Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Alaska, Part I

Day 1

 We couldn’t have picked a more spectacular day to depart from Pier 35 for Alaska.  Temperature was a nearly-unheard-of 77 degrees; sky was cloudless; bay was full of sailboats and gulls.  After the mandatory (and ridiculous) safety drill, we met our friends Roy and Josine on the Lido deck, where fruity cocktails ($9) were being hawked and a band played upbeat tunes (not one of which was "I Left My Heart In San Francisco").  A few passengers danced with crewmembers who tried gamely to look as though the whole thing was loads of fun.

It was lovely to sail out of the bay and watch San Francisco disappear. 

The Golden Gate arched against the sky.  I thought about the other passengers who love San Francisco the way tourists do (which is different from the way we natives do), and how leaving a city is not the same thing as leaving home.  My eyes got a little teary.  I’ll admit it.  The Cliff House was tiny on its precarious perch, the last landmark.

Our room has two twin beds pushed together, two small closets, a desk, a TV, a refrigerator, and a shower-sized balcony. 
The wall behind the bed and desk is completely mirrored.  It would be nice to be able to sit outside if we were going somewhere tropical, but very shortly after chugging out of the bay, it became clear that being outside and not doing anything was ill-advised.  They call it The Frozen North for a reason.    

We unpacked and Robert was delighted to find that his plan to smuggle in vodka went undetected by the authorities.  Amazingly, we were able to empty two suitcases and a garment bag into our dinky closets.  We met Roy and Josine again for a snack.  Fantastic fresh fruit, cheese, and lemonade. 

We had a drink (ginger ale: $4) outside the restaurant before dinner and people-watched.  As always, it’s my favorite part of any getaway.  If it were a competitive sport, I would win.  Lots of families with small children (school is out), lots of multi-generational families, many matriarchs and patriarchs in wheelchairs being pushed cheerfully by adult children who are way nicer and less grudging than I am.  Lots of people speaking different languages.  Many Asians, many Indians and Pakistanis.  Almost no black people.  Some people who are quite heavy.  I noticed several people with seasick-medication patches behind their ears and begin immediately to feel queasy.

Dinner was okay.  The highlight was definitely cream of porcini mushroom soup.  For dessert, I ordered vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and told the waiter to hold the ice cream.  He didn’t get it, which made me a little grumpy.  This is the weird thing about cruise ships.  You start complaining about everything.  You think you won’t, but you will.  I don’t know why.  Suddenly, you feel massively entitled.  Or maybe it’s that even with all the activities, there really isn’t very much to do.

The ship was rocking quite a bit; Josine said she heard that tonight was going to be the roughest night.  So I took a meclizine and am now quite drowsy.  To bed.

Day 2

Exercise on the Promenade Deck.  I jogged over a mile and walked a mile and a half.  My ears ached from the wind.  There was no coastline visible, just endless vistas of gray, white-capped sea.  The deck has the feel of an earlier era: beautifully polished wooden slats, varnished benches and life-vest lockers, chaise lounges with navy-blue cushions arranged so that one can read and watch the ocean at the same time.  Vintage-looking clocks.  You can almost see Edward and Wallis Simpson having a stroll.

After breakfast (eggs, fruit, tea) and a trip to the “sundries store” to buy new batteries for my camera, I coerced Robert to indulge in my other favorite shipboard activity: trying to get away from other people.  I find that my curmudgeonly instincts are especially heightened when I am confined at sea with people I know I wouldn’t like on land.  I take offense when other people save seats, or sneeze without properly covering their mouths, or walk up the stairs without staying to the right, or neglect to say thank-you to the lovely people who wait on them.  I do not like it when children press all the buttons in the elevator so it will stop at every floor.  I do not like smokers.  (I know it’s really their nasty habit I don’t like, but I’m getting to the point where the distinction is largely moot.)  In short, I am not made for the communal aspect of cruising.  Fortunately, this is a big ship.  Robert and I hid out for a while in one of the nightclubs, empty but for a couple of gentlemen vacuuming the rugs.  We located a few venues (one of the theaters, the art gallery, the library).  And we ate lunch.  (French fries, cheese, more delicious fruit.) 

Back in the room, we fell asleep.  Up in time for afternoon tea (scones, jam, egg-salad sandwiches, walnut cake).  Bloated and leery of our room and its wall of mirrors, we made our way to Trivia.  Notable questions: Who invented scissors?  What color is the cross on the Swedish flag?  What is the biggest opera house in the world?  Roy is a chemist and knew about hydrogen.  I knew who lived in the 100-Acre Wood.  We got 16 out of 20, but were bested by another team.  We vowed to do better tomorrow.

We tried to read on deck, but even in my winter coat, I was freezing.  We relocated to the Wheelhouse, which is a nice bar/lounge.  I’m reading THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED, by Wally Lamb.  I almost gave up on it a few times, but now I’m glad I stuck with it.  It’s just the right kind of book for a trip like this: one you can read in spurts, then put down to watch the lady at the bar try to sing along with the piano player’s “One Singular Sensation.”

After dinner, we went to one of the theaters to watch a musician/comedian.  He told us he has been doing cruises since 1977, which made me feel too sorry for him to like him much.  Plus he likes puns and sings ‘70s songs in funny voices.  No patience for this on dry land, let alone on the high seas.

Day 3

There are 11 decks on this ship that are open to passengers: Fiesta, Plaza, Emerald, Promenade, Dolphin, Caribe, Baja, Aloha, Riviera, Lido, and Sun.  Our cabin is on the Aloha Deck, aka Deck 11, which means that we do a lot of elevator-riding or stair-climbing in order to get places.  I avoid the elevators for the most part (because they put me in alarming proximity to other people), so I get a work-out on the stairs.  You run into the same people over and over on the stairs, it turns out.  I imagine we’re like-minded in other ways as well.

After my jog, I made my way up to the salon (Riviera), where Gordana cut off two inches and regaled me with stories about women who do silly things to their hair.  She says women from the UK have the strangest dye jobs, and that the fact that my hair is in such good condition is because I don’t color it, but if I would like to, she would recommend a shade of red.  I told her that I’m 54 and this is what I look like, for better or worse, and she laughed nervously, as though I had inadvertently identified myself as peculiar and she was a little embarrassed for me.

Lunch poolside (Lido), where the sun had shown itself for the first time in two days.  We had hamburgers and hotdogs, but the wind was blowing my new haircut around and I finished fast.  Went off to read in a quiet lounge and was suddenly overtaken with intense sleepiness.  Found our cabin and slept hard for almost an hour, missing Trivia (and probably pissing off Roy and Josine).  Now I remember why I don’t read in the middle of the day.  Also, I think there’s something about being off the Internet that is discombobulating.

Formal night, which means men wear tuxes or suits and women wear sparkly dresses. 

Frankly, I was interested to see what some of these people were going to wear.  It was great fun to sit in the atrium, drink champagne, and watch the show.  Nearby, an elderly man and woman were having a conversation:

Woman: Doesn’t everyone look nice?

Man: This is such a load of crap.

Woman: Always a smartass.  What’s wrong with you?

Man: I don’t have to tell you.  What are you, the feelings police?

The man was genuinely disgruntled.  I love “the feelings police.”  I am going to have to think about that and see where I can use it.

Robert and our friends are at a magic show.  I hate magic.  Basically, it’s just someone tricking you, and then you have to applaud them for it.  I’d much rather watch the ocean slip by.  It’s 10:40 pm and the sun hasn’t set yet. 

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