Saturday, December 30, 2006

Cruising Hawai’i: 30 December 2006 – Off Lahaina, Maui

Another restful sleep ended to the sound of tons of anchor cable clamoring down into the sea: a discordant clanking that on land would bolt one upright in bed, but here is a right proper and revelatory alarm. A new anchorage awaits! Pushing aside the porthole shades reveals a picture perfect day off Lahaina. With two thousand others soon to be in line for the tenders for the short cruise to shore, Alfredo and I opt for a slow start to the day. Why rush to wait when a stroll along the empty decks and a frothy latte are a much better way to pass the time ‘til we can go ashore?

The two days in Honolulu were ambulatory: we walked everywhere, a touristy stairmaster that left us pleasantly winded and sweaty. We even took in a film ( a $1 bargain matinee of “Borat” for which I was glad more lucre was not expended – I still live in hope of a showing of “Happy Feet” somewhere before cruise’s end). Typically tropical off-and-on rain showers challenged us, but pleasantly so. Yesterday, we walked all the way to Waikiki Beach and back. Along the way, we discovered the charming Christmas Lights and Tree display at City Hall, including one with a pair of “native” raccoons we quickly dubbed “Koono” and “Kona.” Next door at the Lutheran Church was a welcoming display of several holiday crèches, including a tree created by Honolulu’s PFLAG ( Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). That pleased us both, a reminder of these islands’ rainbow reputation: meteorological and societal.

The only disappointment was the Pearl Harbor historical site. We had been warned of “crowds” but arriving before noon as we did on the first day ashore we were met with a chaotic gathering and all tours to the Arizona fully booked. Since the only way to get to the wreck of the late battleship – still a cemetery for more than 1,000 servicemen who never escaped her burning, buckling decks – is by boat, we had to be contented with viewing from shore. We could have gotten a launch for a tour of the Missouri which now lays just next to her late sister, but the queue for that was also daunting.

It is right and appropriate for these two battlewagons to face and “salute” each other: one, the beginning of this country’s entry into the Pacific War; the second on whose decks MacArthur officially accepted the Japanese surrender. Arizona and Missouri – together now in a way that never before did history acquaint them. However, our disappointment was less about not physically getting aboard either Missouri or the Arizona Memorial, but rather in the haphazard and sloppy execution of the land-side museum and historic area.

The entrance is ringed by a leaning and inappropriate chain-link fence dotted with vinyl banners directing visitors to various “add ons” to the area. Only the concrete and bronze sculpture of Arizona that welcomes one to the very well-curated ( if overly-crowded) Museum proper provides the expected dignity of the place. Earlier this year we had visited the National Cemetery at Normandy along the French coast. That experience, even now typing, fills me with a quiet respect and awe. No such emotions are engendered by the mish-mash of architectural styles and tacky “All American Burgers” kiosks that surround the Arizona site. Gyro sellers compete for space with souvenir stands and peeling WWII era poster recreations. A rusting ballistic missile stands outside the ticket counter to board the Missouri and a submarine of the age. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Missouri – the last battleship ever built on planet earth and possibly this country’s greatest water-borne tank – is owned and operated by an independent nonprofit, in a similar arrangement to the Jeremiah O’Brien in San Francisco ( the last operational “Liberty Ship”) as opposed to being under the aegis of a rightfully grateful-and-proud U.S. government. Shameful. To ask U.S. citizens to raise money for the preservation of such history is a blot on governmental priorities. The only saving grace of the site is the simple majesty of Arizona’s Memorial profile on the water – thankfully removed from the mawkish miasma ashore ­­– guarded by the presence of the “Mighty Mo’” anchored alongside.

Something should be done. Never have I been more embarrassed to visit an historic site of my country’s heritage than this. In defense of those who clearly labor with love at the site, the crowds dumped there by legions of cruise ships and busses are of such a mass as never to have been anticipated when the place was designed. However, before it’s too late, a firm philosophical and architectural guiding hand needs to be brought to bear. Save the Arizona Memorial!

The day beckons and I to it. More anon.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Approaching Hawai’i: 28 December 2006 – At Sea

Awoke before dawn the last two days: rested, rocked and relaxed from the creaking comfort of a good night’s sleep at sea. Since I had an early morning lecture to prepare for yesterday, decided to shower and shave early in the large gym showers top-side. I was early indeed, as it was not yet open. 5:50am, and the eyelids of Dawn were just flickering open to port and astern. Then, they drifted closed again like someone not quite ready to start the day, pulling a slim sheet of clouds back over her head. I headed for the sound of a crewman just aft – carrying coffee he was, hurray! Caffeine secured, I strolled around the empty, pre-sunrise decks. Today, similar routine save Dawn was even more recalcitrant to rise: the hazy veneer under which she hid yesterday today replaced by a thick blanket of fog. Somewhere to Starboard: Hawai’i. We dock at 10am ( officially, which means we’ll pull up sometime around 8am I’d say). An hour away, and still nothing in sight. A lowering day it is indeed: moist, melancholic and murky – a perfect day at sea.

It’s been an unusually easy crossing, save for the typical first-day out finding of sea legs, smooth indeed. My first Pacific cruise in 1998 was quite something else: rocky and producing of an epic case of sea-sickness ( one of three I still recall with a shudder). The seas were high, rugged and rolling constantly. When we finally arrived off of Diamond Head, I went to the stern and tossed off a rock that a friend had given me in Los Angeles to “return” to Hawai’in waters: a volcanic pebble from the sides of Mount Pele – Fire Goddess and Protector of the Islands. My friend Kirk saw me in this ritual and turned white with horror. “Dear God, no wonder we had such a rough crossing,” he said. “One never steals a piece of Pele, much less goes to sea with Her. Get it off the ship now!” And so, with a nod to the gods Pele was returned to her native element. The island-born Kirk wasn’t usually the superstitious type, but in this he was quite serious. “Your friend must have known what he had done and wanted you to risk the punishment,” Kirk explained. “A piece of Pele onboard,” he muttered as he walked away shaking his head. “Dear me.”

Both our “LinerLore” lectures went quite well – the second better attended than the first so I guess the word-of-mouth has been good. Some of the passengers are already requesting a fourth and we haven’t even delivered the third! Who ever thought that at age six, watching Barbara Stanwyck in a lifeboat leaving behind husband Clifton Webb on the deck of the late-show “Titanic” that a life-long hobby would be born. So, thanks Barbara and Clifton: in many ways, because of that late-night viewing with my mother I am here today. The Christmas following, my mother gifted me with Walter Lord’s “A Night to Remember” in my stocking – to this day, the best book ever written about Titanic. At last count, I had consumed her pages seven times straight through ( and referenced various sections countless times other).

7:10am – the moody mantle of mist is beginning to brighten and lift. Time to greet the day and Pele – this time, theft free.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day: 26 December 2006 – at Sea

Day three at sea: Two hours back and worlds away from life ashore. Dreamy. Funny, no matter how many times I take to sea, I forget how long it takes for the body to surrender to the rhythm of ship life. Embarkation day: chaos. Day one: disorientation: Day two: a pattern begins to emerge for the voyage ( different for every body, different every trip. Day three: one awakes and realizes, ah…we are here.

Christmas Eve and Day aboard ship were a whirlpool of activity: lots of entertainment crew running around in elf costumes; St. Nick “landing” on the helipad all the way forward and then bringing gifts for the quite sizeable “Santa Age” contingent onboard this trip; and lots of special menus and delicacies to tempt one’s will. Alfredo and I fell into our routine early. Alfredo gyms first thing in the morning while I awake slowly and then make my way here to write. Then, we meet in the Cova for coffee followed by --- relaxation! We lunch on-deck, choosing from the lighter “Spa Menu.” Interestingly enough, while shipboard cuisine has a reputation for fattening one up, we find we usually lose weight after two weeks at sea. We actually eat less and at more predictable hours. Plus, there’s no better “stairmaster” than traversing 10 decks several times a day.

So far, one day of sun has helped with Alfredo’s wish for a pre-New Year’s tan. Today looks like it might cooperate as well. For me, gym ( not as daily disciplined as Alfredo I admit ) is in the afternoon followed by reading on a deck chair. I’ve picked up John Maxtone-Graham’s excellent “The Only Way to Cross” ( about my third time reading it I believe) from the ship’s library. I gave my first lecture yesterday – “The Titanic: Now & Then” – and want to brush up on a couple of my “WWI” liner facts before my next one. There’s nothing like re-reading a tome by someone you admire to pass the time on deck. Note to the library, however: no books by my pal Bill Miller or the great Frank Braynard. That’s really a shame – must fix that! Braynard, Miller and John M-G are the greatest maritime writers around – each with a unique perspective and tone. All are “must haves” for a fully stocked shipboard library! Reading at sea has got to be one of life’s great pleasures. Now, if they would just bring back bouillon service on deck!

The “Titanic” lecture was well received, and about 10 passengers stayed afterward with questions ( my favorite part) – so long in fact, we were kicked out of the room to make way for the next speaker! This morning, I even ran into some old friends, the Keenans, who remembered our talks from a former cruise and said they’re looking forward the next one: “Titanic’s Sisters: Olympic, Britannic and the Tides of War”. It’s not scheduled yet, but I believe tomorrow is likely.

The Pacific has been very kind so far, except for a wee bit of choppiness the first day out, quite respectful of first time cruisers. But, one never knows. Even we keep a bottle of “Sea Calm” tablets at bedside, which we reach for in the morning before rolling out of bed if the “motion of the ocean” seems to portend an off-balance day. Of course, a “Mary” either Bloody or Virgin around 12noon is the sure cure for all ills.

9:04am --- time for my better half to join me in the “Cova”. Outside, a couple plays quite expert shuffleboard ( old sea dogs). Husband and wife laugh and compete, continuing a tradition not much changed since the great Atlantic Ferry of the Golden Age. That pleases me. Internet access, on-board acupuncture, spas and Broadway style production shows are all very nice. But, all that’s needed to have the experience is a ship’s creaking frame, a steamer blanket, a good book and the occasional round of shuffleboard.

More anon.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day: 25 December 2006 – at Sea

San Francisco’s legendary Herb Caen, whose column ran for over a half century, had a wonderful Christmas tradition: a holiday poem dedicated to all his friends and family. Here aboard “Celebrity Summit” the idea has been resurrected, with a blast of the ship’s horn to all those Alfredo and I met aboard ship this past year and to our loved ones ashore.

Ahoy Mr. Sherman, Sir Terry the First:
Seaworthy and witty, and always well-versed.

To Mary and Bill, the McFaddens most merry:
Tipped hats to you both from “Celebrity” Ferry.

And to Juan and to Francois; to Franklin and Norm:
What joy ‘twas to meet you, and in such flawless form!

To William the Schaeffer; to Bob and his Mel,
Seasons greetings we ring thee, with all the ships bells.

Lord Bill of the Miller and Abe his First Mate:
You are the Monarchs; all others, just freight.

Kirk Fredrick and Michael, hello from the sea!
‘Tis lonely on starboard without both of thee.

To ship lovers Leba and Leah and all our “Chron” friends:
May 2007 bring news tips and trends.

Sandra “Mein Schatzi” and Denise lovely pals;
Holiday heralds to all “The Flood Gals.”

Sheila and Joel, our glasses we tip!
Bon Noel and hoho from us on the ship!

To Lynn de la Friedman whose heart we hold dear,
Have a “Miss Kitty” New Year with reception all clear!

Leigh Ann the lovely, in Texas we know;
Hoping your New Year is bright and aglow.

Dear Theresa and Darlene; Judy and Sue:
Most festive of greetings in the warmest of hues.

Heyday Patricia whose advice is so sage:
Thanks for the “nudging” to put ship pen to page

On Sophie! On David! On John up the River!
Holiday greetings, from our decks all a quiver.

Reagan the charming your laughter -- a chime!
Wishing you good things -- a Christmas sublime.

Dapper, Don Guapo and all of our cantos
are sent with big love to Brian of Santos.

Michael of Micael, whose smile keeps us sane,
Merry Christmas and New Year from here on the Main!

Angus and Tommy, warm emotions you spread:
music for all, a great daily bread.

To Joe de la Brown, “Tangentia” to me,
May Sugar Plumb Fairies appear ‘neath your tree.

To Tom Dross our comrade, we offer salute:
A friendship which blossoms and always bears fruit.

Harry O’ “Matson”, the glasses are fine!
And you “Our Marconi” with talents, divine.

To “Moose Boys” the Mark and Jon who do “Fly”
Thanks for your “podcasts”: tomorrow, the sky!

The Jim and the Tim, a year it is now!
Congrats and Big Kudos, you’ve made it and how!

Stephen “Art Gardener” and Vasyl the most wise;
Your affections we treasure, above every prize.

And to Ken and the Kelvin, salutations titanic!
May this season bring joy in bundles gigantic.

Eric and Barbara, Roger, Rita and Jules;
Greetings to you during these festive Yules.

To Diane of Roby and Tony of course,
sending Carols from ship, as of old, like by “Morse.”

And to Alvin and Robert, here’s holiday cheer
and wishing with hope to see you next year!

To Robert and Claire and all Cousins Virginia;
Flagg, Jim, Bev & Billy – our love we do send ‘ya.

To Tom and La Cindi we offer a toast
from all of us here on America’s “Left Coast.”

On Drunky! On Coonski! On Raccoons of Fame!
If we get anymore, we’ll run out of names!

To Andone, Felipe and Otis a taste of our nog
with Holiday Harkens, and to Drew Santa Dog!

Jose y Leni, los Casusos bravados;
Feliz Navidad tambien al Cuñado!

And so from the “Summit” in watery climes.
Happy Christmas to all, and Most Blessed Times.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

First Day at Sea Aboard "Celebrity Summit"

24 December 2006 – at Sea

We survived embarkation, always the busiest day for crew, and a potential source of tension for even the most traveled traveler. I suppose with a rent-a-car at our beck I thought we could relive some of the stories our friend Joe used to tell about driving down to the Manhattan docks of the 1930s’ "Bremen," leaving the car at the quay and then dashing aboard for a “bon voyage” party in his cabin: champagne and caviar chilling in his ice-filled stateroom tub. Or, perhaps I thought it would be fun to recreate that scene in “Titanic” when Rose arrives, smartly dressed in an equally smart coupe, at the White Star docks. Whatever, the motivation ( including my real one of keeping our luggage as wrinkle-free as possible ‘til we sailed) the concept of driving to the “World Cruise Terminal” was greater than its execution.

We arrived early, just a bit after the earliest-boarding time of 11:30am, and already the lines were something out of “Last Plane from Lisbon.” However, we parked and did get onboard early: securing in the midst of holiday hectic-ness, the all important reservation in “Normandie” restaurant for Christmas Eve and New Year’s. Then, we checked in with the Maitre d’ and with the Cruise Director to find out my schedule of lectures. As I always advise: First thing you do when you get onboard – sort out your Dining Room assignment and make your reservations at the a la carte restaurant.

However, this is where the plan went wrong. We still had to return the rent-a-car. And, although it was at the nearby Long Beach Airport, a detour to check out the docked “Queen Mary” ( still gorgeous) and difficulty in finding the almost-too-quaint-to-believe-in-this-day-and-age air terminal almost did us in. Nonetheless, it was nice to not have bags with us when we returned to the ship, and the very efficient key-card system got us on and beveraged pronto. Two out of our three bags found their way to our room by sailing ( the third later that night), so all was well. A note however: wouldn't it be a dandy idea to have a rental car drop-off location actually AT the "World Cruise Terminal." Something for the powers-that-be to think on.

Generally, Alfredo and I prefer martinis at 7pm ( our glorious shipboard excess) and then late-sitting dinner. However, even with our early-onboard efforts, being fully-booked for this traditional “Christmas Cruise”, tables for two at the late seating ( actually ANY tables at the late seating ) were not to had. We settled in for a congratulatory drink at precisely 5pm ( very James Bond) and secured a wonderful table for two overlooking the statue of “Normandie” in the Dining Room ( yes, THE one from the late-great French Line grande dame). A re-union with our old friend, Martin, serving as Dining Room Maitre d’, and a lovely white wine from near our Russian River home completed our departure experience. Later, I met with Lisa, our charming activities director for a meeting with the other onboard lecturers and clergy followed by our TV interview for onboard viewing. This last is a nice touch: a really great way for those of us who Sail-By-Talking to meet the other passengers.

Today – free to roam and get back our sea legs. Then, tweak our first lecture, “The Titanic Now and Then” – the first of our three “LinerLore” talks.

From somewhere off the California Coast, that’s all for now. More anon ( including of course, pictures with “Drunky” and “Coonsky” ( our raccoon traveling companions) from around the ship.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Voyage Begins

Tuesday, December 19, 2006: San Francisco.
'Tis the Tuesday 'fore Christmas and all through the house, many creatures are stirring, all ready to pounce. With I in my PJs, and luggage awaits. Passports and toothpaste -- all packings, make haste! When what to my pre-traveled eyes should appear, but a miniature "blog spot" with pixels I fear! On laptop, on keyboard, I typed with a flash. Soon to be seaward, and needless of cash! much for late-night pseudo holiday poetry. This time next week we'll be 'tween LA and Hawaii, steaming in lanes made smooth by decades of Maston / Dollar and President Liners. Ah..aboard ship again! This time, our voyage brings us to the decks of "Celebrity Summit" ( a new ship, having thoroughly enjoyed two of her sisters, "Constellation" and ""Infinity") for a series of "LinerLore" lectures on maritime history and a much needed vacation from land-life. ( Sigh). I can feel the deck heaving already. More anon.