Sunday, February 3, 2013

At Sea

What day is it? St. Kitts. Tomorrow? Dominica. Here the days of the week are named for ports of call or sometimes for the state of arriving there. Sometimes it's simply At Sea. I like when it's At Sea. There's nothing to do but ride the elevators from deck to deck and wait for hunger to strike.  One can spend endless hours staring into the wake or trying to see the outlines of tropical islands in the distance.

I'd always thought of cruise ships as polluting menaces and destroyers of remote habitats. People who went on cruises, I believed, were those with few other options (or desires) for adventure. I'd been surprised when my husband decided to work on one as a musician. I tried to avoid the topic with some of my more environmentally-militant friends. I knew what they were thinking; I was thinking the same thing. Until my husband offered me a free cruise.

It's amazing how the idea of getting something for free can transform things. As does the idea of leaving the minus twenty temperatures and up-to-the-armpits snow of Hokkaido for the Caribbean Sea. In Japan, going on a cruise isn't something to be ashamed of--everyone I spoke to dreamed of cruising--it was the embodiment of a romantic and luxurious west. It was the Titanic before it sank and famous movie stars wearing silk scarves and striped jerseys. My neighbour gave me a black cocktail dress embellished with sequins and a matching beaded handbag. "You're going to need these," she explained.

And she was right. I need them on "formal night" when women get out their diamonds and men their bow ties. They dance to Big Band in the Grand Foyer and sip champagne while the sun sets in impossibly beautiful colours. I feel conflicted between my beliefs that all this is wrong and the desire to sit in the hot tub and gaze up at the stars.

The conflict doesn't last for long. The Caribbean sun, the aquamarine waters, the whole world bursting with colour--there's nothing to do but count my lucky stars. The cruise ship becomes a gentle kind of place where an elderly couple invites me for cocktails on their balcony while we sail away from Cartagena, where Monty from New York City drinks a dry martini while we listen to live jazz. It's a place of fluffy white Egyptian towels and chocolate dacquoise.

It's a place where being At Sea means drifting towards the unknown on a deck chair with a copy of Vogue. It's a place I could get used to--surrounded by an endless blue above and below--for once not caring if we ever arrive.