BILL WHITE'S JOURNEY TO A NEW WORLD: Part One – Aboard a Floating Shopping Mall

We begin our postings now of Bill White’s descriptions of his trip to Lima Peru to meet, at last, Kel, his fiance of now six years. Those of us who know Bill might expect that his travel impressions would resemble those in George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” but we would be wrong.  Bill spent most of his days “on the road” aboard a cruise ship he compares to a shopping mall sliding though two oceans like a glazed donut.  So the heartfelt journey of reaching his intended took a while. Why did Bill chose not to fly but to travel by land and by sea? Perhaps it was, in part, in order to write about it all.  And yet he has, for a while at least, given up putting fine lines to the train ride from Seattle to Florida, the first leg of his flight and his journey.  The train windows were dirty but more important it was difficult to put aside his fixed idea about where he was going and whom he was going to soon see.  But once on the Caribbean Bill started paying attention to his journey too, and most of what follows – in six excerpts – is his candid and sometimes sentimental descriptions of life on a cruise ship and his first days in Lima with Kel.

As Bill notes this elaborate relocation was most exceptional.  Aside from a few years in Boston running a bookstore and a motion picture theatre and making art (of several sorts) he has been in Seattle working as a free-lance reviewer and writing novels.  For the last few years Bill has been living in what we call “The Forsaken Art House” here in Wallingford.  But now he has broken free. He has forsaken the forsaken for adventure first on the high seas and then with love in a far-away place.  We wish him well – very well.

(We also note that once we have our Skype connections figured out Bill and I will return to the late 1960s and resume here our weekly readings and commentary of the remaining issues of the underground tabloid, Helix – in their proper order.)

We left Florida an hour ahead of schedule to outrun Hurricane Sandy.  Indoor water sports were cancelled, and the eleven decks of the ship rolled a bit, causing passengers to rock on their heels in the stairwells, but the storm was headed north, and the m/s Veendam was going south, so we were spared the fate of a cruise ship that, unable to port in New York, left its passengers stranded in the Atlantic Ocean.  Check-in at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale had been easy.  When my baggage beeped, they waved it through anyway.  It was probably the Swiss army knife Kel had given to me some years ago.  Once in my stateroom, I was tricked into drinking a $2 can of coke, as six cans of soda and two of water had been placed on my table alongside an ice bucket, which caused me to assume they were complimentary.  The other five sodas and the two waters are still sitting there, and I declined the steward’s offer to bring me more ice.  It is odd that, although complimentary food is to be found throughout the ship, you are charged for the cokes placed in your room, but only, I presumed, if you drink them.  Odder still is that certain concession areas will charge for items that are free in another area. An example of this is the Explorer’s Cafe, where coffee and pastries bear a price tag, while at the Lido Cafe the same pastries are pressed upon one at all hours of the night and day.

It is a simplification to say that a sea cruise is nothing but ten days of over-eating while looking at water.  The television in the stateroom plays five different movies each day, and there is a DVD lending library of over 1,000 titles. On the first night of the cruise to Peru, I saw “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” but it was a crappy DVD projection.  I left early, planning to watch the rest of it on the television the next day, and returned to my stateroom to watch my own DVD of Pasolini’s “Gospel According to Saint Matthew,” which put me to sleep almost immediately.

The ship is like a shopping mall in Las Vegas, tacky in an affectionate way. I have attended two lectures so far, both by fairly ignorant authorities. The person giving the history of the Panama Canal could answer few of the questions posed by the attendees, and drew a weak analogy between the fact that US ships have to pay a toll to traverse the canal, although the US built the things.  His analogy was along the lines of everybody having to pay the same price for a bowl of oatmeal, whether or not they resided in an oat-growing state, while I thought a parallel between the tolls collected by some new highways might be more fitting. An introduction to Spanish was taught by a girl of Mexican descent who was raised in Connecticut, and her pronunciations were erratic and explanations of the roots of some of the words inaccurate, so I did not continue the course beyond that first day. Most of the food in the four restaurants is mediocre, the deserts being the exception. So far I have had banana crème pie, mango torte, and coconut cake.  Lunch was a poor concoction of Chinese vegetables and rice, but the dinner of Chinese noodles and vegetables was palatable.

The second day of the trip began with an in-room breakfast that arrived a little after 8am and consisted of sliced banana, raisin bran cereal, a blueberry pudding, orange juice, and coffee.  Since the coffee at Lido was stronger, I decided on the third day to skip the room service and head straight up to Deck 11 and get the better wake-up juice.  Also, with the buffet set-up, one could have as little or as much of whatever one chooses at the moment. So I had a chocolate croissant, a blueberry muffin, and a banana, then came back to finally watch the ending of the Marigold Hotel movie, but paid little attention to it.

On the second day I also signed up for a talent show, and ran into Harvey from Australia at the Panama Canal lecture, who asked to borrow my guitar so that he could participate in the talent show as well. As it turned out, the two of us were the only ones who signed up, and the show was cancelled.   Later that night, before the trivia game, I was invited to play couple of songs by the singer/guitarist Glenn, while he took a break.  I did some rusty versions of In the Tomorrow and Love Minus Zero.  I quite like the two couples who are my trivia team-mates.  One is a retired Australian couple who both worked in the defense department, and the other an English couple who now live in Canada. We only got 10 out of 15 questions correct yesterday, with the winner scoring 12, but by the end of the cruise, had taken first place on four occasions.

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