I am sitting out in the dark on my deck. I have eaten first supper; second supper still to come. If this sounds like the epitome of cruise ship indulgence, I suppose it is, but both are light, and the latter is late. First Supper is usually at the Promenade Cafe, which has great little sandwiches - but the motto of the ship could be Great Little Sandwiches Everywhere. As well as bars. On the bridge there's probably a button that brings up a tray with croissantwiches and nine kinds of vodka.
Haven’t had one of those big ship buffet breakfasts. No French Toast or pancakes. I walked 7.7 miles today. I’m probably losing weight on this cruise.
We docked in St. Maaaartin’s, the latest in the indistinguishable parade of island destinations. View out of my stateroom:
You get used to the scale, but every so often you just have to remind yourself what extraordinary beasts these vessels are.
It's a thoughtful ship that provides a handle should the Gods decide to pick it up and put it elsewhere.
There’s a touristy little town with many shops to sell you items for personal adornment, but first you have to walk through a touristy little fake town with the same. If you do not want to go to town to see a larger collection of identical goods, you can stay close to port and say “yes, I’ve been to St. Maarti’s.” I walked into town at a crisp pace - blisteringly hot, the air dense, the crowds on the sidewalk thick. All I wanted, really, was that Coke in a Can. I wandered for what seemed like a mile along the spine of the downtown past shops that offered jewelry and liquor at reduced prices, as well as Quality Name-Brand Electronic Goods. A shopkeeper rushed out of a store as I passed and braced a tourist:
Madam! Today! Eighty percent off!
You can only imagine the tourist's surprise at their good fortune - such a sales event would surely be rare, and yet it coincided with their visit. You can only imagine the shopkeeper's dismay: I decided to have an 80% off sale, which will be the ruin of my bottom line, and I chose a day on which two enormous ships dock. But I have put up a sign in the window and I must honor its promise.
I was looking for a small museum that honored the creator of the molds used for the Yoda puppet in "Empire Strikes Back"; it was highly recommended. But I didn't find it, and my desire to explore the alleys in search of muppet craniums was blunted by the conviction that I was perilously close to heat stroke. COKE. Must find COKE IN CAN.
When I doubled around on the beach, ah, there it was, for a dollar fifty. I drank it with gratitude, almost all at once, and my stomach asked politely what the hell I had just done there, pal. We’re in this together and we needn’t go from nothing / parched to everything / cold soda in a few heartbeats.
As is usual for this edition of a Cruise Bleat, I’m giving you a Hyperlapse version. Quick enough and you get the point. Better than stills, really - a beach is a beach is a beach, and a shot of one of these could be exchanged with something from ten years ago on another island, and who’d know? This, on the other hand, is a moment, a place, a stroll, a condensation of some time on a speck of rock in November of the year of our Lord 2014. Yes, it’s tacky in spots, but:
A few views of the city: I love tropical decay.
But there's decay, and there's decay.
And that’s all there was to the day, really. Back on the ship I stretched out and finished "Perfidia," by James Ellroy. Hmm. He does pull it together in the last 500 pages, I’ll give him that.
No, that’s just a cheap shot at its length. It’s a loooong read, and the reviews always say “sprawling,” a way of saying it’s all over the place, messy, and unfocused. The problem stems from the style. I was with Ellroy when he shifted to the new staccato style, I really was; the stories were intense and the effect was blistering, but something happened: the Style got even more reductive, the vocabulary shrunk, the descriptive powers were sacrificed for non-stop dispatches from the character’s thoughts and actions.
Which might work if you could tell any of them apart. Two stand out, but only because one says “grand!” a lot and the other is Japanese. Everyone else is interchangeable. The cops. Who can keep them straight? The politicians. What’s the diff? Everyone is either part of a faceless xenophobic hate mob pullulating on the margins or is an authority figure who’s a corrupt, violent, brutish, criminal. People speak in chunks of unbelievable dialogue - expository passages that do not resemble English as it is commonly spoken. The characters on the right are all fascists; the ones on the left, with a few exceptions, are benign, their ideas not even discussed. They might as well be Rosicrutians.
Here’s an example of why I was glad to be shot of the enormous mess: at one point a character is described by the author to be “teething” on something, meaning he’s thinking about it obsessively. Later Kay Lake, in her diary, uses the term. Later someone talking to Kay speaks the term to her. The author’s fingers are in everyone’s pies. It also takes license with real people whose descendants might want to ask a lawyer “can he do that? Can he? Can he say my granddad murdered four people?”
I guess he can, but in the end it’s just an exhausting slip 'n' slide through the gutter, with main characters who kill wantonly, survive on benzedrine and opium and gallons of liquor, never eat, and move around with superhuman energy and concentration.
What kills me is that it's the first of a trilogy, and I know I'll read the other two.
Then I read an SPQR Roman mystery, and it was, as usual, a delight. Humorous and instructive with a fine tidy mystery and a brilliant sense of bringing Rome to life. Compared to the LA of the Ellroy novel, it was the difference between a magnificent panoramic painting and someone doing a shadow-puppet show. And the shadow was just a middle finger.
Well, time to shower and don the evening uniform and trot down for more food. Not feeling 100% today, so of course I assume I have the norovirus. Might have something to do with the hot walk, the irregular meals, and the faint stirrings of anxiety I always get at this point. Hope everything’s okay at home. Yes, a bit homesick. A man can take only so much luxury and indolence, and the day your mind considers home is the start of wanting to be there.
But the boat plows on. Two more days.
Your daily sunset.
Tomorrow: I know how Johnny Rocket Work.