I ‘m no fan of cruise ships. The Poseidon Adventure, Gilligan’s Island and The Love Boat all seemed to me to be perfectly valid reasons to avoid a floating holiday.
Many of the contemporaries of my youth disagreed, however and booked Fairstar (the fun ship) en masse. Let’s be honest, it was the seagoing equivalent of a Contiki tour and the only horizons it broadened were probably alcoholic and sexual in nature – and in that order.
A brief punt down the Rhine in the late 80’s hardly constituted cruise status, and given the median age of my fellow travellers was around seventy, it was as far removed from my friends’ experiences as possible. No amount of mediaeval castles and snow capped peaks made up for three nights enforced dining with an elderly Maltese couple called Lourdes and Beppe. Clearly moved by my mid-twenties appetite and obvious girth, Lourdes felt compelled to share the secret to her whippet slim form. Leaning across the table she confided that her breakfast for the past fifty years consisted of “only the coffee.” This went some way to explaining not only her resemblance to Wallis Simpson, but her unfortunate beige coloured smile.
We encountered cruise ship season at its zenith recently; arriving in Venice on the same day as a flotilla of mega liners. Fording across the Ponte Rialto we were faced with a tsunami of recently disgorged tourists approaching as one behind a flag toting tour guide. It appeared that most cruise itineraries allowed for mere hours in port and our seagoing travellers descended like locusts on every shop, cafe and museum frantically trying to absorb as much of the ‘authentic’ Venetian experience as possible. After a coffee, gelato and possible pizza slice, Hank and Nancy would return to the mother ship clutching their Murano glass beads and painted carnival masks ready to delight Ted and Carol (who remained on board for the Tex-Mex lunch) with the delights of Venice, Italy.
“It’s just like the pictures! Only smellier.”
So it was with a fair degree of trepidation that I approached the seven night cruise I had, in a mercurial (or amnesiac) moment, booked some eight months previous. Our Adriatic odyssey was aboard the MV Harmony G and apparently we could expect a ‘harmonious balance between conventional cruising and private yachting’. I refer your attention back to paragraph one – Captain Merill Stubing meet Skipper Jonas Grumby! (there’s one for your next trivia night)
Arriving a fraction before the scheduled 1500 hours embarkation, we were greeted by a perky young cruise director called Ninna and a glass of scurvy preventing orange concentrate. A bit of paperwork and banter about the raucous nature of previous Aussie guests (oi, oi, oi) and we were escorted to our cabin with instructions to rendezvous in the upper deck lounge for a welcome cocktail and bonus safely drill in an hours time.
Clutching our life vests we made our way up to the lounge to meet the crew and our fellow voyagers. Ninna began by introducing us all to Captain George – a disturbingly young Greek man with more than a passing resemblance to John Stamos (Full house days), and George,his First Officer. Both George’s lacked the gravitas I personally required with the Costa Concordia still foregrounded in recent memory and so my attention to the safety drill was more than usually vigilant.
Stefanos, the ships concierge, was responsible for staff coordination and getting up close and personal with all the ladies on board.
“If there is anything I can help you with…anything at all, just ask me…day or night.”
Then it was our turn to introduce ourselves.
Luckily for you, I took notes…
George and Margaret, an excessively pale couple from Scotland who chain smoked and never left the boat. They could be found sheltering from the Balkan sunlight nursing a glass each of the house white wine (I tried it once and lost the enamel off my front teeth).
George and Sandy – elderly Texan newly weds born and raised in Midland County “where First Lady Laura Bush was born, doncha know?”…okay, good…They ran a water ski hire shop a mere four and half hours from the closest body of water. Seriously – that’s like opening a ski shop in Kalgoorlie. (Yes! Well spotted all you playing at home ; Kalgoorlie WAS mentioned in the blog before last). Sandy also confided mid-way through our introductory cocktail that she will be voting Republican and not just because Obama is…well, you know. A paid up member of the choom gang?
George and Diane (pronounced Dee-Ann), were high energy Floridians who experienced the entire cruise through very expensive viewfinders. George sold bar ware and flew his private plane to their little place in the Bahamas. Dianne was in sales and had bought the Ferrari with her commission – “Paid for in cash, ” she whispered. They were self confessed mountain goats who wore Cabela’s hiking shoes. I derived quiet satisfaction from beating them to the top of the fortress in Kotor wearing good old Aussie thongs* and a bad attitude.
Jorge and Maria de Carmen, (Is anyone counting? How many Georges’s are we up to now?) were a Mexican couple on a Diplomatic posting in Basle – he was professionally amiable with an excellent watch. She wore white crotched dresses with teeny bikinis and sulked. They fascinated me.
The French – whom we dubbed Les Miserables. Eugenie, a 30 something woman who defiantly chain smoked endless packs of Gitane blondes and spent the entire trip complaining for an elderly couple called Georges (I’m not making this up) and Celeste who refused to speak a single word of English. Georges bore an uncanny resemblance to Parker from the Thunderbirds and Celeste had the air of a travel worn Catherine Deneuve. When Stefanos enquired as to why they were eschewing most of the food on board,
“The fis, why you no eat the fis? It fresh today!”
Eugenie gave a small gallic shrug and declared “Ze food is not good. We are French, we know good food.”
The Canadians. A blonde apple cheeked family from Vancouver who were too darn wholesome to be true. David and Carrie were so sweet my teeth hurt. Son Jonothan, in his first year at Harvard, had just returned from some volunteer work in Brazil and daughter, Claire was finishing senior high. Carrie was one of those uber mom’s who fully participated in every aspect of her children’s lives. I was feeling negligent by contrast as my youngest daughter swans around The States posting occasional ‘I am alive’ Facebook updates – I imagine Carrie would have microchipped her. Jonothan, however, privately reported that his mother skypes him with such frequency that the lap top in his dorm room might just as well be an omnipresent portrait of her. They probably had a dog called George.
Lisbeth a New York Jew who dated beat poets in the 60’s and runs a feminist writing circle and her husband, Miles, an entertainment lawyer from LA. Miles was an enormous florid faced man whose upper lip was permanently studded with large droplets of sweat. He would pile multiple plates with everything from the buffet so as not to make a return trip. He celebrity name dropped with embarrassing frequency and although we were initially impressed that Ryan Gosling was a client, it soon became apparent that Miles has never actually met him. They would know someone called George.
and us – ever so slightly misanthropic Melbournians who escaped the boat at every opportunity to find the nearest bar. There are no Georges in our life.
*Lest there be confusion about my walking attire to an international audience; Flip flop in America, Jandal in NZ, hawai chappal in India, zori in Japan, sayonares in Greece and my favourite onomatopoeic version, schlapfen in Austria.