At present: in the Lido restaurant, the buffet dining hall. Sitting with daughter, who is reading and drinking tea. Birds outside the ship hoping for food; a giant wall of ice that looks like meringue or styrofoam. Bright sunny day. Yes: two days in Alaska, and it’s been bright and dry.
So how’s it been? Thanks for asking. It’s been great. The meals have been superb. I know, I know, that’s such a cliche, such a pampered thing to mention. I visited the new civilization we discovered on that earth-like planet, but the meals were predictable. Yeah, but how about the trip? Oh it was nice. But you know, they never get the shrimp right. It’s either too cold or it’s just a bit too warm. Don’t get me started on the cocktail sauce. Yeah, but you went to another world! Well yes, but we went there a few years ago, so.
The food is incredible, I’ll just say that. And the meals are shorter. No more pauses between courses long enough to watch a Perry Mason episode. The menu, which was three feet wide and four feet tall, is now compact as a paperback book. I can’t tell if the help is less obsequious, since our waiter is unintelligible. (Orange Jumbo Shrimp became oran-yumbo sheemp, but as I always say, his English is 1000X better than my Tagalog.)
My tables have been lively. I’m here to meet and greet and mingle with the National Review subscribers, but I like that, and hence it is not work. Nothing that involves people coming up to you and telling you that they enjoy your writing can possibly be work, even if they get out a scrapbook of celebrity faces that have clipped from newspapers and arranged so their mouths seem to be forming the letters of the collector’s name.
Last night we had the Night Owl, the post-meal event where Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, and myself take the big stage in the main theater and perform highly coordinated, practiced entertainment. This year’s practice and coordination consisted of Jonah coming down the stairs without any pants on. That was the extent of our planning. It came about, of course, because Donald Trump had been castigating Jonah for his contemptuous remarks, and insisted that Jonah was a guy who couldn’t even buy pants. Whatever that means. So Jonah came out sans trousers and we all went from there. Great fun.
Most people who take cruises do not find themselves on stage measuring a tall man for pants using an iPhone charging cord, but this is my life.
And it's good.
Anyway, I’m jumbling things up. First day was at sea, heading up to our furthermost destination. Seems odd to spend the first part of the journey going as north as you’ll go, then spending the rest of the trip going back, but you get turned around and it doesn’t matter.
We made a stealthy approach to Juneau, sliding in under cover of fog. The mountains revealed themselves in stages - faint blue shapes, firming up into ranges and ridges, then towering on either side, forming something no one has described in a unique fashion since 730 BC. But I tried, just now, and I hope you appreciate the effort. That's the problem with this trip: no Great Art to photograph or describe, and all the wonderful sights shame words for even thinking they could capture the Majestic Beauty and / or Beautiful Majesty.
I mean. This. Outside your room, the view is this.
Yes, Cruise Ships are really nightmarish experiences, aren't they?
Destination: whales. I had purchased space on a boat that goes out to look for whales, and if you don’t see one, you get your money back minus a handling fee. So either the place is just lousy with whales, or there’s an animatronic fin in a bay somewhere they deploy should no one else show up.
First, a bus ride, during which nothing the bus driver said could be understood. The sound system could not complete with the engine and the rattling of some unsecured cowl. We passed through Juneau, which looked like any Pacific Northwest small city, I imagine - or some place up north in my part of the world, minus the looming mountains. Which I admit is a big thing to remove. It’s like saying “Arizona is just like Egypt, minus the Pyramids.” But you know what I mean. Firs. Drizzle. Cinderblock buildings. End-of-the-world Next-Exit feel.
We boarded a substantial vessel whose design suggested it was designed for rain. Two enclosed levels with deep booths, long tables. They had a bar because of course they had a bar; this is a civilized place. You could get a hamburger or some smoked salmon buy a scarf whose dyes were activated by the water of the second-largest rain forest in the world, which was right around us. c'mon, scarves? Really? Who'd buy a scarf on a whale-watching trip? (Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to meet . . . my wife.) (It was a nice scarf.) We headed out for an hour without seeing anything, but there were free donut holes and complimentary coffee. From time to time I was tempted to shout OVER THERE without pointing or looking excited, so everyone would whip their heads around looking for a whale, but I resisted.
Great fun with Daughter, of course; we stood out on the back and kept up a running disquisition on other passengers and the scenery, shouting over the whipping wind. She's so funny. And she loves these trips. Like me, she hates to have her routines disturbed. Like me, she regards excursions as an opportunity and a curse, because you're in someone else's hands and can't say okay that's enough done now. And like me, she enjoys looking around and seeing something you've never seen before. Like . . .
Eventually we stopped. The captain had seen evidence of a whale. Sure enough, a small black object broke the surface of the water a mile away; there was great rejoicing as people beheld the marvel of nature through the viewfinders on their cameras. I held my camera out and hoped that I got it. Did I? Here's 1:16 seconds of travel footage.
Not bad for not trying.
A word about the cameras: I've vowed to shoot everything this year with my phone, just as an experiment. I broke this vow on the trip, using a Nikon J3. I wish I'd had lens capable of greater zoom, but that would mean carrying around ten pounds of glass and metal. As it was, I got shots like this.