Watched a documentary last night on the tomb of Alexander. They can’t find it, so the documentary was only 22 minutes long. Before that i finished a documentary on a new theory concerning the Titanic’s fate - yes, the blame falls squarely on the iceberg, but the fellow the doc followed around was madly enthusiastic about the effect of the Labrador current, and its ability to produce optical illusions that would have elevated the horizon and made the iceberg undetectable. It’s fascinating stuff and makes you realize they really, really should have had headlights on those ships.

At some point later this year I will get on a ship. I like getting on ships. I like getting off them but I like getting on even more. For years we’ve been sailing Holland America, and I liked the line a lot, but after you’ve taken the same dam ship (hah! That’s a joke! They use it on their T-shirts) you want something new, and I understand that otter ships in the line have the same names and designs for everything, regardless of size. It’s always the Crow’s Nest bar. It’s always the Connections cafe. So you want to do something different, if only to drive you back screaming into the arms of the familiar.

The problem: reviews for ships you're considering. It’s like this.


First cruise!! Loved it!! I was suspicious of the ship based on the pictures on the website and the fact that if didn’t have a buffet (turns out it does!) but the moment we stepped aboard the Caprathia we were swept up in elegance and friendliness from the staff to the entertainers who juggled in the main show room three times a night and never dropped anything. If you haven’t experienced “Ultra No-Rules Style” cursing you might be confused because there are not any times for anythign, you can come and go as you want (jeans ok! big plus) but the ship is so relaxed and friendly it was nice not to have to put on pants just to have a burger. The food was excellent!!!! AWESOME MARGARITAS WOULD CRUSE AGAIN

Well, you’re glad they had a good time. You read on, and it’s all four- and five-star reviews. And then:


As a veteran of the White Flag line (see my stats below) I have come to tolerate the quirks and idiosyncrasies of these fine vessels, but my latest experience has led me to believe that cost-cutting and managerial short-sightedness are damaging a venerable brand.

Our problems began before we left the house, when I rechecked the website and realized that the Carpathian’s website understated its gross tonnage by several hundred pounds. Normally this would not be a problem, but the line has been known for strict adherence to formal declaration of its specs, and it made me wonder what else might be wrong. I put it out of my mind for most of the flight, but upon arriving in Amsterdam I discovered that the transportation from the airport would be handled by a young woman whose White Flag enamel pin was chipped in several places. Again, I took a “devil may care” attitude; one cannot get hung up on these things, or the vacation will be ruined.

Embarkation went smoothly, although the fellow who took our pictures before we entered the gangway was using a flash that required at least three seconds to charge, slowing the queue somewhat. The gangway creaked, and there was a half-inch gap where it joined the side the vessel. I mentioned this to the porter at the gate and he seemed unconcerned. People with canes, take note; don’t expect any sympathy.

The rooms were consecutively numbered, which made finding them a breeze. Our room had a vague smell of cleaning fluids, not unpleasant and somewhat lemony (I am sensitive to pine-scents, so this was a relief) but I could not shake the suspicion that it had been quickly cleaned shortly before our arrival. The TV remote, upon inspection, had high-quality batteries, ensuring there would be no late-night call for a replacement. The beds were comfortable and the closets had a suitable number of hanears in an attractive blonde wood, although the joints were not fitted together but glued. The rat I startled when I opened the doors scuttled through a hole and did not appear for the rest of the voyage.

Our first clue that the Carpathian was not living up to our earlier standards came during the first trip through the buffet. The “No-Rules Style” popularized by the line in recent years means you can eat whenever you like, where you like; we prefer to take our meals at odd hours to avoid the crowds, and were dismayed to find that the pasta sauce offered at 3:45 PM appeared to have been sitting in a pot for at least an hour, judging from a thin skin towards the edges of the pot. The bread produced an inordinate amount of crumbs when broken, and attempts to swipe it into one’s palm to dispose elsewhere was complicated by the shiny weave of the napkins, which did not produce sufficient friction to push the smaller crumbs.

The crew on our last voyage had few black eyes, but on this trip black eyes and missing teeth were common, and one fellow had the marks of the lash across his cheek.

The dining room food was far less impressive than I remembered from my first voyage, in 1964, when I was young and life held promise and I drank quite a lot; now the beef seemed stringy, the potatoes were obviously reconstituted, and I believe the wine was grape juice adulterated with grain alcohol. On the last night “baked alaska" was served, but the old traditions have been replaced with a “DIY” approach where the steward gives you a cake, a quart of ice cream, lighter fluid and a book of matches.

The ports were excellent with many interesting excursions, or so I hear; my wife and I prefer to sit on deck chairs and stare out at the sea with a cow-like acceptance of things that masks an unceasing hostility towards the proud youth who run around the deck, tinny shrieks of barbarism trickling from their headphones. At dinner one nice couple said they had been ashore and seen many old stones which had previously been grouped into a structure of some sort.

The entertainment had come down from previous years as well; where once you could see Maria Callas perform with Pablo Casals (pulling your leg there! It was Maria Casals and Pablo Callas, a wonderful vaudeville team) this time the only entertainment options were a “Salute to Broadway,” which consisted of dancers making gestures of military respect towards a large street sign, and “Lawrence the Cable Guy,” which we thought would be a popular stand-up comic but turned out to be a dry lecture about the steamship “Great Northern” and its attempt to lay the first transatlantic cable.

Cost-cutting was also evident in the daily game of BING. While the loss of the O column would seem to make the game go quicker, one still had to get five across, which meant no one won and they never paid out. Trivia was likewise difficult, consisting entirely of algebraic problems read quickly by a man with a stammer.

The ship’s library remains the best on the seas, but in this age of “Kindles” and “Pads” no one seemed to be indulging in the time-honored pastime of perusing the stacks for an hour while making soft noises of disapproval, and then expressing your disasstifaction with the selection to the librarian.

Smoking is prohibited on the D deck and mandatory on E deck.

There were countless little things that indicated the line has accepted its decline - the off-center castor appended to a chair leg, the momentary flicker of an elevator button when depressed, the apocalyptic rantings of the man on the TV shopping channel, the imprecise fit of a latch on the bathrooms off the secondary dining room, the night my wife leaned against the railing and it snapped off, sending her tumbling into the water, the slight musty aroma of the life preservers (or so she told me) and the disheartening attitude of the captain, who broke off our conversation about maritime knots that have fallen out of style by saying t the ship might be on fire (it was, but I expect he has people for that.)

Most of all I was saddened by the ice in the drinks. When I first took the ship the ice was solid, in cube form. In 1982 they switched to the semi-circular “orange-slice” pieces popular with most cruise lines at the time. Now they have adopted the “hollowed square” model, which, while it allows for quicker production, it melts faster, and changes the character of one’s drink. There is nothing quite so disappointing as taking a ship to a place in Europe one has never experienced, observing its shores from a chair on deck while huddled under a blanket, wishing one had worn thicker socks, realizing that the Seven-Up has gone slightly flat and has been adulterated by melted ice.

I’m joking. Slightly.



The fragile domestic peace of the Cow Household is shattered once again, as Elmer, having ignored everything Elsie had been doing the last few days, wakes up and panics:


It’s the same old story, and makes you wonder how the hell she put up with him; his fear of abandonment instantly curdles to insults and bluster. She’s got to be lying; surely she’s seeing another bull. A lab? Her, in a lab? Haw.

What in the name of Cowdome Come, indeed.


He feels his authority slipping away quite quickly; his crack about “rabbits” is a weak gambit, and he knows it. But then he hears her use a “strange” word, Assay - is it something he got from him? What is he, French? Is it that damned Lavash Keereet fellow, with the earring?

He’s beat down at the end, and off she goes, brightly twittering. Realizing he’s made a hash of it again, and that their standard of living depends on a continued friendly relationship with Borden, he runs after the car shouting a Borden slogan, hoping it helps. Then he slinks back to the house. The empty house. Where he’s alone. Again.


Give the dog a bone. Rick-Rack buns?

t’s a type of fabric trim. No idea why it was a bun, let alone a bread. Could have been a fake used for DuPont, which used the ad to remind people of the bounteous virtues of Cellophane. It had been around for a while, but DuPont - thanks to ingenious application of the proper chemicals - made it impermeable to moisture, and hence suitable for bread.

The miracles we take for granted.


“Sac O’ Sugah,” eh.

A copy of The Peanut Promotor, a trade journal, touts the increased sales for “neatly wrapped brittle” in 1922. The company doesn’t seem to have left a trace, except in a lawsuit - which, at least, teaches us that Keebler bought the company in 1963. Little Angela seems to have vanished into the mists of history as well - although it’s possible she’s still alive, remembers her fame, told her grandkids about it, and this will someday reach them. If so: thanks for the brittle.



Gives off that Fuller Brush vibe:

From their website:

In 1931, Stanley Home Products (SHP) was founded by Frank Stanley Beveridge and Catherine O'Brien in Westfield, Massachusetts. They envisioned an opportunity for people to start their own business with a small investment, selling products that people use everyday.

1931, eh? From wikipedia on Fuller Brush, a line about Mr. Fuller hiring “Fullerettes” to sell the products to consumers:

Fuller had evidence that women could succeed at sales since Stanley Beveridge, who had left his position as Fuller's sales vice president in 1929, had by 1949 employed women as "dealers" to grow sales at his own company, Stanley Home Products, to $35 million, exceeding Fuller's sales for the first time.

The ad showed the Nice Stanhome Lady, who was your Friend as well as your brush and container distribution assistant. The parties must have been a bright spot in the ordinary work day, and one Stanhome saleswoman branched out into something else she thought women would like. Her name was Brownie Wise, and she used her Stanhome experience to inform the world about . . . Tupperware.



Full-court press for a new line of cake mixes:


This style made packaging look them look new and modern, with that loose style that said “things don’t have to be strictly representational anymore! Look how up-to-date this is.” True. It was almost necessary, after decades of realistic ads, and they ushered in a new style of advertising that was much more playful and whimsical than its predecessors. The same style flowed through cookbooks and children’s books, defining an era. I don’t like it.

Much. It looks boneless and amateurish sometimes, and I don’t know what they were thinking when they put the figures on drug-store fountain seats behind the cake.

“Raspberry Sundae,” I think, morphed into “Raspberry Swirl,” which my mother made for my birthday every year. It was a tradition whose origins I don’t recall, except that she always made it, and that was that. I must have really swooned over it when I was five; that would be enough to make a Mom make it forever after.


Updates on the right - More Richie Rich in comic sins. Work Blog between noon and one and Tumblr now and then! See you around.




blog comments powered by Disqus