Friday, June 1, 2012

All Aboard

I’ve been married to a marine engineer for over 30 years.
When Joe talks about “going up ladders,” I know he means climbing the stairs, when he says, “starboard to,” I understand that the right side of our vehicle will be alongside the curb, if he suggests there’s something interesting portside,” I turn my head to the left and I’ve often heard myself say in times of desperation, “I need to go to the head.”

Joe has worked with ships ever since he graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy in 1978, but I’ll admit that I never truly realized the depth of his love for these “engineering marvels,” as he calls them, until we landed on the Greek isles. The scores of photos he took of cruise ships, ferries, tankers and containers (but only rarely of the sleek sailboats, colorful dinghies or hard-working fishing boats we saw) in seafaring Greece, and the tender way he refers to a floating hulk as “she,” smiling in admiration at “her beautiful lines,” attests to his life-long fascination. He knows first-hand the complicated calculations that went into keeping these colossi afloat. We jumped on and off ferries every few days, including two for overnight journeys, over the course of our weeks in Greece. But now that we’ve boarded one of the hallowed white cruise vessels for a full ten days, I know we made the right decision since there is nothing that warms my heart more than seeing Joe transformed into a joyful little boy, happy in his surroundings and just itching to go into the engine room. A busman’s holiday for a marine engineer? Far from it. Joe was in ship heaven.

We’ve run out of superlatives to describe our trip but we’d better find some new ones fast now that we’re passengers on the Aegean Odyssey. It has been relaxing and rewarding, educational and enjoyable, invigorating and fulfilling and all at the same time. God is in the details, as they say, and on this ship, the god is Bacchus since very nice, quality wines were served and included in our fares. Every evening was an occasion and after we showered off the dust of the day accumulated at the ancient sites, we donned our best travel wear each night for dinner. Joe calls me his Bubba Gump of the black dress as I did my best to come up with new combinations of my layers: my long black dress with a black belt, without a belt, with a gold pashmina, with a purple scarf, with a long black sweater or with a short white one; my short black dress with black flats, with strappy brown sandals, with a white belt, with a brown belt and finally, with a silky black tee on top. I exhausted every combo possible and wondered if anyone other than Joe had noticed my minimalist wardrobe.

The cruise company is called Voyages to Antiquity and before we boarded we’d harbored a fear that it might be more appropriately called Voyages of the Antiquity. But while we were definitely on the younger side of the demographic (the average age was 68), there were several couples on board who were our juniors and many of the older crowd were quite young at heart. We met and got to know several of our fellow passengers, most of them British, Canadian, American and Australian – quite the Anglo crowd. As whenever groups of people find themselves together, there were very distinct types and once we gave them names, enjoyed watching them behave in character. I’m sure that others had their very own labels for us. And while I would love to imagine it was The Blond, Athletic Americans, it was more likely The Gap Year Americans in Their Hiking Boots or The Guy With The Wife Who Enjoys Her Wine.

There was Austin Powers, a perfect look-alike with big teeth, broad smile, black glasses, seventies hair and a twinkle in his eye; the Bulldog, his face in a permanent Grinch grimace, who finally smiled at me when I said a hearty good morning on the Lido Deck; the Betty Ford clone with a touch of Parkinson’s, who animatedly read the daily headlines to her husband each morning at breakfast; Miss Lonelyheart, a middle-aged British woman always by herself and looking terribly sad; and The Biker Canadians, who’d shared their stories of extended bicycle excursions in the American West. And then there was the nasty old woman with a constant scowl, wielding her black cane like a scepter as if to say, “Out of my way and don’t even try to mess with me.” On the second day of the cruise, we happened to be across from her on the tender heading back to the ship and once we arrived, she struggled to stand up. Joe kindly asked as he held out his hand in an offer of help, “Are you going to make it okay?” “Of course I’m going to make it,” she snapped back. “Let’s see how you do when you’re my age.” If her scowl hadn’t branded her, that response certainly did. From then on, she was simply “The Bitch.” There was no other way to describe her and time after time, for the rest of the trip, she lived up to her appropriately awarded label. I couldn't help but wonder what life had done to her to make her so bloody nasty. 

This was a British company, so of course there was The Bridge Set of 24 or so passengers, who spent most of their time in the Observation Lounge on the 9th deck playing cards. The space doubled as an Internet point and so we spent many an hour sitting beside those with a passion for the game while reading the news and catching up with emails. We overheard the foreign language of the bridge players in the background as they spoke of actions by north and south, second hand low, playing a trick, frozen suits, auctions, giving away tricks and one note trumps. We discovered that many in the lounge had boarded the cruise for the sole purpose of playing bridge and to be with their leader, Mr. Bridge, a well-known master of the game who organized the tournament. Several were so absorbed that they never even left the ship over the course of the ten days. That’s awfully far to travel and a pretty big price to pay to just sit around a table and play cards ad infinitum.

While I absolutely love to fly and find airports exhilarating, they pale in comparison to the romance of a journey by sea. The constant smell of the salt air, the ship’s deep whistle when we leave port and the excitement each time a new destination comes into view as we pull into its harbor and drop anchor are intoxicating. I am indeed the devoted wife of a marine engineer and while my passion for all-things-ship may not quite reach the level of Joe’s, I have definitely joined him in ship heaven since we’ve been aboard.

Pictures of our adventures:

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