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Back to the Beginning

 How One Man Reversed the Flow of Time

We booked this cruise back in February. The price seemed right. This was a brand new ship, tested in the Mediterranean but not in the Atlantic. The Carnival Dream is over 1000 feet long. It carries 3600 passengers and 1600 crew. We are mainly interested in Spain, particularly Malaga where I was an American Field Service exchange student in the summer of 1956 after my junior year in high school. The cruise begins Oct. 27 in Rome’s seaport and ends on Nov. 12 in New York City.

We begin at the Atlanta airport on Monday, Oct. 26. There is a heart stopping moment after we use the curbside check-in. Rebeca doesn’t have her passport. Right after saying we’ll have to return to curbside, she locates it in one of the many compartments of her large handbag. There’s a lot of walking en route to our gate. I am asked: “Do you need assistance?” and “Do you need a wheel chair? I am slower than Rebeca, which I will explain later. Rebeca has maximized our carry-on luggage to minimize extra charges.

The next confusing moment occurs at the gate. Rebeca urges me to hurry because they are already boarding. It is 7:45 am and our flight to NYC departs at 8:30. I ask the gatekeeper why the hurry. It turns out the curbside attendant quietly moved us up to a 7:55 flight. When you purchase an airline ticket, you forfeit your personhood. It is the patina of courtesy that disarms. A bus driver doesn’t say “Thank you for riding my bus.”

We have over 5 hours at JFK before our flight to Prague. We need almost all of them. Our overseas flight, as we understand it, is on Czech Airlines. It departs from the international terminal so we must take the outdoor subway. Fortunately, the weather is perfect. We have breakfast and start to settle in. However, I don’t see any scheduled flights landing in Prague. I ask a plump, young, smiling, uniformed woman for clarification. The last Czech flight left 3 days ago. Our flight is on Delta. We expected a loose affiliation, but this is enough to place us in another terminal. The first attendant tells me this is the right terminal. When we return with our luggage, a different attendant says our luggage will leave from this terminal and we will, after a short bus ride, leave from another. Know-it-all New Yorkers who know nothing!

I am still bruised from my battle with the new phone company to retain our number. I think I am noted as “cranky” on their records. I have resolved to be forbearing with customer service people. The second attendant is asking for more evidence. “We are already confirmed”, I announce. She keeps dawdling over her computer and then writes the new terminal number on our ticket. ‘How do I know you’re right?” is my second announcement.

In the new, correct terminal Rebeca buys me a large beer and sandwich. The earth is again rotating properly. There is a guy with a kick-boxing jacket whom I question. He is from Wells, Vermont and has had 12 amateur fights. Now we’re on our 7 hour flight to Prague. Rebeca recently flew to Chicago and the adjacent male gave her a Delta complimentary drink ticket. The elderly Asian Stewardess neglects to take our order. I’m imagining the taste of a Scotch on the rocks. As I walk down the aisle towards her, everyone is looking at me. I gently tap her shoulder and say “You forgot us. We have no drinks.” She apologizes and serves us soon enough.

We are going to Rome via Prague because Czech airlines had the cheapest flight. We are going to be in the Prague airport from 6:15am to 11:50 am. I have scheduled a tour which I found on the internet. Rebeca fears that we will miss our flight. Our tour guide is David Manley ()  from New Orleans who married a Czech. He has a tour business which sends tourists out with a GPS. He says he is not a professional guide, but that’ OK with me particularly since he shares Rebeca’s concern. It’s hard to find an English speaker in the airport. We finally do and find our guide waiting.

At 7:30 in the morning, the streets are deserted except for street cleaners. It reminds me of St. Petersburg, Russia. I think Communism makes people sleep late. We stop in a café so I can have tea and rum. Our guide is very good. He knows the history of Czechoslovakia, a merger of Czech and Slovakia, which is now the Czech Republic.  Fortunately the weather is nice, a little cool so I wear a hat. Prague has nice buildings. He, a Catholic, explains John Huss, Martin Luther’s predecessor. We like the Charles River Bridge and the Jewish quarter, the largest Jewish ghetto in Europe, which includes a statue of Franz Kafka. We get a glimpse of the Jewish cemetery rather than paying to enter. Our guide tells us about Terezin, the model concentration camp which was opened to inspection by the International Red Cross in 1944. The inmates were transported elsewhere for execution.

The guide’s driver, another American, takes us back to the airport. I ask him about air quality. Not so good because they burn brown coal which flakes down upon the city. He explains the airport layout, but we have some difficulty locating our gate: the board says gate: 2-12. I’m worried as we get off at Rome. How will we find the Carnival bus to the seaport? Not to worry, uniformed Carnival guides are awaiting us with signs. We are to get our luggage in bin #11 and meet them by bin # 10. Nothing is in bin#11. After about 30 minutes, another passenger advises us it’s in bin #6 in an adjacent hallway. After we get it, there are no guides by bin #10. I’m considering what manner of speech will be appropriate for expressing my displeasure. We are directed to a waiting bus by a different guide, so I say nothing.

We pass what seems to be a prison near the pier. Then we see the ship. It’s the biggest cruise ship yet. We enter and are re-united with our luggage in our room without incident except for the self-disclosure concerning flu. I’ve had a cold for about two weeks, but no fever and I got a flu shot last week, so I declare myself healthy. There must be a better way. Throughout the cruise we are urged to frequently wash our hands. Luckily, there is no visible sickness, but I hear of other cruises where the captain threatens to disembark anyone who doesn’t stay quarantined. Ours is an interior cabin on deck 2. It is small but accommodating. I learn to use the automatic telephone wake-up call procedure.

We meet our regular tablemates at dinner. Besides our friends there are retired couples from Denver and Arizona who met during a previous cruise. We arrange to share three bottles of wine with our friends. Were on our own for breakfast and lunch, but we have dinner every night at the same table with the same waiter. There are many venues for breakfast and lunch, but we can sit randomly in the dining room, which is what we mostly do because we like to be served and we like to meet new people.
The crew comes from 70 different countries. The cruise director, the only working American, praises them at the end and wonders why the politicians can’t get along similarly. Simple. The crew are humble workers. The politicians are egocentric blow-hards. Many of the crew are Indonesians. I asked one how he learned English. He said he started studying it in the third grade. He also speaks Spanish and something else. I don’t say anything in Spanish, I don’t want him to be better. Each crew member has a name tag with their country. The Indonesians are effective and cheerful. The only exceptions are a few Croats and Serbs who are effective but dreary looking. What is it about a country with citizens smart enough to learn another language but have to work on a cruise ship?

As we wait to be seated for breakfast in the dining room. There are two on the ship: one fore and one aft. By now the cruise industry should be saying front and back and be done with it. We wonder if we should go up to the second floor of the dining room where our dinner table is. A man ahead of us has the answer. There is open seating and the second floor is closed.

We are seated next to him and his wife. He is a retired NYC police lieutenant who supervised detectives. Now they live in Boston and he’s a real estate investor specializing in “fixer-uppers”.  I ask him about promotion tests like the New Haven fireman case. He says you have to have two years of college to be a NYC policeman and 4 years to be promoted. Policemen have to know criminal law. I’m skeptical of tests. But actually firemen probably have to know as much about first aid as policemen need to know criminal law. He’s in favor of tests. How else are you going to do it?  In response to my question, he says ships this size have to start slowing down 6 miles from port. I have imagined the Carnival Dream ramming the dock at Fort Lauderdale and coming to a stop in Naples. He suggests I watch the Glen Beck Show and cites two examples of objective reporting:
1. The man carrying a gun at a tea party meeting was actually black. Therefore, tea parties are not racist.
2, There was less litter left behind after the Washington, D.C. tea party than after the inauguration. (Weren’t there more people at the inauguration? No, about the same. Therefore?
I know better than to argue. I’m interested in hearing their reasoning. Its weakness justifies my position. However, when I ask a Canadian about their health plan, they like it.

The ship puts out a written daily activities guide. Today there is a hairy chest contest. I’m an unintended observer. The MC says his watch got caught in the man’s back. The contestants are dancing for the judges. Fortunately, there are few observers. Is this the humanity of which I am a part? Is there a rock nearby that I can crawl under? Whatever happened to wet t-shirt contests? Men as sex objects! Later in the cruise there is a Men’s Best Legs Competition. I am an intended non-observer.

I’m intentionally abstaining from all exercise. I’ve been running regularly all year and need some down time. I don’t like gyms. I did play miniature golf. I have my electric tooth brush and charger, but no water pic. Also, I’m missing my never-to-be-patented mouth wash of salt, water, and hydrogen peroxide which is the world’s best antidote to periodontal disease. My teeth are turning yellow. I failed to pack dental floss and my hairbrush so I’m using Rebeca’s. All I have to pack is my books and my toilet kit and I can’t do it. I don’t want to pack, but I don’t want Rebeca to excel at it so if she questions me for a preference I always choose the first alternative.

Most of the passengers are oldsters, many of whom scoot about on motorized chairs. If the ship sinks, one-third will die of a heart attack before encountering water, another third won’t know it’s sinking, and the final third will thrash about in the water before drowning.

Our first port is Barcelona. We think we can manage without purchasing a ship’s tour. We’re going to walk Las Ramblas boulevard and take a taxi to La Sagrada Familia, the bizarre cathedral designed by Gaudi. There is a Hop and Stop bus which allows you to that all day for 21 euros, equivalent to about $34. It has many hawkers urging purchase. The taxi round trip is about $16 with tip. The first taxi-driver says 90% of the Spanish politicians are corrupt, profiting on land deals. A taxi driver in the Dominican Republic said the same thing. The bodies of the taxis are made in Spain, but the engines are made in Germany.

As we start to walk Las Ramblas, Rebeca laments that we haven’t any euros and it will take half the morning to get some. She doesn’t know that I have silently contemplated this problem at length. We’ll get a better deal on shore (wrong slightly) and there are plenty of money changers (right). The distance between Rebeca’s feelings and her tongue is measured in millimeters. Would I prefer a duplicitous schemer? No. The best response to an ill-considered (I edited out “stupid”) remark is an innocuous “Is that so?” (My father) or  “ah-huh” (Rebeca). I don’t respond that way often enough to have a standard reply. A corollary is: Winning an argument is a fool’s errand.

There seem to be many people smoking cigarettes. The motionless entertainers, the street mimes, are getting ready. I’m not at all moved to tip them. A few days ago, the ship had an announcement that because the bus drivers were on strike in Barcelona, we would not be docking there. For our benefit and thanks to Carnival influence, the strike was temporarily cancelled. The weather is perfect. It’s nice to be ashore.

We’re not going to enter La Sagrada Familia. Just as well because the lines are long. It’s impressive enough from the outside: very high with realistic statues. In a nearby park, there are pay toilets. In spite of explanatory pictures, we can’t open the door after two tries. We settle for a nearby Tapas bar. I don’t like the pasty ham and chicken tapas. I do like the beer. I ask the waiter if the people here go to Mass. “Only if they need something” is his reply. Mass attendance is down throughout Europe.  An AFS student from Holland explained it to me by saying Americans are more emotional.

Irish seven course dinner : one baked potato and a six-pack
Back on board, there is a 1400 seat theatre with a nightly show. Most of the entertainers are from England. I enjoy their singing, especially when they talk about themselves between songs. We encountered a female singer, Penny Mathisen, as we were returning to our room. She had encouraged interaction so we complimented her. Another couple had their picture taken with her. I think my favorite singer is Guy Mitchell. A bit of a time warp, eh? I’ll never have an ipod.

Drinking is going to be a problem. I ordered a beer the first day. It was $4.95 plus an automatic 15% tip. That night was the Captains welcome. The waiters kept bringing me beers (free, thanks Cap), so I averaged down to $1.14 per. One other time I had a $4.95 scotch, but basically limited myself to wine at dinner.

I also disciplined my gambling. I played Texas Hold ‘Em which I play on the computer. There were eight people at the table. Fortunately the guy next to me explained the procedures. Virtual cards are dealt. I started with $50. One guy at the table had $300, but he didn’t seem to be scaring people. I won a hand then got down to $36. When I won my second hand to go up $24, I quit with an excellent return for less than a half an hour. Our friends gave me a $5 coupon for roulette, craps, or black jack. I used to play black jack. I won my first hand and walked away. Actually, I should have played the free chip until I lost it. Plus $29 and done.

In 1956, Mantle was having his triple crown season. I kept up via a subscription to the Sporting News. Now the Yankees are in the World Series and I have to depend upon the kindness of internet leasers to keep up. I saw the core four at AA Albany. I liked Pettite from the first time I saw him pitch. I thought he might be related to Bob Petit until I learned how to spell his name. Posada had an uncle Leo who played outfield for KC. Rivera was a nondescript starter. Jeter was widely heralded, but I didn’t see anything special. I’m very glad they won, but I’d trade it in for a good health plan.

One day when I was eating a buffet lunch alone, a guy asked if he could sit at my table. He had on a Florida Gator’s t-shirt and was about my age. I answered that he was welcome but not the shirt. Georgia plays Florida this Saturday. He’s from Cleveland but lives in Florida. We talked about hearing aids, weight gain, vitamins, prostates, etc.

At breakfast we sat with a Texas couple and a Georgia couple. The latter were Georgia Tech baseball fans. He’s a retired railroad dispatcher. His wife said the air traffic controllers tried railroading but couldn’t do it. The former flew airplanes and explained that ocean liners had stabilizers and gyroscopes. He said there were some workers who should never go on strike and air traffic controllers were one of them.

Our next shore visit is Palma de Majorca, Spain, an island in the Mediterranean. We and our friends decide to hire a taxi-guide at the airport for 130 euros for three hours. This is more than just a taxi, but not as much as a ship tour. He takes us to the Bellver (“lovely view” in ancient Catalan, like buena vista) castle, a round castle fortress built in the 14th century which was used as a prison. Some of the 60,000 executed by Franco may have spent time here. Next we go to Spanish Village, which was created in 1967 by a Spanish architect: “a harmonious compendium of the most famous and unique architectural jewels that man created throughout the history of Spain and which mark the geography of the country.” (as per Google. Google is better than guides.) One of the samples was El Greco’s house in Toledo. Another was from Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The guide drew my attention to the balcony with its “fachada”. That would be a façade.
La Espana es una gran fachada. I liked a Moorish design best. Somebody should do this for the US. Someone from Home and Garden. What would be its component regional house designs?

The guide sounds like he’s from the Chamber of Commerce. He notes how clean the city is. He says Rome is much dirtier. He also says Spaniards are more affluent than Americans. He is willing, but not quite able. He does know Nadal who lives here and is a native. There is a local language Mallorqui which is visible, along with Spanish, on street signs. It is a dialect of Catalan (thanks again, Google).  Our friends were told every region of Spain has its own sub-language. A waiter in Malaga says Andalucia has five languages. All of them are Romance languages except Basque.

Time for another story of breakfast encounters- It’s a circular table with three couples and me. The lady next to me is holding forth. They live in Memphis and she extols Elvis who would give away 10 free Cadillacs. In her high school days she rejected a guy, Jerry, who she said had no future.  Turns out he became an actor with a role in Law and Order and donated an auditorium to their high school. She married a civil engineer who had more promise. He, her husband, says nothing. How many times has he heard this story? She grew up in Illinois and observed politicians making back-room deals. Obama can’t make a decision and has done nothing but work for ACORN. “He taught law at the University of Chicago”, I venture. That doesn’t count.  They’re opposed to Health reform because they’ll be worse off. They’ll have to wait. That’s why he doesn’t go the VA. He has a pacemaker. Under the new order, he would be too old to get one.

Spain expelled the Arabs and the Jews, but they still have the Catalans (who look down on the rest of Spain) and the Basques (who seek to bomb their way to independence). When you start to exclude people, when do you stop? No wonder Central and South America are splintered.

We met two older women. One was from Dallas but an Oklahoma football fan. She doesn’t know if they won Saturday. I got a souvenir Daily News (We’re in! Say Cheese Steak!) at JFK. Rebeca tells her we’ll find out and leaves a phone message with the score, Oklahoma 35-Kansas 13. The lady thanks her at dinner. If there is a category Cares too Much for Other People, Rebeca would fit. She typically seeks out the oldest woman in a group and is very attentive to her.

I’m taking bridge lessons, Beginners at 9:30. I start on the third day and complain that she hasn’t taught the basics. I thought one hour and I’d be done. There are nine Beginner’s lessons. The teacher is a sparky oldster with glasses and a bridge-type patter (“I love to get more than my fair share. You go to bridge jail for that bid.”) She’s enthusiastic and provides good hand-outs, a really good teacher. Her husband stands by quietly. I like to ask him bridge questions. He’s 80 and has had three heart operations, but looks great. He says bridge keeps you healthy. Yes, if it’s Alzheimer’s you’re worried about. I don’t think I’ll ever play bridge, but it’s interesting.

Meanwhile Rebeca is taking dance lessons in the afternoon, so I join her. The instructor is a jovial white haired guy with a 90 inch waist. We’re doing the box stop! There’s an Asian woman who had previously shamed me into dancing with Rebeca at another venue. There’s a salsa band, by far the best lounge act, and we danced some meringuitas there. I wish I could dance better. I never see a woman dancing badly, but there is always at least one man who embarrasses. He looks like he’s changing a tire or he has a blissful expression while dancing independently of the beat. Rebeca doesn’t like to (dance with me?), so I don’t understand her interest. Maybe it’s equivalent to my interest in bridge. What else is there to do? I brought three books to read, but I keep alert for other activities. We meet for lunch. Which is sillier for a 70 year old to learn, bridge or dancing?

“I kissed her on the lips and left her behind for you.”

Our next stop is Malaga, the key attraction of the cruise. I should be enthusiastic about it, but I’m nervous like at the Hotel Lenox in Boston the night before the marathon. I want this to be worthwhile whatever that means. To honor the occasion and to maximize the chance for success, we’ve booked the city tour, $51.95 per person for 3 hours.

O Malaga! Mein Malaga!

It is Nov. 1, All Saint’s Day, Sunday, and Rebeca’s birthday. Santa Rebeca!

The visit completed a circuitous sequence of events which have formed my life. We observed our 25th Wedding Anniversary at the Sagamore Hotel on Lake George where I was a busboy during the summer of 1957. It was February so the dining room was almost empty and staffed by under-employed American college graduates, but back in 1957 Cubans with temporary visas and I did the heavy lifting. Before we left home, we were watching a TV quiz show and the MC was saying, “Would you like to settle for the patio set or take a chance on the motor home?” I imagined myself back at the Sagamore on a busy week-end night in the crowded dining room. The devil approaches me in the kitchen: Psst! Hey Kid! I can show you 37 years from now. See, that’s you with your wife of 25 years in this very dining room. You’re an actuary in Albany. You have kids. You look healthy. See? Now, do you want to accept this or work with me for something better?

What would be better? Centerfielder for the Yankees? From the perspective of 37 years, it’s not so bad. So now, I imagined the same devil a year earlier, whispering to me in Malaga: Mira, I show you 53 years from now. You like, or you want better? I’m alive at 70! I look OK and have enough money to be traveling (Not exactly, but nearly). Is that woman a Malaguena? Am I living in Malaga? No, senor, you are visiting. Turista. She is your wife, American born in Guatemala. Oh, good. Where do I live? Georgia! Hey, wait a minute!!

Let’s go way back to 8th grade, general language. I was recommended for Spanish only, not Latin, not French. There was no German, but I still recall fragments of O Tannenbaum. Then in 11th grade in the hall corridor with Miss Davey hovering in the background, the guidance counselor, Miss Smith, suggested to me that I apply to the American Field Service. Always eager to please, I did. Back to our cruise- the Carnival Dream docked at 48th street after passing the Statue of Liberty at 3 am. A bus took us to JFK. As it passed 72nd street, I recalled stopping there in 1956 at the First National City Bank branch where my father worked. He introduced me to his colleagues before I departed for Spain by ship. My confidence was at a lifetime high. I thought I could, if necessary, swim or jump across the Atlantic.

Also on board were 700 like-minded 17 year olds.. They all seemed more polished than I, especially the boys who were charming the girls. Embarking as a booming extrovert, I disembarked as a brooding introvert. We had Spanish class on board. I remember how dismayed I was when another kid knew the word for carrot and I did not. You can go far in life without knowing the word for carrot in any language. Actually, I like carrots. Back when I was master of my own kitchen, my version of a salad was a single carrot, snipped at both ends, washed but not skinned. In college I included “carrot” in as many answers that I could.

I stayed overnight in Madrid with a Spanish family before departing for Malaga. The lady of the house, in my first conversation with a real Spaniard, asked me if I would like to take a shower. I misunderstand ducha (shower) for lucha, ( fight), so I struck a boxer’s pose. I think I did take a shower. In Malaga, I spent most days accompanying my Spanish father on his rounds to small grocery stores selling Nestle’s chocolates. I did not become a Nestle’s salesman. Spain and USA have been at peace since 1956.

Lillian dumped me days before the Rome Olympics. I never considered the French Foreign Legion. She wasn’t that good, but I did need some fresh air, so I flew to Puerto Rico and traveled around by bus for a week.  Having woken up alive in San Juan, Ponce, and Mayaguez, I figured Los Angeles would be a piece of cake. So I took a train to California for my job with Occidental Life Insurance. I rejected New York Life, where I had been a successful summer actuarial student and arrived over-confident in LA. One has to be over-confident to venture forth and under-confident to do the work. Is that what life is about, discovering  limitations?

In Los Angeles, after training assiduously at the Val De Mar Dance Studio on Wilshire Blvd., I began the project of finding a wife. After seven years I found Rebeca and discovered that I really didn’t speak Spanish very well. The question “Do you speak Spanish?” has always befuddled me. “Yes” is incorrect, but I’m better than most who answer “un poco”. Actually, the question is equivalent to “Are you a liar?”  because the truth will out as soon as you say “Como?” My current answer is “well, but imperfectly”.

So, that was my proclaimed reversal of the flow of time. 
 
We’re on a bus tour. We each get earphones to hear the guide. He’s a grey –haired guy  able to answer my questions concerning what has changed since 1956. They do not celebrate July 18, the beginning of the civil War in 1936. I still have my diary from 1956. Mr. Labrador, my host father, fought on the side of Franco. I don’t think I understood much about it then and so did not question him about it.

The guide explains the effect of the 700 year Arab reign. The spelling of rivers begins with “Quad” (Quadalquivir), mountains begin with “Gib” (Gibralfaro). He says the primary industry of Malaga is tourism. A prominent seaport should do better than that. I am impressed by the new buildings and sense of prosperity. I think Spain, like Ireland, benefited from joining the European Common Market. The guide says Spain exports potatoes to England. Can’t Ireland do that? There are 3 million Latin Americans working in Spain. That must help too.

He answers another of my questions. Is there still Gaseosa La Alcazaba? No, that term now refers to a housing development. I recall hearing the radio commercial for a soft drink named after a historic site. The Alcazaba is a Moorish fortification.Much of it was built around the middle of the 11th century for King Badis of Granada, to serve as the palace of the governors of the city. It is the best-preserved alcazaba (from the Arabic al-qasbah, , meaning "citadel") in Spain. Next to the entrance to the Alcazaba are the ruins of a Roman theatre dating to the 2nd century which is undergoing restoration. Some of the Roman materials were used in the construction of the Alcazaba. Our guide points out the running water which was designed to muffle conversation and footsteps.

 

Our morning on Spain was on Sunday, Nov. 1. The cathedral was closed to tourists, but we entered to hear a small part of the Mass, the readings and most of the homily. Then we had to leave to get on the tour bus. Attendance appeared to be good. Spain always considered itself more Catholic than the Vatican. Its church attendance has declined, but is still higher than the rest of Europe. I don’t understand the decline.

Our guide was quite knowledgeable about the current bull fighters and bull breeding farms. Michener quotes the fan’s lament. Si hay toro, no hay torero. Si hay torero, no hay toro. Perhaps Spains’shortage of boxing champions can be attributed to the lure of bull-fighting. There are ten, most of whom never fought outside of Europe. Paulino Uzcudun, the Basque Woodchopper, was good enough to be knocked out by Joe Louis.

“England has no great composers.”
“There’s Purcell.”
“Oh”
-0-
“Spain has no great boxers.”
“There’s Paulino Uzcudun.”
“Oh”
-o-

Picasso was born in Malaga. He and his family moved away when he was ten. There is a Picasso museum which is closed today. There is a nice statute of him on a park bench which is a popular photo op. I like Picasso’s concept, but not his paintings. Antonio Banderas was born in Malaga.

Rebeca and I go to a restaurant near the pier. I want Quita Pena, a local muscatel and pescaditos, minnows fried in flour, which I recall. What I get is fried fish of a more mature size. It’s a nice family restaurant with sidewalk seating. Our hike back to the Carnival Dream is more exciting than it should have been. Rebeca has chosen our route based on her observations of the comings and goings of buses. It is a counter-intuitive route- we can see the ship. When I protest, she challenges me to lead. I decline. We pass a Russian ship. Nearby, a German tells me it contains arms for the Somalian pirates. Rebeca is forging onward, but I maintain a steady difference. It is ridiculous to concede that she can walk faster than I can. I believe she is more eager to arrive at her destination. I don’t get up to full speed walking unless I’m going to the bathroom.

We sail out of the Mediterranean and past the Rock of Gibraltar at about 10 pm. It appears as the absence of light. Our next port is Las Palmas, Canary Islands, which is part of Spain and in the Atlantic. General Franco was assigned to the Canaries by the Republicans to minimize his conspiring. A good idea poorly executed.

Rebeca and I walked to the beach and I went for a swim. The locals were very helpful directing us to the beach and explaining to me how to rent a locker. The water was moderately cold, but there were several swimmers. There were phone centers advertising calls to the Ukraine. I bought a Spanish newspaper, ABC, for 1.10 euros, my only non-edible purchase. Like all newspapers in Spanish,it was difficult for me to read. Here are some of the words I had to look up: thrive, burst, sweep away, bribery, profiles, satiated, street hawker, to swamp. I did understand an essay excoriating government corruption. Las Palmas, like Barcelona, Majorca, and Malaga has a prosperous look with a lot of new construction. However, unemployment is high and the govt. is undertaking projects. We have been favored with excellent weather.

Meanwhile, back at the ship, we had breakfast with a Russian couple, formerly of Kiev, currently of Chicago. The USA is not as good as it was 35 years ago when they immigrated here. They are not religious, unable to have faith in God. We had breakfast with a couple from Vermont. They retired and moved from Tennessee to 30 miles from the Canadian border. She makes maple syrup. They burn wood to heat water for their heating system. Add logs twice a day. Do not travel in the winter. Was this her idea? He seems happy enough. Also at the table: a couple from California, he calls it the greatest state in the world. And a couple from Prince Edward Island who like the Canadian health plan. He says they saw five containers of food loaded onto the ship in Italy, no need to restock. How do they know how many rolls I eat? Another day, we join a couple from Phoenix, ex-New Yorkers. Tucson has no water reservoirs. Quite an expert, he says the sign showing 34 degrees Centigrade (93 Fahrenheit) at the Las Palmas beech was erroneous.

Then there were the Indonesians from Vancouver. They attribute the working presence of their ex-compatriots to the terrorist bombing at Bali (Ha’i, the music in South Pacific) in 2002 which killed the tourist industry. One of their party is a young man who attends bridge class. He asks me to save him a handout and I do .They too like the health plan, but note that elective surgery often must wait.

OK, break up the breakfast gab. I’m mildly interested in Bingo. Each night in the theatre, before the show, they play electronic bingo. Relate the probable number of calls for a winner to the number of cards outstanding. There is no world champion bingo player. Is there a dumber  pastime? Watching football. Car talk had a feature on things your father never said: “I think we’ve watched enough football for today.”

Back to the dining room, this time lunch. At our table is the couple who danced in the talent show. The rest of the talent sang. They are Philippinos from Cleveland. I’m surprised that they are the dancers. I’m more surprised that he’s a doctor. When he says he’s a neurologist my eyes expand and his wife asks why I’m surprised. What does he think of the new health plan? It’s no good. He’s a sole practitioner who has an MBA. Most doctors don’t know business, he says. Right, I think. It’s the ones who do that are bankrupting us: referring their rich patients to the hospital they own and the poor ones to the public hospital, referring everybody to their owned diagnostic centers. I drop the health plan and ask him about concussions in the NFL. He agrees that problems arise from multiple concussions. That’s what he tells Workmen’s Comp claimants.

We are now crossing the Atlantic for 5 days. We are out of range of satellite television. Our next port is Bermuda. I imagine that for some people, being cut-off from shopping and TV for 5 days would be quite onerous. Fortunately, the weather is good and there is no seasickness until we leave Bermuda. Also, there is no flu or contagion aboard. I have read two library books, for which I will pay $.80 in overdue fines: Plain, Honest Men by Richard Beeman (about the Constitution Convention) and Is God a Mathematician? Mario Livio (quick answer: No, he is not. He is a baseball player, a relief pitcher.) I continue reading one of my own: The Collapse of the Spanish Republic 1933-1936 Origins of the Civil War by Stanley G. Payne.

I had breakfast with a couple of German origin who are in the Beginner’s Bridge class. His background is in banking and computers. He provides me with a good explanation of foreign currency trading and the opinion that it is dominated by million dollar players who are well informed. Later he drops out of bridge because of a painful knee which sounds like my experience, which may have been pseudo-gout.  I seek them out for lunch and further questioning. He has a bizarre theory that it is caused car air-conditioning (They live in Florida.) on an exposed knee. She expresses a fear of the sense of entitlement that threatens our economy. That drops her a notch or two in my esteem.

The shop’s captain occasionally gives announcements about our speed, location, and weather. They are repeated in French and German. The couple claims there are many German speakers aboard. I guess it takes one to know one. I am puzzled by the choice. Why not Spanish and Italian? When I played miniature golf, a French woman answered my question about where to register in excellent fashion and then apologized for her poor English. I’m glad the announcements are limited to three languages.

At another breakfast, Rebeca is having honey with her tea which prompts a friendly West Virginian to describe how he collected honeycomb as a boy. There is a solo black woman from New Jersey across from me who lowers her face when I say, “You have a new governor”. She later smiles and says she loves the expression on Rebeca’s face when she looks at me. Does she love contempt, disgust? I asked Rebeca about that expression. She was reacting to my mention of our 40 year marriage as if I had said we were 40 years old. Oh well.

We land at Kings Wharf, Bermuda. Unlike our stops in Spain, there is no warning about pickpockets. There is a warning about renting scooters. We have never been to Bermuda, but we’re not interested in guided tours. Our friends take charge of going to Hamilton by ferry and then bus to St. Georges. You buy a single ticket for both for $12. A hamburger costs $15. At a seaside restaurant we opt for a $16 pizza for two. The minimum wage here is $28 per hour.

St. George's is claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited English town in the New World. Although Jamestown is normally described as having been founded in 1607, this was actually James Fort, which was not converted to Jamestown until 1619, seven years after the founding of St. George's. Sir George Somers landed here in a hurricane in 1609.Why didn’t the Monroe Doctrine apply to Bermuda? Maybe because their dollar is equivalent to ours? They have a half-marathon here. There are a good number of blacks doing the work. The houses have pretty colors.

We’re here two days. On the second day Rebeca and I walked around by the ship and saw a small beach where I could have swum. The wind is very strong as we return to the ship. As we sail towards New York, some get seasick. I have to lie down. We pass under the Verrazano Bridge at 3 am. We watch it on the TV in our cabin. I recall being excited at the sight of the Statue of Liberty in 1956 when there was no Verrazano bridge. We have a slight delay in getting all our luggage but get the Carnival bus to JFK airport. It’s a nice drive up the West side through Central Park and across the Triboro bridge (since 2008 it’s the Robert F Kennedy bridge.).

All’s well that ends well.
 

Loved and cared for

Old in New . I was there inside Old in 1956