Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Sedate Atlantic

Rarely am I reduced to silence; in particular as I travel. This journey, however, is rather different, and as I find myself hurtling across the Atlantic Ocean at a sedate 25 miles per hour, safely cocooned by the overwhelming comfort of the Queen Mary 2, one’s mind drifts. Not, I have to say to writing, but to observing one’s fellow passengers and thinking.

Thinking firstly about why on earth I am here, and then to why everybody else is. I booked passage during the peak of the Icelandic volcanic crisis earlier in the year; in a fit of pique, and temporarily blinded with an overwhelming distaste of flying, I booked passage to London and the annual World Travel Market on the ship.

I have, of course, calmed down since and flown back and forth a few times, but this booking remained, and here I am; floating at this moment roughly mod way between New York and Southampton. And, I have to say, that I am loving every moment.

The Queen Mary is an Ocean Liner; not, simply a cruise ship. The distinction is quite clear in my mind, and those of many fellow travellers. Cruising, we feel, is a protective activity; sailing from place to place protected from foreign influences, and having aggressive young things making up games and generally disturbing the peace. This liner is a direct descendant of the ships that plied the routes between Europe and the New World in the early decades of the last century.

Simply, we are not on a cruise, we are on a crossing. We have chosen to book passage between two countries in a sedate, unhurried and genteel manner. Pampered, it must be said, with more food than one should really eat, superb wines and tempting cocktails. Superb big-bands, excellent concerts and chats about everything from dead bodies to the crustaceans of the deep sea floor.

And so time passes. Simultaneously slowly and fast; relentlessly watching the sea and gazing periodically at the sky full, in the afternoon, of westbound jets carrying their passengers at six-hundred miles an hour toward America. And believe me, speeds like that simply make no sense from where we look.

The treat of the ocean liner became apparent even at check-in in Brooklyn. The process of dropping off bags, obtaining our boarding passes and ship-card, passing through a cursory security inspection and walking up to the ship took no more than fifteen minutes. Our bags were delivered soon after, and there we were, seeking inspiration at the champagne bar. Well, one has to really.

And so it started; a daily grind of exercise (yes, six brisk rounds of the deck equalled two miles, and passed about thirty minutes), eating, snacking, dozing, being lectured to, dressing for dinner and eating again became normal behaviour all too quickly. Actually, I didn’t dress too much for dinner, taking the easy option of sombre business attire; my friend Murray, however, did bring a dinner jacket, and to show my approval and support of his dress code, gave him a Heroic Worker of the Revolution medal that I had picked up in Moldova a year or so ago, and it looked well on his jacket. He got some odd stares, of course, from military types with failing eyesight, but in my view, really topped off the occasion.

The last ocean voyage that I took was about a year ago, crossing the Black Sea on a rather interesting East German boat, the Greifswald. Needless to say, there are striking differences between the two vessels and their passengers, but I have enjoyed them both. The sea, after all, is the sea, and passage at a relentless but sedate 25 miles per hour beats incarceration in a metal tube, and hurtling across the oceans at speeds approaching that of a sound wave.

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