The Big Trip, Part 14

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Washington, D.C.

Were beginning to come full circle. Kay and I were here in Washington three months ago just before renting the Beast and driving off in the rain.

Washington, DC

Kay and I love coming to Washington. Its monumental architecture and world-class museums are big attractions for us. Another is that, with its wide avenues and magnificent vistas, it is a beautiful city to walk around. We’re proud of Washington where we feel we are in the capital of a great and powerful country. If you’ve never been to Washington or haven’t seen it in a long time, we urge you to make a visit. It’s rewarding.

Barbara Kruger Installation

On this sunny December day, we walked a lot, first from Union Station to the restaurant and then back along the Mall to the HirshHorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to see a site-specific installation by the artist Barbara Kruger famous for her photo montages. Her project at the HirshHorn was to fill the museum’s lower lobby’s walls and floor with super-graphic bits of text printed in red, white and black on vinyl coverings. The title of the installation, Belief + Doubt asserts that Belief + Doubt = Sanity. The thought is that belief alone, not tempered by doubt, leads to contempt and abuse of power. Another of her sayings is less abstract: “It’s a small world but not if you have to clean it.”

From the HirshHorn we walked across the Mall to downtown Washington where we bought some additional luggage at Macy’s. We’ve accumulated many books, souvenirs, and gifts during our travels and have worried about how to carry them back to Istanbul.

Old Post Office

On the way to shop we entered the enormous pile of the Old Post Office. We were curious about what the interior would be like and were surprised to find a vast atrium festooned with Christmas decorations and filled with food stalls, and souvenir shops.

During Happy Hour at a comfortable corner table in the McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant, we restored ourselves with plates of bruschetta, black mussels, and chicken quesadillas.

Foot sore and weary, we were happy to spend the remainder of the evening in our hotel room.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Washington, D.C. – Centerville, MD

It was time to return to the home of our friends Larry and Susan in Centreville, Maryland. We will spend two days with them before driving up to New York City where we will board the Queen Mary II for a Caribbean cruise before sailing back to England.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Centreville, MD – New York City

 Our drive to New York City, not terribly long, was enhanced by listening to some of the Blues and R&B music we had bought in the Mississippi Delta. The weather was fine and the traffic not too heavy.

It was only when exiting the Holland Tunnel ($13 these days) into Manhattan that our progress slowed to a crawl. We are staying uptown on the West Side in the home of our friend Babi. She has recently moved into this apartment, a third-floor walk-up in a lovely, old Brownstone. I felt like a Sherpa as I carried our five heavy cases up the narrow stairs, one at a time. Kay did the same with the smaller items. Then, it was another slog through Manhattan traffic to return the rental car downtown. 

As film lovers, it would be a shame to be in New York and not attend a screening or two. This evening our unanimous choice was the French-language film Amour. Directed by Michael Haneke and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, and Isabelle Huppert, Amour is not always easy to watch. This sad and poignant drama is all too real for aging kids like us. However, the splendid acting and meticulous and unflinching way Haneke tells the story make this an unforgettable film. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sailing Day! However, before we could sail away there was a lot of work still to do. I had to make a last-minute dash to our New York mailbox to pickup up an item an Istanbul friend asked us to bring to him.

Then there was the final packing. It has been written about European travelers in the 19th and early 20th centuries that even when they journeyed into Africa, they went with hoards of personal items, in one instance a bathtub. But they had servants and porters to carry their loads. We are alone. The driver who took us to the Queen Mary 2 at Brooklyn’s Pier 12 didn’t even offer to help get the six heavy cases down the final steps from the Brownstone’s front door to the van.

Fortunately, once we unloaded in front of the sea terminal, porters from the ship took over and we didn’t see our stuff again until it arrived at our stateroom door. Still, what to do with so much luggage in our small cabin? Joseph, our cabin steward, came to the rescue, taking the cases with what we wouldn’t need on board to a storage locker. We feel unburdened, at least while we are on the ship.

QM2 Kay in Foul Weather Gear

For the next twelve days the Queen Mary 2 is in cruise mode, meaning that it will sail south to the Caribbean and call at several ports.

With John and Marilyn on the QM2

Joining us, are John and Marilyn, our long-time friends from Birmingham, Michigan. What a pleasure it will be to have their company and dine with them each evening in the Britannia Restaurant. Kay has cleverly managed for us to be seated at the same table.

The ship began to move about 6 p.m., and after settling into our cabin and sipping martinis and watching people in our favorite lounge, it was time for dinner. The third twosome at our table was a long-married couple from Leeds in Yorkshire. Kay and I were able to create an instant rapport with them by relating some of our experiences from two years back when we visited their part of Britain.

Britannia Restaurant

Our dinners were up to the Queen Mary’s usual high standard. My Thai spring roll and salad followed by a serving of cod were delicious, as was my dessert of apple strudel. I give thanks for the reasonable portion size of our meals in the Britannia. It will help us keep from overeating on this leg of our big trip.

I’ve just finished reading Michael Ondaatje’s fine novel, The Cat’s Table. It was appropriate reading in anticipation of a sea voyage since it concerns three adolescent boys who travel unescorted on a ship named the Oronsay from Colombo in Ceylon to London in 1954. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day at Sea

Each day the weather gets warmer. At sunrise this morning it was quite balmy and the sea was about as placid as it gets. Sitting outdoors on a chaise longue with my current book was a pleasure.

I spent most of my first hour on the exercise machines in the fitness center. My procedure is to wipe the surfaces of each machine I use with the Virox tissues supplied. Everywhere on the ship crew members are continuously sanitizing door handles and handrails. The captain’s announcements inform us that the virus is still spreading and that we must continue to take precautions. I wash my hands with soap and warm water several times a day.

Dinnertime brought bad news. John arrived with Marilyn and then left without eating, saying that he felt ill. Now, it’s confirmed that he too has the virus. Three of the six persons assigned to our table are now confined to quarters.

Though I was tired after dinner, I attended Cunard’s Christmas Concert that began in the Royal Court Theatre at 10:45 p.m. It featured four principal singers, two male and two female, and the Cunard Orchestra. There were also a troupe of dancers along with the string quartet and the harpist we’ve heard at other times on the ship.

Besides the musical numbers, there was a Christmas message given by Captain Oprey and a reading of The Night Before Christmas by Entertainment Director Ray Rouse, a professional with a powerful voice and excellent diction. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Caribbean Sea and the Island of St Kitts

St Kitts

Boxing Day. The QM2 landed at a pier at Basseterre, the capital of The Federation of St Kitts and Nevis, two islands that received their independence from Britain in 1983. The English first colonized St Kitts in 1623. The French occupied parts of the island a few months after the English and the two powers teamed up to exterminate the island’s indigenous Carib Indians at a spot known as Bloody Point.

John and Kay are still ill and not allowed off the ship, so Marilyn and I disembarked together to explore the town. It happens that today is the first day of Carnival and the town center is chaotic, filled with crowds of revelers, some painted green and purple.

St Kitts

Behind a truck loaded with amplified sound that blasted music at ear-splitting decibels, I was reminded of the West Indian Parade Kay and I witnessed in Brooklyn last autumn, early in this long trip.

St Kitts

M and I walked the town’s littered streets with a feeling of disappointment at the air of general shabbiness around us.

St Kitts – Independence Square

The fountain in Independence Square was dry, and the Catholic and Anglican Churches were locked, their windows protected by solid wooden shutters.  At one point we ran into a young Florida woman whose husband is studying veterinary medicine here. She spoke of the amount of drug talking and thievery among the population. St Kitts once had an economy based on sugar cane but that has collapsed. Now, the main source of income is from tourism.

After a while, Marilyn and I parted, she to return to the ship and I to board an orange calaboose labeled Smile Orange Open Safari. For the next three hours this vehicle drove a group of us around the perimeter of the mountainous island, along lovely, white-surf beaches, their turquoise water becoming a rich blue as it deepened further out.

St Kitts

The road crossed and re-crossed the tracks of a narrow-gauge railway that once carried sugar cane and now transports tourists. We drove past many brightly painted houses, quite small but mostly well cared for. White cattle egrets flew past our bus, and occasionally we spotted a larger frigate bird high above us. Inland, we were always in sight of the mountains, their highest, volcanic peak shrouded in clouds.

At Dieppe Bay where the Atlantic and the Caribbean waters meet, I bought a silky shirt decorated with hibiscus blossoms from a local woman.

I also paid a man $2 to take a picture of him and Chico, his tiny monkey, wearing a diaper and perched on his shoulder.

The highlight of our tour came near the end when we stopped at a former sugar plantation known as Romney Manor. Our approach through a rain forest hung with lianas took us to the landscaped and groomed grounds of a splendid garden filled with tropical color. Some small, brightly decorated buildings contained a batik factory where we were given a demonstration of the waxing and dying processes used to create the colorful cloth local workers make into clothing, wall hangings, and other objects.

Our drive around St Kitts went a long way to dispel our disappointing first impressions. Back near the ship, hungry and thirsty, I sat at a bar and ordered a plate of nachos and a Carib beer. Suddenly, I realized that the three people next to me were speaking Turkish. My nearest neighbor was the master of a Turkish tanker that plies the waters of the Lesser Antilles. His companions were two more of the ship’s officers. They were surprised to learn that I spoke Turkish and lived in Istanbul. We had a pleasant chat before I left to reboard the ship.

This evening Marilyn and I were the only ones at the dinner table. We were six and now are only two.

In the night I began to feel nauseous and had premonitions of what this meant. I lay quietly in bed hoping things wouldn’t get worse, but at 6:40 a.m. I had to vomit violently. That was it; I had the virus.