Bongiorno from Venice,
We are both enjoying the Mediterranean cruise, perhaps even more than anticipated. The cruise ship is a gigantic monument to nautical ingenuity. It is 294 metres long and 32 metres wide. We enjoy the view from our porthole which measures 1.3 m in diameter.
some on their way up, some on their way down
There are many activities to occupy us on the ship. (We even had a game of shuffleboard, for which M. needed a dose of courage from the cocktail bar beforehand.) On board, there is a wide range of live music. There’s a predictable mix among the musicians of those on their way up and those on their way down. But some of the entertainment is “high classed”, as Elvis used to say. Especially noteworthy was the mesmerising exhibition of tango dancing after dinner the other night.
a new guise of imperialism
The staff: passenger ratio is about 3:1. This means they do a lot of waiting around. The staff themselves are an extraordinarily cosmopolitan lot. The waiter on our table Erhan is from Turkey. His assistant (!) is Naldi from Indonesia. Head Waiter is Eva from Hungary. Cabin Attendant (!) is Dickson from India. Room Service person is Stacey from Guyana and so on. The captain informed us that there were 63 nationalities represented on the crew. Yes, dear cynical reader, there is an unmistakable feel of imperialist era, reminiscent of when the rich westerners enjoyed the benefit of the punkah powered by the coolies from the primitive colonies and when these backward souls benefited from the crumbs pushed off the end of the table.
We (this is definitely the Royal ‘we’) prefer to perceive it all as a positive outcome of globalisation in which hundreds of young people from all over the world get a chance to work and travel – and better themselves materially – without selling their souls to servility. This is a debatable point of course and, as the Americans are wont to say, the jury is still out. In general, it has to be stated, the staff appear to be reasonably happy in their work. (They are known by the Walmart epithet ‘associates’, I concede, and this grates just a little bit.)
tips and gratuities
The financial arrangement for purchases on board ship integrates gratuities into the passenger’s account (even before they buy anything!). You can imagine how much this riles me but it’s a case of grinning and bearing it. On top of this though, we are encouraged to pay additional tips “for exceptional service”. This all presents a difficult dilemma for me. On the one hand, it’s a strong tenet of mine that workers in these positions should organise themselves into effective trade unions and tips wouldn’t be necessary because they’re not reliant on gratuities for their income. On the other hand, they aren’t – by definition – paid sufficiently by their employer and without tips from guests to supplement their paltry income they suffer. This always presents a difficult dilemma.
On board the ship everything is on tap and in plentiful supply at a very high quality. It’s tempting to think it would be utterly churlish to complain about anything but some of the American guests manage to find fault at times and can be heard whinging to each other about the most infinitesimal matter whilst they wait for a ferry or some such. I’ve been collecting some of these quotable quotes and would like to share some of these with you, dear readers.
“I guess it’s important to go there so we can say we were there.”
“Was it on our first cruise . . . ?”
“Do you know if there’s an astrologer on board?”
“I think we’re going to get some weather today. But it’s OK I have my hair up.”
“They must have had some wacky people back then.”
“There should be more Americans here.”
and the ubiquitous “Wow”
so much to say but nothing to say
Americans on tour are guilty so often of uttering absurd inanities or stating the obvious. Some readers will say that generalisations here are odious. Fair enough, but that won’t stop me! Never before I suspect, has a people with so much to say actually said so little. The Americans seem to be stuck between being such a verbal society and actually having nothing of any substance to say. It’s nevertheless hard to sympathise with them when they are so infuriating, so frequently. It is in fact an interesting study – up to a point – to watch Americans abroad, knowing that the American empire is in such inexorable decline. These people hang on blindly to their deeply ingrained belief in their own superiority and probably will do for decades to come.
One of the highlights of the past week has been the stop at Napoli. We climbed Mount Vesuvius up to the lip of the crater and strolled around Pompeii. Mount Vesuvius is in Parco Nazionale de Vesuvio which was proclaimed only 15 years ago. It is the only active volcano in Europe and last erupted in 1944. (They are expecting a big one because of the lapse of time since the last one.) Our bus guide, Francesco, sang “Funicolee, Funicolar” (This is how the Italians spell it.) and “Come Back to Sorrento”, both immediately recognisable Italian folk songs. The latter is an open letter to a politician who allegedly had forgotten his constituency. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Pompeii is 10 kms from the “feet of Vesuvius” – as Francesco called it – and was covered by 7 metres of ash after the eruption in 79 AD. Nearby Herculaneum was also covered by ash, which in that case, mixed with rain to form mud. Both are superbly preserved relics of the Roman era. We were both surprised by the extent of the city of Pompeii. (It would take two days to traverse it entirely.) It was perhaps also surprising to discover the evidence of the way the Romans viewed promiscuous habits and openly displayed images related thereto.
rising ocean levels in Venice
Venice is a sedimentary island in the Adriatic Sea. (It is in fact one of 118 mudflat islands.) They are all very flat of course and the city is built on low-lying ground. These people are acutely aware of rising ocean levels and global warming as they see the undeniable evidence literally on their doorstops every day. The city is currently building substantial – and no doubt very costly – infrastructure works in an attempt to stave off flooding from the sea.
gondolas and the gondolieri
We went for a memorable gondola ride last night. Our gondolier showed us the neighbourhood in which Marco Polo was born in the 13th century. Marco Polo is a local hero because of his heroic travels to China in the 13th century. (It is said that he brought spaghetti back from there! That wasn’t the heroic part.) Antonio Vivaldi was born here in 1678, which means he pre-dates Mozart and Beethoven by the best part of 100 years. We attended a superb concert of ‘The 4 Seasons’ last night after which the orchestra joined in the ovation for the virtuoso. It was a brilliant concert.
The gondolier informed us that we were travelling just like the aristocrats did. He also said that working as a gondolier required “first mind then muscle”. He was a very personable chap who told us that Venice’s population has declined from 140 000 (during his lifetime) down to the present day 60 000. There is ample evidence of decay and it appears the tourist trade is keeping it going.
Addio from Venice