Friday, January 26, 2007

Schooner Girl: Delicious Humble Pie

Into each life, if we are lucky, some hilarity will descend. How or when that happens depends in part on what you find funny. For me, one moment of unalloyed comedy came during the early Schooner Girl days as I apprenticed on the schooner Appledore.

The memorable day took its first turn when the sailors George and Bobby both didn’t show up, and we had a usual sail planned from Sag Harbor to Block Island, with about 10 guests.

The captain that day was a very young, very talented guy named Robbie who had gotten his GRT 200 commercial captain’s license at a very young age.

“Captain—no guys today, just me.”

“No problem, we’ll be fine.” Hmmmm. Maybe.

We had the guests to help raise the main and foresail, and the winds were low that day, so the run to Block was—-yes—-very smooth sailing. That wasn’t the problem.

The sun was just starting to set as we motored slowly through the forest of anchored boats in New Harbor on the way to Payne’s dock. I am standing in the bow, holding the bowline to throw, as Rob-

[Several important notes here: Everything on a schooner is supersized. Even a fairly small amount of line on a schooner is very heavy. Lines are usually thrown overhand, to get the distance needed between ship and dock. I, alas, did not yet have much upper body strength, being fresh from two years of English majorness, compounded by sophmore mono. George and Bobby always do this part. Narrative resumes. . . ]

bie is piloting the 86-foot schooner toward the dock under a low engine. He brings the ship in at an angle, to get me as close to the dock as possible before he has to straighten it out. And in that flow of motion, I throw the dock line with as much might as I have. But---SPLAT!!!—--right into the water. Without the bowline to anchor us, Robbie has to swing away from the dock, and I have to haul the now wet, heavier, line back into the ship.

Robbie circles us around in as tight a radius as the size of the ship will allow, and we are headed again straight for Payne’s.

The Appledore coming into port is a majestic sight—it often attracts a crowd. Chug, chug, chug--we are close again---again I pick up the line, and throoooooow it with all my might.

OHHHHHHHHH the crowd roars, as the line once again falls into the water, and Robbie has to peel off, again.

I was horrified. I was exhausted. I was scared. What if I can’t get this line onto land? Isn’t this how the Ancient Mariner’s world went horribly wrong?

I can barely write this, but my throw fell short a third time. We were entering Monty Python territory now. (I built a castle, but it fell in. So I built another castle, and it fell…), but it wasn’t funny.

Robbie is beginning to lose his patience. For insurance reasons, the guests are not allowed in the bow during docking, so I am on my own. Once again, I coil the evil line. Robbie shouts that he is going to come in even more slowly, which means he can get even closer to the dock.

Chug-chug–chug. There is now a very large crowd gathered, many rows deep, waving, shouting, pointing to our ship. Mercifully, they are a blur to me. (I should have never left the safety of the library.)

Several resourceful, Frat-looking guys are forming a human chain to hang out as far as possible over the dock. Someone yells at me, “Throw it underhand.”

We are now close enough that I can lob 2 feet of this cursed line to the guy at the end of the human chain. He cleats us, Robbie goes into reverse, cuts the engine, and we are home.

I didn’t have time to be too mortified at that moment. I help the passengers off the boat, dress the deck as usual, and take myself into town.

After dinner I go to Captains Nick’s, a friendly place where the sailing crowd dances.

I am relaxing at the bar, when a very good-looking man starts the “what brings you here” conversation with me. Now, during this summer, I was not above aggrandizing my job a little--tall tales are the way of the world on the water--but that night, I say, “I’m an apprentice sailor, learning big-boat sailing.”

He looks straight at me and says, “I know.”

“Oh?”

“I tried to catch one of your dock lines today.”

I thought it was the funniest situational line, ever. I laughed away all the tension I had built up over the defeats of the day, and then walked away, in case he or I should say something that would spoil such a perfect moment.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Travels with Cadfael: Ere We Saw Elba

"I wanted to ask you why you stopped at the Isle of Elba."

"It was to carry out an order from Captain Leclère. As he was dying he gave me a package to deliver to Marshal Bertrand there."


So that was Edmond Dantes’s excuse—a deathbed promise. Cadfael and I had no such noble focus. Did you know that Dumas decided to write The Count of Monte Cristo after visiting Elba himself? He was traveling with a nephew of Bonaparte’s, and as they sailed back from Elba he saw the other islands in the Tuscan Archipelago--Gorgona, Capraia, Pianosa, Montecristo, Giglio, and Giannutri-- and vowed to write a novel in memory of the trip. So there must be something captivating going on there. . . .

Cadfael and I drove southwest from San Gimignano to the port of Piombino for the ferry to Portoferraio, the city of Napolean Bonaparte’s first exile.

Our first foray to visit the Emperor’s town residence--Palazzina dei Mulini, located in the highest part of Portoferraio between Fort Stella and Fort Falcone--was nearly thwarted by the port’s tiny stone streets, and the fact that there is no place to park. Being a New Yorker I thought I understood the meaning of those words, but I was close to weeping after circling through an eternity of narrow stone streets that wouldn’t allow us to get where we needed. Luckily, Cad is deeply unflappable, and an extremely skilled driver. He piloted the Micra onto sidewalks, performed the drive-backwards-up-an-entire-hilled-street maneuver, and coaxed the mighty Micra down a flight of stairs—all to outflank those one-way signs.

Cad won, as usual, and the Micra was finally parked. We bounded up to the Palazzina only to see “Chiuso,” those most dreaded of Italian letters. Undaunted, we took ourselves to the Emperor’s summer residence, Villa di San Martino, at 6 km from Portoferraio along the road to Marciana. The man was only on the island for a total of 10 months, but decorum at all times.

I am not an imperialist at heart, but I was jazzed to be walking through the exiled Bonaparte’s bedroom, and his study, and to look out where he surveyed the sea, when we finally got into his town residence the next day.

But what I remember most about Elba overall is color and sky: the pink of Bonaparte’s town residence under a huge, tropical blue sky. Later in the day we drove west, away from the towns, on a mountainous road above the sea. The sky there was huge, majestic, and humbling, and we drove into layers of grey and blue offset by the sun’s gold. Peter Gabriel was our soundtrack as we egg-and-darted along the rising road, going deeper and deeper into that space between sea and sky. I understood what could have made such an impression on Dumas.

Monday, January 15, 2007

1.15.07: A Uniquely American Day

It’s Martin Luther King Day. The only national individual besides the looooooong dead Presidents Washington and Lincoln to be so honored. It was first formally observed in January 1986 and had a bumpy start, with holdouts in the South and Arizonia for years.

But it seems to have settled into the national consciousness, and the idea of “A day On, not a day Off,” is building, to do something—-paint a schoolroom, help seniors fill out paperwork, help outpatients get to a doctor’s visit—-coordinated by the MLK Day Organization and a great website.

In the midst of our constant East-looking, this holiday redirects our attention, for a national nanosecond, to our own history, and issues.

In recent years it overlaps with the Golden Globe Awards.
From the sublime to . . . . .

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association. If it didn’t exist, Evelyn Waugh would have had to create it in order to mock it. Sixty years ago, reporters from foreign publications banded together in their quest to disperse news about Hollywood to countries outside North America. It’s an association of about 86 journalists, although many of the most prominent foreign publications, like Le Monde of the Time of London, are not represented, according to a NY Times article.

Whatever its genesis or original purpose, HFPA is the animus behind the Golden Globe awards—-those precursors to the Oscars that bring the film and tv people together in one room for a "party."

There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging excellence and, along with jazz, we certainly contribute the award show to world culture.

The third part of the day’s trifecta is hours 3 and 4 of the 6th season of 24. I haven’t been watching this series, and this season premiere seemed a good time to jump in.

The action, the suspense, and the suspension of belief is everything they say. It is the most riveting tv watching there is—you can’t read or do the crossword puzzle during screentime.

I have finally met Jack Bauer, our idealized American, that individual who can think on his feet, who can accurately assess complex situations quickly, and who continually, personally, makes things happen.

No wonder this show is so popular, especially now.

As a projection of national psyche, there is much about the storytelling of 24 to talk about.

But on MLK day, when Kiefer Sutherland and 24 are both up for Golden Globe awards, let's leave it at, "Goodnight, America." Steed and I are going to go catch the second half of Lawrence of Arabia over on TCM before turning in.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Travels with Cadfael: The Drive of the Native

We planned to spend one day around Siena with Pietro, the classically handsome Italian friend of Cadfael's. We met-up in a parking lot in the outskirts of the city, for Cad and me to switch to Pietro’s car for the tour with the native.

I sat in the back and watched those clay hills roll under the stunning Tuscan sky, with the pop Italian station and their melodic Italian chatter providing the soundtrack. We went to ancient Bagno Vignoli for lunch, then on to Pienza, where we lazily walked through the maze of old side streets. In our post-meal lethargy we were becoming cinematic-—conversing less, quietly resting more. We could be Jules et Jim et Catherine to the French tourists passing us; there was no way to outwardly know who we were, and our own crosscurrents were ricocheting off each other in various directions. (But that’s a subject for a different blog.)

We went hiking for a bit to see the Madonna of the Scouts (challenging in a silk duster and soft shoes), visited Abbazia di Monte Oliveto for the exquisite Sodoma frescoes on the life of Benedict, stopped by the ancient Rocca of Montalcino, then enjoyed a 6-course dinner at some local place. It was a full day. Pietro was driving us back to our own car when it began to pour, dangerously. It was a complete white out— oddly tropical for Italy. We had driven pretty far and had quite a way to go to get back, even though it was very late and we were filled with fatigue and alcohol. Pietro starts trying to tell jokes in English to stay focused and awake. They were awful—they didn’t make sense, even when he put them back into Italian. But he would not be deterred—he was now shouting at me to follow these bizarre funnies.

It then crossed my mind that we were in danger of a serious car accident. How strange is fate that draws people together, in space and time, for its own purpose. If I were going to die that night, it was going to be in the company of a gorgeous Italian and a good-looking monk. Well, okay. They would be fine companions to weather purgatory with (if, like in A Guy Named Joe, you get to hang out with those you go down with).

The white-out conditions were barely abating. Pietro was beyond tired, when he made a dramatic left turn into a car park of some office building. Suddenly it was quiet, and we were bathed in an eerie chartreuse neon light that illuminated the cement walls. It was a Batman-villain lair come to life--I was sure the ground was going to be on an angle when we got out. From the intense beauty of the day’s journey—the piercing Tuscan sun, the shocking red of the tomatoes at dinner, the mounds of pink impatients in the window boxes in Pienza—we were now in a deserted, cold, and foreboding place.

Cad, did you sign us up for this Antonioni movie? Didn’t you ask for script approval?

We huddled, we sang along with the radio, we walked to the other levels--it seemed like forever. Finally the rain let up, and we were back on the road to Siena, where Cad and I finally got back to our own beloved Micra. We had another 90 minutes drive to reach the farmhouse where we were staying, and we just beat the sunrise by the time our heads hit the pillow.

We decided to spend an immobilized day recovering before heading out to Elba.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

We interrupt this scheduled broadcast . . . .

There was a palpable malaise in people today, following the unequivocal nightmare of Bush's speech. And many blogs that I expected to post about it are more or less quiet on the subject, as though the speech is so beneath contempt that there's nothing to say.

I have a two small observations.

How quickly some of the networks went right back to the evening's programs, instead of going to talking-head interpretations. It felt like more well-deserved contempt to me: as though the networks were saying 'we have to carry this speech, but we don't have to really pay attention to it.' And many of the networks did not carry the Democratic response. Again, feeling like there was just no point to this anymore.

Also, from the point of view that small details can reveal much: Bush did not give this speech from the Oval Office, but from the Library. What a clear indication of a man competely lost. Even given his utter, criminal inepitude, does he not understand the power of the physical Oval Office? (Clearly one part of his staggering disconnect from reality is that he has never seen The West Wing.) Why would he remove himself from that uniquely empowered space? How clueless can one individual be?

In the face of such seriously, overwhelmingly bad leadership, there are few things the individual can do: vote; pray; and respect and exercise life as best we can, because we can.

And in that spirit, we return to our regularly scheduled program of chit, chat, musings, and storytelling.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Q.Q.F. File: Paging Thomas Crown

Q.Q.F. is that US Helicopter now offers service from the Downtown Heliport (near Wall Street) to Newark Liberty International Airport. It isn’t just for moguls, really.

And the benefit isn’t just that you beat the airport traffic by flying over it (total time to Newark: 7 minutes). It’s that you check in and go through security at the heliport.

When the copter touches down, you are whisked by shuttle bus to terminal C71—-and enter through a back door. If you have to travel on a crazy, high-volume day, being able to by-pass the long check-in line, and the even longer security line, at the airport might be worth the copter cost ($159).

They also have service to JFK, and I hear that their service from the 34th street heliport (which is much cheaper than the other services from there) is beginning in midJanuary.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Ian McShane Alert

It is fun to run into early guest roles of Swearengen. And he’s been on so many series in his long career that sightings are not that few and far between.

A McShane line from a recent sighting on Magnum, P.I.: “I swear Magnum, if I have to find you, I’ll gut shoot you and leave you for the rats.” Surely his whole career has been in preparation for Al.

Note to NBC: Be Nice to "Women"

NBC is mistreating its female characters (a subject I know something about). Last week’s viewing brought sad examples of killing women characters and laughing at them—a strange perversion of the classic tragedy/comedy motif.

The series Medium gives us some of the most relentlessly ugly, graphic (fictional) scenes of women being harmed on a weekly basis. Last week’s episode—“Mother’s Little Helper”—brought us a woman being shot point blank while her daughter was listening terrified behind a locked door. When she finally breaks through, she too is shot, point blank.

What made this comparatively straightforward killing (remember the psychotic doctor/gynecologist who raped and murdered?) more disturbing is the amount of time the camera spent on the victims, with no quick cutting away. And that this scene was shown repeatedly throughout the episode in the series’s convention of the dreams of Allison and Ariel, which reveal slowly.

Then on Las Vegas, we had a oenocentric episode, with a subplot that a retiree convention brought grandmothers who wanted to hang out in the topless pool. One grandma in particular had huge, 80-year-old breasts, and the whacky hotel gang had to figure out how to get her covered up because the other guests were complaining of the unsightliness. HA HA HA HA HA. Breasts—always great subject for comedy.

I watch TV for different reasons at different times. The reason I tune-in to network weekly series is for an entertaining-in-its-way way to wind-down from the day. And I’m a sucker for storytelling and look for it daily. What a disappointment when those simple goals are tanked by such mean-spirited treatment of female images. It’s not just NBC, of course-- CBS’s Criminal Minds has had some revolting situations for women, and this dark trend hasn’t gone unnoticed. I should stop watching these series, if I don’t like them, and probably will. But I will still be sorry to know that these images go on and on on other sets.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Wadadli New Years 2007

It’s not the Jamaica of Fleming’s Goldeneye nor Coward’s Blue Harbour/Firefly.

Antigua is more aloof than that. It has inspired great anger in Jamaica Kincaid, "You may be the sort of tourist who would wonder why a Prime Minister would want an airport named after him--why not a school, why not a hospital, why not some great public monument," and great healing for Eric Clapton at Crossroads, An International Centre of Excellence for the treatment of alcohol, drugs and other addictive disorders. It will come to the world stage in March 2007 with the Cricket World Cup, which will be hosted entirely in the West Indies. Antigua is just finishing the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium for its part of the series, a world-class arena named for its swaggering world-class favorite son.

An adventurous friend of mine moved to Antigua, lock, stock, and dachshunds three, several months ago, when the opportunity of a good position arose at one of the posh British resorts. It has turned out to be more the dark side of paradise—part “behind the scenes of a hotel” a la Down and Out in London and Paris, and part The Island of Lost Souls—the vivisection here being specifically of dogs. The island has a rampant stray dog problem—the government has enacted new legislation just last year to help get the situation under control—but there is some segment of the population that tortures and kills these animals. Ex-pat’s pets have often been stolen or poisoned.

That darkness is not the sum of the island, of course. The economy—-centuries ago based around sugar—is dependent on tourism. As one guide book said, the island is not the friendliest in the Caribbean, because the poverty is too great. But treating Antiguans with respect will be returned respectfully. And culture blossoms in the artist communities and in youth initiatives like the Wadadli Pen competition for writing.

And so my friend and I found ourselves driving around the less-traveled southern part of the island during 2006’s final hours, through the lush, lush vegetation, eating great food at a small neighborhood place on the water. Restauranteur Mr. OJ told us of the coming celebration for the neighborhood-—the boys would barbeque all night, and he would bring them 2 large bowls of rice for the feast.

At midnight we were in one of those white rooms (meaning the sterile white-on-white décor, although it describes the revelers as well), filled with representatives from across the Commonwealth, and a lot of Italians. It was a tableau of many families glad to be together, dancing happily to seventies disco.

On the way home, we passed the tents with the neighborhood celebration. Another tableau of many families glad to be together, dancing happily to island music. Hopefully 2007 will bring health and some prosperity to all.