Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Got Sick

About three years ago Gemma and I shared a college apartment with two other girls. Three of us were involved with people named Matthew, and eventually it came to pass that one of them became very ill. The roommate who was assigned to that Matthew stayed by his side and helped him through the illness. Then, when she returned to the apartment, she promptly fell ill with the same thing.


A day later, just as she was feeling better, another roommate got sick. It was a 24 hour bug that felled all four of us within the week. The most vivid memory I have from that time period is a somewhat violent encounter with candied sweet potatoes...

So, when Gemma started to show signs of illness after San Francisco, I knew that another round of fun was about to begin. While the CDC had been on board, they'd provided a lot of information to the passengers about the virus that is going around, including how to treat those of our parties who were sick. As per usual, the treatment was lots of clear fluids, and we were advised to eat only dry foods.


Soon after Gemma was feeling better, I started to feel sick. During the worst of it, it was far worse than the 24 hour bug that Gemma and I had shared three years ago; this actually felt more like the food poisoning I had earlier this year. Gemma stuck around to help keep me hydrated, which was really kind of her (thank you!).


Being sick is disgusting.


Sadly, I missed out on the Honolulu stop, but I was well enough to tour Lahaina. More about that later, though; now it's super fancy happy fun picture time! Below are a few pics from Hollywood & San Francisco:


Monday, January 29, 2007

Port of Call: LAHAINA, HAWAII

Lāhainā.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
United States.
Hawaii.
Lāhainā.

EMPORIS [architecture / skylines]
Lāhainā.

LONELY PLANET [tourism]
Maui.

ROUGH GUIDE [tourism]
Lāhainā.

Port of Call: HONOLULU, HAWAII [Yesterday]

Honolulu.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
United States.
Hawaii.
Honolulu.

EMPORIS [architecture / skylines]
Honolulu.

LONELY PLANET [tourism]
Honolulu.

ROUGH GUIDE [tourism]
Honolulu.

It seems like every other person on the boat is sick these days! Fortunately I'm doing okay so far, which is very relieving -- I definitely wouldn't have wanted to miss San Francisco.

SF was... interesting. There wasn't nearly enough time for everyone I wanted to see and everything I wanted to do. Amber and I met up with Jesse Friedman for coffee before he had to head to work -- the last time I saw him, I was struck by the contrast between his obvious satisfaction and commitment with his day job at a big tech company, and my burgeoning freelancing. The contrast is even more marked when he has to cut short our breakfast to go run errands for his boss, but Amber and I, in our cruise-ship languor, spend another lazy hour taking in sunlight before meeting up with the others.

We did touristy things most of the day -- the last time I was in this city was as an optimistic, ill-traveled pre-teen; the hippie atmosphere appealed to me then, but it's a lot different to revisit it after a couple of boldly hedonistic college years. It still seems, like Amsterdam and California have always seemed, almost disturbingly pleasant -- I find myself deliberately looking (with some success) for an ugly side to the city. It's great sweater weather, while meanwhile back in Boston, they're having the coldest few days of the year.

For dinner I met up with Yitz, Joan, and Ryo, which was mixed. It was great to see them, but I'd expected to feel a little weird -- in Boston I'd felt vaguely nauseous every time someone mentioned San Francisco because I knew that had things been just a little different, I'd have been living somewhere where some of my favorite people from college were living and where there were way too many exciting professional and social opportunities for computer types to even think about -- rather than living somewhere where everyone I knew, I knew through my boyfriend, and even MIT didn't seem to produce that much in terms of tech companies that would be exciting to work for. Yitz, Joan, and Ryo all moved to SF specifically for job opportunities that were well-suited to them, and they're all doing things that at one time or another I've thought would be my ideal life. But on the other hand -- I'm on a freaking cruise ship, something I couldn't have done if I had a "real job" of any kind, no matter how awesome. As I've suspected, I'm much happier being a freelancer than in any kind of office job. I do wish that Boston had more of the San Francisco social scene -- both that a lot of my good friends are living there already, and that there's an extremely established network for tech people at different companies to meet for fun and profit. After dinner, Ryo headed home and Joan, Yitz, and I met up with JF and some of their friends from the tech scene at a bar with a dog in it. We all drunkenly exchanged little scraps of paper with our websites on them, and when it was time to return to the ship, it was the most reluctant (and intoxicated) I've been so far. Mostly, however, it strengthens my resolve to try and work harder to build social and professional networks in Boston -- as a freelancer, I don't have "work friends", but that's what internet meetup websites are for!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Holy crap.

Oh my lord, kids. I've just dragged myself out of bed for the first time since Wednesday night, when we left San Francisco and my stomach began to feel just a leetle bit unsteady. I haven't been seasick before, so this was a little weird. And then I found myself doing little but vomiting, sleeping, drinking water forced upon me by Meridith (thanks, Meridith!), and attempting to keep down dry toast and other such delicacies that my dear suitemates asked James to acquire for us. That didn't work at all until last night. Now I'm in that weird post-illness state where I feel both desperately weak and exhausted with the vestiges of being sick, and hungrier than I have the strength to satiate. It's very annoying.

James was pretty accustomed to this, as I was by no stretch of the imagination the first person to get sick on the ship. That's pretty common on cruises, I hear—my mother got pretty ill when we were on a cruise eight years ago—but this has been pretty intense, such that we've had CDC people board us at the last few ports of call. More people are falling ill than is normal even for a cruise ship, apparently, and while it's not a *horrific* experience and doesn't last *tremendously* long, it certainly puts a damper on the proceedings. I didn't become aware of the virus's existence until Tuesday night.

Okay, I confess: I know exactly how I contracted this virus, and I sincerely apologize to my travelling companions, because I believe I'm the one who brought it into our enclave. I've mentioned Julie a couple of times, I think. Well, the night before we hit L.A. she and I finally had, um, shall we say a recognition of our mutual attraction. A pretty lovely one. :>) We had another drink together the night we left L.A., and by the next evening she was down with the virus. So unfortunately, I figured it was only a matter of time. And I think I've given it to Meridith, who's languishing in bed this morning. Amber and Clara either have very hardy immune systems or it's only a matter of time; I hope the others—especially Tali and Bea!—can stay out of illness's way.

Rather than go into the vivid and somewhat less than pleasant details of my last several bedridden days, I'm going to talk about San Francisco. I seem to have family in almost every port, at least in the continental United States; my uncle Don met me at the ship and we went out for coffee before he had to get to work. I was sad that I couldn't spend the whole day with him and see the family and meet his new dogs (both Great Danes), but that'll be another trip. Then Jess, Connor, Meridith, Clara and I met up with our friend Caitlin, who moved to SF a few months ago. She was pleased to hear that we'll make our next stop in her home state, and recommended a few things for us to see. Though she's supremely alternative, in the best way, she didn't mind taking us through a few of the more traditional Bay Area attractions, like Ghiradelli Square (mmm, chocolate/ewwww, chocolate) and Golden Gate Park; we also swung by ACT, San Francisco's biggest regional theater, so that I could see my mom's friend Carey, who's the artistic director, and my friend Cassie, who's doing a stage management internship there. Meridith and I split off from the crew to hit a cute little Thai place that Cassie recommended. I think they hit the Mission district, but I'll let them tell you about it. And then I hit the ship, and the rest is history.

And once again, conflicts of luxury, but I'll tell you, when you feel too weak to get out of bed and don't want to be a burden on your friends is when you're really, really grateful to have a butler assigned to you. I feel a little gross about that, but there you are. James is pretty rockin'.

I can see nothing but ocean for miles, which is relaxing, and that relaxation will probably help me heal. I kind of feel like some chicken soup, or something of the kind. But first I'm going to fetch some dry toast to bring back to the suite for Meridith.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!!!

So, L.A. was exactly as I remember it...and even after these weeks of cruising through the tropics, the way its palm trees loom down from the clouds overhead still strikes me as threatening and creepily primordial. I'm always sort of expecting to see some remnants from the production of Jurassic Park suddenly wake, claw their way out of Universal Studios, and lay waste to the whole, egregiously excessive region. I mean, really--French intellectuals aside, the place invented the spectacle.

Still, Clara and I had a great time knocking back shots and looking hilariously out of place at the Burgundy Room. It was sorta funny that, after all the self-consciousness some of us have felt now and then about the, er, "affordability" of our dress clothes aboard the ship, we'd end up wearing them to a dingy punk bar and...well, obviously still wind up feeling pretty out of place. Even so, our squareness didn't stop more than one guy from trying to give Clara his number. This one, overweight dude with metal spikes protruding (in a highly decorative, but equally punishing) fashion from the curvatures of his ears...he absolutely wouldn't take a hint. And shamefully, I was a little too scared to do much to end the conversation myself. Fortunately, Clara seemed to find the whole thing highly amusing. I think she eventually gave him a fake number, but we never really broke free of him until we finally called it a night. I was most entertained by the tiny confines of the bathroom; I had the most intimate encounter I've had for longer than I care to tell just trying to squeeze my way back out alongside the line of folks waiting their turn.

In other news, I've finally emerged from that awful, come-lately tourist sunburn...into the fully fledged beach-bunny tan for which my Uchicago'd body had heretofore always hopelessly longed. For the last three summers, I've pushed myself to spend more time out of doors than my attention span and appetite tended to prefer. I always achieved noticable differences, but only relative to my prior ashen pallor--the index of my hours of (sun)lightless study and/or work. But not this year! I am sunkissed and Dark! My hair's lightening, though, and I always have reservations about that. But, how I carry on!

More later, though (hopefully), about San Francisco. Seriously, I may move there. It was everything I hoped it would be, even after all our beaches and tropical trails and sunshine. Of course, once I'm back to paying my own expenses, I'll probably have to reconsider.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Port of Call: SAN FRANCISCO, UNITED STATES.

San Francisco.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
United States.
California.
San Francisco.

EMPORIS [architecture / skylines]
San Francisco.

LONELY PLANET [tourism]
San Francisco.

ROUGH GUIDE [tourism]
San Francisco.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Los Angeles, and my baby turns 2...

I can't really think what to say about Los Angeles I do love it and I was right in that the moment I saw the place I wanted to stay there and try my luck in Hollywood. The *idea* of being in the same place as so many of the things and people that inspire me was exciting and almost even overwhelming (I know it sounds weird but I am SO passionate about film, you have no idea how worked up I can get about a good film!).

Obviously, the reality was never going to live up to my lifetime of expectations of the place, but even with the boring reality that L.A. is just another city with plenty of problems, I feel really *wrong* to be leaving it behind. Maybe it's just a stupid fantasy that if I lived there I could "make it" as an actor, or maybe it's a genuine love of the place. I can't really figure it out.

Either way, spending a day there was a big moment for me and I had a great day. We saw all the sights. There are lots of photos of me and the girls sprawling on the ground - on various "stars" and some sets of hand-and-footprints in the concrete. All lots of fun although the various teenage girls that I saw actually *squealing* over Johnny Depp's boot-prints outside Graumann's Theatre kinda made me sick. I just will never understand that kind of fangirly need to treat a real living person like a sideshow.

Anyway, I *will* be back in L.A. one day. Oh yes I will.

~~~~

Today - well, today, my beautiful baby girl Bea, who is currently sleeping on my lap, had her 2nd birthday.

When I woke up I completely forgot about it (terrible I know!), I was too lost in my dreamy thoughts about being a movie star in L.A. Noel woke up just as I was getting the girls out the door and asked why we weren't doing a birthday thing. So, we did. We gave Bea the couple of presents we've bought along the way - a bracelet from Grand Cayman, a colourful fabric counting toy thing from Panama and a little wooden drum from Mexico. Tali wouldn't stop kissing Bea and saying "it's your birthday! on a boat!".

We found Meridith, Gemma and Clara at breakfast and had pancakes with ice cream in honour of the occasion - not that Bea cared, but us big girls enjoyed it! After a morning swimming and playing round the pool, we met up with everyone again for lunch in the Pavilion. Connor and Noel spent half an hour organising a birthday cake of sorts. The staff apparently thought a birthday cake was a rather big ask but the boys soon sorted them out! So Bea and Tali blew out the two candles on the dish of Peach Crumble (almost a cake! you'd think they'd have whole cakes available round here, but no, it's all wedges of this and portions of that) and then the others surprised us with some beautiful gifts. Gemma had bought some beads in Mexico and made a gorgeous colourful necklace. Jess, Connor and Amber gave her the sweetest Mexican dress and Meridith and Clara found this cute little fabric doll. Thanks so much guys! You've all been so wonderful to Bea and Tali and we really appreciate it.

Then followed some very fun, loud and incredibly "disruptive and disrespectful" game-playing around the pool with all 10 of us! The snobs kept glaring but we just kept playing. We weren't hurting anyone so we figured it did them good to see some people havinga fun time for a little birthday girl. :)

It was a great day, and now I'm exhausted. Noel went to bed early with Tali but I stayed up until now with the others, hanging out in the Funnell Bar. Bea and I had a lovely dance to the tune of (Meridith, Gemma and I singing) "If you're going to San Francisco... be sure to wear some flowers in your hair...."

Definitely time for bed now. Happy Birthday, my beautiful girl.

Connor's Ketchup - Acapulco.

I haven't posted in a few days and it's because I've been too busy with my writing. Anyway, I was evidently the only person not blown away by Acapulco. First, I missed the boat on the jungle tour (pun intended) and by the time I tried to sign up to go see the jumping cliffs, that group had filled up too. Jess and I couldn't find Sumara and co., so we ended up going for a walk in the city.

Normally, this would have been fine, and it is true that we saw much of interest. But for some reason, I feel like Cartagena spoiled Acapulco for me. Yes, the beaches here were airier and wider and the water was more clear, but the sense of us vs. them (of U.S. vs. them?) was much greater. I don't know how else to put it... it completely flies in the face of everything I'd assumed about Colombia, and Mexico is still high on the list of countries I-would-kind-of-think-was-cool-to-live-in. I just know that there were more tourists here, and somehow, I felt more conspicuous.

Don't get me wrong, though. Acapulco is scenically astonishing, like something out of a fantasy novel. From the water, it looks like a sickle, the sand is so sweeping and silver. Perhaps, unlike Cartagena and Miami, Acapulco just felt a bit claustrophobic, like there wasn't enough space, and so many people wouldn't be allowed.

Weird...

Los Angeles, I'm Yours

There is a city by the sea
A gentle company
I don’t suppose you want to
And as it tells its sorry tale
In harrowing detail
Its hollowness will haunt you
Its streets and boulevards
Orphans and oligarchs it hears
A plaintive melody
Truncated symphony
An ocean’s garbled vomit on the shore,
Los Angeles, I’m yours

Old ladies pleasant and demure
Sallow-cheeked and sure
I can see your undies
And all the boys you drag about
An empty fallow fount
From Saturday to Monday
You hill and valley crowd
Hanging your trousers down at heel
This is the realest thing
As ancient choirs sing
A dozen blushing cherubs wheel above
Los Angeles my love

Oh what a rush of ripe élan
Languor on divans
Dalliant and dainty
But oh, the smell of burnt cocaine
The dolor and decay
It only makes me cranky
Oh great calamity,
Ditch of iniquity and tears
How I abhor this place
Its sweet and bitter taste
Has left me wretched, retching on all fours
Los Angeles, I’m yours

-The Decemberists, "Los Angeles, I'm Yours"

Whenever my mother visits L.A. for work, which she does three or four times a year, she says she always thinks upon landing, "Huh, why was I so averse to this place? It seems lovely." A week later, when she's about to leave, the only thought in her head is, "Oh. Right."

I'd hate to live there, but this day-long visit, particularly now that so many of my friends and family members live in L.A., was rather a pleasure. The day was a rush of loving people and beaches; I missed most of the tourist ridiculousness, and that pleased me to no end.

My friend Alex, whom I've known since we were fourteen, picked me up in his dilapidated car at the port. The others had their own plans for the morning, but Alex had class in the afternoon, so I got up and disembarked pretty early. Alex took me out for coffee and a bagel—bagels in Los Angeles are almost, though not quite, to New York standard, certainly better than the Midwest—and then to his studio to show me the paintings he's working on. I haven't seen his work live and in person for a couple of years, so that was a joy. After we hung out for a few hours, he drove me to The Getty Center, where Connor, Jess and I were meeting our friend Talia for lunch. T moved out to L.A. in August and I hadn't seen her since, and she and Connor and Jess hadn't seen each other in years, so even this brief lunch break was a joy. She'd also managed to get us tickets to the Getty Villa (off of seeing Chihuly in Miami, I'd really wanted to hit the the Glassmaking in Antiquity exhibit at the museum itself, but it was closed Monday. Poop). Connor and Jess, however, opted to join Meridith, Sumara and family for the Hollywood excursion. Clara, Amber and I met up with Malcolm and Garrett in Pacific Palisades (in terms of finances, it *is* really nice to have everything provided for on the boat for these four months, so we mostly don't have to gulp at the expenses of, say, taxis), and we wandered the grounds for a couple of hours. Then Clara and Amber headed off to meet the others in Hollywood, Garrett and Malcolm decided to catch a decent movie, and my uncle Roger and his kids, Phoebe and Atlas, picked me up and took me out to dinner. Unable to resist the allure completely, I joined the crew for a quick Hollywood drink, and once again we barely hit the ship in time.

I've woken up too early, as usual—even ten days skipping through time zones hasn't fixed that problem. Maybe when we cross the International Date Line I'll be jolted enough to get some rest. Now out of the lounge and into the Queens Grill. I could use a good chocolate croissant.

Monday, January 22, 2007

California!

Detour to HOLLYWOOD!

Port of Call: LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES.

Los Angeles.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
United States.
California.
Los Angeles.

EMPORIS [architecture / skylines]
Los Angeles.

ROUGH GUIDE [tourism]
Los Angeles.

Acapulco!

I really enjoyed our brief stopover in Mexico, despite some of the city's tourist attractions featuring the nauseating glitz I first learned to associate with Atlantic City. I wished both that I knew some Spanish and that we could have stayed another few days so that I could have spent more time sneaking into non-touristy areas and chatting with locals -- but perhaps another time. And anyway, JUNGLE BOAT TOUR. HOW COOL IS THAT. (Yes, even after all this ship time and a little seasickness, I still really like boats.) One of the best things about this trip so far is the variety of wildlife we've gotten to see -- I've spent very little time outside of North American climes, so most of these animals are completely new to me. However, there's a drawback to moving between climates too -- as with last summer's trip to Europe, this trip is involving a lot of me wilting in the hot sun.

In her last post Gemma mentioned that she feels ungrateful to Mr. Fushigi for feeling frustrated with the decadent materialism that in some ways pervades the cruise. I've never met the man, of course, but I have to assume that he wouldn't find our attitudes ungrateful -- in choosing Gothic Funk as the recipient of his largesse, his goal can't have been simply a gift of luxury to people who would unreservedly appreciate it. A group of young, middle-class, educated, offbeat artists can only be expected to view the culture clashes inherent in an experience like this with a somewhat critical eye -- so even as we've been enjoying some of the luxuries of the cruise, we've also been rebelling against the ship culture in some ways and at least observing some of the social and environmental issues that are highlighted in this context. I'm not sure exactly what Mr. Fushigi had in mind giving this trip to us -- I'm not sure what he thought we'd do with our observations, and I'm not sure what we will do -- but I can't imagine that he intended us to walk around covered in diamonds, making snide comments about the locals' choice of hats. (I like the hats.)

I've been doing a lot of web programming work on the ship, which is nice; also drawing, and reading -- recently, The Other End of the Leash, a book that attempts to help humans understand dogs better by comparing and contrasting primate and canid instincts. I was quite delighted to see actual monkeys, and to note that they did, in fact, hug each other, just like people (dogs apparently don't like hugs)!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Lists

Things I Love About Cruising
Dressing up (dude, I know I'm obsessive, I can't help it)
Having the ocean around me/accessible all the time
My marvelous companions
How tasty the food is

Things That Frustrate Me About Cruising
Decadence
Materialism
How non-environmentally-conscientious the food is
The confusion of ports of call and really knowing a place
Realizing where global warming is at

I'm sorry; I'm an ungrateful bastard, and Mr. Fushigi has every right to kick me off this cruise. In many ways I am having a marvelous time, and I don't want anyone, especially my travelling companions, to think otherwise. But I'm getting so frustrated with the copious diamonds that women wear to dinner, the contemptuous looks we get when Meridith or I enter in a vintage dress, or when one of us is being silly with Tali (dude, jerks, at least four-year-olds know how to have fun), the relative uniformity or pimped pseudoculture of shops and restaurants near the ship at every port of call (this was particularly noticeable in Acapulco), of how doubtful it is that any of the revenue is reaching the poor of the local communities. As long as the food is luxurious and has premium titles ("Sterling Silver," chateaubriand and the like), no one, often including myself, is really thinking about where it comes from and what harm this kind of luxury does, in a larger social sense.

And yet I'm luxuriating in it and, a good half of the time or more, completely loving it. This is something I've got to think about.

This is all going to be most confusing for me, I think, when we hit Cape Town, where I lived for several months while in college and where I thought, and was required to think, most heavily about what tourism means and what its faults are. I'm dying to show my friends around it, of course—I imagine Sumara and Noel are feeling the same way about Sydney—and I'm dying just to be there again because it's the most beautiful and complicated city I've ever experienced in some ways, but I know I'll be annoyed with the showcasing of the most decadent parts of it that are actively harming poorer residents, with the reduction of the place's history and culture. I mean, I know balsalmic reduction tastes better than balsalmic itself, but sadly that's not a useful metaphor.

And I know we're close to the equator, but still, this weather's a little silly. And several of the other Americans, when I've mentioned this in casual conversation, have referred to it as "Al Gore weather." Oy.

Among our little circle (which I've widened to include Garrett and Malcolm, Mark and Nadine with whom Amber, Connor, Jess and I lunched yesterday, and Julie, whom I'll write about later), it's been a lovely, relaxing weekend aboard the boat. Tali, Meridith, Jess and I played a great game of tag around the Sun Deck (okay, in that case the other passengers might have been justified in their annoyance), I had a drink with Julie and we later ran into Clara and Meridith, I've written a ton and read a ton, I've been swimming pretty much every day (go me!) and I've had lovely passing conversations with any number of people I have not seen again. I'm sure the whole ensemble will know one another pretty well by the time these months come to a close, even though I'm confident that many of them will never like our crew.

I'm going to try to finish off All the King's Men and then get dressed for dinner. Sadly, frustration with the wider community makes me physically competitive. That's not an attractive quality. Oh well.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Photos, etc.


Above is an example of my thrift store yields so far; I've been really relying on costume jewelry and colorful shawls & scarves to add some variety to my dinner wardrobe, so the silver dress on the right is a welcome addition. Beneath that pic is one of the ocean, looking west towards land; I forget exactly where I took it, but it was before we reached Florida.

Acapulco, Birds, and Cruisin' the Ocean

One of the best things about being on this cruise is sleeping in every single day. The last time I slept in for several days in a row was during summer break in high school, before college & gainful employment came along. These past couple of weeks have been wonderful; the sunlight wakes me up, I order freshly made coffee, hang out on the balcony until I'm really awake, and then shower and join everyone else for the day's adventuring.


Yesterday I hung out in Acapulco for a bit, but found that I couldn't keep my feet on land for very long; Amber and Clara saw signs for a Jungle Tour, which is, in fact, a boat tour. We had to catch a taxi to get up to the boat, but it was worth every penny (apparently cab fares are negotiable in Mexico; luckily Amber knew about that beforehand). The tour took us around most of the Laguna Coyuca, and even visited a bird island!


I love birds. A lot.


It was like I was a little kid again, exploring new lands and finding heretofore unknown of creatures. There were storks there- real storks! I also liked the white and black birds (Clara said that they were Avocets), that looked a little like flamingos (to me, at least). Every bird has more beauty and grace in a single feather than I do in my entire body. When the time came to catch a cab back to the ship, I was sad to go. We made it back with only a few minutes to spare, running on board with the last of the straggling passengers.


Today I'm just hanging out on deck, catching up on the news, reading the 6th Dark Tower book, Song of Susannah, and staring out at the water. The clarity and utter blueness of the ocean here continues to amaze me; growing up in Chicago did not prepare me for seeing such vast quantities of beautiful blueness. I can't help but compare this to the Chicago River, with its fish gone belly up, trash collecting at the banks, and normal greenish hue. I love Chicago, and don't want to live anywhere else (and I LOVE dyeing the river green for St. Patrick's Day), but I would also love to see the pollution cleaned up. More on this later; for now, at least, the book calls to me.


Friday, January 19, 2007

I think I'm in love...

with Mexico.

Granted, I have only seen a few parts of one city, but boy... the people, the clothing, the entertainment, the traditions and the melodrama of it all. Some people here are completely crazy!
For example, the first thing we looked for today were the "cliff divers". Yep, that's what they do. Dive off cliffs. (Spectacular cliffs! The scenery here is beyond beautiful.) We were totally unable to find out why they jump off cliffs, into the ocean. It may be some kind of traditional spiritual thing. Or it may just be stacks of fun. I'll have to ask the others if anyone knows.

After wandering around for a bit, Noel and the girls and I left the others to go to cultural/artisticy/touristy stuff (actually I have no idea what they did but they looked headed towards a touristy spot in the city) and went to the beach. That lasted a couple of hours until I read in my little tourist guide about the Casa de las Máscaras - a museum of Mexican masks.

We found our way there -okay, a helpful taxi driver found our way there - and it was fascinating. These masks are gorgeous. Some are old traditional ones from all over the country, and some are by modern artists. Wow. I have a couple of masks hanging on my walls at home but nothing like this...

a group of masks. I was amazed by the facial expressions captured on them:



This one's pretty scary. Look at the detail!

A lady at the museum recommended a good place at a nearby market to buy cheap-but-good masks, so we went there and had a look. They weren't that cheap after all (probably because they know they're being recommended to foreign tourists I guess - or maybe cheap for us isn't the same thing as cheap for other people!), but I bought one. It's a human face one but it's red with flowers and patterns all over. I'll see if I can get Noel to take a photo of me modelling it later. :)

Anyway, back on the ship now and it's must be about time for dinner. Better go round up my three kids! tee hee.

Los Angeles next!!!!!! I am so excited!!!!! Though I'm predicting I'm going to want to jump ship and stay there forever once I catch sight of that Hollywood sign...

Port of Call: ACAPULCO, MEXICO.

Acapulco.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
Mexico.
Guerrero.
Acapulco.

EMPORIS [architecture / skylines]
Acapulco.

LONELY PLANET [tourism]
Acapulco.

ROUGH GUIDE [tourism]
Acapulco.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Oh!

The very first time I watch a television aboard this ship and I get to hear Alex Trebek to a pirate impression.

It has been a good day, oh yes.

SOUTH AMERICA!

Holy shit, kids! By the end of this cruise, I will have set foot on six continents! I mean, tecccchhhhnically, I won't have spent a night on any of them, so I'm not clear on whether it counts. I'll decide later. But for now, yowza!

While I loved exploring Fuerte Amador, I do kind of wish I'd hit the Embera Village with Connor and Jess. The description got me pissed off too, which was why I decided not to go—I had enough of that preciousness in South Africa a few years ago—but cities become more and more alike over time. I wouldn't mind seeing it with a critical eye (yeah, like I can help having a critical eye—a post on my critical eye coming soon). Still, I'd never been to Panama (or Colombia, for that matter), and enjoyed hitting up the local cuisine and the *excellent* clothing shop that Sumara and Meridith unearthed. I also got a pair of earrings for my mother. I've always bought gifts for my friends and family while travelling; it's neat to consider the variety of places and experiences they'll come from now.

We've been cruising the Pacific for a coupla days. I'm eager to get to Mexico, where I've also never been; I've been going around saying "Acapulco" over and over, just because it's a fun word to say. It's driving the others crazy. Except for Tali and Bea. Sometimes I think I'm actually four.

I'm gonna go for a swim; I don't really feel like blogging. More anon!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Emberá Village

Emberá Village - Arriving in Chagres National Park, board your dugout canoe – a vessel crucial to both Spanish settlers and natives – and cruise upriver to the Emberá village. Keep an eye out for monkeys, toucans, and sloths. At the village, the chief offers a traditional welcome. View a performance of native music, song, and dance. Stroll about the village and interact with these gentle people and browse for traditional crafts. Please remember you are a guest in the village: act with common sense and sensitivity to the Emberás’ privacy.


That the official summary of the onshore excursion I took yesterday.

I'm glad that the statement requrests courtesey, but I'm not sure how I feel about characterizing a whole population as "gentle." Probably intended as a compliment, but it's such a passive description and really just a step away from "quaint." Actually, I do know how I feel about it. I don't like it.

I was in a grumpy mood yesterday morning because I am not as far on my thesis as I would like, and I feel like I'm giving up a lot of my time on the boat to write it. Something about compromise making everyone unhappy. Also something about sour grapes. And really, I should shut up. I'm revising my novel while taking a trip around the world.

Whatever churlishness I might have had from the description of the onshore excursion (Jess was the only one who really wanted to go with me) was partly fixed because it attracted some of the more adventurous passengers. In particular, Jess and I met Mark and Nadine, a brother and sister from some suburb in the D.C. area. They are moving to Thailand. More specifically, they are meeting an old friend, a girl named "Rhino" in Bankcock, and subletting her apartment. She will take over their reservation and ride all the way to Southampton to sublet from a friend, who will go to D.C. So these trans-global friends have all worked out their own time share.

I ate a darien. It smelled bad, but it tasted better. I really don't know that I'd want it in a heated apartment in the wintertime, but I'm also not sure what all the fuss is about.

I had wondered if the Embera village would remind me of the Mayans Jess and I encountered in Belize. I was sure that the cultures were more than significantly different, and I would simply be to make the necessary distinctions... but rather than stumble into a minefield of erroneous observations, I'll just say that the village was quite loud and colorful, and that there was no way I could have mistaken it for the Mayan communities we saw. No matter what there was a language barrier and a cultural barrier and an economic barrier (since I'm ideally there to spend some money and leave). So I splurged and got a basket.



What was overwhelming was the density of the village and the density of the jungle just outside. Jess saw a cluster of monkeys, but I saw a toucan, a "Jesus lizard" and a bunch of creepy spiderish things.

Today we're on the Pacific Ocean, and I'm once again on the Lido Deck, trying to read. I think there's a lecture tonight on a foreign affairs thing which I will try to attend...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Panama

Okay, not much time to write the last few days. The girls have been pretty tired and clingy after all our Caribbean fun.

Cartegena was nice - We spent the day wandering around with the girls, sampling local food and doing some touristy shopping. The outskirts of the city where we found some marketplaces reminded Noel and I of the villages we went in China... very different food and dress, but kind of the same atmosphere or something.

Now, the Panama Canal! Wow. I was so blown away by the whole thing. Noel and I watched a doco on the making of the Canal last year some time, so all I could think of as we passed through it was of the men who built it, the accidents and problems they had, the sheer number of people and equipment and trains and everything! It truly is an amazing thing to see. Going through the locks was just so exciting. 26m up, 26m down! I was rushing around the decks for most of the day, bouncing around and trying to see everything. I don't think other people really got why I was so excited, but really! The Panama Canal! It's awesome!

Okay, enough about that. Today was pretty busy too. Gemma and Meridith came along with Noel and I and the girls and we explored the city. We saw some interesting things! The people are beautiful and everyone we met was very welcoming. Meridith and I found a beautiful clothing shop and each bought a very colourful dress, similar to what a lot of the locals were wearing, with gorgeous embroidery and prints on them. Noel hassled me for going shopping - "you can buy clothes at home!!" tee hee.... but it's not the same, is it?

Anyway i'm off to change into my new dress now for dinner, and then Noel says he's going to bed early so perhaps I can hit the bars with one or two of the others.

Port of Call: FUERTE AMADOR, PANAMA.

Fuerte Amador.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
Panama.
Panamà.

LONELY PLANET [tourism]
Panama.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Musings regarding Treasure

This past weekend was so full of activity (shopping, partying, etc.) that I needed to spend some time alone this morning to unwind. I parked myself in my usual morning spot (on the balcony) with a mug of fancy coffee and put on my headphones, thinking to spend a couple of hours just watching the ship's passage through the canal. Before setting off for the cruise, I'd filled my iPod with music from Pantera, Metallica, Scum of the Earth, and Faith No More, so when the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th came on, I was quite surprised! Apparently it made it on to the playlist by mistake. Instead of skipping the track, I let it play, and it turned out to be a wonderful soundtrack to the sights around the ship. Overlooking the Panama Canal, I pretended to conduct the movement in my head.

Beethoven's 9th reminds me of treasure (pirate's booty, if you will) and Christmas, thanks to Die Hard (the best Christmas movie of all time). =)

I know no German, but wanted to know what the chorus was singing about. I found a translation online, however, and found that it's all about joy, joy, and more joy. For example:


Joy, thou glorious spark of heaven,
Daughter of Elysium,
We approach fire-drunk,
Heavenly One, your shrine.
Your magic reunites
What custom sternly divides;
All people become brothers
Where your gentle wing alights.
Whoever succeeds in the great attempt
To be a friend of a friend,
Whoever has won a lovely woman,
Let him add his jubilation!
Yes, whoever calls even one soul
His own on the earth's globe!
And who never has, let him steal,
Weeping, away from this group.


Hm. Joy. I suppose that it can be considered a type of booty. I wonder though, if anyone really pursues it as fervently as they pursue sunken pirate treasure, illegal drugs, and good old fashioned money. Such are the thoughts that the Caribbean inspires.


Ahoy!

Cartagena and the Panama Canal.

48-hours ago I didn't know a thing about Cartagena; I barely knew it existed.

Then, Saturday night, having nothing else to do, I looked up the place. It's pretty incredible. I always think of Colombia as being a Pacific-facing ocean, but evidently it's Caribbean coast has quite a reputation, and Cartagena is kind of to Colombia what Rio is to Brazil or New Orleans is (was?) to the U.S. The city is also quite large, probably comparable to Indianapolis in the U.S., so I'm kind of disappointed with myself for not having had any prior knowledge.

We arrived at 8 and I was wide awake and ready to go. I was able to persuade Jessica to get up with me by persuading the suite butler (James) to come down to our stateroom with a plate of bacon and eggs (sunny-side up). A couple phone calls were able to get the rest of the gang together. I think Sumara had other plans, but Amber and Clara and Meridith and Gemma and I all set out toward the Old City, which is "where it's at" in Cartagena. It took us about ten minutes to find the place and another five to get lost. This was where we saw the man with the moustache point his finger at his poodle like a pistol, clicked the "trigged" and the dog dropped over dead. It got up again, of course.

I know there was a lot of sightseeing and picture snapping. I'd orignially hoped to get all over the city. I had thought about the warnings we'd gotten about exercising caution in "unfamiliar neighborhoods" and I'm always torn between exercising more care (since I overestimate my own safety often) and less (since those warning are typically a little overblown). As it turns out, there was so much to see and do in the Old City, and it was so difficult getting disentangled there that the issue was really moot. We spent a lot of the morning touring a church and the old slave markets, and after lunch (I had Ajiaco, which I can add to Colcannon, Bigos, and Chicken Noodle Soup as "international comfort food") and a walk along the old fortifications (the city withstood a siege by privateer Sir Francis Drake for a hundred days), our group walked out to Bocagrande on a peninsula jutting out from the city, and we split up. I think that Clara and Meridith and Gemma went down to the market district to do some thrift shopping. If so, I think they must have hit the goldmine of affordable and luxurious textiles. Jess and I hit the Caribbean Beaches, which can't be beat for atmosphere. We were walking along eating Plantain chips when we realized the ship was only twenty minutes from embarktion. (A difficult thing about being this far south is that I'm still used to the sun setting at about 5 PM... it doesn't which makes my sense of the time all messed up.)

Last night we were very social on the trip, and Meridith and Gemma and I haven't had a chance to hang out much, so we made good on an earlier threat to have a drink in every bar on board. We met up with Malcolm and Garrett again, and one of them commented that "some time we'll really have to do this sober." I realized for the first time that Noel is the only other Y chromosome in our whole little group.

And that was that. Today, instead of typing I decided to get some reading done. Reason: I can take the reading up onto the Sun Deck, whereas the computer batteries tend to go dead after a couple hours. We're taking the Panama Canal today, leaving the Atlantic, and the scenery is lush and spectacular.

Oh, yeah, we're very close to the equator, but it's the dry season. So sweltering compared to what I'm used to, but still barely manageable.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Port of Call: CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA.

Cartagena.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
Colombia.
Bolívar.
Cartagena.

EMPORIS [architecture / skylines]
Cartagena.

LONELY PLANET [tourism]
Colombia.

ROUGH GUIDE [tourism]
Cartagena and the Caribbean.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Caribbean....

is beautiful.

I don't know what Connor's on about when he says a beach is a beach is a beach... honestly... where in the States, or even in Australia which has some pretty darn good beaches, would you see such jaw-dropping gorgeousness? Hmmm? And I mean jaw-dropping. When we got off the ship yesterday morning and found our way to the 7-Mile Beach, I stood still, at the edge of the sand, with my mouth hanging open in something like rapture or shock or both. Spending most of a day on that beach was so fantastic it beggars description. Suffice to say it was the best family day out we've had, probably ever.

Noel and Tali and I staged spectacular reenactments of scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean, with Bea generally cast as the dog, or a crab, or the goat... but she didn't mind. Noel's Elizabeth Swann was the highlight of the show!

Bea ran around so much all morning that in the afternoon she literally fell over on the sand and went to sleep. So Noel stayed there with her and Tali while I went rum shopping with Connor, and met us back on the ship just in time for Children's Tea.

And so, the Rum-Soaked Pirate Party...

After tea with the girls I took them up to the main suite with me to sort out our rum stores, and Tali promptly found the huge bed and fell asleep. Bea pottered around "helping" me set up the room and by the time all the others got back from dinner the suite was transformed into a Tortuga tavern, complete with me, and then Meridith too, as lusty bar wenches. (okay so we had to squint a bit and use our imaginations, but after a bit of rum it *did* look like a tavern and we *were* acting like bar wenches!)

Thankfully Bea fell asleep before long (and before I got too drunk), and I tucked her in next to Tali. Then suddenly all these other people arrived! Meridith and Amber had run into Garrett and Malcom again and invited them to join the pirating, and Noel had invited that English couple we met the other day - Susan and David (their kids were back in their stateroom with the nanny, of course!)... and there were a few other random people that I think maybe Connor or Jess had met?

So anyway there were something like 20 people there, and my goodness it was fun! Meridith and I were great bar wenches for a little while, until we forgot to keep serving the guests and kept a little too much for ourselves. Poor Susan and David were a bit disgusted, I think, with the general frivolity and carelessness so they left fairly early but everyone else stayed until goodness knows how late/early in the morning.

We drank rum, we sang pirate songs, we danced and flirted and drank more rum. We "ahoy"d and "aarrgghh"d. It was all good.


Today has just been sailing sailing sailing... everyone's been suspiciously quiet and subdued today. Tee hee. The girls and Noel are long asleep in bed and I'm having a beautiful quiet night to myself. A while ago I sat near David and Susan in the Funnel Bar, the bar on the top deck where I went to people-watch and hear the Caribbean Band, and I'm pretty sure they were pretending not to see me. Oh dear.

I better go to bed soon myself but first I shall spend half an hour out on deck with my eyes closed, breathing in the Caribbean Sea.

A pirates life for me!

Well firstoff, I did spend the first part of the day on the Seven Mile Beach with Sumara and co. There are a couple things I could say. One is disappointing, which is that I couldn't stifle what's basically this thought: "This is it? I could get this in Chicago or even New York." In the sense that, yes, there are hotels and palm trees and scantily clad bodies, but I've always felt, even in Belize, that a beach is a beach is a beach. It's all this thing that has to do with water and sand.

That said, the sand was very fine... we're in the tropics now so the water and the wind was certainly comfortable. And finally, we're not at "a beach in Chicago" but at the "seven-mile beach of the Cayman islands." The knowledge and the self-identification are what make all the difference. This is the argument that my friend Sean would have come up with, and today I'm disappointed he's not with us.

Most of us spent most of the morning swimming, although Amber and Clara wandered off into Georgetown for awhile. Later, though, Jess and Gemma went to Hell with me. It was great.

Kitchy tourist trap

+

Genuinely Fascinating Geologic Feature

=

AWESOME!



Later, I then met up with Sumara (sans Noel and the kids) and we made a large order of Tortuga rum and brought it back to the ship. I'll let the other describe the cause and effect of this little trip, but suffice it to say this the queen's suite is larger than your average Chicago apartments, you'd be surprised how many people we could fit in a Chicago apartment.

Today we're en route to the Panama Canal, and I'm trying to find a way to get my work dowe without being a total loser. I've actually found a "preferred spot" in the Lido Bar, a table on the starboard side right alongside the window, and I've been able to grab it two of the three times I've been here. It's hard to write about the Michigan backwoods from a luxury cruise on the Caribbean sea, but I'm making do as best I can with coffee and whiskey and sugar-and-butter-on-an-English muffin (since Maply syrup and pancakes are out of the question). I figure if I make myself enough of a fixture here, they'll hold the table for me, and then I can say "step into my office" when a friend shows up.

Still, I'm going to take a break this afternoon to take tea with anyone who will join me, and from dinner on I intend to be a social creature. Which means I'd better get back to work for now...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Wardrobe, etc.


These are the most quirky things I've brought aboard the ship (so far, at least). I've had the sailor themed sandals on top for about a year now, and the velvety dress on the right is actually a pirate costume I picked up for a few dollars at the post-Halloween sale at CVS. The green velvety dress is something I picked up at a thrift store a few years ago but never had a chance to wear until now. So far, I've been able to keep up appearances among the wealthy folk on this cruise (the green dress is presentable and the sandals worn only before dinnertime), but I'm still waiting for a chance to wear the pirate wench outfit. The time will come, though...

oh yes...

it will come.

Port of Call: GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN

The Seven Mile Beach.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
Cayman Islands.
Grand Cayman.
Georgetown.

LONELY PLANET [tourism]
Cayman Islands.

Crystals, Waves, Rays of Light, Small Crocodiles

Meridith told you the story of most of our Wednesday night adventure, but being far and away the most sober person there (I did not actually finish that bottle of red thankyouverymuch—I'm perfectly capable of singing like a crazy woman without such assistance), I feel I should add a few details.

First, a bit about our musical companions, with whom we're planning to lunch on the Grand Cayman today: their names are Garrett and Malcolm, a couple from Surrey celebrating their twentieth anniversary with this cruise. Malcolm, a journalist, was delighted to hear about Mr. Fushigi and our crew's exploits; I think he and Connor are going to get along swimmingly. I got the sense that Garrett "comes from money"—in a way that I feel you have to be British to do; either way, he's retired and seemed pretty passionate about gardening. He was tremendously envious when I told him about our exploits in Fairchild. The only thing that disappointed me was their discouragement of my entering the pool; what is a night in the middle of the ocean FOR if not night swimming, I ask you? It's gonna happen one of these days—I mean, we've got about a hundred of 'em left, after all—but if it will make you feel better, Jess, I promise to be stone cold sober when it does.

I've casually passed a bunch of conversations with random folk in my nearly two days shipboard, but these gentlemen are the first people I've felt might be new friends, who didn't seem in any way to be assuaging or judging my financial or physical circumstances as we spoke. I'm looking forward to introducing them to the rest of the gang.

Other than that, yesterday was pretty tame. I slept in, but not as late as Meridith—I have a really hard time sleeping in, no matter how tired or hung over I am. I'm hoping the sheer number of different time zones we go through will change that for me. Breakfast was still being served when I woke up, though just barely, so I collected myself quickly. I was more than a little overwhelmed by the menu—people actually eat baby lamb chops for breakfast? What?—and couldn't help thinking about what an amazing thing it would be if a cruise line contracted with organic food producers. Most cruise consumers honestly wouldn't notice the slight gouging in ticket prices that organics would inevitably cause these days (stupid agricultural subsidies), but it really would spread the word and the thought, at least among a certain social class—give organics a different kind of cachet. Yes, that actually *is* what I think about at breakfast. Either way, my brioche was nothing to complain about.

I probably watched the ocean for several hours at a clip, then started to feel a bit dizzy and proceeded to explore the lower decks of the ship. There's really not all that much there, at least relative to the rest of this behemoth—a pool, a gym, "thalassotherapy," a whole heck of a lot of staterooms. Not being much of a gym person, and generally reluctant to lack an ocean view, I have the feeling I'll be spending more time higher up. I had a light lunch from the Lido with Clara; Amber, Sumara, Noel, the girls and I had already planned on doing High Tea that afternoon, so I didn't want to fill up when there were scones to be had. I passed a couple of hours in the library (I only brought three books, not at all adequate for a three-month voyage), and then gathered with my crew in the Queens Room.

And I know I shouldn't have expected any less on a ship called the Queen Elizabeth II, but that was a *lovely* tea. I'm a sucker for clotted cream, what can I tell you. Tali and I pretended we were princesses for a while, but when the fantasy went more in the Cinderella direction and I started pretending we were being served by wild animals, I got a couple of nasty looks from the staff. To make a sweeping generalization, people who work at black-tie restaurants tend not to have much understanding of four-year-olds, and I really shouldn't have expected them to take it as a compliment when I cast them as rabbits in our fantasy world. Either way, I gorged on scones, and forgot that most normal tea has caffiene in it. It had me bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day and night, unable to focus on anything or make a plan, though I am (sorry, I'm self-indulgent) *loving* the process of dressing up for dinner. An American woman in something stiff and fancy actually complimented my maroon dress! (I was tempted to tell her it cost a dollar, but let well enough alone.) I had a couple of drinks with dinner to counteract the caffiene, and then stayed with Tali and Bea for a while so Sumara and Noel could have an evening. And, as usual, despite a late-ish night I've woken up early. But since we've docked in the Grand Cayman Island, that's not at all a bad thing!

Now, just as Amber's revealed herself to be a total freak about plants, I'm a total freak about animals—but I cannot help but hope against hope that on the Grand Cayman Island today we see some caymans. I think they're super-cute!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'm alive! And seasick!

So, I haven't been the most diligent about posting...but that's a sign that (almost) all is well, of course. Too busy to self-narrate! Unfortunately, a fair amount of the business involved woozily loafing about and intermittently wretching. I'm on a steady diet of dramamine (and Ridiculously rich food--caviar is the Queens' class version of ye olde sprig of parsley, if that makes any sense at all. If it doesn't, do me the favor of remembering that I'm on the all time high of my life, and I'm reporting about it at 1:00 am, on my way to... (silly voice) Tortuuuuuuga. Arrrrgh!...I'm filled with mercenary anticipation...and a sudden desire to buy a parrot.)

Gemma and the gang totally humored my request to shuttle an hour out of our way so I could stomp around the lush grounds of the FTBG, pretending to be a 20th century plant explorer. (Molecular schmolecular. Give me something I can hold! And smell! And fetishize! And don't you judge me!) I was a little concerned it might steal some of the thunder from our upcoming tropical destinations...But then, it was swiftly brought to my attention by my comrades that that idea was, indeed, purely retarded. I wore my ankles sore, hiking up, down, and over the whole place, trying to murmur the names of each plant so no one would laugh at my pathetically doomed attempts. It was so beautiful! It's funny...the trip itself is something I simply couldn't, as I said before, have imagined. But the garden I've imagined countless times before; it was already my dream to see it one day. That makes this trip officially "surdream": dreamier, even, than a real dream. If ever one was to have her cake and eat it too...which reminds me! Chihuly. It crosses into the realm of absurd, than on top of our world cruise (I didn't know water came in some of the colors we've already seen), I should not only get to see the garden I've jealously dreamed of seeing for years, but that it should simultaneously be dressed to the nines with art! If there's a God (and a heaven), I think he might be setting me up for a disappointment! All day long, I had to stop myself (okay, I Didn't stop myself) from surreptitiously sidling up to enormous palm fronds and candy-like contortions of glass and caressing my cheek against them. By the time we left, I was so giddy from sensory overload (having had to prick myself on every prickly pear, and being nearly blind from the dazzling cascade of colors) that I nearly matched the state my bosom roommates had by the time they came in for bed yesterday night. ...

All in all, things are going great. To say the least.

The Crystal Bar!

After dinner and a drink back at the suite to continue what the lunchtime sangria started, Gemma wanted to go explore the ship. I was feeling social and adventurous because of the wine, and since it's started to warm up around here, I tagged along. Clara was already asleep, and nobody else was around at that moment, so we set off by ourselves.

Gemma was honestly exploring, and I was honestly looking for a bar (sorry, Gemma- I was only humoring you about wanting to see the ship's shops and stuff), so eventually we ended up at the Crystal Bar. When we got there, most of the passengers were on their way out, off to end the evening with sleep or snuggles, but I announced that I really was rather too sober at this point and that I must fix the problem! I didn't mean to say that too loudly, and I honestly don't think a lot of people heard despite whatever Gemma said later, but whatever I said was loud enough to draw Jessica's attention. She was at a table and waved us over (but I ordered a round first).

Jessica had been enjoying some downtime (Connor fell asleep earlier, and she said that she'd needed to unwind a little bit by herself), which I was all too happy to interrupt (ok, ok, she actually invited us to stay, but polite, good natured friendships aren't nearly as interesting to write about) with a wave of nonsense and gin. Jessica agreed to have a couple of drinks with me and Gemma, then call it a night.



Three gin and tonics later for me, a bottle of red for Gemma and a bottle of white for Jessica later, I was feeling a little musical.



Yep. Musical.

We got a little loud.

A little rambunctious.

A little drunk.



By this time most of the passengers in the bar had left for the night, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. After a few rounds of stating what we would do with a drunken sailor early in the morning, I was trying to teach Gemma and Jessica the lyrics to “Panic in Detroit” (and, um, trying to remember the lyrics in the first place) when a couple of guys joined us. They were far more coherent than I felt, and actually remembered the lyrics, which amazed me and won my everlasting love. Unfortunately for me, the guys preferred each other to me.

We got to know each other over the last round of the evening, then took another walk round the ship once the Crystal Bar kicked us out for the night. Jessica was the first to feel the rain, and joined forces with the guys to convince Gemma and myself that a late night dip in the pool was NOT, in fact, a good idea. I was a little sullen until one of them (Gary? Garrett?) cracked a joke. It was more the accent than the joke that gave me the giggles, but it looked like the evening was finally over.

Gemma was a little starry eyed on the way back to the suite, and Jessica was more than tired. The guys (the one must be Garrett, I think, and the other had a name that began with an “M”) walked with us part of the way to be sure that we were capable of making it all the way back on own, then bid us good night. I slept like the dead until about 2 o'clock this afternoon.



I've been nursing a headache ever since waking up, but last night was really worth it. I can't wait to see our new friends again, and hope that their friendliness wasn't part of my drunken joy of the evening. ;-)

The promised list...

of "actory/artisticy/careery" kinda stuff I will aim to achieve while cruising....

Firstly, I love acting; you can be a complete nutcase and people call you "brave" and "a risk-taker". You can carry on like a porkchop and people just say you're a bit overwhelmed by your character. You can sit around all day just watching people and call it character research. Which brings me to point number one...

1. Character research! :) I have with me my very own *handy dandy notebook* in which I will describe the people I meet, note their mannerisms and speech patterns, try to figure out what's going on their heads, and maybe even write some stories about them. I already spend my life imitating various bits and pieces of people that I meet. It's just natural for me to "try on" other people's mannerisms and viewpoints, so for the next few months I shall refine that habit of mine into a fine art.

2. Accents. My grand plan is to meet people from different places, and get them talking. If I get friendly enough with anyone maybe I can even convince them to spend some time with me teaching me their accent. I'm already friends with exactly 7 american guinea pigs who I'm hoping will, well, just talk to me a lot and let me listen! And today I met a nice English couple whose kids my girls played with at the pool. I think they're from somewhere near Liverpool but their accent sounds a bit more London than Liverpool... I shall delve deeper next time we see them...

3. Writing. So often in the acting world there is the need.... a resolute and unyielding need (sorry, got Captain Jack on the brain today; we are in the Caribbean, dearie!) to create one's own work. That is, write something, organise some funding, put it together and hopefully earn some money and/or exposure. My problem with such things is that I've never been much of a writer. I tend to get a bit of an idea and then never quite figure out how to make the idea work. I'm not sure how much experience my Gothic Funkers have in writing for performance but hopefully they'll let me pick their brains a bit about writing techniques etc anyway. And I shall spend as much time as I can writing, writing, writing.

Okay well those are my three things to focus on. I'm sure there's going to be plenty of other ways for me to learn and enrich myself on this here boat (eerr, ship!) so I guess my general idea is to be watching and learning and taking whatever opportunities arise.


Meanwhile, we've had an awesome day so far today. At lunch, as soon as I sat down with the others they chorussed "yes, we're in the Caribbean now!" lol, I guess someone read this morning's post.

The girls had an absolute ball in the pool, as did Noel and I, although Noel got in trouble from a staff member for doing a "bomb" into the pool. Oops. Poor rich fuddy-duddies can't handle a bit of splashy water! What with that and Clara's weird clothing comments yesterday I think we're going to be shaking up the routine a bit round here.

Okay this was only going to be a short post and now I'm rambling again.

Oh one more thing, that family I met today told me there's an early "children's tea" available, which is SO good. They won't have to wait until they're starving and cranky at proper dinner time. Mind you we'll still have to take them to dinner with us of course, lacking the private nannies a couple of other families have! But at least they'll be happier with full bellies. :)

Heartbroken.

I have decided: I love Miami. How I managed to keep this secret from myself for almost thirty years, I can only guess. Maybe it had something to do with never getting within five hundred miles of the place.

Anyway, I think I've discovered what's absolutely wretched about a cruise.

Someone like me feels regret after leaving a city I've lived in for a year, because a year is not enough time to really get all of what a place offers. To put in to port then for ten hours is just barely long enough to get a glimpse of how sexy a place is. It's absolutely wrenching to leave so soon, and I think I'm going to get this shattering feeling every time we shove off.

Miami felt more alive vital than any city I've ever visited before. I know that sounds strange, since I'm coming directly from New York City, but it's a very different take. In NYC, the energy is self-conscious and competitive. People are hyper because they want to prove that they're the most beautiful/thug/glammy/religious/entrepreneurial etc. thing there is. While that's ironically naive in its own charming way, I have to grade it a little beneath Miami, where the energy is just a little less self-conscious, and has more to do with wringing the fun/meaning/juice out of every moment than inspiring awe in the people around you.

Gemma and Sumara and Clara have described Miami well. I just have to add that this is a city of fabulous, colorful, scary-looking neighborhoods, but I've heard more Cuban jazz in one day than in the last year. That, and the neighborhood around Villa Habana is absolutely gorgeous, with broad leafy boulevards and old clothing stores and restaurants that show just enough wear to look inhabbited. It kind of makes me think a little of a tropical version of what Garfield Blvd. must have looked like in Chicago before it all fell apart.

I have to return to Villa Habana at least once, to try their ham shank.

The waiter strongly recommended it.

To this end I will be persuading Jess to apply to nursing schools here.




The garderns were pretty amazing. After that and Miami, Fort Lauderdale couldn't possibly match up (although it was very pretty in the sunset). I didn't see much of its famed canals, but I believe they're there nonetheless. Today we're in the Caribbean and tomorrow we'll arrive at Grand Cayman. It's strange because I didn't really notice a change in temperature until we disembarked in Florida. It's been unseasonably warm in New York, but I think that an even larger factor is the coolness of the winds off the ocean at night. Never quite experienced that before.

Today is my first day of really getting work done. I'll start working on my revision of Hungry Rats. Behind already, I'm afraid. If I get enough done, I might dress up like a pirate and go for a drink on the Lido bar.

Not sure what the others are up to today.

Squeee!!! (The excitement sets in)

I have woken up this morning feeling suddenly itching with excitement. We're cruising into the Caribbean Sea! Oh. my. goodness. Beaches. Sun. Pirates. Rum! Adventure!

I think today I'll spend the whole day asking anyone who'll listen "are we in the Caribbean yet? Are we in the Caribbean yet?" Grand Cayman tomorrow, Colombia on Sunday and on Monday we go through the Panama Canal!!! The Panama Canal!

Anyway, the weather's looking warm enough for a swim now so I think the girls and I will be attending breakfast in our swimmers (underneath our "smart casual, appropriate for dining" clothes of course!) and then heading straight to the pool!



Are we in the Caribbean yet???

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

clara: day 3 (already??)

I'm pretty exhausted, but I'll try to post some anyway. Today we met up with Gemma, which was great -- we haven't hung out much in about four years, and I'm really excited to do so again. Her Floridian relatives are also very cute!

I had a slightly weird encounter on my way out of the ship this morning. I was dressed down in a skirt and t-shirt in preparation for our day wandering around Miami, and when one of the older cruise passengers saw me, she said "You're wearing that? I can't believe they even let your group on here." I didn't really have anything to say to that. There's this weird class snobbery built into the cruise experience that isn't really present anywhere I've lived.

Fortunately, most of the "traditional" passengers don't seem to share this woman's attitude -- in fact, I shared a pleasant beer last night in the Golden Lion pub with an interesting gentleman who made a lot of money as a programmer in the dot-com bubble and somehow hung onto enough of it to spend all of his vacations on exciting travel adventures like this.

We had a great day in Miami, though. Fried plantains and lunchtime sangria are for yes! Also exciting plants and glass-blown art; I drew some pictures that were slightly more interesting than my onboard drawings (since I'm not that good at drawing water in monochrome -- I've definitely been practicing, though!). I'd like to put all my drawings from the trip on this blog, but considering that I need to take time away from the cruising experience to take poor-quality digital photos of them and then wait for my glacially-slow computer to process each one, they'll probably only be a few highlights, and those belatedly.

There's a lot more I could say, but of course I've already given up on capturing all the crazy things that are happening in this discrete medium -- instead, I'll focus on experiencing them. (And pretty soon, on experiencing a well-deserved sleep!)

Miami is just like the movies!

Tee hee... well, some of the movies. The ones that feature cute old retired people and lots of wrinkled suntanned skin!

I left dinner early tonight because Tali and Bea were far too feral to stay at the table. Just as I predicted she would, Tali fell asleep the minute she got near her bed, but Bea is wide awake (she slept for 40 minutes in the van this arvo so she'll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a while yet). She's presently gallopping her little toy horse and zebra around the computer tables.

Anyway, Gemma's written all about our day so there's not much to add to that... her grandmother is so cute and lovely! And thanks so much to Aunty Jan for driving us around!

Gemma missed the part in Fort Lauderdale where I chucked a bit of a paranoid tanty about the girls not having a proper harness in the shuttle van. I think everyone suddenly realised at that moment what a complete nutter I am! Anyway, the driver and the others reassured me that the girls would be safe and I calmed down... but I don't think they noticed how tightly I was holding on to Bea! For the rest of the day's driving I behaved myself... except for nagging Noel like crazy to hold onto Tali. Lunch was an experience -we've never had Cuban food before so I wanted to try everything. Bea and I loved it and ate heaps while Noel and Tali picked at their plates of food.

The girls LOVE Gemma; she seems to be naturally a very kid-friendly person. Tali especially just hung on her every word today. And they think Connor's pretty funny too.

Okay Bea's zebra is terrorising the poor computers now, so I shall take her for a walk and see if I can find the others.

I know I still haven't written down that list I promised of my "artistic/actory" goals for the trip. We are at se all day tomorrow so I promise I shall do it then.

Miami and Arrival

Well, I've arrived. I'm now shipboard, and astounded by the conditions in our suite—I'm unpacking faster than a speeding bullet, but needed a break and decided to do a quick update. So let's try to go in chronological order.

Rather than pass the day in boring Ft. Lauderdale, the gang took a shuttle down to meet me in Miami this morning. (The price was a little steep, but not so bad split among seven, and after all, we're not doing much other spending due to Mr. Fushigi's generosity.) I've never spent time in Miami with anyone other than family members, so this was really quite interesting. They arrived at the Miami Airport at 10:45 am, and my grandmother brought me to meet them. My aunt J had also generously agreed to ferry us around for the day, since there was no possible way that all nine of us could fit in one car. Bea and Tali had to share a seatbelt for the first leg of the trip as it was. Jess took over my grandmother's car for the day, since my grandmother's not as much up to driving as she used to be. We dropped her at home and promised to drop her car off before the day was out.

After that, we drove to my favorite restaurant in the area, Villa Habana. (My grandmother, ridiculous as she is, had promised to pay for lunch even though she didn't want to come with us.) All our body clocks were puzzled enough that we were quite ready to have lunch at 11:45. They recently discontinued my favorite beef stew, but Connor was a tremendous fan of their minute steak, and we split seven platters of fried plantains among the ten of us.

At Amber's request, we then headed out to Fairchild Tropical Garden, very close to my aunt's house. The Chilhuly exhibit I'd seen a year ago was still there—though many of my companions had seen his work at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, it felt entirely different among tropical plants. Chihuly's an astounding glass blower—at this point he's sacrificed one of his eyes to his art—whose expertise is in large-scale installations, the interaction of giant glass sculptures with natural settings. Tali was especially enamored of the floating glass balls in the pond near the entrance. I was only sorry we couldn't be present for a "tropical Chihuly night."

We spent so much time wandering the gardens (and indulging in overpriced snacks) that we had to rush to pick up my grandmother and meet our shuttle back to the ship. My grandmother, though exhausted, was delighted by the crowd and buoyed enough by it to drive home by herself. I fell asleep in our shuttle (I was told Jess and Bea did as well) and we made it back by 5 pm.

I'm more than a little overwhelmed by my impressions of the ship right now, and exhausted by my travels, that I'm going to stop here. Tomorrow I hope to get some exploring done, along with a little swimming, and I'll be sure to update on my impressions. But quick realization—my parents honeymooned on this same ship's transatlantic crossing! How cool is that?

Port of Call: FORT LAUDERDALE.

Fort Lauderdale.

WIKIPEDIA [general]
The United States of America.
Florida.
Fort Lauderdale.

EMPORIS [architecture / skylines]
Fort Lauderdale.

LONELY PLANET [tourism]
Fort Lauderdale.

ROUGH GUIDE [tourism]
Miami

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Needing Sl-eep.

Right after brunch I went back to the stateroom and slept most of the afternoon. Then I woke up, met the others for dinner (more on that later - I had a real meal tonight) and I spent a lot of the evening in the suite reading When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block. I think Meridith would enjoy it, and if she's scared up The Shining I'm interested in a trade.

On a similar note, I think we're all quickly realizing how grateful we are that Bea and Noel are here. There aren't many kids on this cruise... in fact, I'm 28 and probably about a decade or so younger than the median cruising age, and they bring an energy and freshness to the trip that is distinctly un-choreographed.

Anyway, it we discovered that nobody could sleep last night and miraculously we didn't bump into each other. I'm not really tired now at all, but I have to force myself to sleep. Tomorrow we dock in Ft. Lauderdale, and since I know nothing about the area on arrival (that's a first) I'm looking forward to Gemma bossing me toward all of the most worthwhile sites. She's pretty energetic herself, so that will require a good night's sleep.

Day 2 According to Meridith

I woke up before sunrise this morning after only a few hours of sleep. I didn't feel rested at all, and when I sat up I felt nauseated. I always get like this when traveling, and in the past couple of days I've crossed half the country and left land behind.

When the worst of it passed, I got up and drank some water, then went into the bathroom so that I could rest my forehead against the cool porcelain of the sink. That helped a lot, actually, but I was still awake...wide awake in the wee hours of the morning. With Clara and Amber still sleeping nearby, I didn't want to turn on the TV or make any other noise. I called room service and ordered a cup of coffee, then slipped on my robe and slippers. By the time I made it to the door of the suite (I was going to wait outside so they wouldn't have to knock and disturb my sleeping roommates), the coffee was already here! I literally opened the door just as the man with my coffee was about to knock, and after we gave each other a little scare, we laughed softly and I took a sip of some of the best coffee I have ever had. After our business was concluded, I shut the door, crossed the room to the balcony, and slipped out.

It has been very chilly outside fo rthe past several days, and the ocean breeze didn't help matters much, but I was able to get pretty cozy with my coffee in a corner of the balcony with my robe wrapped around me like a blanket. Our balcony looks over the bow of the ship, so if you, like me, press your face to the guardrail and look up a little bit, it looks just like you're alone over the water, flying.

I sat there for over an hour, watching the sky slowly lighten, eventually turning into a sunrise. I could hear some people walking around and talking somewhere below me, but by and far the morning was the first truly peaceful one I've had in months. Later in the day I found that I wasn't the only one of our group who had trouble staying asleep. Over brunch, Connor was all agog about what he saw early this morning while taking a self-guided tour of the ship, and one thing in particular caught my attention- he had passed the library! I'm terrible with directions, but I asked Connor to point me in the right direction. Eventually (and with the help of one or two friendly crew members), I found it, and spent most of the afternoon browsing their collection. The proud librarian made sure that I knew that this was one of the most extensive sea borne libraries in existence. I gave her a distant smile and nodded, just enought to be polite but also ensuring that I would be left alone for the duration of my visit. I picked up a few volumnes, and got a good bit of reading done before we had dinner, lounging in one of the overstuffed chairs in our suite while sipping on an amaretto sour.

We're getting pretty far south now, but it's still pretty chilly outside. I'd been hoping that it would be a little warmer by now, but que sera. I'm thinking about spending this evening exploring the decks, like Connor did earlier. I hope the stars come out!

Tired girls and stuffy old men

Well, the girls did sleep last night, but they woke each other up at 4.30 and nothing could convince them to get back to sleep. I tried some quiet time in the room, reading books with them, but Noel (my "I-can-sleep-all-day-any-day!" darling husband) whinged at us so I dressed Tali and Bea and dragged myself outside to explore. We spent a couple of hours wandering around mostly on the outside decks. The girls spotted the outside pool and it was all I could do to stop them throwing themselves into the freeeeezing water for a "swim! mummy!". Though I can't blame them, the pool looks delicious and I can't wait for warmer weather! (Neither can Noel; he wants to show me off in the new swimmers he bought me)

Anyway after hauling Noel out of bed and dressing myself properly for the fancy schmancy dining room, we had brunch, which was fabulous too - hopefully I get tired of all the fancy food soon otherwise I'm going to go home 10kg bigger! Tali and Bea were acting up a bit though, they're just so tired and out of sorts dealing with the time changes and all the excitement. They'll settle down soon I guess and hey, I can deal with stuffy old men glaring at us, I reckon they need a bit of preschooler-joy in their lives!

Ok well Bea's just about asleep on my lap now so I might go lie down with her for a bit before dinnertime. I think Noel's gone with Tali to find the children's area for a play.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of These

from Gemma:




Well, finally all the business has been taken care of! It’s a shame I couldn’t just stay where I was in New York last week and disembark from there with everyone
else, but this decision was so last-minute that I needed to return to Chicago and get my affairs in order. My roommate will take care of my rabbit, and his godmother, my friend Tyromaven, will help out when Gaby can’t. I fear he’ll know them better than he knows me by the time I return, which is incredibly sad, but a seasick rabbit is just not the way to go. I’m unemployed, which makes scheduling easy—though I did have to give up a few freelance moneymaking opportunities to take this trip—and since we’ll have internet access on the ship, I may even sublet my room for a month or two. Assuming the guest doesn’t mind the mess. And I think I will bring my computer, and
do some of the writing I’ve been planning on, as well as continuing to update href="http://parsleycoveredtext.blogspot.com/">my regular blog.

I’m meeting everyone in Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow—I fly down tonight to pay a quick visit to my aunt and grandmother, and my Aunt Jan will drive me to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow afternoon. Shame I can’t stay there longer, but hey, adventure calls.

I’ve been on a cruise once before, in Alaska et environs—it was my grandmother’s birthday present to my mother when I was in high school, the last time I can recall my grandmother leaving Miami. I loved Alaska, but I must admit that the boat part was a bit anticlimactic. But I have a goal of hitting at least six continents before I turn thirty, and this exciting, elaborate cruise will certainly bring me two continents closer to my goal—South America still being left out, but I have five more years. And traveling with a group of friends will certainly make for better
shipboard adventures.

Not to mention that I adore packing for black-tie. It will leave me with perhaps more baggage than necessary, since I’m packing some of my biggest, most outrageous and most elaborate outfits, but you only live once as far as I know. I want to maintain a sense of formality but still shock the shipboard denizens in some way. Because I’m a HUGE honking dork, I’m going to list a few of my favorite articles
of clothing that I’m bringing along, items I rarely have a chance to wear:

1) The ball gown I created for Tyromaven’s birthday (by “created,” I mean, altered”), a black velvet strapless gown with a huge full skirt that laces up the back in red. (I made it lace up the back, rather than zip.)
2) A short black vintage slipdress with elaborate black-and-silver beading.
3) The floor-length maroon velvet gown I got at a Brooklyn tag sale for a dollar.
4) The magenta dress my sister brought me from China.
5) The “widow dress,” my costume from a high school production of The Taming of the Shrew, set in 1950s Mafioso Italy (I hope it still fits!)

Plus several others, and countless hats, scarves, shoes, gloves, and other interesting outfits. Okay, not countless, but I don’t feel like counting. But I
can’t claim the thought of startling the stuffier QEII passengers isn’t somewhat exciting.

Other exciting things: I don’t doubt Tali and Bea are the youngest passengers on the cruise and the most primed for adventure, and I am very excited to be traveling with children. Sumara, whenever you and Noel want some alone time, I will be more than happy to hang out with your girls!

Off to finish packing and buy a few delicious treats for Nolan before I go, then. I really do wish I could take him with me!

Day #2 (well, sorta) from Connor's POV.

First, details leftover from yesterday. (I said I'd talk about dinner and the cocktail party).

It turns out that the accomodations booked correspond to where you dine by default. There is a Lido restaurant, available to all passengers, and we can also eat en-suite anytime we like. However, the "Queens Grill" is specifically restricted to passengers of the highest lodging. I had the good judgment to change into my tuxedo before going to dinner after we disembarked. We were far-and-away the youngest table in the room, although the atmostphere wasn't stuffy or annoying.

Because only so many passengers can dine there, the Queens Grill is on the small size. There were fresh flowers at our table, linen napkins, crystal classes, plates with gold leaf (or I sure thought it was gold leaf). It was all in line with some of the nicest restaurants I've ever been to. But... between excitement and exhaustion (at least on my part), I didn't really even attempt to meet anyone new at this time. I was still full from my rare Anchorburger, so I just ordered the tomato soup with fresh basic, and a coke. Almost as nice as Jessica makes it!

My camera is acting up, actually, but there are pictures of the Queens Grill here if you are interested.

The cocktail was quite relaxed. I even managed to say "hi" to a few people; I think on of the reviews of this ship said the makeup was about 1/3 American, 1/3 British, 1/3 From Elsewhere, which seems to be the case. I'm not altogether unsurprised, however, by the disproportionate number of New Yorkers here. My mission: There's someone from Michigan about this ship and I intend to find them. The bar does not stock Old Overholt, but they do have Maker's Mark, and that worked until I got back to the suite where they had procured, to my delight, some fine Rye.




Now, as for today.

I'd think after having been so exhausted from the last few days of preparation, I would have slept in until noon. As it turns out I was so excited that I woke up again at about 3:30, (after maybe 2 hours of sleep) and couldn't get back to sleep. After 45 minutes of try, I decided to just get up and explore the ship.

It was kind of eerie. Most of the services were closed, of course, but I was surprised to find a fair number of people still up and about. I took the elevator up to the Sun Deck and worked my way down. There's a small cinema there but not a whole lot more. One floor down, the Boat Deck seems to be where a lot of the action was last night, although this late the Promenade was almost empty. It's also where the Queens Grill is located, some sports stuff, and the "board room." I went through the Grand Lounge on this deck and went down a floor to the Upper Deck, which probably had the most people up and about of any deck. There was the Grand Lounge, and two bars, the Crystal Bar and the Golden Lion Pub, which were doing a brusk-for-5 AM business. I really think the Casino was the reason the place was hopping. There's another bar, (I think) the Yacht Club which I could not find (although now, back in the suite and looking at the map, I don't see how I could have missed it), the Theatre, which was closed, and the Mauretania Restaurant, where the plebs eat.

Mwa ha ha!

Another floor down, the Quarter Deck, had more restaurants, the Caronia, the Princess Grill, the Britannia Grill. Further back is the Queens Room, a room with a large dance floor (but I didn't go in), a bookshop
And a library and "Club 2000," which I thought sounded awesome until I realized it was geared toward teens. Blah. And the Lido Deck, which is easily the most chill outpost on the ship. I kind of wanted to check out the Chart Room, but I think it was closed and anyway, the sun was coming up on the Port Side, so I picked a seat in the Lido and ordered a cup of orange juice and an English muffin with butter. Keep it simple, right?

The sea went from purple to gray, but the sun was taking a long time coming up, so I continued my walk.

The next five decks were primarily staterooms, but there were shops and salons along the interior of the ship. The sixth and seventh deck were just the site of a spa and pool, but it was cool... you know... being in the bowels of the ship. I was tired again, and by now it was well after six.




Now I'm up again and just finished brunch. Will be interesting, trying to stay away until an un-embarassing hour...

Probably won't post tomorrow. I'll be busy in what is evidently the "Venice of America."