Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Remember when we skipped Winter and sailed around the world?

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. - Freya Stark

This morning I pulled up the shade, looked out the window expecting to be surrounded by blue ocean and instead the view out of my cabin is Espana! After 8 days at sea (which doesn't include the four days of training on board outside Miami), I was ready for some solid ground. And what beautiful ground it is! There are parakeets and date trees and cheerful buildings made out of oyster shells. Pale pastel colors with breezy windows adorned with balconies and window box gardens. Laundry swaying gently in the 60 degree Spanish air, lazily drying as if it had all the time in the world to do so. The air has an aroma of the salty sea and swaying palms.

Our staff started out on "Passport Distribution Duty". My job has so many strange new roles, and I think I love every single one. One doesn't have to carry a passport in Spain, but if you're flying somewhere or staying in a hotel, you need it. Here I am, bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 0830 (which is basically like the middle of the night NYC time) . That's Ben on my left and Shirl on my right:


So after we distributed 300-some passports (that's my guess), our staff BOLTED for the gangway. We found a great spot that served cafe' con leche and crusty bread with salty butter and jam and olives (the olives were mutually exclusive from the crusty bread/salty butter/jam).

Oh my lord. Yummy- doesn't do it justice. Delicious? Nah, that doesn't quite cut it. My buddy Jason and I decided the best way to describe cafe' con leche is "orgasm of the mouth". Now you've got to know- this is coming from a girl who only drinks black coffee. To put some azucar and leche in there is like putting ketchup on steak to me. But when in Rome....

Here are Brad, Jason, me, and Janetta enjoying our cafe' con leche. I dig it:
There are actually two Jasons, and the Jason who is half-pictured here is getting off the ship in Morocco. He works for the Home Office of Semester at Sea (Institute for Shipboard Education), but we have scheduled a cafe' con leche date before he parts waysand flies back to the US. I think the other Jason was the one taking this photo.

I think I'm a magnet for fun-loving, hilarious people. And I also think I've met my new best friends. (But you at home, don't you fret.....I love each and everyone of you mucho....just sayin' before anyone gets bent outa shape.....) Janetta describes me as being "all business" in our staff meetings, but then I pull some "zingers" as she calls them. I found out they all thought I was so serious and organized and no-nonsense and "the duty schedule nazi" when they met me but then out of nowhere I have these responses to what they say. Touche' they call it.

Here's an example (bordering inappropriate, but I'll tell you anyhow because that's how I roll.) So we were talking about the very hot topic of Semester @ Sea alcohol smuggling. As staff we are permitted to purchase alcohol at port, but students are not. They are permitted a limited amount of beer or wine sold at the bar on the ship, but that's it. Students try everything in their power to get alcohol on board. Shampoo bottles full of vodka, mini gin bottles hidden in hats, whiskey tucked under their armpits, you name it. The Ship's Security actually open bottles and smell them and inspect every single one. Kate, who has sailed before said that one girl had this inflatable bra filled with alcohol and some sort of straw attached to it. So her chest got smaller and smaller throughout the day. "Adds new meaning the breast feeding'" was my response. And Janetta cracks up. I am totally keeping her around.

So all morning we sat and we laughed and we drank cafe' con leche. In addition to cafe' con leche there was sangria and these greasy potato chips. So we sat and drank our sangria and one of the Jasons brought over these big long sweet fried breadsticks dipped in this thick yummy chocolate. (Help me out here somone, I forget what these are called. Churos?) Another "orgasm of the mouth" if there ever were such a thing!

Then some of us were taking the Cadiz City Orientation tour. I hadn't signed up for that tour, but they all pulled me down the gangway to try to get a ticket. I had to wait until everyone else loaded to see if there were any no-shows, and at the very end and I was able to secure a ticket. We had about 5 busloads of people on this tour. I got on the bus and all of my new best friends clapped and cheered. I felt like I had accomplished some huge feat!

Cadiz is beautiful. Narrow alleyways. And parts of it used to be walled. It reminds me a little bit of San Juan Puerto Rico in some ways. Cadiz is also starting to get ready for Carnivale, so there were all these crazy clown things hanging all over the city.
We went to a museum and to a huge cathedral and to town hall, which had all these gorgeous rooms with crystal chandeliers and such. Later on we went back to the ship, changed and got ready for the Flamenco show. Our guide taught us that the trick of how to move your hands in Flamenco is to pick an apple high in the tree, take a bite, and throw it down. She didn't tell us how to move our feet though. Students were served sangria sans alcohol and they still acted tipsy. An interesting placebo! They also were served non-alcoholic champagne the day of Obama's inauguration and the same placebo took place. They thought they were tipsy! I may have to save that post and the rest of the Flamenco post for another day though, because it takes forever and a day to upload the pictures as we have low bandwidth on the ship. But even if I hadn't had the flamenco show, my day in Cadiz couldn't be beat.

This might have been like the best day of my life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I see birds

Which means....land is near! I also saw another ship today....he was a slow-poke though and we soon passed him. Okay, a quick post (sans photos this time) but I've had a lot of follow-up emails with more FAQs:

Are you on an ark?
It's beginning to feel that way. But I won't see the giraffes and such until Africa.

Do you have a roommate?

Hell no. In that small cabin? I would hate that. Love people, but love my privacy.

How many pairs of shoes did you bring?
Only like seven.

Is there wireless all over the ship?
Yes. Sometimes it works in my cabin and sometimes it doesn't. But it always works in the public areas of the ship. I enjoy blogging from the faculty-staff lounge, because there's water all around....and wine too.

What are the faculty like?
Just like any other land institution of higher education. A mixed bag. There are some very cool ones that I've become friends with. Then there are the ones who drive you crazy. In the interest of all who read this, I'll just leave that question as is :)

When are you getting to Spain?
Tomorrow! Thank god! Fortunately there is only one day at sea between Spain and Morocco.

Okay, I'm out. Next post will be from Espana.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

FAQ

Thank you for all of the comments and emails you have left. I am going to try to answer some of your questions and of course post some photos for you in this blog.

What does your cabin look like?



What are the students like?
We've got a broad array. We had an open-mike night the other night and we saw it all. On the day of check-in I had seen many guitars coming on board. Everyone knows Jordan- the guitar guy from Michigan. He is really talented and takes requests. Then there is Jonathan, this guy with this crazy "flute baby" instrument. He also does stand-up comedy. He told us his instrument is like a combination of a kazoo and a piano- who went off to college, met a flute and had a baby. I don't even know if there's a way to explain that any better....weird but cool. And of course we've got our resident "Piano Man" who is in the piano lounge most nights and takes requests and plays back each request perfectly. And we've got Ashley who writes her own music. We've got poets, priests and politicians. They've got words to thank for their positions. (Okay that's actually just a line from a song by the Police....but I bet we do have at least one of each of those.)

What else? They come from everywhere. Most students are from Pittsburgh, Chapman, University of Virginia and the #1 represented school, which is UC Boulder. No surprise, since those are the four institutions who have sponsored Semester at Sea at some point in time. The gross majority are female and the median age is 20. Of course we've got Lifelong Learners mixed in with this group, who range in age from 20-something to 70-something. And then we've got children since many faculty and staff brought their kids. They are being sea-schooled while they are here. It's a big salad bowl of people.

Do you have "cabin fever"?
No, but I am really looking forward to getting to Cadiz. (CAdeeeTH. Say it with me now. CAdeeeTH! Spaniards have a lithp.) Only two more days at sea. The loooong stretch will be between Japan and Hawaii. So far it has gone pretty fast. Sometimes I do feel like a I am participating in a combination of Survivor and Road Rules though.

Where is the rain in Spain?
Mainly on the plain.

Who the hell is Carl?
Sorry- that one is an inside joke... you'll have to ask my colleague Jason.

What are your colleagues on board like?
Awesome.



Do you sleep on the ship when you're at port?
Yes, unless I am on an overnight trip. I have one in Morocco, one in South Africa, one in India, one in Vietnam and I'm meeting Dara in Bangkok for the duration of our stay there. Oh- and I am also meeting my friend and former colleague Motoko in Kobe, Japan. And hopefully a friend from a class I took, Nupur in India. And I'm trying to convince Kat to come to Honolulu- a friend whom I've never met in person, but was a huge resource for me in regards to this voyage.

Does it look like a cruise ship?
Kinda. Here is a photo of the student union (a class is going on in there in this photo) and the faculty staff lounge (which kinda reminds me of The Jetsons):


Are you going to meet Desmond Tutu?
No, my understanding is that he's not available when we're in Capetown. But he does have an ongoing relationship with Semester at Sea. He came onboard on the last voyage. I *did*, however sit with his Executive Assistant last night at the Faculty/Staff social. Her name is Levinia and she is sailing with us for this voyage. Her home is in Capetown, so she will be getting off to pick up whatever she forgot to pack and then getting right back on!

Are you sick of the food yet?
No, but I've got a confession: I ate almost half the bag of Tootsie Rolls that I brought for the disabled orphans in India. I *knew* that would happen. But don't you fret, because I bought two more bags of suckers or lollypops or whatever you call them when I was in Miami. The food onboard is not bad. Or maybe I just haven't been here long enough to get sick of it....

How do you do laundry?
My cabin Steward does it for me. $5 bucks a bag, flat rate.


Who is keeping Brian entertained while you're gone?
Good question, I don't really know. What are you doing while I'm gone, Cakes? Have you tried to call my office? I really haven't found anyone here to play "guess that song I'm humming". Brian and I often hum to each other songs like "I've been waiting for a girl like you" on the phone and then we have to guess what the song is. (I know. I am easily entertained.)

Are you actually doing "work" Laurie?
YES!! (Joe!)

What would you do with a drunken sailor?
Put him in the hold with the captain's daughter,
Early in the morning!
Make him walk the plank and swim at sea,
Early in the morning!
Put him in the longboat til he's sober.
Early in the morning!
Shave his belly with a rusty razor,
Early in the morning!
Hang him from the mast like a Jolly Roger,
Early in the morning!
Soak him in oil til he's grown flippers,
Early in the morning!
(I kept singing this song in my head in Nassau as several students boarded smelling like booze.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Yelloooooooooo!

So the entire ship is divided into seas, you see and each of our LLC's oversees a sea.

My sea is the Yellow Sea and on the first night I had all 90 of my students collectively come up with a "call sign" and that sign is Yelloooooooo! So when my students pass me in the halls they exclaim "Laurie! Yelloooooooooooo" It cracks me up every single time.

The waters have calmed. People are becoming settled into their floating home. My eyes are on the horizon. And we are still crossing the Atlantic. We will be doing so until Wednesday morning. But it doesn't seem like long. Days escape me before I can even begin to glance at my watch. At night the waves gently rock me to sleep and I wake up feeling well-rested and content.

It is serene and peaceful to look out the many windows and see nothing but a blue blanket brightened by the silver rays of the sun. At night I share Deck 7 Aft Duty with the LLC staff and I breathe in the salty mist. (A great exfoliant for my skin as well.)

The other day the IT people streamed in the Inauguration for everyone to see. We all had to turn off our computers so there was enough bandwidth to receive it. As you may know I wanted Hillary or Rudy or Ron Paul to be taking the stage that day, but I must admit I was impressed. My favorite line is this: "We are willing to extend our hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Wow. Even if you're not political (like me) what a great motto to remember. I've had my fist clenched before, but I think throughout the years I've learned to open my hand, and welcome olive branches a-many.

What else? What else? I am just so grateful to have this opportunity. If you are on my gratitude list that I email every day, you see how much I'm grateful to have: Edwin who cleans my room and makes it cozy down to the last detail, like folding my pajamas and lining up my earrings; Allan the guy in the dining room who brings me grape juice; my LLC team who are so flexible and fun and feel like old friends; the students who call "yellooooooo" to me in the hallways. It's not a finite list- there are just so many things to enjoy and appreciate at sea. I want all of my friends and loved ones to have this opportunity right along with me. (You can in fact- go apply now!) And we haven't even arrived at our first port yet.

In Cadiz I am one of the bus leaders for Andalucian Flamenco Night. If you have read the top of my blog page, you are aware that one of my favorite books is "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho. He gave up his job of herding sheep and started his journey in the Aldalucian region of Spain. He then traveled to Morocco to search for treasure, which is exactly where I'm going next. He didn't exactly find his treasure there per-se, but he had a journey. He met new people. He fell in love. He learned new skills. Ironically he came home to the sheep that he tended and found his treasure right back in Spain.

The moral of today's blog is: in May, when I get back to New York to my faithful "sheep" you guys all better have treasures waiting for me! Miss you guys.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Tight Ship

Some people think I am going around the world on a pleasure cruise. Au contraire! It's definitely been a lot of work, especially today. We boarded 725 some students in a span of about 5 hours this morning. I felt much like my best friend from high school (JoAnn) who is a flight attendant. Putting on my best face, standing at the top of the stairs on my deck and cheerfully greeting each student "Welcome aboard!"

At 1400 we had a lifeboat drill. I am the designated person to call out the names at my Muster Station. Imagine the voices of 725 anxious and excited college students in bright orange life vests, meeting new friends for the first time. Imagine them all talking at once. Imagine them all squished onto one deck of the ship. Now imagine me trying to shout out everyone's name and highlight them on a big maaster list. I have about 90 people at my Muster Station. The crew was very helpful in screaming out the names with me, but I have a feeling I'm not going to have much of a voice after this! Fortunately the Captain runs a tight ship (good lord, there are so many nautical puns here) and quieted them down quickly. He is also quite strict about attire. Everyone has to be dressed in long sleeves, long pants, close-toed shoes, and a hat or head-cover along with the orange life-vests. Unfortunately we are not allowed to take cameras with us when we have these drills, because it is a very serious procedure and there is to be no horseplay. The Captain means business. Above and below are pictures of the "Bridge". During faculty/staff orientation we got a tour. It is very high-tech and I am certain that our navigations system is top of the mark.

So we got through the life boat drill and one hour later we sailed off into the sunset. It was nostalgic and students were waving tearful goodbyes to their parents as they stood on the dock and held up signs for their students. I was glad I wore my sunglasses, just in case I cried. Ray Ban should seriously consider being an official sponsor of Semester At Sea. Here are all the parents waving goodbye:

But I had already said goodbye to my parents and my grandma yesterday, who had flown down and met up with me in Nassau for a few short hours. They did get to come on board and see my cabin and see parts of the ship. We didn't cry as we parted ways, but I'll miss them. The funny thing is- I don't see them all that often as it is, so I don't know why this voyage is any different. If I were in NYC still, I probably would go the same span of time without seeing them. I guess this is more emotional since I'm sailing literally around the whole world. Here is Me, my Ma, My Grandma, and My Dad at their hotel in Nassau. (Yes, I did get off the ship to stretch my legs for a bit yesterday and today.)

I'm kinda tired now after the past several busy days.

Oh but wait...I can't be tired just now- I'm not done working yet. We still are holding a big group orientation and then an individual "sea meeting". Each section of each deck is divided into a sea and mine is known as the Yellow Sea.

And now we cross the Atlantic. Before I left I started reading "Angela's Ashes" and I am thinking about how long and how choppy the voyage trans-Atlantic was for her family. Fortunately it wil only take us 8 days and the ship should not be so wobbly. (Although, I must admit two nights ago as we sailed from our anchoring outside of Miami to Nassau, I was feeling a bit dizzy!)

I got the report from Dara back in NYC who is taking good care of my cat, Isaac (mostly known as "Kitty") Looks like he is doing well, wouldn't you say? I like to call Dara's house Disney World for Kitty. He might as well be on a four month pleasure cruise. Either that or he's dead. But I think he's just sleeping. He lies like that from time-to-time. And often times, he's right in the middle of the bed, like-so and he gets distraught when I shift positions. He's content sleeping, eating, and playing with his gray mouse for most of the day. And you guys are envious of MY life?

I guess I understand. It is pretty amazing here. I actually love meeting students, and I was reminded of my days working in Residential Life when students would check in. There were always lots of questions and lots of excitement and I enjoyed being a resource for them, as I was today. I also found out that I will be supervising 8 Work-Study students and I am pretty excited about that too. I haven't supervised students for a couple years now. My role is more private at my "land job" and because of confidentiality in my position I do not have student assistants.

So in addition to the academic atmosphere, there is an excitement and buzz about the ports of call. In eight days we will be in Cadiz (pronounced "Cadeeth") Spain.

There are mirrors throughout the entire ship. The sun spread its last few ribbons of daylight across the water. And I reflected on my voyage: how I got here, where I'll go, and what I'll learn. And off we sailed with the sunset at our helm.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sea Legs


Here I am on the Explorer.....Forward Deck, Starboard side (I think?! Still learning the lingo and still getting my bearings.) Left is port side, right is starboard. Forward is front and aft is back. I think I got it. For Kat and Mario and Jen and all the other former Semester at Sea buddies who have sailed on the Explorer and may be reading, I'm in Room 3033. It's a cute little room. By Manhattan standards, it would be called "cozy" as advertised in Craigslist, and would actually be a pretty typical sized studio apartment. I also have a cabin Steward named Edwin who will be making my bed and cleaning my room. This has GOT to be the best job in the world.

Yesterday morning I was scared shitless, to put it lightly. I always get really nervous going into new situations. But my mind was at ease as soon as I started to meet my colleagues. Very kind and sweet and we soon realized we're all in the same boat (I really didn't intend that pun....it's called a "ship" around here, anyhow....) The Faculty here seem brilliant and I can't wait to perhaps sit in on some of their classes. In addition to doing my job, I am also thirsting for knowledge. Diane, Erin, everyone at AI....I will be excited when you have this opportunity too! I can already tell I'm going to love every single minute.

Last night we pulled out of Miami at around 11 PM. We didn't go very far though....it only takes two hours to get to the Bahamas and my understanding is that in order to avoid the port fee we are anchoring in the middle of the ocean for a few days during our Faculty/Staff Orientation and Training. Then we pick up all 740 students in the Bahamas in one fell-swoop. Right now there are about 100 Faculty/Staff on board.

I am feeling the wobbling of the ship and I am very grateful that Erin gave me the wrist bands. I took them off to shower this morning and felt dizzy. As soon as I put them back on I was fine. I'm embarrassed to tell people that since we're not even moving. I honestly think the rocking while standing still makes me more dizzy than moving forward. That's indicative of my life in general, as I can never sit still; I've always got to be moving.

Speaking of moving, I have a meeting coming up quite soon. So far I haven't had any: pirates, malaria, seasickness, food-borne illness, nor a lost passport. I think this means I'm ship-shape.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Straying Vagabond Shoes

The cobbler on Wall Street saved my soul today for $8. It was supposed to be $10, but I guess my cheeks were aglow with the excitement of the last day in NYC, so he said in a thick accent, "For jou- just eight dollah, Miess." And then he winked and told me to come back in an hour. In an hour I went back to brand new heels and a shiny black polish. And then he blew me a kiss good-bye and said "God blayss jour soul." I'm not sure if that was an old joke in the Cobbler business, or if he was just wishing me well. Either way, my soul feels happy and my heels are no longer leaving little indents on the floor where the metal piece had been poking through.

I love the hustle and bustle of Wall Street. The harried business people in their black trench coats. The fast pace of foot traffic. The narrow alleyways. The cobblestone streets. The very historic buildings with ornate gargoyles carved onto the facades. The NY Stock Exchange. Everything about it......I ran errands downtown all morning. And then I went to Chinatown and bought a bunch of I *Heart* NY trinkets for the children I'll meet during some service projects in South Africa, India, et al. Someone joked with me that these kids probably made the I *heart* NY shirts themselves and all I'm doing is bringing their work right back to them. I laughed, but I secretly worry that this might be true.....

Much like the traders on Wall Street, I've been pretty harried myself lately. I've been somewhat sick and haven't had a chance to see all of the friends I wanted to, but I have had a chance to see quite a few. My friends have been wonderful. My boss, Joe is picking up my malaria prescription and overnighting it to me in Miami (my insurance wouldn't let me pick up the refill early, which totally doesn't make sense, but whatever. I'm grateful Joe is doing this for me.) I met up with a bunch of loved ones last week at "Donnybrook" on the Lower East Side (recommended by Elizabeth). My boss Joe and my colleagues had a luncheon for me on Friday, my last day before my leave of absence. (Jackie- you'll be JUST FINE! When you have a tough day, imagine me making a face. Gene and Paul, please make faces in my absence.) Erin treated me to lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant on Murray Street, near the library. I met with my Shari for the lat time on Friday, and I sobbed, because she is my safety net. Vicki gave me a book from the reading list of a class we both took recently. Alison and Adina graciously extended the term of my sublet. Sophie gave me a cute little plush snuggly guy. Amy and her husband Jeff and I met up for coffee and she gave me a book and some gifts, one of them being a salve for sore muscles. Fatima, Dara, and Holly came over Saturday. I was still sick and wanted to stay in and rest, so Holly brought homemade pasta with homemade meatballs. Dara helped me sort through my luggage and get rid of some stuff I don't need. She has a way of making everything fit like Tetris blocks. Gissell and Isaiah offered to store my excess baggage (the derogatory connotation of that term always makes me chuckle, but it is actually just a bunch of clothing and toiletries that won't fit into my suitcases). I went over to their home in Brooklyn to drop off the excess baggage and I played with their cute son Matthew. He is about 5 and he is all muscle! He answered the door in a white undershirt and immediately showed me his tae kwon do moves. I introduced him to the game "pick Matthew up and toss him onto the bed", and he made me do it again and again. I'm sure Isaiah and Gissell are going to love me for that. (Sorry guys, I know he's heavy!) When Matthew asked me when I'll be back to toss him onto the bed, I said "When it's warm outside again." He seemed to accept that as an answer.

When it's warm outside......That's in May! Four months from now. That is indeed a long time to be away from my safety net, isn't it? I love leaving my comfort zone, but I also love coming back in. On that note, some of you have been asking about my itinerary. I will be leaving for Miami Tuesday morning. The staff boards the ship on Thursday January 15, and from there we have orientation. Then we set sail and pick up the 750 students in the Bahamas and from there the schedule looks like this:
Destination


Arrive

Depart
Day
Date
Time
Nassau, Bahamas Depart Monday 19 January 1700
Cadiz, Spain Arrive

Depart
Wednesday

Saturday
28 January

31 January
0800

2000
Casablanca, Morocco Arrive

Depart
Monday

Thursday
02 February

05 February
0800

2000
Walvis Bay, Namibia Arrive

Depart
Saturday

Monday
14 February

16 February
0800

2000
Cape Town, South Africa Arrive

Depart
Wednesday

Sunday
18 February

22 February
0800

2000
Port Louis, Mauritius Arrive

Depart
Friday

Friday
27 February

27 February
0800

2200
Chennai, India Arrive

Depart
Thursday

Monday
05 March

09 March
0800

2000
Laem Chabang (Bangkok), Thailand Arrive

Depart
Sunday

Thursday
15 March

19 March
0800

2000
Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam Arrive

Depart
Sunday

Friday
22 March

27 March
0800

0600
Hong Kong/Shanghai, China Arrive

Depart
Sunday

Friday
29 March

03 April
0800

2000
Kobe/Yokohama, Japan Arrive

Depart
Monday

Friday
06 April

10 April
0800

2100
(Cross International dateline, add one day)
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA Arrive

Depart
Sunday

Monday
19 April

20 April
0600

2000
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
(Antigua, Guatemala City)
Arrive

Depart
Tuesday

Thursday
28 April

30 April
1100

2000
(Transit Panama Canal - Sunday, 03 May)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA Arrive Wednesday 06 May 0800

Time Aboard Ship

Based on Eastern Standard Time - the time on the ship is ahead EDT by the number of hours listed below:

  • Spain (+6 hours)
  • Morocco (+5 hours)
  • Namibia (+7 hours)
  • South Africa (+7 hours)
  • Mauritius (+10 hours)
  • India (+10.5 hours)
  • Thailand (+11 hours)
  • Viet Nam (+11 hours)
  • China (+12 hours)
  • Japan (+13 hours)
  • Hawaii (-6 hours)
  • (-2 hours)
Okay, I think that's everything! Stay tuned for updates. I'm nervous, excited, and happy all at once. The best way to describe the way I feel is this: It's like a combination of the feeling you get when standing at the top of the high dive for the first time, letting an ice cube melt down your shirt, and hearing the first three notes of your favorite song.

Soon the nerves will ease. I have to remember Frank Sinatra's advice about my beloved NY: "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere."

I'm pretty sure that applies to everywhere else on my itinerary. My vagabond shoes, their new souls and I are ready to go!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Seven (or 61) plentiful years

Before I leave for Miami to board the ship I have a lot of business to take care of. Between the hustle and bustle of the holidays, closing up shop at work, and packing for a four month voyage, I've been on the go every single day. (I am by no means complaining, by the way. I love that my time has been consumed preparing for this voyage.)

2009 has arrived and we've hit the ground running.

Sadly, as the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve, my best friend's grandmother (affectionately known as "Bubby") died. So she and her family put the cork back on the champagne bottle and began the New Year with tears instead of cheers. As Dara and her parents drove cross-town through New York City fireworks were going off. Dara, reminiscing about Bubby's personality, laughed as a tear rolled down her cheek, and said "it wouldn't be like her to go out without a bang!"

My own grandma (whom I've referenced before- the one with all the sayings) would refer to Bubby as a "spit-fire", an affectionate term for someone who fights for what she believes and stands her ground until the bitter end. She is not "meek and meely mouthed", as my grandmother would call the opposite of a spit-fire.

Dara gave a beautiful eulogy about the debates she would have with Bubby and about Bubby's concern for everyone's physical well-being in the streets, on the subways, and just about anywhere else. {The paragraph below was borrowed from Dara's blog}:
During the recent years, Bubby was in a wheelchair and loved to make that clear every step, or push, of the way. She liked to scream and yell that everything is in the way, everyone put everything in the way on purpose, please please please get that chair/umbrella/string on the floor out of the way, and she doesn't want to be a burden, and how are we ever going to get her into the car with all the dangerous oncoming traffic, and DON'T GO IN THE STREET!, and GET OUT OF THE STREET!, and don't step on the cellar sidewalk doors because you'll get electricuted- don't you read the paper?!

Today was Bubby's funeral. My second funeral in the past month. My Aunt Theresa's Italian funeral was different from Bubby's Jewish funeral, but they each have some major things in common: they are a gathering of loved ones, they are a sharing of wonderful memories of a beautiful soul, and they are feasts.

Family members give eulogies praising and admiring the deceased. Perhaps Dara's grandfather (affectionately known as Zayda)'s speech said it best. He referred to Gen 41:29 Behold, there are coming seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt.

Mr. Finkel explained that there is a famous Hebrew saying that refers to this verse. Everyone gets seven good and plentiful years. As he explained this, he became choked up, and through tears he told the congregation "Well somehow I lucked out and got 61 good years." 61 years of marriage between Fyvush and Gertrude Finkel. They met on the subway in 1946.

Mr. Finkel also spoke about his wife's devotion to the synagogue. One time he made a phone call to his wife from Los Angeles. You see, Dara's grandfather is an actor and he was away from home. He had landed his first television role and he told his wife "You better tell the synagogue we're not sitting in the 'cheap seats' anymore! You call the Rabbi, you tell him we're famous now. So move us up to the front!" So from there on out Mr. and Mrs. Finkel sat up front.

We all got a chuckle out of this anecdote.

Throughout the time I've been best friends with Dara, I have been to dinner with she and her grandparents several times. I didn't make it to the 61st anniversary dinner on March 19, 2008, but I stole this directly from Dara's blog on that date:

Well, we get to the Deli, get her in, and guess what? There's nowhere to sit. The place is as cramped as a Lower East Side tenement building in 1915.

So anyway, we wait in a small waiting area, not exactly big enough for the wheelchair and right in front of a downward flight of stairs. Wonderful. Now we listen to "don't put me near the stairs, I'll fall down!" Those stairs were so narrow and had so much crap in front of them that even if she wanted me to push her down them, I couldn't.

Because this place is so popular, at least with the Jews and Jew lovers, there are a few people waiting to be seated next to us. As always, people start recognizing my grandfather.....
"You look so familiar.....are you in movies? No, you were on that show....Boston Legal, right?! You're that funny guy!" {Try Boston Public, lady.} As many of you know, my grandfather lives for being recognized and is pleased with this googly eyed lady's inquiry. So, he proceedes to chat with her and those around them.


So, we continue to eat our pastrami, brisket, and perogies glutenously, people continue to recognize Zayda, and I try not to flip out about everyone smacking into my chair everytime they walk by while I'm in mid bite. Then another genius comes over to me now. "Is this your grandfather? Oh, I just adore him, my husband thinks he's the most talented actor there ever was, and bla bla bla bla bla bla........." So I look at her and say, "Why don't you just tell him, he's sitting right here to my left!" Did she think it would make my dinner that much more delicious to have someone interupt it to talk about someone other than myself?

On goes dinner, and it's time for coffee and cake. The waiter comes out with two slices of chocolate babka each with a candle in it (are candles appropriate on anniversaries?) and we all smile and thank the waiter. And here it comes.....in full bodied voice and vibrato, my Zayda sings "HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO MEEEEE! HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO MEEEEEEEEEEEE! HAPPY ANNIVERSARY DEAR TRUDYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The entire restaurant applauds and congratulates. I sit with my face in my hands- in hysterics.

This is the perfect illustration of Dara's family. I loved spending the day with them reminiscing about Bubby. At the end of the day, I leaned over to hug Mr. Finkel and say goodbye before I went home.

Mr Finkel!? MISTER Finkel? That makes me sound old! Why do you call me that?

So I asked for a Take Two.

Goodnight, Zayda.

That's better, he said. Much better.