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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Fog Horn


Two hundred miles south of Newfoundland, we sail into a fog bank and the captain sounds the ship’s horn. It is a beautiful, low bass tone, sounding every few seconds as we move through the fog.

Looking over the railing at the melded gray expanse of water and sky, listening to the hypnotic resonance of the ocean liner’s horn, I consider how civilized it is for a powerful nautical behemoth to warn smaller weaker ships when it is moving around in the fog.

I think of all the times I have collided with unfortunate experiences when my senses and perceptions-—or someone else’s–were compromised. I think of all the times I have drifted around in a mist of my own vaporous emotions, stumbling into one negative relationship after another.

If only all of life’s dangerous entities came with warnings—bells, whistles, horns, sirens, beeps. If only we humans were honest enough to alert each other with as much grace as oceangoing vessels.

If only we could know our own dimensions, our own strength and potential to harm, and be able to say to one another, when necessary and true: You had better stay back, change course, let me go, sail away with all of your strength into open seas and fairer skies.

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Sorry…And Thanks!


I have always been glad that I did not grow up with servants. As far as I was concerned, it was one less thing to be ashamed of. Truth is, I’m not very good at being The Boss. I don’t know how to give orders. Being waited on makes me uncomfortable.

This is no claim of sainthood. I’m more than capable of being a controlling, witchy, whiney pain in the neck. I’m just not good at playing the benevolently despotic Lady of the Manor.

Now, suddenly, I find myself in a situation that is causing me to wish I were more adept at being the gracious Grande Dame.

I am speaking of my current circumstances, which find me aboard the elegant, old-fashioned ocean liner Queen Mary in an atmosphere overflowing with faithful retainers challenging me to observe proper etiquette.

Onboard the QM2 we have: stewards, sommeliers, barkeeps, waiters, cleaners, chefs, flower arrangers, powder room scrubbers, deck washers, pursers, security personnel, plumbers and electricians; three or four people serving dinner; four or five casino attendants hovering over anyone foolish enough to gamble; gentleman hosts on the dance floor every night.

I should feel regal, right? Unfortunately I’m too neurotic for that. Instead I’m in a perpetual panic over what to say, what to do, what to pay, how to approach, how to leave alone, how to say hello and goodbye to these lovely people who are spoiling me at every turn.

I know this is all very nauseatingly bourgeois. Everyone should have such problems, right? Well, in a way, everyone does these days. As our world becomes increasingly populated with service industries, awkward customer-server relationships are on the rise. The human interaction dilemmas challenging me on this vacation at sea are more critical and important than ever—for all of humanity!

Perhaps I should illustrate the conundrum with an anecdote.

This morning, at breakfast in the informal cafeteria on Deck Seven, I helped myself to cereal and fruit and made my way to a quiet corner table to read a book. I was hoping to be as unobtrusive and undemanding as possible, thereby avoiding any embarrassing breaches of protocol.

Alas, I did not succeed. A waiter approached and, seeing me put down my spoon to turn a page in my book, attempted to remove my half-eaten breakfast. “Are you done with this, Madame,” he intoned in a solemn baritone, reaching for the bowl. “No I am not, thank you,” I said, failing to repress an ugly spark of irritability. Offended, he recoiled, leaving me in a state of disgrace. A second later, he was back. “But surely Madame you don’t need THIS,” he said triumphantly, grabbing an empty cereal box and used paper napkin from the table’s surface. “No, you can have it,” I said, feeling ashamed and defeated.

Yesterday it was the beautiful powder room stewardess whom I insulted by crashing her plastic barricade in a moment of desperation, and stepping over her bucket and mop en route to the commode. Even worse, on another recent occasion I humiliated myself completely with a loud nervous coughing fit in response to a suave gentleman host who asked me to dance.

Clearly I was in desperate need of an Etiquette Intervention. The only question was, where to look?

The answer came to me finally in a glorious Epiphany onboard the ship’s elevator this morning as I attempted to flee the shameful breakfast scene for the solitude of my cabin.

Whilst in the lift it occurred to me that a number of my fellow passengers who were British used two salutations to great advantage in almost every social situation: “Thank you so very much,” and “I’m so terribly sorry.”

Then came the AHA moment. I realized that if I stuck to these two basic phrases, augmented by the occasional obese tip, I could ace almost any situation onboard. If anyone knew how to pull off the Lord and Lady of the Manor bit, it would certainly be my class-savvy fellow travelers from the British Isles.

Well, I am happy to report that the strategy is, as they say in GB, absolutely BRILLIANT. It is now smooth sailing for me in the server relations department.

Brittania rocks. Brittania rules the waves.

 
 

Adrift

This morning finds me walking the wide deck of the grand ocean liner Queen Mary. I am sailing in the North Atlantic somewhere just east of Nova Scotia on the second day of a seven day journey to Southampton, England.

The weathered teak deck is spotless. The varnished steamer chairs face the ocean in perfect lines. I look past the rails to the pale wash of blue sky streaked with soft clouds, the cobalt waves dotted with flashes of white foam.

Strong pure nature invites me to find my own strength. I am grateful for the buffeting of the chilly six a.m. wind, the serenity of the deck, the graceful intelligence of the ship’s design.

A gentleman in a yellow rain suit aims his power washer at the painted white rails and the large plate glass windows facing on the deck. I wonder if he would agree to scrub me as well. I could use a good washing.

Already I have fallen off the wagon and, sullied and ashamed, climbed back on again. The temptations on board were too much for my fragile recovery: a half dozen saloons, cigar lounge, champagne bar, casino. One mojito at the outdoor Sail Away Party and three months of sobriety disappeared into the famous Atlantic fog. Then came wine, menthol cigarettes (ugggh), quarter slots and hopeless flirting with an indifferent Englishman.

Relapse is shameful and depressing. One drink and my year of sobering up seemed to have evaporated more rapidly than the wash water on the deck.

The early morning, however, brings a new and welcome perspective. Though sheepish and suffused with self-contempt, I am grateful that i did not drink on the second night and have started my recovery anew. I am thankful for my Higher Power who led me away from my self-annilation onto this lovely promenade and the embrace of a pure bright bracing blue day.

I breathe in the sea and feel love, feel hope.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in At Sea, Meditations on Nature