The Big Trip, Part 16

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

At Sea, Approaching New York

At 7:30 a.m. it was still dark, and the promenade deck was slick with rain. Today felt different in another way, too. This was the last day of the cruise. Our twelve-day idyll was ending. Soon, there would be no more timeless conversations with our friends. There was already a sense of tasks to accomplish before we would leave the ship tomorrow morning. As I have done so many times in my life, I put responsibility on hold temporarily and went to see the late afternoon movie.

Our final dinner together was bittersweet. The six of us have really enjoyed dining together these past evenings, and now it was time to say goodbye.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New York City

As we walked across town to visit our west side mailbox, the frigid wind blowing from New Jersey stung my face painfully. I became aware that I hadn’t experienced this degree of cold since moving to Istanbul more than eight years ago.

At a crowded Starbucks (Is there any other kind in New York?) we both logged onto the Internet and looked at the email we weren’t able to read on the ship. We still have planning to do for the two days we’ll spend in Winchester, England before flying home.

Django Unchained falls within what has become the classic Tarantino tradition. Working with this writer/director, actors give bizarrely memorable performances as they fill the screen with grotesque horror and comic-book violence. Like Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is a revenge fantasy, this time set in Texas and Mississippi in the years just before the Civil War would lead to the end of slavery. Kay both loved and hated Django. She savored the acting but closed her eyes and stopped her ears during the most violent moments.

Emotionally drained by the movie, we repaired to the Royal Thai around the corner to restore our balance with some delicious hot-and-sour soup and plates of Pad Thai. Afterwards, there was still time for Kay to have a manicure/pedicure before heading back to the Queen Mary 2.

Our luggage was waiting for us in our new stateroom on Deck 4. We unpacked, stowed our valises, and went to the Chart Room Lounge to sip cocktails and listen to some lovely music provided by the excellent Adagio String Quartet, four women from Hungary whose repertoire ranges from baroque classics to selections from the Great American Song Book.

Friday, January 4, 2013

At Sea on the North Atlantic

Crossing on the Queen Mary 2 feels different than cruising on her.

Of the lectures offered, one four-part series appeals especially to us. Helen McGregor is a British film historian interested in how the German Expressionist Cinema of the 1920s and 30s continues to influence the work of today’s filmmakers. In her first lecture entitled Dark Shadows, she used clips from such classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu to define German Expressionism. Although these two silents are well known to us, a third, Secrets of a Soul, is not. Directed by G.W. Pabst, better known for Pandora’s Box starring Louise Brooks, Secrets was inspired by Freud’s theories about the subconscious. It contains a long dream sequence in which buildings, including a bell tower, rise up from the bottom of the screen to confront the protagonist. He climbs the tower only to find the bells replaced by images of his wife and other women. Below the tower a host of men’s faces mocks him.

McGregor believes this is an archetypal sequence that has shaped the imagination of film artists that came after Pabst. To illustrate her point, she showed us a clip from the recent movie Inception that features an alternate reality where a whole city district of streets and buildings defies gravity to move into another dimension.

Today is the first full day of our crossing, and this evening Kay and I were back at table 112 introducing ourselves to two couples with whom we will share our evenings for the next six days. Both are retired Americans. Haig and Queenie (yes, that’s her given name) are Armenians born to parents who lived in the Armenian districts of Eastern Turkey before the First World War. Haig’s father immigrated to America before the long forced march that resulted in the deaths of as many as a million of his countrymen and women. Queenie’s mother was not so fortunate. She saw her family members perish at the hands of the Turks during that genocidal march and was rescued from a Mid-East orphanage and brought to America.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Crossing to Southampton

Some days on board gel better than others. After breakfast Kay and I went to the library where we read comfortably until lunch.

Kay and I were already aware of the need to dress formally when we packed for our first crossing. We don’t find anything absurd about the requirement to dress for dinner. It’s lovely to be in elegant surroundings among men and women who are smartly dressed.

One of the idle pleasures of strolling around the decks of the ship is looking at the many graphic panels that adorn its corridors and bulkheads. Unlike other ships, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is only the most recent in a very long line of ocean liners that dates back to 1840 when Samuel Cunard founded the line. The wall panels, packed with photos, facsimiles, and text recount this long history.

During the First and Second World Wars Cunard’s vessels were converted to troop and supply ships. Many (the Luisitania, for example) were bombed or torpedoed with great loss of life. Others served with distinction and resumed their peacetime roles after the wars.

It’s fascinating to read about life aboard these magnificent ships at different periods in the past, especially during the great age of ocean travel before the advent of airplanes. What we’ve gained in speed through air travel we’ve paid for in the loss of style, comfort, and a sense of adventure.

Today’s weather was no time to be out on the open decks. It’s been raining, cold, and windy all day. This is winter on the North Atlantic.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Crossing the Stormy Deep

The ship is pitching more than usual. Our view of the black-and-white sea is riveting. Great swells come together as if in slow motion, their crests white and foamy as they clash. Snow squalls come and go. Such is the cold that one turn around the promenade deck was all Kay and I could stand.

Today we attended Helen McGregor’s second film lecture entitled Out of the Shadows. In it she introduced some of the precursors to the style we know as Film Noir. Scholars agree that the Film-Noir period began with The Maltese Falcon in 1941 and ended with Welles’ Touch of Evil in 1958. Coincidentally, these are two of our favorite films, ones we need to see regularly, at least once a year.

McGregor asserts that Film Noir was the result of a marriage between European style and American pulp fiction.

McGregor is clearly in love with Citizen Kane. She showed us four clips from the film, and remarked that in 2012 it had been replaced as best film of all time on Sight and Sound’s critics’ poll by Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a choice Kay and I knew about and disagree with.

In her discussion of Kane, McGregor told us that the young Orson Welles came to Hollywood and chose the work of Lang and Murnau to learn from. Murnau was one of the first filmmakers ever to move the camera. Because Welles, at the time, had no background in moviemaking and didn’t know the rules, he broke them, thereby creating some of Kane’s novel effects — for example, shooting an entire scene with the camera lens at floor level, and including the ceilings of sets in his compositions.

Monday, January 7, 2013

On the Deep Blue Sea

After the Storm

The big news today is the change in the weather. The sky is only partly cloudy and the air unusually warm. Yesterday evening’s great swells, crashing against the windows of the Britannia Restaurant on Deck 2, have died down. Kay and I enjoyed walking around the promenade deck and climbing the outside decks all the way to Deck 12.


Deck 12

Although no one was in the outside pools and Jacuzzis, there was a couple practicing shuffleboard, preparing for a tournament scheduled for later today.

For the first time on board, I attended one of the planetarium shows in the Illuminations Auditorium. The planetarium is a remarkable entertainment feature of this ship. A large hemispherical rear projection screen descends from above and the audience sits in special seats whose backs recline at a steep angle.

Today’s program, entitled Passport to the Universe and narrated by Tom Hanks, took us on a journey first through our solar system, then the Milky Way, then into interstellar space and finally into intergalactic space where our imaginary spacecraft traveled at several light years a second. We returned to our cosmic neighborhood via a black hole. The narration claimed that every element in our body came originally from the stars. “We are star stuff,” said Hanks. The simulated journey has some startling effects. Epileptics and nervous persons were warned not to attend.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Our Last Day at Sea

In Ripples from the Wave: The New American Cinema, Helen McGregor began by telling how precipitously cinema admissions in America declined between 1946 and 1973. With the popularity of television and changing audiences, new kinds of films were needed. There came a string of independent films and directors, and the one she chose to focus on was Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967). It was Warren Beatty who was most responsible for getting the picture made. Jack Warner didn’t want to touch it, so greatly did it violate the mores of older Hollywood. Bonnie’s frank sexuality, Clyde’s sexual impotence, and the unrestrained portrayal of violence – these were all places where American cinema didn’t go in the days of the Production Code.

The clips McGregor showed were evidence that Bonnie and Clyde not only broke new ground, but that it is a very well made film. She spent so much time on B and C that there was hardly any time left to talk about other movies of the period. She finished her talk with two clips from Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, another iconic film of the rebellious 1960s.

The placid sea is calmer today than we have seen it so far on this crossing. This afternoon Kay and I walked a mile around the promenade deck.

Before ending this day’s remarks, I’ll say a few words about the cocktail lounges we frequent on the QM2. There are two: The Commodore Club and The Chartroom. These are bars the likes of which are too rare on land. They have no loud, recorded music and no TV screens. What they do have is quiet, elegant décor where customers can relax with a drink served politely in comfortable surroundings. At key times there is live music provided by a harpist, a string quartet, or a piano player. This is what luxury looks like to us.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Southampton – Eastleigh near Winchester

By the time I was dressed and on deck at 0730h, the Queen Mary 2 was settled in her berth at Southampton with our luggage already transferred from ship to shore. Because Kay and I were incapable of carrying off our six cases by ourselves porters carried them, and we had to wait our turn to leave the ship.

Robert and His Wife Sabine with Kay

When we finally disembarked at 1030h, Robert, a new acquaintance, whom we had met on our first crossing back in August, met us.  At that time, he and his family had invited us to visit them on our return to England. Once we got through the Southampton traffic it took only a few minutes to reach our new friends’ home in Eastleigh a residential suburb of Winchester.

Robert’s Art

Although Robert works as a sales engineer for an electronics company, he has the soul of an artist. His hobby is carving architectural models in clay. I’ve counted twenty-seven of these on display around their home. At first glance these seem to be models of actual existing structures – classical temples, Italian monasteries, mosques, minarets, Buddhist stupas, etc. However, on closer examination, these beautifully executed replicas turn out to be original creations that are only inspired by universal architecture.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Eastleigh – Winchester – Eastleigh

Winchester Cathedral

A highlight of the day was a visit to Winchester Cathedral. The great church is ancient indeed. It was begun shortly after the Normans occupied England in the 11th century and on the site of an even older Anglo-Saxon Minster, containing the shrine to a medieval priest known as Saint Swithun.

Swithun Shrine

Swithun had reputedly worked a miracle; thereafter, his shrine became an important pilgrimage site. The crutches and stools said to have lined the walls of that first church were evidence of the cures sought and found at the shrine. It all makes for colorful history.

Winchester Cathedral

Jane Austen is buried within the cathedral’s North Aisle. She came to Winchester for medical treatment and died there at age forty-one. An inscribed paving stone in the floor and a bronze wall plaque memorialize the author of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and other classics of our literature.

Among the many other notables buried within the cathedral is Stephen Gardiner, secretary to King Henry VIII, who, after the Reformation, appointed him Bishop of Winchester even though he kept his Roman Catholic faith.

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral has been modified and restored many times over the centuries. Its very large Gothic interior consists of a wide nave, two side aisles, two transepts, a choir, seven chantry chapels, a retrochoir, and a crypt.

Flooded Crypt

Winchester’s water table lies very close to the surface, and the cathedral’s crypt is often flooded as it was today.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Eastleigh – Winchester – Eastleigh

On our last full day of sightseeing before flying home to Istanbul, we saw more of historical Winchester. Historically speaking, this really is an important city whose origins date back to Roman times. The Romans walled their 3rd-century town, and those walls were rebuilt and expanded in later centuries. One of the five large town gates still stands as a monument to Winchester’s medieval past.

Winchester Great Hall

Near the gate, there once stood a great 12th-century castle. During England’s Civil War Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads destroyed it except for the Great Hall, a fascinating sight today. It is truly great in size, and one of its end walls contains King Arthur’s Round Table, not the original but ancient nevertheless.

King Arthur’s Round Table

Eighteen feet in diameter and brightly painted at the command of Henry VIII, it contains the names of the Arthur’s legendary knights and, in the center, an image of King Arthur astride a horse. The table has hung where it is since at least 1463. At the opposite end of the Hall is a pair of tall, beautifully designed, stainless steel gates made to celebrate Prince Charles’ marriage to Diana.

Winchester Public School

Walking back towards the cathedral, I requested that we walk by Winchester College, which, along with Eaton and Rugby, is one of the oldest and most famous of England’s public schools. We couldn’t enter its grounds except by a pre-arranged tour, but the Victorian outer walls of its buildings were suitably impressive.

River Itchen

We walked along the bank of the River Itchen whose water is very high and fast moving at the moment. If it rains much more the river will surely overflow its banks and flood the surrounding land.

Back in Eastleigh, Robert prepared sticky rice and sliced salmon, tuna, shrimp, and scallops for our sushi dinner. In the meantime, Kay and I made some preparations to leave tomorrow. As usual, our packing arrangements continue to preoccupy us.

Our Final Dinner

We all ate our fill of Robert’s wonderful sushi and celebrated our last night in England and the last of this impossibly long trip that began five months ago. Tomorrow night Kay and I will sleep in our own bed.