Category Archives: Bill White’s Journey to a New World

LAKE BALLINGER ADDENDUM – Bill White on the Island

We have learned from our friend Bill White – now living in Ilo, Pero (see the snapshot below) – that for a year of his early adolescence he lived on Lake Ballinger and remembers it fondly.   And he has written about it too, in CINEMA PENITENTIARY, his manuscript about growing up with movies.  Bill, you may remember, before moving to South American, wrote movie reviews for the Post-Intelligencer and other publications.   In place of Lake Ballinger, here Bill poses for Kelly Edery White, with his current waterway, the Pacific Ocean from the harbor of his home now in Ilo, Peru.

This recent snap of Bill White was photographed by Kelly Edery White.  She is related.
This recent snap of Bill White was photographed by Kelly Edery White. She is related.

Although I was living on the lake the whole year, it seems than i mentioned it only in the first paragraph. so maybe it is not appropriate for the blog.  but here it is anyway,  there is a bit more about the region as a whole, which might be of interest to your readers.



by Bill White

After my mom got married, her new husband took us so far North we weren’t even in King County anymore. The house was on Lake Ballinger and to get there we had to walk up a private street. We had a dock and a rowboat, and every day after school I’d row out to an island in the lake where I’d stay until dinnertime.

On the other side of the lake was the Shriner’s club.  If I came too close to the shore,  half  a dozen  fez-topped apes would run at me with waving arms and holy-war expressions. I had seen these characters before, passing themselves off as Seattleites as they waved demurely from their float during the Seafair Parades. I used to think they were harmless weirdos, like the clowns and the pirates, just some old men who liked to dress up and ride in parades.  It wasn’t until I had to share my lake with them that  I discovered them to be nothing more than hog-greased  tyrants.

My school was brand new, and so far away that I had to ride a bus.  There was no movie theater within walking distance, so I made do with television shows, which were the  main subject of conversation in the  lavatory. “So is the one-armed man real, or do you think Kimball really did kill his wife?” some guy  asked me while I was trying to take a leak between classes.  “What do you think?” I sneered, zipping up my pants and leaving without washing my hands or waiting for an answer.

On dead weekend nights, my stepfather took the family  to the Sno-King Drive In, which was North  almost all the way to Everett, a town famous for the stink that came from its paper mills. We saw some terrible junk up there, the worst of which was a Bob Hope double feature of “Call Me Bwana” and “A Global Affair.”  Now that I think about it, I don’t even know if my mom actually married the guy or not. I don’t remember any wedding or anything.  Just us being packed up and moved out of the Queen Anne mansion and into this house on the lake.  The girls were told to start calling the guy “papa,” but I wasn’t told anything, so I kept on calling him by his first name.  He always liked to leave the drive-in before the second feature had ended, and I learned quickly that it was no use to raise a complaint.

My real dad returned to Seattle on a temporary project with Boeing, and my older sister and I spent several weekends with him in Ballard, where he had taken an apartment to be near his mother, who was sick with cancer. My sister was already sixteen, and would spend most of the weekend with her friends from Queen Anne, while I went  to the movies with my dad.  Even after he moved on to his assignment in New Orleans, where he once got caught in a flood and spent two days in a tree fighting off snakes, I kept going out to Ballard to visit with my grandmother, who was nicknamed Mop Mop.

We even saw a few movies together. During the World’s Fair, she had taken me to the Cinerama Theater to see “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.”  Now we went, in  a party  of lesser relatives, for “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”  It appealed to the older people, who recognized all the old-time comics, but to me it was just a bunch of exaggerated expressions on oversized heads. Still, I loved those red, stuffed rocking chairs and a screen that wrapped itself right around my eyes.

Mop Mop  lived in a spooky apartment complex filled with Senior Citizens, so the whole place had that old people smell. There was a manager who was always outside interrogating strange people who had wandered onto the property. He  was more like a gatekeeper  than a concierge.  The most memorable thing about her apartment was the T.V. Guide that was always on the top of the set.  I had never seen one of them before except in the check-out line at the supermarket, and didn’t realize anybody actually bought them.  I thought they were just there to browse through while waiting in line to buy groceries.

Ballard is a Scandinavian neighborhood adjacent to the Western end of the ship canal, a manmade waterway  connecting  two  freshwater lakes with the saltwater  Bay.   There is a difference in the water levels of the fresh and salt water bodies, so they built the Government Locks, an enclosure where the water travelers are quarantined  while the water level is adjusted so they can move from one body of water to the next.  The Locks are  a  popular tourist attraction that also boast a salmon ladder where kids and other curious characters stand around to try to get a glimpse of some fish. As it was  close to Mop Mop’s  apartment, we often went there  for a  Sunday afternoon picnic to eat some of the pies my stepmother had baked.

School  chugged along  until a day at the end of November when  the boys and girls gym classes were combined so we could learn square dancing.  I liked the way everybody got a turn to dance with everybody, but just as my turn came up to dance with the girl I had my eye on, an announcement came over the public address system to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot.

My dad came by to get my sister and me that weekend, and we watched the funeral on Mop Mop’s T.V. Dad started crying during the ceremony and I asked him why. “You didn’t even like Kennedy.  Why are you so sad about him being dead?”  He took me by the shoulders and answered emphatically.  “When a President of the United States is assassinated, it doesn’t matter what you thought of him, it is a national tragedy.”

Although I wasn’t in drama class, I  auditioned for the school play and got the lead role because I played the cornet and the play opened with the kid blowing some notes into the phone to impress a girl on the other end.  It had been written in the 1930’s and was called “Make Room For Rodney.”  I can’t remember a thing about it except for playing the first bars from “Blues in the Night” and then hollering egotistically into the phone.

We performed the play at in the middle of December and I got razzed by a lot of the guys in the hall for being in it.  Later, on a Monday afternoon right before Christmas vacation, a girl came up to me in the cafeteria and asked why I hadn’t been to school the previous Friday. I told her I hadn’t been feeling well so had stayed in bed and read Harold Robbins’ “The Carpetbaggers,”  and she answered that she hoped I was feeling better.  After I told her that I was, she said she had been planning to ask me if I wanted to go with her family to the drive-in movies that weekend. I asked her what was playing and she told me “In Harm’s Way.” I couldn’t imagine going to see a war movie with a girl, so I just walked away without saying anything, and she went back to the table where her friends were and she never spoke to me again.

It was unusual  to be approached like that, because hardly any  of the seventh grade girls wanted anything to do with the seventh grade boys. They were all hanging around with guys in the eighth or ninth grade.  But when I got to the ninth grade, all the girls had boyfriends in high school.  It seemed I never got old enough to do anything.

A movie theater opened sometime after the first of the year.  It was a warehouse of a building called the Lynn Twin because it was split into two auditoriums. It was set alongside Aurora Avenue, which was the primary interstate thoroughfare before the freeway was built. In order to get there, I had to be driven by new new-stepfather, and often would be asked to take my little sister along with me.

I liked taking my sisters to the movies, having been doing it since the oldest among them, who was four years younger than me, had the interest to come along.  As the other girls got older, I started taking them as well.  My older sister was usually too busy with her boyfriends to take them, but  before she discovered boys, she would frequently have charge over me at some parent-sanctioned event, such as Walt Disney’s “White Wilderness.”

That was 1958, and my dad drove us there and dropped us off.  We had to wait in line for almost three hours, as the next show was sold out.  Consider that the theater held 1,500, and you will get an idea of how popular  Disney pictures were back then.

Northgate was the country’s first open air shopping mall.  It had an Indian theme, and there was a big totem pole at the Northern entrance.  One of the things that mystified me about the theater was a section that was enclosed in glass.  I later learned this was the crying room, where mothers sat with  their crybaby kids.

My dad was always late picking us  up from the movies, usually because he would stop to have a beer at the tavern on the way and he could never have just one.  There were times we waited for hours outside a theater before he finally showed up.  This new stepfather was always on time, an attribute that did not make me like him any better,

My sister and I saw a Robert Mitchum movie at the Lynn Twin called “Man in the Middle.” Neither of us  got much out of it, but Keenan Wynn had one line that became a staple around the house.  He was playing a soldier accused of murdering a British officer in India near the beginning of World War Two.  Mitchum was the officer assigned to his defense.  “You make me want to throw up,” he said in answer to something Mitchum said.  I don’t remember  why he said it,  but we sure had fun saying it to each other  in the months after seeing  the movie.

We got a lot more out of the ”The Miracle Worker,” which we had seen the year before, shortly after being schooled with the blind children at John Hay.  That movie not only gave us some empathy for    the handicapped,  but lent us many gestures to imitate in play, especially  one in which Helen Keller curled her fingers and back-handed the side of her head.  We used to do that when we wanted to irritate our mother.

It was sometime in the Spring that our English teacher told us we had to write an essay for a national contest.  Remembering that movie about Helen Keller, I decided to read some books to find out more about her because I thought she would make a good subject.  My essay won the prize, but I didn’t get anything.  The prize went to the school, not the student.

One thing I found out when researching Helen Keller was that the movie was based on a play by William Gibson, the  guy who had written “Two For the Seesaw.”  That made me realize how much stuff we learn about just because some guy gets the idea to write a play, or a book, or make a movie or something.  Without that play, there would have never been a movie, and all those people like me and my sister who saw the movie might never have known about Helen Keller.  Even if we had learned something about her in school, we never would have thought of her as a real person.  We had even gone to school with blind people, but knowing them in real life didn’t help us to have any compassion for them.  But seeing the movie did.  Even though it might have looked like we were just making fun of Helen Keller when we played finger games and tried to say water, the truth was that somewhere deep down we were discovering what it meant to empathize with someone.

Once in a while the Lynn would show some scary stuff, and I got to go alone. The poster for  “Strait-Jacket” warned that it would vividly depict ax murders.  It didn’t.  At least not the way “Deep Throat,” a decade later, would vividly depict  blow jobs  There was one good shot of George Kennedy getting his head chopped off, but the rest of the murders were shown either in shadows on the wall or isolated shots of Joan Crawford swinging an ax.

“Dead Ringers” was the co-feature, with Bette Davis playing twins.  It was more serious, and much duller, that the Crawford picture.  I had seen the two actresses together a couple years earlier in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” but knew nothing of their past careers as glamorous movie stars.  I wasn’t yet old enough to stay up all night watching old movies on television.

Seeing  the titles  “Love With the Proper Stranger” and “The Stripper” on the Lynn Twin marquee gave me an instant boner.    When I found out  that “The Stripper” came from a William Inge play called “A Loss of Roses,” the movie made more sense to me.  As “The Stripper,” it was a cheat, but “A Loss of Roses”  signified that it was supposed to be a sad movie, not a sexy one.   “Love With the Proper Stranger” was, like “Two for the Seesaw,” a movie about a guy and a girl who did a lot of talking with each other. I was too young to understand a lot of what was going on, but I loved eavesdropping on the adult conversations, and looked forward to the time when I would be talking about things with girls as they lounged around my apartments in their underwear.

At the end of the school year, I went to my first party and kissed all the girls.  I went from one to another, trying each of them out and liking them all.  Unfortunately, we moved out of our house on the lake right after school ended, so I never saw any of those girls again, and had to start from scratch.

LETTER from LIMA No.1 – William White Makes MATSURI

[Now settling into his Limarkian Adventures, Bill – our Party in Peru –  will share some of what he finds in Lima, Peru and its surrounds – beginning below with MATSURI.  We will attached all the photographs he sent except the fireworks.  Those  you may imagine. Bill may well write a song about the adventure, and sing it too.]

Japanese Cultural Week in Lima usually occupies the last week of October, but this year things got pushed back a few days, enabling this new arrival to the city to attend  “Matsuri,” the traditional festival that closed the week on November 10th.  The festival is a cornucopia of food, dance, music, and fireworks to celebrate the contributions the Japanese have made to Peruvian culture.

Although the first Japanese appeared in Peru as early as the 17th century, the epic immigration of Japanese to this new world did not begin for another two hundred years. By the end of the second world war, when another wave of immigrants arrived,  five generations of Japanese-Peruvians had already established their presence here. Their influence can be seen throughout the country in the food, art, music, and architecture.

This is the 40th year that Japanese Cultural Week has been celebrated in Lima. Its closing festival, Matsuri, sponsored by the AELU (Asociation Estado le Union), is a Peruvian version of what is in Japan a traditional religious ceremony.  Here in Lima, it is an opportunity for everyone to share in Japanese customs, from traditional dance and martial arts to the contemporary fun of  manga and cosplay.  There are J-Pop concerts and saki tastings, graffiti exhibits and a fashion show of traditional clothing.

Peru is home to over 50,000 descendants of Japanese immigrants. Matsuri is the perfect occasion to become familiar with some of them.

BILL WHITE'S JOURNEY TO A NEW WORLD: Part 6 – Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice in the Morning

This sixth installment of William White’s move 7 thousand miles south from Seattle to Lima concludes the series.  Bill, however, will continue on as “Our Man in Lima” somewhat like Berangere is “Our Woman in Paris” except that she is also included in our name: dorpatsherrardlomont.  Bill will, at his pace, send us more travel writing, but pretty much sticking to Peru.  Hopefully, He’ll make it up to the Andes.  Kel, we know, has a car and is an excellent driver.  Meanwhile, we will be looking for other correspondents in far-flung places.

And here is a pretty view of the street where we live, taken from the window of our apartment:

Here is crumbling vista seen from the parking lot of the municipal building.  Most street parking is officiated by attendants running up and down the streets issuing tickets to people while they park, and then catching them upon their return to collect whatever fees have been incurred.  There are no parking meters; everything is done on a person to person basis, resulting in the occasional arguments over charges. At one point, we were charged for simply pulling into a parking space, then deciding not to stay there, It took some doing for Kel to win her argument with the fee collector, who hadn’t even written us a ticket yet, but ran out in the street at us as she say us pulling out.

In the markets, free agents hawking bags of asparagus compete with the established vendors for a sale.  Sometimes they offer a better deal, but often their sudden appearance can lead to an impulse buy that is not the wisest purchase one could make. Shopping in Lima is a process of looking around for the best goods at the best prices before deciding on what to buy.  Among the stalls of fruits of vegetables of variable quality and expense, the foods necessary to making a delicious dinner are waiting to be chosen by the cautious buyer.

And this is what an expertly prepared Peruvian meal might look like:

Even prettier is the person who prepared it.  For those who have not met her yet, here is Kel, dressed for work at the clinic, after having enjoyed a breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice, which is my job to prepare for her when she awakens each morning.




[In this fifth installment of the serial sharing Bill White’s great journey into a new world he has at last reached what Peru’s conqueror, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, titled in 1535 the “City of Kings”.   Now WILLIAM WHITE,  a conquistador of the heart, makes his first claims on it nearly 500 years later.]

We arrive at the port of Callao, entrance way to Lima, on schedule at 10am Friday morning, November 2. There has been so much trouble and misinformation regarding the means and methods through which Kel will pick me up.  The front desk is manned by a different crew every time I have had cause to do business there, and each time my story has to be explained anew, how I am disembarking at Lima, rather than continuing to Santiago, which is the final port on the cruise.  Kel is told by the Holland America agent in Lima that she requires an email from the ship that includes her name, make of car, and license number, in order for her to enter the port.  It turns out, however, that this is a cargo port, and no one at all is allowed to walk on the pier, and that a shuttle will take me to the gate, on the other side of which there is a waiting room where Kel will be sequestered until my arrival.  So, after three days of fruitless effort, the solution turns out to be this simple.  However, there are more serious complications to come.

I am moved quickly through the customs inspection and am looking for the person who issues the visas, but there is no such person to be found, and  we leave without getting my passport stamped.  Or so I thought.  As we discover, upon visiting the immigration department to sort things out, the stamping of the passport and  issuing of the visa has already been accomplished without my participation, and I have been given only a thirty days visitor permit. This will result in nothing more than having to pay a fine at a later date, but is maddening as I emphasized repeatedly to the cruise people that I planned to stay on in Lima to apply for residency.  For the most part, the company runs their business  very efficiently, but any abberation from the norm, such as my jumping ship to remain in Lima, does not compute in their system.  No matter how many times I have told my story and to how many people it has been told, there is perhaps no way to record the information in a prominent way that would have led to my passport having been stamped in any other but the routine manner.  I had been led to believe, by all I had read on the internet, that visas are not issued in advance in Peru.  Instead, there is supposed to be someone there to interview you on your intentions, who then determines how long of a visa you require.  I imagine that most people coming to the country do so by aeroplane rather than cruise ship, and that this must be the airport procedure, but there is no need to have such an official hanging about at the port when a cruise ship comes in.

At least there are no problems with Kel picking me up, and we begin our drive to Lima.  Callao is a pretty run down area, and Kel warns me to keep the camera hidden to avoid attracting the attention of thieves, who would break into the car when we are stopped at a red light to get any valuables that we might be carrying.  Eventually we enter a nicer area, where lovely houses such as the one pictured below are plentiful, and the architecture in general is varied and eye-catching.

After about 45 minutes of driving in Lima traffic, which is accomplished as much through the listening of horns as the movement of vehicles, we arrive to our pretty little street.  In Lima, there is no simple way to predict the actions of the cars around you, but if a collision is imminent, someone will sound a horn, which is a way of saying, “I have no plan to stop, so get out of my way.” Kel is an excellent driver, and avoids several threatening situations as we have moved through the vehicular chaos of these streets.

Pictured below is a sight almost unknown in Lima, an empty street!  For the most part, the city is constantly awash in the movement of life.  Unlike the cities up North, people here are not governed by the regulations of stop and go, but dart about as they please.  I recently saw a group of elderly ladies squeezing through the bucking cars at a lively intersection.   Unlike Seattle, you will never see a group of people standing in the rain on a deserted corner, with nary a car in sight, waiting for the streetlight to change to green.  Most intersections here don’t have lights anyway, which is the cause of so much intrepid aggression.  Although most streets have clearly marked lanes, drivers seldom confine themselves to their boundaries.


BILL WHITE'S JOURNEY TO A NEW WORLD: Part Four – To the Moon and Pelicanos

[For the introduction to Bill’s travel literature return to the first installment of this serial.  Here – below – Bill is steaming down the northwest coast of South America, heading for Peru, Lima and Kel.   He is looking at the moon.]

The weather so far this morning is overcast and humid.  If things were a bit prettier outside, a walk along the beach would be an appealing prospect, but I am more interested in talking with Kel about our plan for her picking me up on Friday.  Cars are not allowed to approach the ship, so she will have to park somewhere, perhaps on the other side of the port gates, and then walk 50 meters or so to meet me as I disembark.  I am so excited to be seeing her after these six years that I cannot put my mind to doing much else except anticipate that moment when we first see each other.
It is after two in the afternoon and there is nobody on the beach, so I’ll stay in. There is a movie at three that I’ll watch at least the first part of just to keep my mind free of irritation. Also, we have been receiving warnings of gastrointestinal diseases breaking out so now I’m shying away from the food, especially the desserts, which the sick women paw over.  I have already bumped into a couple of coughers, I sanitize my hands continually and try to keep my fingers out of my eyes nose and throat.
Having passed several pleasant hours putting together the Panama Canal movie, I looked forwards to our nightly trivia meet.  We won a bottle of champagne by coming in first place.  I really like those two couples with whom I play, and try to arrive early so that we have enough time to chat before the game.  Last night, we remained chatting for an hour while drinking our prize champagne, Then I hot-tailed it to the computer to Skype with Kel, after which I wandered about listening to the tacky singers and comedians in the showrooms and bars.  there is a really sickening guy who plays Broadway tunes on the piano, but last night the cast from Tonight’s showroom act was hanging out there, doing some stellar versions of neo-Broadway hits such as “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.  I also enjoy hearing two or three selections from the string quartet each evening.  Tonight, however, there isn’t much at all going on.  Perhaps they are spooking it up for Halloweenie-o.  I go back to my stateroom to read, but couldn’t sit still long enough to read that Pablo Neruda biography, but did manage to scab through several chapters of Roger Ebert’s memoir.  What a dope he is.  Then I walked up to the Crow’s Nest, where I saw, for the very first time, the Peruvian moon, the moon Kel sees when she is seeing the moon, and all those years when we looked at the same moon together from such far away points, seven thousand miles between us. And tonight, I stood on the deck of the ship, looked up and saw the moon from the same angle asked has seen it since she first saw it, as a baby with her eyes to the sky.

I had Hummus and Eggplant with focaccia for a midnight snack, topped off with five desserts and coffee.  Dinner wasn’t much but the snack was tremendous.  I like it here at night, wandering the decks in search of tacky entertainment.  Tonight I saw a show that was an embarrassment even by Vegas standards.  Just appalling. The Susan Boyles of the world have replaced the Julie Andrews and the male singers have been permanently corrupted by the effeminate register in which jean Valjean’s part has been written.  What has happened to the masculine baritones of Broadway? Then I pleasantly dozed listening to the adagio strings, awake enough to hear the music bust asleep enough to remain seated. Many of the solo acts who play the same sets in the same bars have become laughingly tedious.  How do they stand it, especially when the rooms are bare?  But I like it here at night, wandering the decks, especially when the sea is smooth and the boat stable.

We are off the coast of Peru now, and will be docking at 5:30am in Salaverry, and then I disembark at 9am the following morning in Lima.

What a journey this has been.  I realize that never in my life have I gone on holiday, taken a vacation, or been anywhere in outside of the United States and Canada.  As we passed through the Panama Canal, I could not really believe I was really there, in that place, and not just imagining it from the garret of the forsaken art house.  Tonight I watched a Las Vegas-types show in the Showroom at Sea, a comedian/singer named ‘Doug Starks, who spent seven years portraying Sammy Davis Jr. in a tribute to the Rat Pack. I was thinking this may be the last time I will be in such a place for a long time, a showroom filled with international travelers, enjoying a Vegas show, something that incidentally I have never seen before.  Sure, it was tacky, but there was an element of style to it as well, and I enjoyed the experience.

Earlier in the same room, I experienced an afternoon tea with ballroom dancing. This has been such a relaxing, pampered experience, having my stateroom cleaned to perfection twice a day, getting to know people from around the world, sleeping well at night, relieved of the worries and cares of life, but I can never fully appreciate these days because I am still apart from Kel, and would love nothing more than to be sharing these days with her, the way these couples, some of whom have been married for over fifty years, are enjoying sharing these days of theirs together.  But to know that Kel and I will soon be one of these couples, making life and sharing life together, is the most profound joy I have known.  And this life will begin 33 hours from now.

In these moments I think of my friends on the ship, and the sadness of leaving them.  My trivia team won again tonight, and all expressed dismay at my imminent departure.  They are such good, decent, intelligent people.  And so much fun to be with. When I speak, they listen carefully and respond honestly and articulately.  And when they look at me, their eyes are open, and I look back at them the same way, no false looks obscuring some hidden thought, everything open and sparkling.  This morning Tony, a Chinese man living in Vancouver, came to my room and videotaped an interview with me that he wants to put on YouTube for the Chinese people who, he believes, will benefit from hearing what I have to say, or maybe just seeing is a person whose thoughts and expression are unfettered.  He has read the excerpts from my Cinema penitentiary and wants to translate it into Chinese.  Tomorrow I will give him the permission to do so, and strike some kind of a deal. Then there is Harvey, the Australian singer who was to have been in the talent show with me, but only the two of us applied to be in the show, causing its cancellation. There are other people I did not get to know well, such as the couple across the hall from  me, the woman of whom was sick for a couple of days. It was so inspiring to see how the man cared so much for her, in fact the thing that touched me the most among these mostly older couples was the love they shared and the closeness between them.  I will do everything in can to make Kel as happy as these men have made their wives, and even happier than that, because love is truly the greatest gift we creatures have received from this great, lonely cosmos in which we have come  to life.

Last night was so rich in dreams that it seemed like I had slept many hours, but woke up after only two, then again after another two, so I was up looking at the tights of the Peruvian coast at 4:30, and went out at 6 after it became light enough to film>Now I am charging my camera so that it will transfer the material to computer where I can edit it. What a splendid morning, on the shores of Salaverry, the mountains rising from the desert, the pelicans on the rocks, the fresh overcast morning, I felt like kissing the ground.
And now we conclude the second part of this tale with “Pelicanos,” my first Peruvian movie:


BILL WHITE'S JOURNEY TO A NEW WORLD: Part Three – Transiting the Panama Canal on a Drunken Boat

We begin the second part of our journey by transiting the Panama Canal in a Drunken Boat:

Panama City Rising From the Jungle
The Bridge of the Americas connecting the Continents
Plundering the Sea at Manta, Equador

It is Tuesday morning, we are docked in Manta, Ecuador, and I don’t feel like going on a shopping trip here anymore than I did in the San Blas islands. Transiting the Panama Canal was the trip highlight, and I spent yesterday editing the footage I shot of it into a 5 1/2 minute movie that, I admit, looked better to me yesterday than it seems to me today.  It’s not bad, though, and I shall probably look back at it with fondness, not only for remembering the thrill of the sights, but for the comical memory of all the mistakes made when I first attempted to shoot moving pictures with the Kodak camera given me by Paul.


BILL WHITE'S JOURNEY TO A NEW WORLD: Part Two – Ship's Plumbing and the San Blas Islands

We continue now our postings of Bill White’s Caribbean reflections, as he steams south from Florida first to Panama and then onward to Peru to meet, at last, Kel, his fiancé.

The movie on the second night was “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” which I enjoyed but the ship was rocking so much that I started feeling a bit sick and left early, intending to watch the rest of it on television. Tomorrow they show “The Avengers,” which I will leave before the ending to Skype at midnight with Kel.  We had such a nice long talk last night.  Talking with and seeing my darling ponyo gives me something to look forward to all day, and the days are pretty dull, waking the decks, taking pictures of the same ocean.  Yesterday I borrowed a couple books from the library; a biography of Pablo Neruda and a memoir from Roger Ebert.  But even though there is a dullness about the journey there is also the undercurrent of excitement that prevents me from relaxing enough to concentrate on a book. Whatever I do, I am always looking for something else to do at the same time.

On the third day of the voyage, I am apprehensive about entering the shower, as yesterday I was unable to shut off the water and I had to call for help.  The first person to arrive could not fix it.  He thought the unit was loose and tightened it, but to no avail.  The second to arrive simply shut it off and said there was nothing wrong with it. I had tried several times to turn the knob in the direction he showed me, but was not successful in any of those attempts.  What will happen today when I try to turn off the water?

This is what happened during this morning’s abbreviated shower.  I turned the water on carefully and maintained a low-pressure flow, turning it off altogether a few times while washing my hair and face.  No problems.  Then, for no apparent reason, the water pressure increased to its maximum and when I tried to turn the water off, it would not stop.  So I got out of the shower, placed the shower hose in the sink so the water would not overflow from the shallow shower basin, and spent ten minutes or so aimlessly turning knobs back and forth.  Then, for no apparent reason, the water turned off.  I told one of the stewards that the situation with the water was erratic, and the shower needed to be inspected by a plumber to make sure the same disaster would not occur tomorrow.  I don’t know if he understood a word I said. We shall see tomorrow.

I ran into one of the trivia team players today and we talked a bit about computers, as he had just come from a lecture on Windows 7. I told him I had been using an IMac and now was using the Toshiba laptop, and asked if he knew a good program for editing audio.  He told me he used Audacity.  This is the program I used to transfer my audio tapes to digital files, and I didn’t realize it was a garage-band style recording system, with editing functions as well as an importing function, so I will be able to both record the Skype interviews with Paul and edit them on it.

After we took second place in the trivia game, the ship experienced a severe roll that turned the upper deck pool into mini tsunami and shattered dishware throughout the ship. I barely noticed it, as I was taking a picture of a plant at the time, and were it not for the noise of breaking dishes might well have remained ignorant of the occurrence, for which the captain offered profuse apologies and feeble explanations.  I only had a brief call with Kel before going to bed and falling asleep while listening to Donovan’s album, “Fairy Tale,” having discovered that the DVD player also plays CD’s.

I woke early to catch the sunrise, and became engaged in a prolonged conversation with an Australian couple, who informed me that their stateroom was right across from mine. The guy also had a Lumix Camera, a newer model than mine, and I checked out some of its functions, such as the macro zoom.  Returning to the cabin, I received a call from Harvey, who wanted to come to my cabin and get in a little practice on the guitar.   Harvey was a rock and roller from the early sixties who now played some country and national ballads, of which he demonstrated a few.  They sounded much like our own frontier ballads such as Red River Valley and Home on the Range. We left the cabin to find that the ship had already arrived at the San Blas Islands, and I felt a real thrill at seeing land after a couple days on the high seas.  I didn’t want to go ashore, however, because the stop was primarily to ferry passengers to a tourist bazaar where they could buy some of the products of the Cuna Indians.  I had no interest in being shipped around as a source of income, preferring to stay on the boat photographing the Indians who had surrounded our ship in their canoes.  Had I gone ashore, I would have been forced to pay a dollar to every Indian I photographed.  I am beginning to notice that I am too often taking too many pictures of the exact same thing. I spent a long time circling each of the decks, taking pictures and soaking up the sun before returning to the cabin to doze through the most recent Twilight episode, which I had only seen once before and had such a vague memory of that I wondered at times if I had seen it at all.

In other trivial news, someone apparently came in and fixed the shower, as the water is now dispensed through a clockwise, rather than a counter-clockwise, turn, Still, I was apprehensive and kept it turned down low, switching it to off to soap myself and on to rinse, thus making sure everything continued to operate properly, with no water gathering for an overflow.

And now we lift anchor and leave the San Blas Islands, expecting to reach the Panama Canal at 5am and to enter it at 6:30.   In the meantime, I look forward to talking with Kel, playing some trivia, possibly going to the German film, “The Harmonists,” and maybe checking out a comedian in the Showroom at Sea.  There is a certain ennui, however, that overtakes one, trumping all plans and sending the poor soul to bed where even sleep drags by slowly.

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.