Sunday, February 18, 2007

Connor ketchup. The Pacific Ocean.

I feel like I'm stuck in a bubble.

There was a survey I got about a week ago asking if I'd give up blogging for $25,000. I haven't made it official, but I feel like my posts here are so few and far between that I deserve at least around a grand.

I could blame my negligence on a few singular points. For example, I was looking forward to photoblogging early on, but now my cameras busted, and I lack the capital to put together a new one. The thesis is taking up way more time than I thought. I can't imagine how I would have finished it if I was actually in New York, juggling reading and writing with work and so on. But I think there are deeper reasons, as well. Time here seems so limitless on the one hand: why blog now? Do it later. On the other hand, time seems so valuable: don't waste this time blogging! And there's another thing:

I can't believe the trip is halfway over.

We're now roughly as far, in time and distance, from our final Port of Call in New York City, as we are from our first disembarkment. When we arrive, I imagine we'll go out to celebrate, and maybe I can persuade some people to visit for awhile. Then Sumara and family will fly back to Australia. Gemma and Amber and Meridith will return to Chicago. Clara will take the train to Massachusetts. It will be a bittersweet moment, and one I'm trying not to think about right now.

I suppose that should be easy enough. Right now it's three in the morning in Australia, but it's noon in New York. Here the days are getting a little short, a little cool, the Southern Sea currents are troubled by occasional advancing Antarctic fronts, although I don't know if trees lose their leaves much in any part of the Southern Hemisphere. Back home, there's snow on the ground, and wind chills around zero, but it will also be Spring soon. The days there are getting longer. A world away is not, in this case, a figure of speech.

Time has been easily compartmentalized between the intensity of work and the dreaminess of ship life. I'm starting on my second revision with help from comments from Jeff. I've read two volumes of Crime Novels edited by Robert Polito, and more novels by Toni Morrison, James Cain, and Joyce Carol Oates. It's still really weird to be here writing about evil lumberjacks. So I'm also drawing up a business plan for an organization to coordinate some Gothic Funk activities. That's a plan that I might put into motion in the next year...

Before this trip I might have thought that an ocean is an ocean is an ocean, and especially tropical oceans, but there's nothing similar now to me about the Caribbean and the Pacific. In the Caribbean, even far out at sea, the awareness of and presence of land is almost tangibly felt. The weather fronts are disrupted by land. One could travel for days along Cuba or Hispanola without seeing water. The jungles and mountains seem to vie against, and fairly match, the water. It feels like a very evenly stacked elemental war. But not the Pacific. Here there is so much water, so wide, and so deep, that it seems to swell too high on the horizon and press up against the sky. So when we come to islands, and even Hawaii was like this way, they are like constellations in the sky. The stars are striking because they are bright, because there is so much darkness around them.

Maybe the first thing I should say is that Southern Hemisphereans get a much better star show than we do up North. The Southern Cross beats the Big Dipper in size and brightness and drama and intensity, and you can see the freaking Milky Way!

Papeete was just a little disappointing. It was remeniscent of Grand Cayman; larger, grittier, more exotic, but still had stamps of "tourist mecca" all over. That was a fine day to take it easy.

Moorea was better, but another low-key day. I got a drink in a local bar, and was informed by the bartender that "You vill nay-vair speak French vell. Eet ees hope-layss." I ordered some spice rum, straight up, and didn't tell him that French is about #15 down the list of languages I'm dying to learn. After that Jess and I met up with Clara on the street, quite by coincidence, and we all went snorkeling at the beach and looking for sharks. No sharks, but I had a close call with a nest of sea urchins that didn't look pointy until I was way too close.

Now Tonga. I know a lot of people didn't like Tonga. I liked it a lot, but part of the reason was feeling that its history wasn't couldn't be shielded from me as happened in the strictly sanitary calls at Grand Cayman, at Hawaii, at Alcupulco, at Tahiti. Cunard writes that "In nearly 250 years since Captain Cook named then the Friendly Islands, little has changed. It remains the last kingdom in the South Pacific," and the pleasant tone of the description belies the fact that this is precisely the issue. It was hard to pass up a chance to see the famous "flying foxes," this was one day when I really just wanted to be away from the crowd. I might write more about that later, but it involved leaning some scraps of Tongan (which I evidently have more of a talent for then French) and a fair amount of kava. We talked a lot about the experience at dinner that night.

Fiji was far and away the largest island we'd visited since Hawaii, and while it has had its own political issues lately, they didn't seem as omnipresent as in Tonga. Jess and I met up with Malcolm and some other friends he met on board (one, Jacques, is a Frenchman from Marseilles who is obsessed with the Provencal Troubadours and talked to me extensively about them; the discussion about the French language continues) we took an excursion to a fishing village. It wasn't bad. Not a highlight of the trip, but not bad.

But of course, everything is incredible.


At sea, my days have fallen into the most informally regimented schedule. I've woken up at eight to ten, depending on the night before. I take breakfast, and then usually go out for a Bloody Mary with James, the butler. [At first he held out that it was "unprofessional" but as it turns out he's originally from Manchester, studied at Carlton in Minnesota, and wrote his dissertation of the intersections of American and British noir writings, so I was able to coax him into friendship on the basis of the indespensability of his opinion.] I'll cave in most often, and have lunch witho our group in the Queens Grill, then take the laptop on a rotation through our Queens stateroom, the Lido bar, and the Sun Deck (for the Sunset), with a break for a short dinner. After about ten hours of reading and writing it's nighttime so I meet up with friends and our group and we'll go to the bars or clubs on board, although we had at least one night where a dozen of us (including Susan and Malcolm and Julie and co.) had a marathon of downloaded Brat Pack flicks.

So maybe that's why I haven't been posting.


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