PART ONE

So I’m sitting in a laundromat, having had 8 hours of sleep in the last two days, talking to a lady about the horrible riots in London. She’s English. She looks up at the fellow who’s standing with a dress shirt in his hand, and she says “You’re British, aren’t you,” and he grins and says yeah. Big bloke. Wearing a shirt that says “Pete’s Treasure Chest.” They quickly agree on the reasons for the riot, and he goes on to talk about how he worked in the Department of Pensions, and the loads of absolute rubbish he heard from people about why they should get money from the state. He quit that after a year. “What did you do before?” I asked.

“Twenty-four years in the Army,” he grinned. “Four years Northern Ireland, Falklands war, here and there.”

“And now you’re running “Pete’s Treasure Chest.”

“I am. Guess what the treasure is. You won’t.”

“Weathered dubloons hauled from the hulks of ships in romantic Caribbean ports.”

“Nah.” He says something to the woman about the major industry of the town he lives in - she knows it - and she says “sewing? Buttons?”

“Needlepoint and cross stitch,” he says, grinning again. Guy’s got to be six-foot-six, 260 pounds.

I should mention we’re in Spain.

On this.

Yes, my friends: another cruise. This one I paid for, although I used two years of points on the Disney Vacation Club to knock the price down. You know how time-share sales pitches say “eventually, it pays for itself! It just did.

 

What have we seen so far? I’ll tell you what we haven’t seen: the inside of our eyelids.

I’m on the deck of the veranda. It’s 5:20 PM local time, and wife and child are sacked out, utterly jet-lagged. Neither slept much on the way over. I got a little. Woke at five AM destination time after a 90 minute nap, and thought: what the hell do I do with myself now? Looked over at daughter: still watching a movie on the entertainment system. Go to sleep, I said. She pooh-poohed the idea: I’m awake on a plane watching a movie on the seat! This is so neat!

Result: we got off, boarded a bus for a tour of Barcelona to get us to the terminal, and she slept straight through it. Missed the entire city.

Now we’re leaving. The docks are sliding by; land recedes; the ship’s whistle blows the opening notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which lose something when blasted by maritime horns - it sounds like the notes made by the “War of the World” tripods, but somewhat more hopeful.

LATER

Off to dinner at the Restaurant Themed to be a Place Where You Are Not - in this case Parrot Cay, a Carib joint. We were seated with another family, and when the waiter announced he would be following us from restaurant to restaurant this week, I realized A) this is a perfect mechanism for generating the impetus to tip, since you forge a personal relationship, and B) we were going to be stuck with these people for the week, and vice versa. What if we didn’t get along? What if conversation was like pulling teeth through the soles of one’s feet? Not to worry: by some arcane Disney Magic, the couple had a daughter Natalie’s age who’s into fiction, writing, and anime. Whoa. And the dad’s a tech guy. Double rainbow whoa. We all hit it off just fine, although it took until halfway through the meal for daughter to emerge from her jet-lag coma and begin to interact. I just pounded the jake, hot and black. Wasn’t going to miss any of this.

Now it’s 11: 25, on the veranda, full moon above, steaming to France. Didn’t even describe Barcelona. We took a long bus tour through town, and it was lovely and peaceful and quiet and almost empty of traffic, which the tour guide kept reminding us was anything but normal. We saw godless rows of pubic housing, block upon block of elegant apartments built by the rich, wonderful fussy last-gasp-of-Beaux-Arts statuary and public squares, and the peculiar architecture of the H. R. Giger of his day, Gaudi. People nodded with approval at one apartment building, hmm-hmmed at one that seemed to prefigure 50s brutalism, and gasped outright when they saw his magnum opus, the Our Lady of the Enormous Melting Spires. It’s tremendous. It’s remarkable. There’s nothing like it. Its inclusion in the list of European monuments is absolutely correct. I could argue for hours why the study of this structure and its creator is vital to the understanding of Western culture. I hate it.

Well, perhaps not HATE, but I find it messy, hallucinogenic, incoherent, and often ugly, every inch vibrating with tremulous madness. Perhaps that’s what some like - the off-model vision of religious ecstacy. Me: eh.

After the tour of the lovely city - including some swings past remnants from the World’s Fair of 1929, which I’d never heard about, being a provincial fixated on our own manifestations, we were placed into the Disney Machine’s processing center. One check to show our papers. Finally! I’m in Europe, and someone has asked for my papers. Not the same without a German accent, but it’l do. We signed a piece of paper that said no one in your group barfed in the last three days, pinky swear. This was close, since tired child was close to hurling as we stood in line for the detectors, and I thought that would be just perfect: get so close, and miss the boat. But she held it down, and we made it to the hangar where you had to cool your heels for another hour. Finally: on board. Wife and child by now are jetlagged to the point of zombification. I’m spry and perky. Knew there was a wall out there with my name on it, but I hadn’t hit it yet.

We couldn’t get into our rooms yet, so we went to a restaurant and stared at some food for a while, our bodies wondering why we were up, and if we had to be up, why we were not eating breakfast. Strange unreality suffused every moment, every detail - when we came on board we were announced to applause, like all families, and it seemed like one of those dreams where you’re naked. But even in our state we could tell the ship was unlike any we’d taken: it wasn’t small, like the Navigator; like the equally-large New Amsterdam, it was unbelievably elegant. Perhaps I’d expected it to be more cartoony, stuffed with bright colors and Disney characters roaming the aisles. But it’s really a grown-up ship that’s the most kid-friendly ship ever, or vice versa. We fell in love with it right away.

And then we slept. Or did we? They did. I think I did, too. Can’t tell. Then came dinner; then came a drink in the adult section with my wife while daughter played in the tween room, and then blessed sleep . . .

. . . sundered at 6:30 AM when daughter woke and couldn’t get back to sleep. Which brings us to the next day.