Puerto Rico! Finally. Something.

Slid past the old fort . . .



. . . docked, and then the ship disgorged the multitudes into the steaming heart of the city. First, a warning:



Done. Don’t worry. I headed along the shore. Got caught in one of those afternoon squalls that drenches without cooling; stood under a tree with thick gnarled branches, which had the same effect as a leaky umbrella: you don’t get completely soaked. When it passed and the sun blared again the temps bumped up another ten degrees, the torpor increased, and you felt the forces begin to extract initiative and purpose from your bones. But. It was a day to explore on foot, and see something different, BY GOD, so I would.

Down a long street lined with palms, the end of which had a ghastly statue - a modern mishmash of allegory and literal scenes. (The art of public fountains is lost, I think.) Well-maintained buildings on one street; the next block . . .



Picturesque decay. Speaking of which: the Cathedral. Poor not in spirit, or in execution, but in materials. Very little ornamentation. They could afford paint, and that was about it. Saw the tomb of Ponce De Leon, although of course you have to take their word for it; sat in the small ancient quiet chapels, stage sets for who-knows-how-many small acts of penitence and devotion over the decades.





Found myself in a park with a million pigeons. Fearless birds, all with the glint of avian insanity in their eyes. They were congregating around a little girl who was, quite sensibly, filled with trepidation. The birds wanted something from her. The birds expected something from her. In the absence of grain, perhaps she herself would do.

A short, terrifying film:


Ducked in and out of shops, looking for a souvenir, but it was all the usual bottle-openers and magnets and small bottles of sand. Outside a cigar store, an old tile name:



The store felt like it had been a grand store, once. Everything felt as if it had been grander; it was the old town, after all, and felt as if money and power had flowed through the narrow streets before it ebbed away, diverted to the new part of town. A rare piece of moderne decoration:



Towards the end of my stroll:




A statue of Columbus atop a column - the analogue to the statue I saw in Barcelona on the other side of the ocean, facing towards this very place, more or less. I stood there thinking: good Lord, what a wonderful year it’s been . . . and I think I have heat stroke. Well, the two aren’t mutually exclusive in the least. Not enough water, too much heat, too much climbing up the steep streets. Let us betake ourselves back to the ship, and then to sleep.

Two hours to dinner; two hours until I yak and yuk as the official guest of honor at table 309. Dinner as work: It’s the damndest thing. What I wouldn’t give just for a piece of pizza and a beer.

-- 2 --

Today: a piece of pizza and a beer. But not for breakfast. As usual, I woke too early, thanks to the ever-cheerful voice of Our Cruise Director, who tells everyone that we are coming into port, in case that large cement structure alongside is something of a puzzler. Had the standard breakfast, and the line was short: no plodders or slow-folk who put the care and consideration into selecting breakfast that the College of Cardinals devote to choosing the Pope. It’s just eggs, people. I don’t know why it’s so difficult. But there’s something about the buffet that makes people forget the existence of the rest of the world, to say nothing of humanity, and they walk two abreast down the aisle at a glacial pace while people back up for yards behind them. At least the clueless and slow are always paired with their equal; you never, ever see the wife grab her husband’s elbow and say “Fred, you’re in the way.” The very idea of being in the way evaporates from the brain for 67% of people the moment they go up the gangway.

Virgin Islands today. On the dock were many lizards. They blended in so well with the rocks you were startled when the rock moved and looked at you.



We’d been in port an hour when the largest cruise ship in the world showed up: The Allure of the Seas.



It’s one of two; its sister ship is about two inches shorter. (Don’t think the captain of the larger one doesn’t lord that over the other.) If they were equal the captains would consider themselves equal, and I’m sure they laugh about it, but you know it matters.

It’s an extraordinary brute. And it’s remarkable to watch the dockhands grab ropes and secure her, as if any thread spun by the hand of man could keep her in one place, but apparently so. Or it’s the law. Here: a very short film of the monster, with a comparison of the ship with the elegant lines of the Eurodam.



When I’d had my fill of the island I had the aforementioned pizza and beer and went down to the main theater to listen to some discussions, then decided to nap. I was awakened by the sound of someone dragging a spiky metal chain through the plumbing in the unit below. Fell asleep again; the sound returned. The third time I was up for good. Checked the time. Twenty minutes had elapsed. Well. I sat outside and read and watched the thousands stream back into the Allure - it can hold over 6 grand - and then tried the nap again. The whistle blew three times, indicating we were preparing to leave, and by “blow” I mean huge gut-shaking Kraken farts. So that wasn’t going to work. I wouldn’t mind much except that tonight is the "hardest" night of them all: a party before dinner, then dinner, then the late-night cognac & cigar party aft. Last year this was the night that destroyed my voice, and I expect the same tonight.

We’re pulling out now, sailing back into the great ocean. The delicacy of leaving the harbor when a monster like the Allure is sitting right there would be nerve-wracking, except the computers probably take care of everything. I know that the ships are brought into the harbor by the pilots from the harbor, and I wonder how much that might give a captain a bit of a pause. They probably know each other well, having done this a dozen times this year. Hey, Bob. Here, guide this 100,000 ton vessel right alongside that immobile pier of concrete.

The captain has just informed us that it will be windy tomorrow; he never tells us whether there will be sun, or what the temperature will be. These things do not enter a captain’s mind, apparently. But now it’s the setting sun and the mountains of clouds and the rippling sea; peace and beauty.

I like ships best when they’re going somewhere. Anywhere will do at the end of the day.



Oh but there’s more. Or was. The next day we landed at Half Moon Cay, a private island that’s like Grand Turk, but with far fewer shopping options and ten times more beach chairs. The night before we got a letter slipped under the doors, and it addressed the concerns some people had raised about the incidents of gut-gripping blurts and hurls on the Ryndam, another ship of the line. Really? No one I knew was talking about it. I don’t know how anyone else would know about it. But apparently the ship was somewhat troubled by an outbreak, and, well, since it would be docking at Half Moon Cay at the same time, there would be a few changes. EVERYTHING WOULD BE HOSED WITH BLEACH was the subtext. The crews would be segregated. Food and shopping options limited.

When we saw the Ryndam floating in the bay the next morn, we thought: PLAGUE SHIP.

I took the tender over, took a beach chair, read a novel about Rome. Perfect sun and perfect sand and perfect water but so very many people. Then I remembered: a member of the cruise had invited me to his Oasis, which was a permanent structure on a spit off the beach. You could rent it. The ship would provide food. So I wandered over and had a marvelous afternoon with the host and a few other speaker & spouse combos; at one point I looked out on the beach below from the balcony, and the tale of the Masque of the Red Death came to mind.

Could have stayed there for the rest of my life, but I had a speech to give. So I did that. Napped, then girded up for another night: a pre-meal party, then the gruesome last-night supper where the staff comes out and marches around and sings songs and runs hither and yon holding Baked Fargin’ Alaska, which is the Very Special Precious Treat! you get on every line at the last night, it seems. A spokesperson reminded us to fill in our evaluation forms, and reminded us that the scale goes only to Nine, because Ten would be perfect and they do not presume to be perfect. Such hubris tempts the wrath of Neptune, I guess. But give us Nines! This was said with forced cheer, as if any smaller number meant they would be strangled with their own intestines, which would then be fed to the sea as shark chum. I gave the dining room experience an Eight, and as my reason for not giving a Nine cited the Baked Alaska Parade.

Although there was one fun moment. We were encouraged to take our napkins and whip them in circles over our heads, to indicate our glee. I looked at an adjacent table from our group, and saw a Midwestern governor not whipping their napkins. I sprang over and said “Let go of your Midwestern reserve. WHIP YOUR NAPKINS.” And he did. I got a thumbs up and a big smile from his lovely wife. No need to thank me, ma’am; I’m just here to make sure everyone is engaged in this mortifying exercise, faces frozen in a rictus of fake fun.

Then the Crow’s Nest to close the cruise. At least it was open; a few nights before we had been forced to take the last libation at the Sports Bar near the Casino, and the previous night had demanded the opening of the Pinnacle on Third, because nothing else had seats. At 11:30. Really. AND MY VERANDA CHAIR DOES NOT RECLINE. Conversation in the Crow’s Nest had to touch on a precious moment during the novelist panel, when a cranky audience member was going on and on about Communist perfidy in movies, and cited “Casablanca,” to general groans of WTF dismay; he had the distinctly unenviable position of directly his remarks to someone who wrote the sequel to “Casablanca,” and he still said “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Up to the room. Put out the bags. Slept. Up. Out. Bus. Airport. Plane. Hey: Milwaukee! I had an hour layover, which turned into three: snow in Minneapolis. Sure enough, when we landed, my city was white, the flakes still falling. Of course I gave my wife a kiss, but probably shouldn’t have, since now she has a cold, which she got from my daughter, and we’re all heading to the second achoo snortfest in two months, and I’m thinking I hope it doesn’t turn into pneumonia again. But it did before because my system was worn down. Tension. Stress. Stuff. Now I’m relaxed. Rebuilt. Remade. Because I did something on that ship I’ve been waiting to do for a while, and it took a great weight off my chest.

One night I sat down and banged out the revision of the first chapter of the third novel of this year. It clarified some things and got me back in the groove, and if I keep hammering it’ll be done by the end of the year. Three Cruises; three novels. Some years you look back and think, well, it was interesting and fun, but what the hell did I do, exactly?

2011 was not one of those.


The end! Tomorrow: back to normal.





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