple attired in peasant clothes staggering forth from The Viking Crown Lounge at 4 a.m. singing populist hymns and playing bumper-cars with the walls.

View from the elevator

View from the elevator,
looking up

Did I mention that Theresa and I spent a glorious evening, and much of the morning at The Viking Crown Lounge? It’s a discotheque, exactly what you would think with Viking sculptures all over the place, and a crown we forgot to look at it. It’s not exactly our scene, or style, or music, but we were groovin’ on the novelty of it all and dreaming of how excited everyone in Europe would be about my writing, and particularly my novels.

It’s quite a feeling sitting in a very loud disco, high above the tenth level of a cruise ship, and after a few oil cans of Foster’s I became fascinated with the rotating radar structures turning in unison a few hundred yards away. Between that and the techno-pop I was inspired into several monologues about man taming wind and lightning, sea and sonar….tragically none of these monologues were preserved for posterity.

I prevailed on the DJ to play the Wild Cherry classic Play that Funky Music, and we hit the dance floor. You have to understand that Theresa is the greatest dancer in the history of all humans since at least Isadora Duncan, and I flail about like an awkward unruly cockroach attempting to extricate itself from a giant spider’s web. The floor just cleared out with people amazed at Theresa, and no doubt confused as to how I could have caught her, and when the song ended and we started to leave the floor the DJ cried out, “No Theresa don’t go!” We stayed on for KC & the Sunshine Band.

The food is everything you’ve heard, but I was mainly interested in the melon platter the next morning. We’ve taken to eating in the casual dining room (abandoning The Great Gatsby Dining Room) because you can get a seat in the front of the boat with a view of the ocean, which changes colours in the most stunning and indescribable manner. Here in St. Thomas it’s an aqua/turquoise, deep in the Caribbean (it’s huge!) it was the most beautiful midnight blue that I’ve eve seen.

Alexandra has big braids!

Alexandra has big braids!

So the food is good, and there’s plenty of it. If you miss a meal, as I always do with breakfast, they’re handing out pizza nearly 24 hours a day. Pizza is my breakfast of choice anyway. The cut of the steak is incredible, they had organic bread last night, the desserts…I don’t even usually bother with dessert and I’m throwing back at least two per day.

The girls took one look at the tourism of St. Thomas and headed back to the boat. This is the most…abused…cruise ship destination in the world, and we lack the time and resources to get out of town (is this even possible, there are 57,000 people on 32 square miles).

Besides, there’s a ping-pong tournament at 5 p.m. I’ve been waiting for this. I’ll make the Jamaican workers proud.

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