First stop: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.
Also known as Little San Salvador Island, at least before Holland-America bought it. Sun and more sun and blue water and nothing to do but baste and swim; ideal. Although the fountain in the main “plaza” had the ugliest fountain ever:
At one point I bought a smoothie for my daughter, and the bartender started doing a magic trick. I realized we’d seen him before, doing the same trick, during lifeboat drill.
“You were at our muster station,” I said. “Doing magic.” He said yes, he was. “We were paying attention to you instead of the instructions. So I put the lifejacket on like a pair of pants, blow on the whistle and jump in the water, right?”
So the guys on the ship took the first boat over and did bartender duty. Jack of all hands.
It was a lovely day; Natalie played in the surf, and we walked around the back roads, I talked to folks who came by to say hello. The number of people who have come over to say they read the site is . . . well, gratifying isn’t the perfect word, but it’s close. Amazing and delightful and astonishing. People from Hawaii, Connecticut, South Carolina, California – it’s about as nifty as it gets in this business. That’s the word. It’s nifty. And then there’s the whole Inner Party aspect, where you hang around with the most interesting people you’ve met in years; can’t describe any of this without sounding like the most insufferable name-dropper. Example: on the way back to the ship in the tender I had the most delightful conversation with Victor David Hanson about his consultation experience with Zack Snyder and the movie “300.” See? Oh did you now, Mr. High-Hat. La De Dah and good for you. But if you’re interested in the Classical period, and you’re reading a book in which Hadrian is a main character, AND you’re both featured speakers, which means you’re sorta kinda peers now, he almost has to listen to what you say. I tell you, it’s heaven.
The bad part: after two days I’m starting to lose my voice, and I have to be on a panel after dinner in the main theater. It is a large place:
But it’s me and three other people who have Opinions the way the beach has individual grains of sand, so I’m just going to wind them up and let them go. Probably choose a simple topic and see what happens.
Oh ho, that was fun. Yeah. That’s the word. Fun. As in hit-your-toe-with-a-hammer-fun. The panel was intended as a late-night sprightly BS session rife with quips and japes and merry back-and-forth, right? Show prep consisted of telling Breitbart on the beach that we should meet up and discuss the agenda. We all got on stage, and faced a large house – it was the theater were all the nightly performances take place. I appointed myself moderator, since I figured everyone wanted to hear what the other guys were saying. Did some warm-up remarks, which was fun; I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually been on stage with a microphone addressing an audience with virtually nothing prepared, but it was a friendly crowd, and I was full of vim.
I tossed it to Breitbart, then tossed it to Michael Walsh, who said some things (more on him tomorrow, in the context of Film Noir, Bruckner, and new friends) and the room was awash with comfortable laughter and fellow-feeling. Then I tossed it to Bernard Goldberg, who did not look particularly happy to be here; he was sprawled in his chair and looking unhappy. He upbraided the audience for uncritically accepting the remarks of Sean Hannity, which sent up a bit of a murmur – oh we do, do we? – and then he went on a hectoring vein, and I felt alllll the air go out of the room, and felt the audience turn, as audiences do sometimes.
It got contentious instead of merry, and we could not get off the topic of believing everything Sean Hannity says, which I don’t – I don’t listen to him, I have no idea what he says – and eventually I ended running into the audience Donahue-style to let the people respond, and after an hour it was done and I was drained and full of W – T – F, and as one person said on the way out: don’t worry, everyone remembers the name of the Captain of the Titanic.
On the other hand: it was my first wide-scale introduction to a lot of people, and no one held any of it against me, and many rounds were stood in my honor at the Crow’s Nest or the Explorer’s Bar or the Piano’s Lounge or the Black Swan (A Mucky Duck) or some other location where men in uniforms exchanged drinks for your plastic card. The journey was well and true underway.
The next day was Grand Turk, where everyone exchanges one hermetically-sealed controlled environment for another, if you want to be cynical. I have no memory of it. Almost interchangeable with Half Moon Cay. The ship docked, so you didn’t take tenders. Right? No, we parasailed. No! Zip-lines from deck six to the bar. Anyway. Normal vacationing people wandered over to Margaritaville, a chain of bars studded in Caribbean resorts devoted to giving ornately named drinks to middle-aged people and steady checks to Jimmy Buffett. I don’t know if they played the Margaritaville song, but I heard it a few times on the cruise. Some people say that there’s a woman to blame. Don’t know if there was a general referendum on the matter, or if it’s just island chatter, or if there were other people who agree completely with the singer that it’s his own damn fault. I mean, after a few years of the same guy throwing up in the alley outside the bar, the blame-the-woman angle starts to get a little thin.
As I said, that was for normal people having a vacation; I was expected to appear on a panel at 4:45, so I didn’t have anything that would make me wavy at the edges. But I never do. I have a horror of being slurry at 1 PM.
After the panel, some time on the veranda deciding I was sick of the book I was reading; I hit DELETE on the Kindle approximately 4.7 seconds after I encountered the phrase “I groaned wittily.” It was the first in a series of Roman mysteries. This series has many fans. I’m glad they enjoy the author’s work and I commend the author for building a loyal following. The book was horrid. Then it was time to get back into the suit – formal night! – and head to the Manhattan Dining Room for round two.
Just to repeat: I was a Featured Speaker, which meant every night I would sit at table 218 with my wife and six other people who were part of the NR Cruise, and I would be expected to not stare at my filet and talk only to my wife. Not that I would, but you know what I mean: you have to produce. You’re on. You’re the added value. But it’s more fun to ask what they do, what they think, and this table was as crackerjack as the last – a woman who had a brace of degrees on art (including Roman Architecture, which led to a sprightly conversation) and a woman who grew up in East Germany. Fascinating stories: they lived in a small town, and her mother refused to let the kids join any of the state organizations. The kids had their opportunities constrained by Mom’s disdain for the state, and had two choices in college: accounting or theology, of all things. I asked her if everyone knew who the Stasi informant, and she said it wasn’t hard. They stood out. Everyone knew. No one wanted to have them around. O, the social awkwardness of being an political informant! You don’t know if they don’t like you for your job, or your personality.
I suspect they all blamed the job.
The evening ended either at the Crow’s Nest or the Piano Bar or the Explorer’s Lounge or the Lido Back Deck or possibly all three.
Wednesday was a day at sea. I like days at sea. Listened to the panels, read on the veranda, and grappled with gluttony. On land I have a modest breakfast and a thin, miserable lunch. At sea it’s Hello Rabelais. I began each day with an omelette embedded with jalapenos – like mines in a harbor, they were, with time-delayed fuses – a sausage patty, which was either savory or horsey, a jumble of seasoned potatoes, and a single piece of French Toast drenched in sugar-free syrup. Also coffee. The first few days of the voyage you had to ask for coffee, which was annoying; a fellow in a coat wearing gloves would draw a cup from the machine and hand it to you, which was JUST NOT FAST ENOUGH if you were in dire need. The breakfast buffet is one of those things that makes me hate my fellow man with a blinding, ecstatic light, partly because people stop and clog the aisles to peruse the offerings – buffets make people lose all ability to judge peripheral motion; they are transported in the rapture of the Endless Food Zone – or they just don’t know what they want, and there’s hemming and hawing. Or there are specific demands, often expressed with some sort of medical imperative. DON’T USE THAT SPOON I’M ALLOIGIC TO THAT STUFF. Ideally I would enter the breakfast buffet preceded by Darth Maul with a double-bladed light sabre, and that would either encourage the others to make way, or eliminate obstacles.
It’s mostly the people who just don’t have any sense of their surroundings. This may be why humans never developed eyes in the back of their heads. The ones who did died from embarrassment.
So I have a big breakfast. This usually means I skip lunch as such, but then everyone gets peckish around 3, and you have EnormoLunch, or you order something that ruins your appreciation of Supper. But then you think, well, supper’s late. So it’s okay. So dessert enters the equation. I never have dessert after lunch. But when there ared 20 desserts you almost feel as thought you should do your part.
The evening meals were generally spectacular – four-course chew-fests that frequently seemed to be nothing more than a pile of adjectives and nouns. Comfrite of pan-seared attaturk on Heglian peaches. That sort of thing. You peer at the menu looking for the linch-pin noun, like STEAK or SALMON or CHICKEN, and it’s usually there.
Ah – before the meal, though, another reception. Onto the Lido deck rode the 800, for free drinks and small nibbly items borne around by liveried servants. We were on deck 6; Lido, which was the pool / buffet / back of the ship deck, was on 9. All traffic was funneled through one hall that passed the Spa, the intent of which was clear: GET TO KNOW THE EXISTENCE OF THE SPA. Sliding doors admitted you to the pool area, but there were two non-sliding doors that defined a passage between Spa and sliding doors. One of the doors was always propped open. The other wasn’t. This meant that people never, ever pushed through the closed door, but either assumed it was bolted in place, or welded, or just wasn’t meant to be opened. Consequently traffic bottlenecked, and since I am one of those guys, I asked the spa people if the other door could be propped open. The attendant was surprised; never came up. No one ever mentioned it. Sure, why not. She propped it open. I walked through, pleased. I’d made my case and the merits of my arguments were unassailable.
It was closed every day thereafter.
Ended the night at the Crow’s Lights or the Explorer’s Nest or the Piano Bar or the Northern Swan or the Black Bar (A Mucky Duck) or the Lido Back deck, I think. There was a lot of talking; rounds were stood; I went back to the room late, as usual, undressing in the absolute black, thinking this is excellent practice for being blind. Getting into bed presented a problem, since the sheets are tucked in with extreme prejudice and require the Jaws of Life to loosen. Read for a while, then let the iPad slip from my hand. On to the next place; on to the next day. I love falling asleep with the distant sensation of engines and waves. It’s a comfort. The sea is home to us all. It is the void from which we emerged. And now it’s even better, because there’s French Toast.