Saturday, April 30, 2011

Entry 49 4.25.11

Entry 49, April 25th, 2011, 4:35pm (ship time GMT -4)

Course: ENE, Speed: 18 knots

Wind from the NE, Light Swell from the NE

It is our first sea day of the crossing today, and the band's last day off for a while. We stop in Curacao tomorrow, although there is a boat drill and a rehearsal so I don't know if I will have a chance to get ashore or not. Today is hot, humid, and hazy, even with a steady light wind. My hands are sticking to the table.

I've been reading the past several days. I finished “A Million Miles in Sail,” which only got more interesting as it went on. The author spent his last few years as a captain sailing clipper ships with precious cargoes for Britain during the first world war (the Great War, as it is called in his manuscript) and at various points outran a German cruiser (by changing course in the middle of the night) and evaded several German submarines. He also proved to be a surprisingly adept student of meteorology, using his knowledge of global wind patterns to beat a Polish cadet ship from Australia to Britain in a 97 day voyage (they were running light, had 80 crew to his 27, and had a three day head start). An interesting book, and an interesting character.

He also met a Cunard line Commodore who at one point (early in the war) commanded the Lusitania in outrunning a German cruiser lying in wait for her off of New York City. I'm glad the Grandeur will not be called upon to do that any time soon – the Lusitania was actually commissioned as an auxiliary cruiser for the British navy (with all of the propulsion machinery to match) while we are something more like a diesel-powered booze barge (yesterday we took on several pallets of beer kegs, and thirteen full pallets of wine (our best strategy with a German cruiser would probably involve getting them too drunk to pursue us)). The crossing itinerary calls for an average speed of greater than twenty knots . . . no word yet as to if that involves the orchestra sweating on bicycles in the engine room.

I've also been reading about Humphrey Davies again, the legendary chemist. His life really disproves any idea that art and science are somehow opposed to one another . . . at this point in the story he has just fallen in love with Jane Apreece, a scathingly witty and vivacious Scottish widow. The poetry produced by this infatuation is not your typical mushy tripe – it is replete with conceptually rigorous scientific metaphor and beautiful pastoral imagery, somehow wound together into deeply tender and personal looks into Davies' own emotional state. I'll reproduce here, not verse, but a bit of prose from a letter he wrote Jane in 1811 from Dublin:

. . . I call up the green woods and the gleams of sunshine darting through them, and the upland meadows when we took our long walk. I seem to hear, as then, the delightful sound of the nightingale interrupted by the more delightful sound of your voice. You will perhaps laugh at this visionary mood, and call it romance; but without such feelings life would be of little worth . . . Without this, its tones are like those of the Aeolian harp, broken, wild, and uncertain, fickle as the wind that produced them, beginning without order, ending without effect . . . To see you is the strongest wish of my heart.”

Davies had been a close friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (although his increasingly meteoric rise to fame was beginning to strain their relationship), and when he had decided to pursue science as a young man several had mourned the “loss of a potentially great poet.” Much of the imagery in his writing to Jane is similar in construction to the writings of Coleridge.

Jane does agree to marry him, but I am not totally convinced that it is going to end well. We'll have to see – I'll keep reading.

Also introduced today was a young assistant named Michael Faraday – the same Faraday, of course, who was later responsible for the Faraday cage, the device that makes modern electronics possible by protecting them from stray static charges (indeed, there is one at work in my computer as I type, and another at work in yours as you read!). Faraday, though, is still the young rookie at this point – quiet, awkward, struggling with French and Italian, and fresh from his job as a bookbinder. He was hired as a laboratory assistant primarily for being able to remain sober on the job, and presented as his part of his application a collection of his notes on Davies' lectures, written in his own hand and bound at the shop where he worked.

I see in Faraday a potential model for success in the professional world. He was originally introduced to chemistry through a book: “Conversations in Chemistry, mainly intended for young females,” typical of the sort of scientific literature for the masses that was becoming popular at the time. Inspired by this, he traveled to London in 1812 and scrounged up tickets to Davies' lectures, taking the meticulous notes that he later provided to Davies as proof of his dedication. He got the job as Davies' assistant, probably at least in part because of this familiarity with his hero's work, and therefore got his foot into the door of the establishment that interested him.

Faraday's first job paid only a pittance. He was given a room in the attic and one square meal a day as part of the arrangement. It was not glamorous, but it was vitally important in that it allowed him to live at the very cutting edge of chemistry. I see a similarity in Charlie Parker's first trip to New York City – he got a job washing dishes at the club where Art Tatum played every night just to be near the music. Miles Davis did something similar; he moved to New York ostensibly to study at Julliard, but his real goal was to track down Charlie Parker and play with him. Eventually Parker hired him when Dizzy left, and Miles had the foothold he needed at the sharp edge of musical experimentation.

My problem is that all of the musicians that I want to do that with are dead. If Art Blakey was still alive, working in his band would be my goal, but he isn't and the music has moved on. I don't live in 1955; I live in 2011. I want to be a part of my generation's great musical work, but I don't know what that work is.

Studying the history of the music is vitally important, of course, both technically and artistically – Davies (and Faraday, I assume) were well-versed in the history of science that came before them (In his “Chemical Philosophy,” Davies wrote a brilliant introduction that summarizes the extent of chemical research from the beginning of recorded history through the current day). As Diego says, “there's no need to reinvent the wheel,” when it comes to playing music. I feel like a Faraday who has not yet heard of Davies (perhaps this is a little presumptuous to compare myself to one of the greatest minds of British science!) – interested, yes, but not consumed with the obsessive fire that led him to Davies' lab.

Another consideration – perhaps Faraday cultivated this readiness for intense intellectual endeavor before ever reading that primer on chemistry. Maybe he practiced his own brilliance so intensely that chemistry just happened to be in the right place at the right time when he caught flame (the analogy of combustion seems particularly appropriate for a chemist). Perhaps I cannot rely on a visionary to catch my eye, but instead must develop my own drive and mental abilities to a crucial point where the first thing to cross my path will appear to be suddenly worth my life's effort.

I suspect that this is the truth. In that case, all I can do is continue to devour knowledge as voraciously as possible and develop my skills as best as I know how. On that note, I'm off to finish a Clifford Brown transcription on “Donna Lee.” Only half a chorus left!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Entry 48 4.24.11

April 24th, 2011, 10:44am (ship time GMT-5)

Docked in Colon

Unfortunately my plans to go see the Panama Canal today have fallen through. My party of fellow adventurers are all too hung over to come and bailed on me this morning, and so I am back at the Cafe Lebanese grabbing some internet before the transatlantic crossing. Ah well, I guess I'll have to check it out next time I am in Panama. The real visitor's center seems to be at the Miraflores locks anyway, on the other side of the isthmus, and that's farther from the ship than I am comfortable with being (not to mention that it is an expensive cab ride).

I thought about going anyway without my companions . . . the taxicabs buzzed around the terminal like flies as I disembarked. I was tempted. However, I've been warned multiple times about traveling in Colon by myself (or at all) and so I decided to play it safe. According to several different travelers' reports (and conversations with friends of mine from Panama (thanks Andre!)), Colon is dangerous even to locals in broad daylight. Not a place that I want to get lost and potentially left behind by the ship.

I will try and make up for this with some pictures tonight of the roadstead outside of Colon. This will probably be more interesting anyway, with the smaller ships anchored nearly stem to stern behind the breakwater and the lights of bigger ships stretching out to the horizon in every direction.

And I can console myself with the fact that I am headed towards the Colosseum. I've heard that it used to be plated with white marble held in place with brass, but the church stripped it later for the stone and all that's left now is the skeleton.

I did my roommate a favor last night. He came home about 4am, and gently shaking me awake explained a certain situation to me. I had the sudden inexplicable urge to take a walk around the ship for about an hour. He was very appreciative; there was an extra pair of shoes in the cabin when I returned, and I doubt Daniel has taken to wearing heels all of a sudden.

The interesting bit of the situation was this morning, though. The phone rang at about 9am; I picked it up (“Christ! For the love of – hello?”) (which reminds me of a joke . . . I'll get to that in a second). There was a woman's voice on the other end. “Is Daniel there?” I handed the phone up to my roommate, who responded in much the same fashion (“Ugh, seriously – hello?”). He then handed it to the woman in his bunk (“Oh, bloody hell – hello?”). After a brief conversation, she handed the phone back to my roommate, who handed it back to me, and I returned it to the hook! I felt like we were in a Marx Brothers movie.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Entry 47 4.23.11

Entry 47, April 23rd, 2011, 5:05pm (ship time GMT -5)

Course: SSE, Speed: 18-19 knots

Light swell from N, wind from E

We're steaming South to Colon on the last day of my seventh cruise. The Lady G is loping along with a strange gait, as the sea is rolling in long low swells from almost directly astern. I'm watching the shadows on the back deck move more than half a meter as the ship rolls.

The weather is clear though, and it as nice an afternoon as one could ask for. The motion of the ship is a far cry from the stories I've been reading about lately – I found a book titled “A Million Miles in Sail” by John Herries McCulloch, a slightly grumpy British sailing captain who caught the end of the great age of clipper ships. The last story I read had his ship caught in the teeth of a storm around Cape Horn, making 12 knots without carrying any sails (due to the ferocity of the wind), the lee rail buried in six feet of water and ice floes occasionally smashing across the deck.

The book itself is not so much a biography as a collection of transcribed stories, most of them typical of what is probably told around the wardroom table when the ship is becalmed at night. Each chapter begins with a tale that is in roughly chronological order with the chapters on either side of it but quickly branches out into a discussion of average temperatures at the equator or the differences between Antarctic and Arctic icebergs and usually ends with a trip around Cape Horn (legitimately enough, he did round the cape twenty six times).

I say slightly grumpy because he prefaces the book with a paragraph or two on the great collection of myths people have embraced over the years about sailing and how he intends to dispel as many of them as possible with this book. He carries a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to stories of forecastle cruelty and barbarism, asserting that most of the sailors he lived with were quiet, hard-working men and that the tales of drunken, swearing hulks who drag their knuckles onto deck only to fight and mutiny are the product of overly imaginative, land-dwelling hack fiction novelists. He also elucidates the reader on several of the differences between American and British sailors, asserting the latter's superiority on most counts but grudgingly allowing us a few small victories.

Despite the need of a good editor, it is an entertaining book.

This is the end of our stay in the Caribbean, and I'm sorry to see it go. There are a few places I haven't explored fully, such as Cartagena or Aruba, and a couple I barely managed to touch at all, such as Santa Marta and Jamaica. Still, I have seen a lot, and have stuck to at least some semblance of a budget, and so I am happy with how I have spent my time here. Sunday begins the crossing – I believe we stop in Curacao and Barbados before I am done with the bright waters of the Caribbean for good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Entry 46 4.22.11

Entry 46, April 22nd, 2011, 5:44am (ship time GMT -5)

There is no way to describe the blinding speed of a Caribbean sunrise.

On one side of the ship, the world is lined in silver, a mostly full moon spreading the shadows of the clouds across the water. Turn your head ninety degrees, though, and the sky is aflame from horizon to horizon, a perfect palette of the visible spectrum. The colors seep laterally first, spreading across the water like an ink blot across the page. Then the high cirrus wisps catch the flame, streaming red up and above you while the rest of the world remains doused in shades of indigo. A few heavy cumulus mountains sweep across the vista, trying to dampen the blaze, but even they begin to catch fire at the very tips of their towers. You can almost see them throwing their heads back, eyes closed in silent rhapsody, as the sun begins to warm their faces.

And the sun – oh, the sun! Mercury is its herald, a dazzling star that refuses to dim like the others, hovering just above the horizon where an orange glow is swelling to announce his master's presence. A yellow sheet of flame erupts from the center, a blast from the door of the furnace. Sparks of red and orange crackle outwards from the center along the horizon, weaving between the peaks of distant clouds. Only their tops can be seen, protruding from the mist like forgotten juggernauts. Finally it erupts from the flame like a rocket, tearing cloud and mist asunder as it claws for altitude, a searing white orb!

At this the stubborn cumulus lose all restraint and burst into flame with a fury that defies expectation. Caverns of molten gold tower above the ship, their flows pouring upwards towards the sky. A thousand beams of sparkling light pierce them through and they can only restrain the sun for so long before it bursts forth, this time unrestrained in its power. Glorious nuclear fusion!

Looking around, you realize that the entire sky has been turned on, as if by a light switch. Of all the stars, only the moon remains, dallying as it greets its old friend before shrinking away into the ocean.

The salt air – a back deck empty for a scant hour – the rippling, fibrous ocean – myself standing in a puddle of rainwater, bare toes sticking through the holes in my sneakers – the image of perfection.

And to think that this is the most boring of nature's occurrences, the most mundane, the everyday. The humdrum! The most basic of earthly functions that has happened a million times and will happen a million more. Oh what a fleeting blip of existence we each possess! To rise for the briefest instant from this churning universe of matter and energy and see that, yes, we live! and it is beautiful! before flickering out again! Can anyone be so blessed as we, the audience of creation?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Entry 45 4.21.11

Entry 45, April 21st, 2011, 4:59pm (ship time GMT -5)

Today's experiment: is the Earth really round?

I sat on the back deck, watching as we left Grand Cayman to see if things really disappeared from the bottom up (as they should if the Earth is round). I used a ship anchored off the coast as my point of reference. Unfortunately, as the island and anchored vessel approached the horizon, they became more and more obscured by the mist of humidity until, while I could still tell that they were there, I could not determine what parts of them were disappearing first. I believe that they disappeared from the bottom up, but I remain unsure. Some sort of magnifying instrument, such as a telescope, would have been necessary to really be sure.

Entry 44 4.20.11

Entry 44, April 20th, 2011, 11:13am (ship time, GMT -5)

Today's boat drill was less exciting than last week's, although not without its own little thrills. It was the new captain's first boat drill and his style is already becoming apparent. The first notice we had of the drill itself was the sounding of the emergency signal (usually they come on the PA about five minutes beforehand to warn the passengers; this has the added benefit of waking up the musicians in time for them to get dressed). I am proud of myself because I was able to go from a dead sleep to hustling up the stairwell in less than thirty seconds, but I feel like a body has only so many of those cold starts in it, and once you've used them up they're gone.

After milling about for a quarter of an hour (the captain closed some stairwells as well, and pulled some interesting watertight door drills, but again neither of these things affected me – I'm in the group of people with no useful skills, remember?) the call came for volunteers. “Volunteers for what?” was the immediate response. The reply came back that they were filling a lifeboat and needed a hundred and fifty bodies to do so. Everyone at my station stood around looking at their shoes . . . finally I stood forward and starting putting my life jacket on. “For chrissakes . . .”

In our training they emphasize several times that no matter how badly damaged your vessel, it may be a safer place to remain than a lifeboat. This is true. Lifeboats are incredible engineering marvels when it comes to mashing an immense number of bodies into a small space – they make some of the house parties I attended in college look practically vacant (Spiegel, you remember when we had all the people dancing to D'Angelo in the living room and the floorboards were bending down in the basement? A lifeboat makes that look like a deserted Welsh mountaintop). People are seated vertically as well as horizontally – if you get a seat amidships, your knees go under the thwart in front of you and your nose sits in the small of someone's back. Someone else's knees then end up pressed to your ears. It's crowded.

I managed to get a bulkhead seat, but ended up squeezed under the forward ladder with my spine curled up like a pretzel.

A pair of blue boys are welding some sort of metal frame right now on the back deck. This is probably why most of the crew furniture looks like it has seen more action than the quarterdeck of Nelson's Victory.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Entry 43 4.19.11

Entry 43, April 19th, 2011, 10:38pm (ship time, GMT -5)

Today was a beautiful day. It was a sea day as we made the crossing from Colombia to Jamaica, and with the moderate breeze the weather was just about perfect on the back deck. Usually the sea is a bit rough, but today is was as smooth as one could ask for on the ocean. I sat out on the back deck and wrote for a few hours before going to practice.

I've been writing a lot lately, perhaps about a thousand words a day. Most of this is due to a book by Steven King called “On Writing.” If you are ever interested in writing fiction, I cannot recommend this book to you highly enough. Nothing I've written has been good enough to show anyone yet, but it is improving bit by bit.

About an hour ago I noticed that we had reached Jamaica even though I was down in my cabin. The motion of the ship changes when we're under the protection of the coastline. Montego Bay is on the Northwest corner of the island (if I remember correctly) and so we have to sail along the coast for a fair bit to reach it. I may take a trip inland to visit the Twisted Kilt, an Irish hamburger joint of great repute, but that depends on my rehearsal schedule tomorrow.


It's about time I put some pictures up. These are just a couple of my favorites, head over to my facebook page to see the rest!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Entry 42 4.19.11

Entry 42, April 19th, 2011, 1:31am (ship time GMT -5)

I spent my last day in Cartagena for the foreseeable future today. A few members of the orchestra went to get lunch before sound check in the Old City and I tagged along.

The old city was more crowded than usual (not to mention surprisingly well-dressed), and it took us a while to figure it out. Finally when we saw people pouring out of a huge church in the Old City we realized what was going on. We'd forgotten that Palm Sunday was yesterday, and it is a holy week (that's what happens when you're on a ship, you lose track of what day, week, and month it is. I labeled a string of these entries March instead of April by accident last week).

Holy week or not, the city is open for business and we found a table at one of the few pizza places in the Caribbean that's worth anything. The pizza is very thin, in the New York style, but very good (even to me, a professed lover of the Chicago style). I split a ham and pineapple pizza with our Aussie bassist, Lincoln, and the pineapple was different than in the states – we think they caramelized it before putting it on the pizza, it was brown and very sweet. Delicious. Several members of the orchestra were also nursing hangovers, and so it was good for them on a medicinal level as well.

I've written at length about Cartagena already, so I will add only a few other bits today (also, the back deck beckons. Day off tomorrow!). I have decided that the mechanics of zombie attacks and street vendor harassment are basically identical. As crew, we give off a very low level of attractiveness to vendors. We have no fanny packs, camera cases, purses, or fancy clothes. We don't gawk at all the buildings around us. In short, we are very quiet targets.

Tourists (or “cones” in crew parlance) are very noisy targets. They do all of things we avoid, and then some. If vendors were zombies, they would quickly become brainless.

Last time we ate outside in Cartagena (and the crazy toothless lady carrying the bloody remains of a chicken kissed me on the side of the head in a daring surprise attack) we made the mistake of sitting directly in the street people's migration path. It was the equivalent of flashing your headlights and jumping on top of your car when trapped on a jammed, zombie infested expressway – not smart. This time we were much more careful. The secret of picking a table is to grab one that is near enough to noisy tourists that they will draw the attention away from you, but not so close that you get caught in the crossfire. You can't be so far away that you present a separate target, but can't be so close that you get hit on the rounds along with everyone else.

It's just like running from zombies. You don't have to be the fastest, just faster than the slow guy.

We made it most of the way through our meal in relative peace. By the end, though, several groups of cones had infested our district and we had people trying to sell us spoons, “adult” DVDs, and toothpaste (not making this up) (to be fair, the toothpaste vendor had the cleanest teeth we've seen in Colombia). When one group of cones started taking pictures with the hat-show guy (he has a routine of ten or fifteen faces he does with this little floppy hat, and will keep running through it like machine until you pay him to go away) we knew it was time to leave.

The other amusing thing that happened involves our pianist Tyler. He hates Four. Not the number, the jazz composition by Miles Davis. It's got a catchy, repetitive melody. He only just recently got it out of his head after having it stuck there for nearly a month.

Anyway, we were sitting at the table about halfway through our pizza when two of the local square musicians came over. There is a guitar trio and a tenor saxophone player who stalk the plaza. The guitarists are better musicians, and the tenor player follows them around like a lost dog . . . sometimes they let him play with them, sometimes not. Anyway, the head guitarist and the tenor player sat down at the table next to us. At first we thought they were going to busk us, but they were conversing busily in Spanish so we figured they were no threat. This was mostly true.

Finally it becomes apparent that the guitarist is teaching the tenor player a song. And of all the quadrillion songs ever written by humanity over the course of our existence as a species, the song is – Four! The look on Tyler's face was priceless. I couldn't make this stuff up. The guitarist was playing bits of the melody at the tenor player who was playing most of it back wrong. Over and over they went through the melody . . . never quite right.

No one said anything when we left. We made it a few blocks before Lincoln couldn't restrain himself any longer and whistled a few bars of the melody. Tyler's immediate and hostile response (not quite suitable for publishing) left the entire group in hysterics. Talk about bad luck!

And not just for him. The poor tenor player . . . you'd think he'd been safe, screwing up the melody of a Miles Davis tune at a restaurant in Cartagena in the middle of the day, but no – he had a table of trained musicians, all of whom know the song by memory, sitting right next to him! What are the odds?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Entry 41 4.16.11

Entry 41, April 16th, 2011, 7:12pm (ship time, GMT -5)

I ran a 5k on the treadmill today, for a time of 28'33”. Not particularly great, but considering I haven't run a 5k in at least a year I'm not too unhappy with it. Hopefully that time will keep getting better, now that I'm settling into my workout routine on board. I've been rotating three different workouts, which I think is enough to keep me from getting bored.

It has been a difficult week for sleep because my roommate is the manager on call for the stage staff department this cruise. That means his pager is liable to go off at pretty much any hour of the night or day, particularly during that period between 8am and noon that is a musician's prime sleep time. On the plus side, I've been drinking a lot less this week, so while I am tired I haven't been hung over. It balances out (sort of).

I've been considering switching to the 4/4 sleep schedule. This means I would sleep from 4am until 8am, and again from noon until 4pm. It would make sense for practicing, as the availability of backstage room to practice gets more and more unpredictable as the day goes on (while in the morning it is usually free). The last time I ran this schedule was during a summer program in high school, and it worked reasonably well. My body chemistry has changed a lot since then, though, so it may not work any more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Entry 40 4.15.11

Entry 40, April 15th, 2011, 11:33pm (ship time, GMT -5)

I bit my lip really hard about three days ago while eating. You'd think that after twenty two years of eating several times a day I would have figured out how to do it without injuring myself, but apparently not. I caught a fairly large portion of lower lip in my bite, which distributed enough of the pressure that I didn't break the skin, but I managed to bite it so hard that I bruised the flesh pretty much all the way through.

My trumpet playing hasn't suffered much (luckily!), but since today was an off day and it is still tender after having three days to heal I decided to take it easy. This meant a lot of free buzzing, exercises that I do without the horn that keep my strength up but do not involve pressure from the mouthpiece on my chops. I did play some things on the horn, but I focused on technique and an altered dominant line that I'm taking through the keys instead of developing range or sound (both of which are more stressful).

Besides this incident and another brief bout of “cigar lip” (a term coined by the great brass pedagogue Donald Reinhardt) I have been in good playing health. After six weeks of playing between two and five hours a day, I am in great physical shape – warm ups come quickly now (maybe five minutes, maximum) and I've got a consistent high concert Eb above the staff. Yesterday I played a tech run, two shows and a pretty tiring hour-long set with the pool deck band (their singer, Tomas, gave me some of their tunes to learn and I'm going to sit in again next week. My salsa and merengue education begins!) and I still had enough to play another show with no problems if I had needed to. Another month or two and I'm hoping for a consistent high concert F – I had a consistent F for a couple days in January, and again for a couple days when I signed on, so we'll see. Once I get it I'll truly be able to say I have a three-octave range, which seems to be requirement #1 for professional trumpet players. After that it's just a matter of making those registers consistent and useful – the Schlossberg and Clarke books should be useful when it comes to that.

Later . . .

I am starting to feel the need to compose again. This a good thing – it tends to come in bursts. I spent most of last summer writing for the CD, and ended up with a couple things I was really happy with. Early last winter I did some writing as well, but was mostly frustrated with the result (one workable song emerged, and half of another one that still needs work). It's a hard feeling to describe . . . we'll see if anything comes of it. I gotta track down a piano.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Entry 38 4.13.11

Entry 38, April 14th, 2011, 11:38pm (ship time, GMT -5)

I had one of the best meals of my life today.

We were in Aruba today, home of an Argentine Steak house of international fame, “El Gaucho.” It's been around since 1977, and has grown from a tiny mom-and-pop operation to a restaurant that can serve 400 people at a time. Reservations are a must (we reserved via email from the ship), if you ever get a chance to visit – and let me tell you, if you are ever in Aruba and are not a vegetarian, you owe it to yourself to go there!

We were there celebrating our music director's upcoming vacation – he leaves in eleven days, and this is the best restaurant anywhere on our two Caribbean runs, so it was the natural choice.

The restaurant is fancy without being pretentious – thick wooden doors and a modern yet relaxed bar decorate the entryway. We waited perhaps ten minutes before being seated. The first sign that we were in for a treat were the well worn leather seats and wooden plates (in the Argentinian style). We had garlic bread and beer for appetizers, as well as a type of Argentinian dish whose name I can't remember but consists of a type of pastry filled with meat, egg, and olives. It was pretty damn good, but it paled in comparison with the main dishes.

I ordered the “Gaucho Steak,” and after about half an hour I was presented with a square wooden dish that contained a truly impressive slab of meat (along with mashed sweet potatoes with butter and chives, broccoli sauteed in garlic and oil, and rice). The truly impressive thing about the steak, though, was not its size, but its flavor and texture. I've never had a piece of steak that melted so readily in my mouth – the comparison to butter is overused, but in this case it is totally apt. It was the most tender, juicy, delicious, flavorful piece of meat I have ever eaten.

The steak came with three different options of topping. I tried a little of each. The first was like barbecue sauce, except that it was lighter and tangier than any other barbeque sauce I've ever had. It had a much thinner consistency than any sauce I've used before, and mixed well with the juice from the meat. The second was a mixture of minced pickled vegetables and herbs – I'm not sure what exactly was in it, but there was garlic and parsley and pretty much everything wonderful. The third option were these pink sour onions, very crunchy and also a great counterpoint to the meat itself. I ended up picking the first option as my favorite.

After dinner I ordered the Argentine Ice Cream, which was essentially a vanilla ice cream sundae with sweet potato caramel on it. Also delicious, although I was thinking about the sherbet as well.

I am absolutely stuffed. It was the only meal I ate today, and that's probably a good thing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Entry 36 4.12.11

Entry 36, April 12th 2011

One of my favorite parts of this job is watching ports disappear astern. Cartagena is one of the best of these. We leave a few hours after sunset, and so the city is brightly lit all the way around us. A pair of peninsulas encircle the port, sprinkled with glittering lights. The black silhouettes of mountains loom in the background, and I can see the mission's white walls perched inland high above the city. Closer to the ship, I can see the constant flow of vehicles and freight through the port like the pulsing of the city's giant, glowing arteries.

The half an hour or so before departure is filled with noise and vibrations as the ship is made ready to cast off. Massive electric winches whine in the humidity as the dripping nylon cables are hauled aboard. A blast of the horn, a brief rumbling from the stern and bow thrusters, and then sudden silence as the shore takes its first almost-imperceptible shudder. The first moment of freedom feels like an airplane first leaving the runway.

I can see all the cars, trucks, and people scurrying around with their evenings . . . this other world is close enough to touch, but now that we've left the pier it might as well be on another planet. In another hour I will be over the horizon, this world continuing uninterrupted like a coarsely made but unstoppable engine of human energy. We pass the lighthouse park within two hundred yards, so close that I feel like I could touch it. It certainly is within swimming range, if I was of the mind to leap from the ship forty feet into the water. The breeze carries the sounds of Cartagena's nightlife to the ship, the drone of insects and the thump of amplified bass.

Soon, though, we're far offshore. There's a brief pause as the pilot disembarks into a small powerboat, our ship's wake bubbling underneath the stern, and then with a rumble that starts somewhere far below my feet the Lady G digs in and heads for the open ocean. The first ocean roller is impossible to miss – a brief hesitation, and then a deep plunge that you can feel in your stomach before the Lady G finds her stride. I take a final look back at the line of golden lights along the horizon, and then it's back to business as usual. It is a good evening.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Entry 35 4.10.11

Entry 35, April 10th 2011, 4:52pm (ship time)

I'm toying with a couple potential ideas for the blog.

The first is a “gig-cam,” or some way to show people what the gig actually looks like from where I sit. I've had a fair number of questions from friends about the music, and the shows, and other general stuff about the musical aspect of the job. While I can write and write about it, there's no way to really convey what it's like without using some other medium.

The gig-cam is still in the brainstorming stages. My phone has a video function, and a surprisingly decent camera, but as I sit by the drums the little microphone would clip something fierce. Another option would be a cheap little USB webcam, attached to my netbook and stashed under my seat, but the audio problems remain to some extent. Ideally it would be small enough to mount to my glasses, horn, or lapel without attracting any undue attention, but we'll have to see what my technology options look like.

The other project I'm working on is a “Where does David live?” series, focusing on different areas of the ship that most people never get a chance to see. I will probably start with my cabin, so that those of you considering cruise ship work yourselves can get an idea of what you're getting yourselves into. Let me know if you have any requests (mess hall, stage, etc.), I'll do my best to honor them (I'm not authorized to enter some areas of the ship – pretty much anything below deck zero, the bridge, etc.).

In non-blog related projects, I'm starting to teach myself some basic DJ skills. This is mainly motivated by the uniformly terrible quality of music on the back deck, and that I am the only person within 1000 kilometers that has ever heard of J Dilla, D'Angelo, or Jamie Lidell (seriously). A sad state of affairs indeed. I might even throw in a Neutral Milk Hotel song, if the opportunity presents itself (probably “Holland, 1945”).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Entry 34 4.9.11

Entry 34, April 9th, 2011, 10:04pm (ship time)

Tonight's the last night of my 5th cruise. This one flew by – I feel like we just started. That's about all I've got for you today, the Beatlemaniacs cover band messed me up last night at the bar and I spent most of the day recovering. Curse you, guest entertainers (not really)! Damn Canadians.

Also, I ate lunch with a Finn, a South African, and a Belgian. About halfway through the meal, I realized how crazy the situation would have seemed to me a month ago. It is amazing how quickly you get used to working with people from everywhere around the world all at once, and I think it might be the best part of this job so far.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Entry 33 4.8.11

Entry 33, March 8th, 2011, 7:57pm (ship time)

Today was Roatan (Honduras) again, except this time the weather was very different than my last visit. A month ago, Roatan was covered in rain and mist, but today there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun was out in full force. It was hot – Roatan is easily our most “tropical” stop, with high humidity and overflowing with wet plant life (in contrast to the Colombian ports, which are very dry, and the Antilles ports, which are more moderate). I was drenched in sweat after my short fifteen minute walk along the coastal road to the village of Coxen Hole. Luckily I'm pretty comfortable in hot weather; my family would be melting.

I've written about Roatan's architecture before, but there are a couple things worth adding. Taking the coastal road from the ship dock to the nearest village, the sea side of the road is lined with buildings entirely suspended on wooden pilings out over the water. I saw one bar that was literally a gang-plank set against the sidewalk leading out to a platform built on the water ($2 beers, too). A storm would likely demolish half of the town, although this was on the sheltered side of the island.

The island of Roatan, by the way, is about twenty miles long by one to two miles wide and stretches West to East in a line North of the mainland. It is part of Honduras and its inhabitants speak Spanish, although everywhere I went American dollars were common currency, undoubtedly due to the tourist trade that is the primary form of commerce. I can tell that there were British imperial interests here as well from the names of some locations (Pollitilly Bight, anyone?). The island is protected on the North side by an extensive line of reefs, which is why the ship docks on the South side, a few miles from most of the resorts (I was wondering about this a month ago). We docked at the Western end of the island, and a month ago when I took a taxi with the cast to the beach we were in a place called the West Bay (which is technically West of the West End, but hey, whatever).

Today, however, I opted to explore the nearby village of Coxen Hole, located about twenty minutes walk East along the seaside road. The village is very long and narrow, as it is squeezed between the mountainous jungle on one side and the ocean on the other, although after a bit it begins to open up a little. As it was a ship day, Coxen Hole was buzzing with activity, although the farther I got from the ship the more I began to feel that it would be busy even on off days. Cars, taxis, motorcycles, and small trucks zip back and forth unceasingly along the one road, making life precarious for those on bikes and on foot (including yours truly). The sidewalk is a haphazard, casual affair, often blocked by street vendors or barmen luring in tourists with cheap alcohol (who are still an order of magnitude less aggravating than the vendors and taxi drivers in Colombia . . . No Taxi! No Taxi! Comprendes?!? Dios mio!).

The village itself, though, clearly predates the ships, which means that it is actually interesting (unlike the “village” at the port). Most of the foot traffic was made up of local people doing their thing – when I was there, school had just gotten out, and so the streets were flooded with children of all ages in smart blue uniforms (light blue on top, dark on bottom, long skirts for the girls while the boys were in trousers). One enterprising young man had started his own school bus service, which consisted of a pickup truck with about twenty kids in the back. He'd slow down for someone's stop and they'd leap from the moving vehicle (if these government budget cuts result in enough privatizing of public services, maybe we should consider a similar service back home!), schoolbag in hand.

In general, though, the village was a riot of activity unlike anything we have back home. Most of the buildings are two stories tall, and of widely varying quality. One reminded me of the hostel that the band stayed in back in Kyoto a couple years ago; the only entrance was down a long gutter with boards raised on cinder blocks to keep one's feet dry. Others are quite solid and made of brick or cement, usually the churches or banks. Wires and clotheslines stretch overhead everywhere, and people on second story balconies look over the entire raucous scene from rocking chairs or hammocks, trying to keep cool in the heat. There are no crosswalks; instead, pedestrian activity operates on the principle of critical mass – once enough people gather on a street corner, they step out into the street to a chorus of tinny car horns and scurry across before the flow of traffic resumes.

The people themselves were quite friendly, giving me directions on a couple of occasions. Prices are usually negotiable, and renegotiable – the young woman at the internet cafe tried to tell me that my hour of internet was up about fifteen minutes early (diez y cinco minutos mas! I stuttered and had to repeat myself). Perhaps one in three speaks English, although there are a few words that everyone knows (chicken, internet, and taxi). My Spanish is beginning to improve and I can catch snippets of conversations, although I still hesitate to ask for directions (I can ask where something is in Spanish, but I may not understand the answer!). The Spanish on Roatan is spoken moderately fast – not as quickly as in Chile, but faster than I heard in California.

I got some good pictures, but I didn't take too many. It felt strange to be taking pictures of these peoples' homes and businesses, and I didn't want to be too intrusive (I was imagining how I would feel if someone wandered through my town and took a picture of my house because it was a curiosity). Luckily due to my skin tone it is literally impossible to be more obviously a tourist, and so I wasn't embarrassing myself as I got my phone out and started snapping some frames (my phone later took a pretty severe fall on the pier . . . no evidence of anything besides superficial damage so far, even though the impact was severe enough to shake the micro SD card lose . . . fingers crossed).

The rest of today's entry is brought to you by Mungo Park -- intrepid explorer, accomplished writer, and emotional enigma. Financed by the Royal Society, Mungo set out to explore Africa twice in his lifetime, and his end remains shrouded in mystery. He's the latest biographical sketch in the “Age of Wonder,” my other current literary pursuit, and his story reads so well that I'm going to summarize it here for you. Seriously, it's got everything – danger, intrigue, exotic locales, great personal courage, a love story, battles, delirium, social commentary, exploration, and above all, a classically tragic hero – humane, brave, tough, smart, and yet so fatally flawed!

Mungo Park was a Scot, named for the Saint Mungo and raised poor but happy on a farm. At fourteen, he went to live with his uncle in Edinburgh. His uncle was a surgeon, and Mungo subsequently studied to become a doctor at Edinburgh University. He also made what was perhaps his only friend in life, Alexander Anderson, here in Edinburgh, and undoubtedly met Alex's younger sister Allie. He was known for being extremely reserved, and even those closest to him rarely claimed to know what Mungo was thinking or feeling.

At twenty one he moved to London to seek “wider horizons,” and was introduced to Joseph Banks (then president of the Royal Society) by his own brother in law, a botanist. Banks was impressed with Mungo's combination of physical toughness, intellectual training, and steadfast demeanor, and (after a successful eighteen month stint as assistant surgeon on an expedition to Sumatra) Banks recommended to the Africa Association that Mungo be sent to explore the Niger river.

At this point, Europeans knew nearly nothing about the African interior. Various men had begun pursuing this goal (John Ledyard from Cairo in 1788, Daniel Houghton across the Sahara in 1791, and Friedrich Hornemann from Tripoli in 1799, to name a few), but none of the them had returned to Britain alive (None! Zero. Zip. Nada.) The great goal was the city of Timbuktu (spelled “Timbuctoo” at the time), rumored to be a city of gold that sat astride the Niger river at the confluence of the Arabic and African trade routes. The Niger river was then said to flow East across the continent, creating an immensely important trade route.

When Banks proposed this idea to Mungo, the Scot replied quietly that he had a passionate desire to explore Africa and was willing to risk his life in the doing. Banks was overjoyed, as the journey had overtones of his own exploration of Tahiti with Captain Cook's expedition, and as he was increasingly confined to a chair (due to gout) the only method of exploration left to him was to fund rising young stars like Park. Accordingly, Mungo was launched single-handedly in 1794 at the continent with two shotguns, two compasses, a sextant, a medicine chest, an umbrella, a salary of 11 pounds a month, and a ticket to the Gold Coast.

After a few months in transit and a few more spent laid up at the edge of civilization with malaria, Park set off across the continent with two guides, supplies, and gifts to barter safe transit through tribal lands. After two years, and every disaster imaginable (immediate enslavement of his guides, theft of vital supplies, imprisonment by hostile chiefs, torture by said chiefs' wives, bandits, starvation, yellow fever, dysentery, etc.), Park found the Niger river and determined that it flowed East, but was stopped short of Timbuktu. Several times during his journey was he saved by the charity of local farmers and shepherds, and Mungo Park' Travels reflect a gradual revelation: that he, at first the heroic white man on a mission to discover the unknown, is in fact a lonely, ignorant, pitiable, motherless and unloved outcast (this description was taken from a song that farm women sang him after finding Park collapsed by the side of the river). It is particularly poignant that Park had this realization just as the heavy wheels of European colonialism were beginning to turn in Africa.

Park eventually made it home, paying for his passage by writing bits of the Qu'ran on pieces of parchment as charms. He slipped into London unannounced in December 1797, where he had been widely considered dead for quite some time. His journals were published as Travels in the Interior of Africa, and earned enough money to allow him to marry his childhood sweetheart and best friend's sister, Allie Anderson (she'd waited for him even after his death). He settled down as a physician in Peebles and raised three children.

And lived happily ever after? Not quite. Mungo Park, ever the Romantic explorer, was restless. In 1803 he started studying Arabic. His second expedition was financed by the British government and included himself, his friend and brother in law Alexander Anderson, an Army captain, and forty handpicked soldiers. Instead of exploration, this expedition was concerned with Imperial matters, and instead of trading beads, Park was trading guns. It met with just as much disaster as the first – as with most such expeditions, disease was the main killer. The soldiers dropped one by one, and Park was desperately ill with dysentery, dosing himself at one point with mercury calomel to avoid death and subsequently being unable to sleep for six days due to pains “lancing like fire” through his abdomen. All through this his stoic exterior slipped not one bit, to the point that the soldiers thought he was in the best of health.

But the three letters written by Park at Sansanding begin to show even the indomitable Park taking some emotional wear. His closest friend, Alex, had just died from Malaria, and for the first time bravado begins to appear in Park' writing. No further record of the expedition exists – only the fact that the seven remaining Europeans made it 500 miles down the Niger, inexplicably refusing to pay tribute (an insult that Mungo had never been foolish enough to give before) before running aground at the rapids at Boussa, where they were ambushed by Tuareg tribesmen. The sole survivor, a local slave, told a story of a day-long battle in the shallows between a potentially delirious Park, Captain Martyn, and a small army of warriors. The last anyone saw of Park was when he flung himself, carrying Martyn, into the river. He was thirty four.

But the story doesn't end here. In 1827, obsessed with the idea that Park was alive and well somewhere in Africa (having “gone native”), his oldest son Thomas set out after him. He disappeared as well – the only thing ever found was a white undershirt labeled “T. Park” that was delivered to another explorer a month later in a basket of laundry.

What a story! You couldn't make this stuff up. Mungo Park is the archetypical Romantic explorer. He sets the standard. The influence of his writing can be seen in Coelridge, Keats, Shelley, and most obviously in Joseph Conrad (I mean, come on, Heart of Darkness? Practically the same story).

But damn, I gotta admit, my thirst for exploration is at least a little bit quenched, after reading about what happened to him (and his contemporaries).

I'm left asking – what were you looking for, Mungo? Why did you go back to Africa, leaving your beloved wife and children? Why did you go with a military expedition this time instead of coming peacefully? And why did you insult the tribes along the Niger? Did you survive the battle? Did you “go native” and become a great chieftain? What were you looking for, Mungo?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Entry 32 4.7.11

Entry 32, April 7th, 2011, 11:02pm (ship time)

Today was a day off. I spent most of it reading. Despite my own agnostic sensibilities, I made some more progress in “The Purpose Driven Life,” and I have two quibbles and a pair of observations.

Today's chapter was titled, “The Reason for Everything.” To sum up, glorifying God is the reason for everything.

First, the quibbles. Warren states that “When anything in creation fulfills its purpose, it brings glory to God.” (p.55) However, a page earlier he states, “God's inherent glory is what he possess because he is God . . . We cannot add anything to his glory, just as it is impossible for us to make the sun shine brighter.” Here, I am confused. How can we bring glory to God if he's already as gloried up as he can get? Or are there two types of glory, some “inherent” glory that God has already, and some other type of glory that we can then bring to him by living in a particular way?

This dissonance continues. On page 57 he then quotes 2 Corinthians 4:15: “As God's grace brings more and more people to Christ, . . . God will receive more and more glory.” How can God receive more and more glory if we cannot add anything to his glory? Is there a unit of measurement for glory that we can use here? You'd think in the 2000 years after Jesus' life we would've come up with something. Unless of course the glory that we are bringing God is already counted as God's glory, but in that case, why do we need to bring it to him?

Perhaps the concept of infinity can help us here. In mathematics, a number can be added to infinity. Infinity remains the same; it does not increase despite the fact that a number has been added to it. If God's glory is assumed to be infinite, then it makes sense that we could bring glory to the infinitely glorious. The purpose would be the act of addition, not the end result. I could . . . come to accept that.

The trouble here is that glory has been shown to have energy. If the bible is to be believed (and I'm pretty sure that's something you have to do as a Christian), God's glory has been revealed to various humans at various times, usually manifesting as a bright light (Warren lists several bible verses where God's glory is revealed (incidentally, I don't think that there's any mention of glory having mass in the bible, but I may be wrong)). If glory possesses energy, and God's glory is infinite, then it logically follows that God's glory has infinite energy. This is clearly impossible, because if that was the case than any human being exposed to God's glory would have been instantly vaporized, along with the entire universe. Moreover, God could not have shown anyone half of his Glory in an effort to keep from roasting them, as infinity divided by anything is still infinity.

Conclusion: glory is a slippery subject.

My second quibble comes from a single sentence on page 57. “Will you live life for your own comfort, goals, and pleasure, or will you live the rest of your life for God's glory, knowing that he has promised eternal rewards?” It is the last bit that troubles me: “. . . knowing that he has promised eternal rewards.” This is a rather self-centered motivation for glorifying God. It's the concept of delayed gratification, wrapped up in theology, but even if gratification is delayed it's still selfish. Does this mean that I should glorify God here on Earth with the expectation of personal pleasure in the afterlife? Now I am unsure if the glorification is to be pursued for the sake of God himself, or for my own benefit. I forget the philosopher who observed that it was logically sound to believe in God for the purposes of self-interest, because “. . . if there is no God and you believe, no harm done, but if there is and you don't, you're screwed.” He probably said it a little more formally than that.

The larger problem here, of course, is that I really want Christianity to make sense (just like how I wish people made sense). However, logical consistency is not a requirement of any belief system – that's why they're called belief systems, not sciences. This is really unfortunate, because if I could find one that was logically sound I could just decide to believe in it and have all my questions answered!

But enough with the quibbles. As you can plainly see, I am still struggling to muster enough humility to put aside my knee-jerk contrarianism. On to the observations.

A bible verse on page 58 (John 12:25), caught my eye. “Anyone who holds onto life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go . . . you'll have it forever, real and eternal.” I jumped to my horn case to dig out Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching. Compare the gospel and the Tao (chapter 22): “If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, give everything up.” The theme of letting go is common between the two. In a way, the gospel can interpreted as an exhortation to cease trying, to let go of control and embrace things as they are. Of course, the language is different, as the Gospel says you need to trust that God is in control, while the Tao doesn't seem to need this reassurance.

Some additional parallels can be drawn between the Christian God and the Tao, based on the chapter of Warren's book that I read today. Certainly the concept of the creation of the universe can be translated – the bible says that it was all created by God while the Tao says everything comes from the Tao. Another of Warren's observations caught my eye here as well: “Worship is far more than praising, singing, and praying to God. Worshiping is a lifestyle of enjoying God, loving him, and giving ourselves to be used for his purposes.” This definitely squares with the concept of being one with the Tao; “My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. Yet your intellect will never grasp them, and if you try to practice them, you'll fail. (ch. 70)” Both emphasize action over words and thinking as the only way to really live their respective systems.

Christian God = Tao” would be an oversimplification, though. There are a lot of problems with that, not the least of which is found in chapter 57 of the tao te ching: “. . . I let go of religion, and people become serene . . .” Oops. Looks like that comparison doesn't work so well after all. Also the fact that the Tao deliberately shuns a system of good and evil (“The Tao doesn't take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil” (ch. 5)) is a pretty irreconcilable difference, as the concept of sin is not really something you can have Christianity without.

My second observation is related to this thought process, but is short and a personal reflection. The fact that I am trying to combine these two ways of perceiving the world is interesting – my instinct is to synthesize a system from those that others have put into place before. This is another small piece of the self-knowledge puzzle; the more I understand about my own natural intellectual methodology, the closer I get to knowing myself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Entry 31 4.6.11

Entry 31, March 6th, 2011, 4:48pm (ship time)

Let's say you've just bought your first beer on board the Grandeur of the Seas. Congratulations! After a long day of training, meeting your bandmates, performing, and other miscellaneous running around, you sure could use a good drink. Heineken, eh? Well, I suppose it will get the job done. Nothing like that oatmeal stout back home at Woody's, but we're a couple thousand kilometers away so I guess it'll have to do.

Not to mention that it only cost you a buck fifteen. Not bad. And you don't even have to have cash, the bartender just swipes your ship ID (word to the wise – they will cut you off). Ah, here it is . . .

But what's this? Our usually indefatigable barkeep has slipped up – the bottle's cap is firmly affixed to the neck, preventing you from imbibing along with your new best friends, waiting impatiently at a nearby table. You have been confronted with your first truly vital shipboard crisis – how do you get a beer open?

Well, someone probably has a bottle opener. You might even have one yourself. But for the more enterprising, this problem can be solved without mechanical assistance, and perhaps even in a way that will impress that cute salon girl over in the corner (well, give it a couple weeks. She'll be cute by then).

The following is by-no-means an exhaustive list of the different methods of opening a beer on board a ship, but it should be just enough to get you started.

Method #1: The Pirate Method

Difficulty: Low

Manliness: High

Drinkability: Very Low

Pirates were renowned for their recklessness and devil-may-care attitude. If you think this may be what that salon girl is into, then by all means give it a shot – just don't expect to get anything to drink. Hold the bottle by the middle, and find something hard and sharp. Strike forward with the bottle, catching the target object with the area just under the cap. With any luck, the top of the bottle will shatter straight off and everyone will be mildly amused by your rudimentary grasp of physics.

If there's any beer left after the resulting foam explosion, it will be filled with shards of glass. Not very delicious. And you might want to tip the cleaning staff a bit extra at the end of the night.

Conclusion: Generally not recommended, although could be effective in the rare situation.

Method #2: The Countertop Method

Difficulty: Low

Manliness: Low - Medium

Drinkability: High

Find a solid countertop, preferably wooden and a bit scratched and pitted. Holding the bottle with your left hand, anchor the cap of the bottle in the lip of the counter. With your right hand, gradually apply pressure downward onto the cap until pop! You have beer (alternative method: use hatch cover. Avoid officers).

Some crew members have developed this skill to the point where they can flip the cap into the air at the moment of removal and catch it with their right hand before it touches the ground. An advanced technique.

Conclusion: The method of choice for yours truly. Gets the beer into my stomach with the least trouble and effort.

Method #3: The Two Beers Method

Difficulty: High

Manliness: Medium

Drinkability: Extremely High

Similar to the countertop method, this method instead employs another beer as the point of leverage.

Designate an “opener” beer and a “beer to be opened.” Hold the beer to be opened in your right hand, with your fingers an inch or so below the bottom of the cap. Take the opener beer in your left hand and hold it horizontally in front of you, neck towards your sternum. Fit the opener beer's cap snugly between the cap of the beer to be opened and the topmost finger of the hand that is holding the beer to be opened. Now push your left hand slowly but firmly downwards. If all goes according to plan, the opener beer should act as a lever, your right hand's top finger as a fulcrum, and the beer's top should pop right off. If it goes wrong, the opener beer will spurt open, covering your crotch with liquid and making it look as if you've pissed yourself. Lovely.

The reason this method gets the “extremely high” drinkability rating is because of the so-called “beer cycle.” After successfully opening a beer, via the two beer method and drinking it, you are left with one unopened beer. To open this beer via the two beer method, another beer must be purchased. You can undoubtedly follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion . . .

Conclusion: If you have mastered the two beer method, by all means flaunt it. It remains an excellent way to buy a girl a drink. If not, practice at home. The bar is not the place to learn such a potentially hazardous skill.

Method #4: The Forearm Method

Difficulty: Extremely High

Manliness: Extremely High

Drinkability: Who cares?

My loyal readers may think I add this last suggestion in jest. This is not so – I have seen this method in action with my own eyes; an impressive sight, to be sure.

For the abnormally strong only. The hapless bottle is clutched between the bicep and forearm. What exactly happens then is unknown, as the exact mechanism is of course hidden by the bulging muscles, but it appears that the muscles are used to hold the cap in place while pressure is applied to the beer with the other hand, eventually pulling it straight out of the cap.

Conclusion: If you're this strong, remind me never to piss you off.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Entry 30 4.5.11

Entry 30, April 5th, 2011, 10:13pm (ship time)

The ocean in inexpressibly vast.

Last night we left Cartagena and started the crossing North to Montego Bay (Jamaica). This leg of the voyage is known for being rocky, but last night was particularly bad. There were 8 foot rollers (this measurement is totally arbitrary, I have no idea how to measure the size of waves other than pure guesswork) coming in from the East and pummeling the Starboard side of the ship all night long. I'm pretty sure the captain was using the stabilizers, because the roll of the ship was not too bad, but pitching from bow to stern got fairly interesting. There is one spot all the way forward in stair 12 that moves up and down about 10 feet with each wave in that kind of weather.

Sometime after midnight, I undogged one of the hatches on Deck 5 forward and went out to take a look. Despite the shelter of the promenade deck, the wind was tearing at my clothing and I felt the need to hold on to my glasses. I took a peek out of one of the open portholes just in time to get a face full of spray – this is on deck five, the equivalent of getting hit with spray standing on the roof of a four story building! I'm proud to say my stomach didn't give me any trouble – it has been resolutely iron-plated for the past four and half weeks. No seasickness for this guy.

The sobering thought here is that this was nothing compared to what the ocean is really capable of. This was the equivalent of a man rolling over in his sleep, maybe muttering some nonsense words before returning to peaceful slumber. I am excited and yet a little frightened to see what a real storm is like. Nothing like a few waves to make a 70,000 ton ship feel small.

Part of the pitching was probably due to the design of the Lady G's hull. I had fifteen minutes to burn up in one of the conference rooms last week and used them to take a long look at a model of the ship mounted on board. I surprised by what I found – while above water the ship looks like a floating brick, below it resembles a very large speedboat. Along the centreline the ship draws a uniform maximum (10 meters or so) from bulbous prow to stern thruster, but the lines are radically different just a few meters on either side of the keel. As one descends from the main deck, the hull tapers rapidly inwards. It doesn't reach full depth at the beam ends until perhaps halfway back along the vessel! This is where the stabilizers, diesel engines, generators, electric motors, and prop shafts are – all the heavy stuff is put there to keep the Lady G stable (tanks of heavy fuel oil and such are also located along the keel, adding to the stabilizing force). I'm no naval architect, but it looks like this design follows some of the same principles of speedboats that hydroplane across the water, generating some lift as the ship moves forward. Of course, with a ship this size, the effect would be far less pronounced than with a speedboat, but it would help with fuel economy somewhat (less hull in the water = less friction). Compare this with a liner like the Titanic, where the hull was a square “U” shape almost from bow to stern.

I think this also means that waves can get “under” the Lady G more easily. With mass and displacement of the vessel concentrated in the middle-aft section of the ship, the bow can be more easily pitched up and down as it cuts through the waves (the heavy machinery acting as a pivot). Please, if someone more knowledgeable about physics is reading this blog, feel free to correct me.

Got some good practice in today. Orchestra had the day off, and so I got about three hours in. I spent the last hour on a Clifford Brown transcription (“Donna Lee” from The Beginning and the End), and got another 16 bars done. At this point I was pretty mentally and physically tired and decided to call it quits – yesterday I played about five and half hours and so I don't want to push it with two shows tomorrow.

Tonight promises to be crazy on the back deck – in case you aren't following professional cricket (and I mean, come on, get with the program!), India just won the World Cup, beating both Pakistan (a tense match) and Sri Lanka. The Indian members of the crew stayed up from 4am until 10am (ship time) watching the game, and tonight is the celebratory party. I look forward to scoring some delicious Indian food.