It's hard getting old when you're the kind of person who always felt you were put here by mistake; that somewhere out there is a world where people don't look at you strangely for using words of more than two syllables; where irony is worshipped the way piety is here, and where an aging iconoclast can go without feeling that vacation spots have passed you by.
After 20 Caribbean trips, 19 of them to Jamaica, which until a few years ago felt like the one place in the world and time in the year where the soul could heal properly in order to get through another 51 weeks of life in These United States, the relentless ritual of sunscreen, bug spray, and moisturizer has seemed less appealing than it used to. It's true that improvements in the Jamaican tourism infrastructure have meant an end to the days when the rickety car the hotel would put you in to take you to back the airport no longer ends up either pulled into a gas station with smoke coming out of the hood and the driver and station attendant both looking under the hood and shaking their heads (actual experience), or the days when the driver would stop and pick up people in need of a ride to Montego Bay, one of whom would expire on the way to the airport right there in his seat (also an actual experience). But for all that now the transport buses are air-conditioned and work properly, and everyone has a cell phone, a certain unspoiled aspect of the place is gone. Gone are the delicious six-dollar dinners of grilled snapper, rice and peas, and steamed cabbage cooked in a hut where God only knows what sanitation practices are used, eaten on paper plates at a picnic table on the beach, and topped off with a piece of banana cake made by the proprietor's mother. Gone are the long stretches of beach in Negril where you could walk without hearing bad reggae covers of worse American pop songs. Gone are the days when the sound of tree frogs isn't punctuated by the thump-thump-thump of disco music. So after three years without taking a vacation, Mr. Brilliant and I wanted to do SOMETHING this year, but Jamaica just didn't appeal as much as it used to.
So we decided to join all the other middle-aged people and take a cruise -- and head in the opposite direction.
So we sailed to Canada on the Carnival Glory. Yes, I know, Kathie Lee Gifford and all that...and yes, there was that thing of the "fun ship" when we are not just old fogies, but cynical old fogies at that. But we got a great price on a room with a balcony, and given that much of our Jamaica time is spent sitting on a hotel balcony staring at the water and drinking coffee, it seemed like it might just work. Add in the convenience of less than an hour to New York City and you're on vacation, and that sealed the deal.
St. John and Halifax in Canada are lovely small cities that are about five years and an economic recovery away from being really viable cruise ports. You're only in port for about six hours, which leaves you enough time for one excursion at most in each port and some shopping. We planned on continuing our lifelong quest for the most tasteless souvenir ashtrays we could find, except that with fewer people smoking, the truly tasteless ashtray in the shape of a foot with "I got a kick out of Halifax" printed on it seems to be a thing of the past. There's a long and boring story behind all this, but suffice it to say that this development has meant an expansion into just tasteless ashtrays and tasteless souvenirs in general. This expansion's greatest find has been a cheap ceramic ashtray in the shape of a foot with "Jamaica" written across the toes, and a handle that's a hand giving the finger. But that was a long time ago, and my trek through Cologne, Germany last year revealed nothing more than those ridiculous cuckoo clocks, which are too big and too expensive to be in the true spirit of the cheap and tasteless souvenir. Tourist tastelessness, the Carnival activities notwithstanding, just isn't what it used to be. The closest thing we found was something you can buy in St. John called "Moose Poop", which is basically chocolate with anything they could find in it -- jellybeans, pretzels, crisp rice, marshmallows. But fun tastelessness for me stops with anything called "poop", and Sarah Palin has ruined anything having to do with moose forever. Oh yes, there was the jiggling plastic lobster that sang "Sea Cruise", but that didn't quite cut it. Now if it had a recording of the B-52's "Rock Lobster", then we might have had something. But alas, 'twas not to be.
Anyway, we went on a whale watch boat in Halifax, where we saw some dolphins (which we also saw from our balcony) and a harbor seal sticking up his head to pose for photos, but no whales. This caused a minor fit of pique in one guest, who later showed up in the promos for the souvenir video you can buy on ship of a bunch of ugly drunk people playing "Bounce your Boobies" in some kind of Lido deck game. Said guest professed to be pissed off because of his kids' disappointment, but he confided in Mr. Brilliant that he would have been satisfied with a free drink.
Halifax is also one of those towns that seems to be a haven for young hippie re-enactors and old burnouts who used to be the real thing. Halifax is rumored to be the Amsterdam of Canada, and with little to do other than some beachfront seafood joints, souvenir stands all of which sell the same one-of-a-kind hand-carved wooden birds that you can get at the craft market in Ocho Rios on the southern cruise route, it's no wonder that it's full of guys in their late fifties with a few teeth missing muttering as you pass by in search of overpriced lobster lunches about where you can find the best headshop in the city. If you can find a taxi, you can take one to the top of a steep hill and browse around the rest of the city -- something we didn't even think about until we got to St. John, because we were exhausted after the whale non-watch. But the coastline was pretty, and we had beautiful weather, and after a return to the ship, copious quantities of Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion rubbed into our aching feet (rather than going for the $150 spa pedicure) and a nap, we were as good as new and ready for a glorious melting Canadian sunset viewed from the Serenity deck, the 12th-level deck on the Glory which despite its location right by Camp Carnival, is a very pleasant adults-only area that miraculously is out of earshot of the relentless concert films that are shown all day on the big pool deck movie screen.
They must buy a package of concert films and not pre-screen all of them, for tucked away in the middle of Celine Dion shrieking something or another (and WHY oh WHY, twelve years after That Boat Movie, are cruise ships STILL playing this woman singing the a song about a ship that sinks?), Mike Love singing Be True To Your School, and the Jonas Brothers (who really aren't bad), Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue
sneaked in on Night 2, when the fog was rolling in and no one was watching except Mr. B and myself, who had already seen it years ago at Lincoln Center. It was almost as fun watching the "What the fuck is this?" reaction from the few people who decided to check out the night's movie as it was watching the actual movie, especially for someone like me, for whom Miles' Davis electric period makes me want to stick an icepick in my own forehead. Call me Stanley Crouch, but I just don't get it.
Anyway, we continued on to St. John, sucking down $2.95 mochaccinos at the coffee bar, which was the closest we ever got to the 1,487 bars that seem to be on board this ship. One of the less-charming things about Carnival, and it may be true of all cruises, is the relentless haranguing you get to spend money from the minute you get on the ship. The worst job on ship, aside from the poor soul who has to play (yes, really) "Funship Freddy", who has to wear the line's signature "Whale Tail" as a head, which makes him look as if Mr. Met had split his own head open with an axe after having to listen to Celine Dion on the Lido deck all afternoon, has to be the poor souls who carry trays laden with $12.50 drinks in souvenir glasses around all afternoon. There are gift shops full of tchotchkes and jewelry the value of which is open to question, a bar around every corner, a casino full of grim-faced people trying to pay for their vacations with the deck literally stacked against them, spa treatments, paid fitness classes, the aforementioned video, and on and on. But after a few days, you start tuning it out, and a few extra tips handed to the barista at the Creams coffee bar makes you a new friend.
I'm not trying to rag on Carnival, which really does put out a very good product, nor am I saying we didn't have a good time, because we did -- once we got a bit accustomed to the whole cruise ship thing. This did not extend to embracing the extremely lameass entertainment, however. After the first night, when we decided to just hit the buffet for dinner and found the menu there to be EXACTLY THE SAME as what was being dished up in the dining room, except that it was quiet and you could sample small pieces of both the tilapia AND the chicken without ordering two entrees and feeling like a pig, we decided to bag the main dining room for the rest of the trip. I mean, here we had perfectly acceptable food, in a quiet room without waiters doing a song and dance, with panoramic ocean views which the main dining rooms did NOT seem to have. But no matter how uncool we realize that we are, we draw the line at bingo and hairy chest contests and Vegas-style floor shows. To Carnival's credit, they did have some interesting things that we just didn't get around to, like a presentation on Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, and I give them TONS of credit for coming right out (so to speak) in their daily activities newsletter and noting that "Friends of Dorothy GLBT" meets at 11:30 PM in the Colors bar on Deck 3. And if you are a person for whom 1,487 bars is like navigating a minefield, there is a "Friends of Bill W" meeting every day as well.
We had decided to just wing it in St. John, rather than take one of the excursions, all of which seemed to involve an hour and a half on a bus. We had planned to take the 3.5-kilometer walk to the Reversing Falls, but the walkway was closed about halfway there, and as it turned out, nothing was reversing at that time anyway. So instead we walked around St. John, in which there is a fabulous little city screaming to get out. There is TONS of original late-19th century architecture that practically BREATHES the 1870's, and there's great local seafood. We splurged on a ridiculously expensive lunch so that Mr. B. could have a lobster and I could have some fantastic clam chowder and bacon-wrapped scallops -- then walked around the city. This is a port that needs to either become like New Hope, PA -- with lots of galleries and funky shops; or else become Williamsburg, VA -- and embrace the history that's demonstrated by the architecture. It looks as if such a process had started, but the recession stopped it dead in its tracks.
The Glory is pretty in that ongepotchket cruise ship kind of way, and the most impressive thing is just how well run this whole operation is. I mean, this staff of about a thousand people has to take in nearly 3,000 people; digest all the ready cash (or credit) out of them over a course of 4-7 days (depending on the cruise), spit them out at the end, and take in another nearly 3,000 people. And they do it without a hitch. You give your luggage to a guy in a yellow vest at the dropoff point, and by 8:00 it's outside your room. You have ice in your ice bucket, towel animals, nonstop lemonade, iced tea, coffee, and soft-serve ice cream any time you want it, good quality bed linens, decent food, and the behemoth that takes you out to sea is immaculate every minute of the day. And when it's over, you put your luggage out the night before, you get out of your room around 8 AM, have breakfast, wait for your debarkation number to be called, and in 10 minutes you have your luggage, you've had your customs card collected, and you are out of the terminal. Compared to the nightmare that is today's airports, it's enough to make you start listening to the Jonas Brothers all the time if it only means you can have as easy a "getting there and back" time. Carnival is clearly designed more for families (though I cannot IMAGINE spending a week in one of those inside cabins with a spouse AND two kids), and outside of the Nation cruise or Jam cruise, I'm not sure there's any cruise that really "fits" the likes of Mr. B and me. But we had a good time, the ship is lovely, and Carnival really runs a top-notch product for the price.
I was able to keep up online a bit, thanks to spending 48 bucks on discounted internet time. But at sea, the only news you get is for some reason from Denver, where the traffic reporters at the local CBS and NBC affiliates are named -- I shit you not -- Amelia Earhart and Jennifer Zeppelin; CNN, and HLN. I remember when HLN was Headline News, it was owned by CNN, and it had the fabulous kickass martial arts chick Lynne Russell
reading the news. Now it's like Entertainment Tonight, only with less gravitas and newsbots that make Megyn Kelly look like, well, Lynne Russell. CNN is no better, with Rick Sanchez spending an entire show shaking his head because Dr. Laura Schlessinger is -- surprise! -- a racist
. Now I know why Americans are misinformed -- it's because the ones who aren't watching Fox News are watching CNN.
So...I'm wondering just a little bit, if Steve Slater would have gone from folk hero
in just three days if he were straight. Because it sure seemed that the coverage changed the minute we heard the word "partner." Sorry, but I'm with The New York Crank on this one
. And Slater gets extra style points for grabbing a beer on the way down.
I really wish Obama had stayed out of the Cordoba Center fracas. How can he actually still believe that he can somehow re-meld the parted waters of American political discourse? Mike Bloomberg already made the most eloquent comment possible. He should have left it alone. Maha is right
, of course, but still -- why expend what little political capital he has on this when someone else has already done it?
Is anyone actually surprised by this
Last week I had a letter published in our local paper in response to a letter whose writer opined that African slaves who were brought here were "civilized" by a "superior civilization". The assumption is that whoever has the biggest guns is somehow a superior "civilization". When I got back today, I found an envelope with no return address (they never do unless they are telling me I am wonderful and they read me all the time -- which is what I usually get), opened it VERY CAREFULLY (you never know these days), and found a racist screed with the usual claptrap about how Italians and Irish came here and obeyed the law (excuse me, asshole, but where do you think the expression "Paddy Wagon" came from?) but blacks are all in prison. Badtux
grew up in the south and heard this sort of crap on a regular basis
-- and notes that it's also now being used against Muslims. I say we start saying things like this about hypocritical faux-Christian assholes who want less government except when it comes to womens' reproductive systems.Lisa Wines
doesn't post nearly often enough. Come on, girl, being over 50 is no excuse. This is a few weeks old, but this month she takes on the advertising slogan for Wendy's
: Is this why people hate the Mets too
) On a related note, 10 bucks says Gary Cohen talked about a no-no
While I was on vacation I read a book about Henry VIII's "other" children -- those born to his many mistresses. If you're going to be a Tudor geek, you have to plow through this stuff. The thing that strikes one, looking at all those English family trees, is how inbred they are, and how weak subsequent generations are. We already saw the watering down of the gene pool with the Bush family. Now the spawn of Potatoehead joins the slope-forehead brigade
Mr. B. and I just came back from a cruise and our pants are LOOSER. This is not supposed to happen. Of course, if you eat your three squares a day, focus on the meat, fish, and vegetables, eat a big salad and stay away from the 24-hour pizza and soft-serve ice cream, you can do that. I still really, really need to try and do something with a little of this excess avoirdupois. I know I'll never be a size 6 again; I was only a size 6 when I was eating nothing and crying all the time. I'm not sure even a 12 is in the forecast. How about a 14? Then I look at the crazy society we live in
and want to say, "Ah, the hell with it."
What would a week away be without a nice hot steamin' cuppa CrayZee? Even in a world that has Sharron Angle in it, Louie Gohmert is the gift that keeps on giving. Batocchio
on "terror babies."
And finally....Please tell me this is parody. Special thanks to jurassicpork for picking up the slack while I was away, and to Melina for comment moderation.
. Now would someone please tell me how long it takes after a cruise for the ground to stop feeling like it's moving?
And one final observation: I've been on the Circle Line and I've done the Spirit cruises around Manhattan. But nothing prepares you for how profoundly moving it is to stand on the deck of a huge ship after it's gone under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and approaches the Statue of Liberty on a beautiful, mild, low-humidity morning in August. There she stands, torch gleaming, at the gateway to America, as if to say, "Come on in...you're welcome here and everything will be OK." If your grandparents came here that way in the early part of the 20th century, as mine did, you should do this once in your life. Put yourself in their place -- young, probably scared, but with their whole lives ahead of them and the memory of pogroms or other forms of persecution behind them -- and this beautiful lady beckons them in. You'll never look at immigration in the same way again.
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