Centenary World Cruise Days 10/11: More at Sea

Day 10:

Another day at sea. We’re in the Bay of Biscay, which is apparently notorious for stormy seas. We’ve had gale-force winds, and swells of nearly 20 feet. Just before we landed in Southampton, I was looking out my window one morning and saw a fishing boat. At that point, naïve traveler that I was way back then, I thought the sea was rough. From my vantage point, it looked as though the fishing boat would be entirely submerged, then pop up again. I watched in horror, waiting for the inevitable time when they would disappear and not pop back up, but it didn’t come. I had to take myself aside and tell myself that these fishermen knew what they were doing – they’d likely done this before. Like, zillions of times. And even if it was their very first time out, and none of them knew anything about piloting a boat, what was I going to do? Jump in and pull them out of the water, boat and all? The revelation today is that the day that happened was relatively calm compared to what we have now.

Here’s a cultural difference I wasn’t prepared for: in America, if you go to a buffet, most of the meat dishes will be beef. Maybe some chicken, but mostly beef. Here, it’s all pork. I counted yesterday, and of the entire lunch buffet, there were a round dozen pork dishes, four chicken dishes, and four fish dishes. No beef at all. At breakfast there are pork sausages, both American and English bacon, black pudding made from pork blood, and often ham.

The Pirate thinks it’s because in America, we have lots of open land for grazing cattle. Pigs don’t need wide-open spaces (although I’m sure they would appreciate them). The problem is that ever since I saw the movie Snatch, all I can think about is the bad guy saying “They can eat a 200-pound man in about 8 minutes. So, beware of any man who owns a pig farm.”

We did see a fascinating lecture by Fatima Bhutto about the rise of non-Western pop culture. I loved hearing about how other countries (she covered India, Turkey, and Korea) are becoming larger exporters of pop culture than America. I’m tired of seeing movies either about my own culture, or about what people from my culture believe life is like for people not from my culture.

Day 11:

Today is Friday the 13th. Surprisingly, I’ve heard nothing about it. But just because that doesn’t seem to be a thing with this lot doesn’t mean they’re not superstitious or imaginative in the way that makes people freak out.

Down the corridor from us is an air vent that has some kind of leak. There’s a constant sound of howling wind that occasionally turns into banshee wails. The other day, a woman was passing us in the corridor just as I was observing to my husband that the room we were just passing was haunted. The woman said “pardon?” And I said “I think that room is haunted.” She made some uncomfortable kind of noise and hurried off. My husband berated me for scaring her, but given the fact that this person is older than I am, I don’t feel particularly bad about it. What would be cool, though, is suddenly hearing a rumor going around about The Ghost of 12006.

Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ship was haunted. At around 11pm, the captain came over the loudspeaker saying “Medical team, report to the Golden Lion” (the onboard pub). Five minutes later, the order was repeated. Someone had collapsed in the bar, and apparently, they couldn’t be revived. While that sounds (and is) horrifying and tragic, it shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the average age on this cruise appears to be approximately 147. So…not unreasonable to think that the poor people who have died while in this ship are spending their entire afterlife on one lovely cruise after another.

Film #9: Blackfish

Blackfish begins and ends with the killing of the trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca Tilikum at Sea World Orlando in 2010. The rest of the film traces Tilikum’s history with Sea World, highlighting the corporate practices at the park and the experiences of former orca trainers to call attention to the injustice of keeping creatures whom some scientists claim have more emotional intelligence than humans as performing prisoners.

Overall score: 4 out of 4

I have to preface by saying that, while I’m completely sympathetic to animal rights causes, they’re not the thing that moves me.

The film was chock full of former Sea World trainers, talking about their own experiences of the park’s policies and procedures. I was surprised that none of the trainers was selected on the basis of their knowledge of marine biology or animal psychology. The prerequisites for the job seemed to include physical energy and stamina, and how the applicants looked in a wetsuit.

The trainers were encouraged to form emotional attachments to their designated animals, and incidents where orcas injured or killed trainers were hushed up such that trainers in other Sea World parks heard nothing about it. Those incidents where trainers did hear about the deaths, they were told that the deaths were due to trainer error, even when videos clearly showed otherwise.

Orca experts also weighed in, talking about the differences between orca sociality and behavior in the wild and sociality and behavior in captivity. They talked about the problems of holding 15′ long animals who, in the wild, would be roaming a hundred miles of day in tanks that were perhaps only a few hundred feet long.

It was hard to see the problems and consequences of orcas in captivity without thinking about the problems and consequences of the very large population that the United States holds in prison. The U.S. holds a larger percentage of its population in prison than any other country in the world, and sees nothing wrong with keeping other human beings in tiny cells with very little stimulation for years at a time. Why should we see anything wrong with doing the same to other intelligent creatures?

Blackfish was an intriguing and thought-provoking film, but at the end of the day, I still see my own duty in helping my fellow human beings. I feel that only by helping other humans fully realize their humanity can they begin to look around and exercise that humanity by showing compassion to other kinds of life.

Where Do They Go When They Die?

I think his name was Skyler. Or it could have been Schuyler or Skylar – I never saw it written down. I first knew him as “that guy that looks like your friend Duane.” This from my husband, pointing out a skinny kid sitting at the bus stop. Once he was pointed out to me – the resemblance between him and my friend was uncanny – I saw him everywhere. He bused tables at the restaurant where we ate breakfast on Tuesdays. He stocked groceries at the store in town that also sold cool purses and fun lamps. He was forever either waiting at or walking home from the bus stop closest to the end of our street.

bird on a fence

I heard his name from his mother one day when he’d come into the restaurant with his mom while the Pirate and I were having breakfast. While he went into the back to take care of something, his mother complained to the waitress about the problems he was having with his boss at his other job, and I was impressed that such a young kid – he was probably 16 at the time – was working two jobs.

I saw him walking around town with a pale-skinned brunette, and was happy that he’d gotten himself a girlfriend. I saw him at the high school when I dropped my older kid off in the mornings or at school events and asked my kid if she knew him. I began to wonder if he noticed me noticing him. I almost felt like I was stalking him in some random, accidental way where I didn’t really mean to see him all the time or know anything about him, but I did. It surprises me to this day that I never exchanged a single word with him. If I passed him in the supermarket, he continued to put cans on shelves without saying a word. When I drove past him at the bus stop, I never stopped to give him a ride, and he never waved his hand in greeting. I wouldn’t even know if I was as familiar to him as he was to me.

And then he died.

His parents helped him buy a sports car for his high school graduation. Part of the reason he’d been working two jobs was to save for this car that he’d been wanting for years, and I admire that kind of perseverance in a kid. The night of graduation, he and his girlfriend and a couple of six packs went for a drive. And none of them made it home.

Ray Bradbury

When I heard about Ray Bradbury passing, I thought about Skyler. He was the kind of kid that Bradbury wrote about. Cool in an average-kid way. Someone that you know, but not nearly well enough. Kind of like Ray Bradbury himself. I’ve never read anything about Bradbury, apart from what was written on the back of dust jackets. To me, I didn’t need to know about the writer in order to enjoy the work. When the big flaming green head in The Wizard of Oz yelled “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” I took those words to heart and have never interested myself in biographies of writers, behind-the-scenes tours of Disneyland attractions or the special “making of” features on DVDs. I don’t care how the effect is achieved. I just care that it’s there.

But what that means is that the Bradbury I knew is wholly one of my own making. And what I make is a guy who had a cool job, and who did his cool job really well for a long time. He seemed like a regular guy who probably wore old man pants that made him look a little like a chimpanzee, and ugly button-down shirts, and washed his hair with bar soap. I need to think of him as human, rather than superhuman, because if he is superhuman, it makes it a little harder for the rest of us who write to measure up. If he’s just a guy with a cool job that was good at it because he worked hard, well, I can do that.

Skyler might have grown up to be a cool guy with a cool job he was good at. Wherever he is now, he gets to be with Ray Bradbury in the place in my mind and heart reserved for those people who have impressed themselves on me, even though we’ve never met.