Thursday, June 30, 2011

Entry 100, 6.28.11

Entry 100, June 28th, 2011, 3:22am (ship time GMT +2)

Honoring the dead. Different people do it different ways.

I did it with a moment of contemplation and a shot of whiskey. It's the best I could do, given the circumstances. Sent them off with a memory and a line of fire down the throat.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Entry 99, 6.28.11

Entry 99, June 28th, 2011, 12:03am (ship time GMT +2)

I just finished reading a fascinating book called, “The Game,” by Neil Strauss. The “game” that Strauss refers to here is the art of seduction, the study of social interplay between men and women (or men and men or women and women, though he focuses primarily on heterosexuals) set against the backdrop of LA's sunset strip and Strauss' gradual induction into the underground world of professional “pick-up artists.”

Things this book is not:

  1. A detailed “how-to” guide for the unhappy single male looking to start a streak of one night stands.

  2. Sexist. Mostly.

  3. Completely true, probably.

  4. For kids.

Things this book is:

  1. The story of a man, intelligent and driven but unlucky in love, and his search of theaforementioned “how-to” guide.

  2. A biographical sketch of a very strange underground community and the people in it.

  3. Wildly entertaining.

  4. Surprisingly Zen.

Strauss begins by detailing his life before the beginning of this adventure and his lack of success with romance. In high school he had no girlfriends – in college he had one, a “one night stand that lasted two years.” Any time that he was around an attractive woman he was petrified. He was convinced that he just “didn't have it.” As Strauss describes: “Young men have two drives. One towards power, fame, and success, and the other to companionship, intimacy, and sex. I was half a man, or so I felt.”

His journey begins when he stumbles across an online community of professional “pick-up artists,” men who have studied both the art of and science behind interpersonal attraction and view romantic conquest as a sort of game, like hunting. The experts were sharing “field reports” on online forums (of both their successes and horrific failures) while a large following of beginners studied their exploits with an eye towards emulation. At first he assumed that these followers were just a bunch of angsty adolescents, but he soon discovered that they were men of all ages in every walk of life, from college students to wealthy business executives – and all of them felt powerless when dealing with the opposite sex.

Strauss chalks this up to an educational disparity between the sexes. There is a multimillion industry devoted to informing women how to attract the opposite sex (an industry that does at least as much psychological harm as good, but that's a whole different issue), but no comparable structure exists to inform men about how to be attractive to women. These experts, then, had decided to take it upon themselves to learn how by turning to biology textbooks, group dynamic theories, neurolinguistic programming, hypnosis, and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned trial and error.

“I withdrew five hundred dollars from the bank, stuffed it into a white envelope, and wrote 'Mystery' on the front. It was not one of the proudest moments of my life.” This is how Strauss gains entry into the real, flesh-and-blood side of this world. The undisputed master of the PUAs (pick-up artists) a man named “Mystery,” (no one used their real names inside PUA circles), had just started teaching workshops. Strauss (quickly renamed “Style”) and two other students met Mystery and his wingman, Sin, in a hotel lobby in Los Angeles where they discuss theory for several hours (“Peacock theory,” “negging,” “FMAC: Find, Meet, Attract, Close,” etc.) before heading out on the town. Four days of intense clubbing later, Strauss (“Style”) is in.

He quickly rises through the ranks of the AFGs (“Average Frustrated Guys”), eventually replacing Sin as Mystery's wingman. They go to Belgrade, nearly get shot in a country that doesn't really exist, start teaching workshops all over the world, get threatened by other competing gurus, and finally open a house in Los Angeles where they can concentrate on the game. It becomes a mecca for students of the game as they come to Style and Mystery to live in the house, prowl the strip, and become masters themselves.

Two years later, Style finds himself in a strange position. He has mastered the game – Mystery is out of the action (for reasons too long to detail here – read the book) – and is yet unsatisfied. The easier women are to get, the less he enjoys them. In dehumanizing the other gender, he has dehumanized himself. He has won the game, and lost everything he was playing.

Style, though, gets lucky. He meets Lisa – a woman he cannot game. She is impervious to all of his tricks, his mannerisms, his assumed gestures and his fancy outfits. She stumps him, and he gets the dreaded “one-itis,” where a man becomes so focused on a woman that he is too nervous to act normally around her and ends up driving her away. Strauss discovers that for all of the things he has learned about seduction, he hasn't learned anything about relationships.

Even more luckily for him, though, Lisa can see through all of the extra stuff that he has accumulated in his personality over the past two years to the extremely smart, driven person that he actually is. He finally wins her over by letting the persona drop and giving his AFG a chance to come through. By violating the most sacred rule of the PUAs he is able to win Lisa over. Strauss remarks, “I'd learned that the only way to win the game was not to play.” Zen, eh?

But there's a caveat. He quickly goes on to point out that he never would have been ready for Lisa if not for those two years studying social interaction and feminine attraction. At the end of the experience he is himself again, but he has purged all fear of inadequacy from his mind. This fear would have made a relationship with Lisa or anyone else completely impossible. The game was not about women at all, but about conquering his inner fears.

It reminds me of Siddhartha (which I will get back to writing about soon, I promise!). Siddhartha, even after his meeting with Gotama (the Buddha), descends into the ancient Indian equivalent of such a society for decades. On the other side, he awakens from his debauchery as one wakes from a slumber. “I always knew these things were a distraction in my mind, but now I know in my bones and my skin,” he says of worldly pleasures. He then goes on to achieve wisdom.

So what's the moral here? Does the path to wisdom lead through folly? To let go of my need for worldly pleasures, should I master the game of accumulation of them? Or does it work the other way around?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Entry 98 6.26.11

Entry 98, June 26th, 2011, 11:56pm (ship time GMT +2)

I found a great gamer's epitaph today:

"He who lives by the joystick, dies by the joystick."


Monday, June 27, 2011

Entry 97, 6.26.11

Entry 97, June 26th, 2011, 12:31am (ship time GMT +2)

Today I wrote a 7300 word short story out of nowhere. Well, not totally out of nowhere, I've had the idea for a while now, but today I just sat down to start writing and couldn't stop. It took a while, maybe between four and six hours. There's a lot of revision to be done, but I have the rough draft finished. I did not expect that to happen today. When it is finished, I'll think about putting it up here.

Also, if any of you know Michael Spiegel, send him some love right now. He could use it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Entry 96 6.23.11

Entry 96, June 23rd, 2011, 3:10pm (ship time GMT +2)

Malaga is shrouded in mist today. We saw some this morning during boat drill, but I assumed that it would burn off as the sun continued to rise . . . this was not the case. Instead, it only rolled in heavier and heavier until by midday visibility at ground level was about forty feet. Walking through it, I could feel the water beading on my skin. I imagined leaving a cookie cutter silhouette behind me in the cloud like the old Warner Brothers cartoons.

It is beginning to thin a little bit now, but is still very thick. This is what I imagine England must be like.

I finally had some good luck today with the Picasso museum. The museum itself is a converted estate not far from the strange cathedral of Malaga. There are two stories, oriented around an open central garden in the Roman style. The permanent collection is of excellent quality, if not very large – I made it all the way through in about an hour, and I move slowly in art museums.

It was exactly the right length, though – after an hour of Picasso my brain needed a break. Some art is calm and soothing, but not Picasso's. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it – I loved it, in fact – but his paintings strike with such intensity that after a certain period of time one needs to stop and relax the brain. This is intentional on Picasso's part; one of his quotes on the wall of the gallery read, “. . . Any good painting – all paintings! – should be made of razor blades.” That's the kind of intensity that reminds me of Ornette Coleman or certain periods of Coltrane's music.

The museum began with some examples of his early work. It was here that I stumbled across an insight that would help me understand the rest. I realized from one of his first abstract paintings that he was not merely playing with shapes, but painting three dimensional objects. As soon as I saw that, I began falling into the paintings as they took on a sudden, incredible depth. It's as if Picasso was painting pictures of statues.

There was one painting later on in the exhibit that captured this particularly well. At first glance it appears to be two shapes, with a few scratches denoting a face thrown at random onto one of them, ignoring the shading and perspective of the rest of the painting completely. After a few moments, though, I realized that one of the shapes was the triangle of a woman's face carved out of stone and looking upwards, with her neck stretching down to the bottom of the frame. The other stone existed to throw the shadow on the women in the correct way . . . the face was Picasso's way of saying, “Look! This is a face! Do you see?”

For the first split second that one sees a Picasso, the brain has no problems. In fact, usually I know what the painting is of, whether it be a person or a bowl of fruit. After that first split second, though, you begin to see problems. Why is that ear there? Where's the other arm? Isn't the nose supposed to go the other direction? It is precisely when we begin to think about it that we have problems. The painting doesn't look like a person, yet it is clearly human. How do we know?

I think Picasso's point here is that the way we think we see people is not the way that we actually do see them. In one of the other quotes in the gallery he said, “When you love a woman, you don't start measuring her limbs. Love comes from our desires . . .” When he paints a woman, he paints what he desires about her. Her breasts, the curve of her arm, the nape of her neck, her buttocks, the way she looks when she's happy and when she's angry, etc., he paints all these together at the same time because that's the way we think of each other. Never mind if all of these parts don't fit together quite right on the same canvas, he is painting the woman as she actually exists in his reality.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Picasso is right. Think of someone you know right now . . . what do you see? I am willing to bet that it isn't two legs, two arms, a body, and a head. Instead, you probably see little bits and pieces – a birthmark on the knee, a smile, an earring. In fact, I bet that most of what you think of isn't visual at all; smell is supposed to be the sense with the strongest connection to memory, after all (although I have no idea how you quantify a thing like that).

The curious bit, then, is if Picasso is painting the world as we think of it, why does his work look so weird? Perhaps viewing the world forcibly removed from the logical framework that we usually use to sort our impressions is too bewildering, confused and frightening for us to handle on a regular basis? I wonder if it would be possible to see the world the way Picasso paints it all the time? And if it were possible, would it drive you crazy?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Entry 95 6.22.11

Entry 95, June 22nd, 2011, 11:56pm (ship time GMT +2)

A quiet day today . . . we're at sea, so there aren't any shore-side hijinks to get ensnared it. Our headliner tonight did a song by Edith Piaf, and so the next time that I can use youtube I will have to check her out. There's a touching bit in her life story where she meets her true love in New York City and urges him to come back to Paris for her next concert on an early plane; he does, and the plane crashes, killing him. Sad stuff.

Tomorrow we're in Malaga, and I'm planning on visiting the Picasso museum (Picasso is from Malaga, after all). I haven't had much luck with museums so far (most of them have been closed), but hopefully tomorrow that will change.

Other Travel Blogs

I'm linking the other travel blogs I'm following as I find them -- all of these people are friends of mine in real life, and well worth the read! Take a look on the right side of the screen under "Other Great Travel Blogs" for some extra reading.

Entry 94 6.22.11

Entry 94, June 22nd, 2011, 2:58am (ship time GMT +2)

Tonight we celebrated Philipine Independence day (a little late). I'll celebrate it as often as they want if the parties keep being this good.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Entry 93 6.20.11

Entry 93, June 20th, 2011, 7:51pm (ship time GMT +2)

Today I visited the Sagrada Familia, a Christian temple in Barcelona. It is basically identical in size and general layout to a cathedral, but as it is not intended to be the seat of a bishop it isn't technically a cathedral (or at least this is what I've heard). Designed by Gaudi, the famous Catalan architect, it has been under construction since the late 1800's and will need at least another 20 to 30 years to complete. Even in its incomplete form, it has become an emblem of Barcelona and Catalan culture in general, featuring work by many famous Catalan sculptors, stained glass artists, and architects other than Gaudi. Strangely enough, the basilica is funded totally by private donations (no government assistance or church monies) and entrance fees from the several million visitors it receives each year.

I can actually see it right now from the back deck over the top of my laptop as we pull away from the Barcelona cruise ship terminal.

We started getting a group of interested persons together yesterday night on the back deck, seeing as there was a bunch of people who hadn't been there yet. Getting to the basilica is about an hour's walk or fifteen minutes' subway ride, and most of us haven't been that far into the city yet. The wait to get inside the church is notoriously long, and so we intended to get off the ship around 9am . . . but as the group expanded, the time was pushed back further and further until finally we decided to meet at noon on the gangway.

We had almost ten people involved, but as soon as we stepped off the ship the group began to splinter. Some people were hungry, and wanted to go eat on La Rambla . . . I knew that as soon as we did that, we would be blowing at least twenty euros apiece and it would delay us for the entire afternoon (perhaps destroying our chances of seeing the cathedral at all). Others were leery about using the metro system in Barcelona (which is excellent, I might add). To make a long story short, Tyler and I were the only two left from our group who actually reached the cathedral!

The subway stops almost at the basilica's doorstep. Tyler and I had to crane our heads to see the top of the completed towers . . . and the central dome (due to reach upwards almost 170 meters) isn't even completed yet! We made our way around the church (it takes up an entire city block) to find the entrance, and sure enough the line was winding its way down the sidewalk. At this point Tyler balked, as he didn't feel like waiting in line, leaving me the sole survivor of the expedition (this seems to happen with some regularity). I bid him adieu and vowed to push onwards.

The line was moving more quickly than we had thought, though, and I was inside after perhaps half an hour. For three extra Euros (student ticket price was 10.50) I rented an audio guide, which proved to be a smart investment. Lots of useful information there.

The Sagrada Familia is not like any other cathedral you've ever seen. Viewed from outside, the basilica is a riot of complexity; a complex tapestry of stone that can shift moods as quickly as your eyes pass over it. Bell towers and stained glass windows thrust upwards like the shoots of young plants filling a gap in the forest canopy; in fact, the entire building is abuzz with the influence of nature, one of Gaudi's trademarks. The newest parts of the basilica are obvious, as the stone is white and fresh instead of the weathered brown that predominates in the older sections. Some parts of the building are more than one hundred years old, while others were laid only this year!

The basic floorplan is a cross, just as all other cathedrals, and the long end stretches away to the South with the Altar located at the North. The Eastern side is adorned with a facade celebrating the birth of Jesus, and was the first to be completed (and the only one completed during Gaudi's lifetime). Three large porticos (the center dedicated to the birth of Christ, while the left is about Joseph and
the right about Mary) support four large bell towers dedicated to various saints. The entire area is soaked in asymmetrical ornamentation. Plant and animal life (all species appropriate to the region where Jesus was born, showing the typical Gaudi eye for detail) winds through everything, and never before have I seen stone look so alive and fluid. The visitor could spend hours just picking out small details of the various scenes depicted on the Eastern side of the church.

The Western side, by contrast, depicts the death and resurrection of Christ. Instead of extensive ornamentation, the Western facade is stark and bare. A series of statues set into the rock tell the story beginning at the last supper and ending with the burial of Jesus. The statues themselves were designed and installed in the 90's and are not Gaudi's work. Instead of being round and full of life as on the Eastern side, these people are depicted as block-like figures, seemingly carved out of old, weathered wood. The story winds its way up the side of the facade – notable statues include Judas kissing Jesus as he betrays him, and a quartet of soldiers playing dice for Jesus's possessions. Above the facade, anchored between another four bell towers named for saints, is a four meter bronze statue of Jesus being resurrected, followed by a small dove representing the holy spirit. It is a chilling display, redolent with death and suffering.

The third facade on the South side of the church is barely started, but will be the most impressive of the three. It it supposed to answer all of life's important questions when it is finished, such as who we are, why we're here, and what we should do with our lives. Through the middle will be woven the Lord's prayer in sixty-odd different languages.

It's not the outside of the church that impressed me the most, though. The inner hall of the basilica is like a stone forest. The traditional concept of a cathedral has been turned upside down and inside out. Stone pillars rise to support the ceiling, yes, but they're made of four different types of rock with radically different coloring. Instead of arches, the pillars morph through a series of geometrical shapes before splitting like the branches of trees. The ceiling is a maze of tetrahedrons, like leaves, and the light filters through hidden windows giving the entire basilica a soft glow. Bulbous glass protrudes from the pillars, lighting the basilica at night. If Picasso had done the concept art for Avatar, and then someone had grown it in stone and pastels like a forest of trees, this is what it would look like.

Fifteen meters above the floor of the basilica runs the choir loft. It circles nearly the entire perimeter of the church, with space for over a thousand singers. The leafy ceiling is carefully constructed as a series of hyperbolic resonance chambers, meaning that the acoustics of the basilica are without peer. I can't imagine attending a service there . . . six thousand worshipers, surrounded by a thousand singers and four organs! Talk about surround sound!

The building itself is incredibly light without the flying buttresses typical of Gothic cathedrals. This is because Gaudi designed the curves of the ceiling by hanging weights on loops of string, mirroring the shape of the building except upside down. This produced exact hyperbolas for his plans, eliminating all forces except for compression from the arches. They had a model downstairs in the museum – it incredibly complex, an inverted dome of string, riddled with small lead weightslabeled for different pillars and struts.

Put simply, the Sagrada Familia is a breathtaking piece of architecture. I can't wait to go back in thirty years or so when it is finished . . . I think in another couple hundred years it could rival many other, more established wonders of the world.

My journey back (alone, this time) was uneventful, except that people keep asking me for directions. I was able to help them this time (in English and Spanish), which is an odd feeling. Do I look Spanish? I think not . . . why do they keep taking me for a local?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Entry 92 6.16.11

Entry 92, June 16th, 2011, 11:32pm (ship time GMT +2)

I spent another day in Rome today. The highlight was lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant near the Trevi fountain (one coin in the fountain ensures a return to Rome, two means that you'll fall in love, and three means you'll get divorced!) that my friend Pierre (the fearless Filipino-Canadian youth staff manager) knows about. We got there right as they were opening for the day, and I had gnocchi with the best pesto sauce I've had in my entire life. Ahhhh, I sigh just thinking about it right now . . . I don't need to marry a woman that can cook anything else; if she can make good pesto sauce my loyalty is iron clad.

One of the more surprising things about Rome is that there are Egyptian obelisks all over the place. Apparently the thing to do back in the old days when you were putting up an important building was to head over to Egypt, nick some random obelisk, and set it up in front of your building in a big fountain. I bet if they were translated they would have nothing to do with Rome at all. It seems sort of like a non-speaker getting Chinese or Japanese words tattooed on their body – sure, it looks nice, but how do you know that the obelisk in front of the Italian parliament isn't dedicated to the Egyptian god of death or somesuch?

Side note: speaking of tattoos, I am thinking of getting one. Criteria so far: not words, not pictures, small, and one color. I'm trying to think of something abstract enough that it will not lose meaning
fifty years from now.

Between the pesto, some white wine, and a bit of limoncello I was feeling great (although exhausted) by the end of the day. I still can't imagine living in Rome, but that doesn't mean I'm not in love with it a little bit. I'm not sure it is possible not to fall in love with Rome a little. It was a perfect day.

Our railroad car on the way back to the ship had graffiti totally covering all of the windows. We had to open them to see what stop we were at, and to make sure we were actually getting off at the ship. If you're ever traveling back to a ship from Rome, leave yourself some extra time as we haven't figured out the difference between local trains (90 minutes) and express (50 minutes). We caught a local train on the way back, but it was okay because we met an Australian man (originally British) who had been a cruise director back in the 70's. He was on a ship for the first time in 30 years and had a grand time telling us about the “good old days.” When he heard it was my first contract he laughed a big, bouncing laugh and wished me the best of luck.

So, I have friends traveling everywhere this summer! I highly recommend these travel blogs, both are good friends of mine living in interesting places and having interesting thoughts. Maria is a student living in Ecuador, while Moyindau is a musical ensemble touring Central Asia. Stop by, leave some comments, and let them know that I sent you! Here they are:


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Entry 91 6.16.11

Entry 91, June 16th, 2011, 12:25am (ship time GMT +2)

I found an excellent pizza place today in La Spezia that was recommended to me by a friend. It is a place called “Bella Napoli” and it is more than a half hour's walk from the ship . . . which means it is in the part of town where all the locals actually go to eat. This, in turn, means that it is better and cheaper than anything near the ship. The pizza was fantastic, authentic Naples-style pizza – thin, but not hard, a sort of progenitor of the New York style.

There was also no English, spoken or written, anywhere in the place. I
speak some Spanish and have picked up a few words of Italian, but I was mostly guessing when it came to the menu. There was a pizza called “Bella Napoli” in the specialty section, and so I ordered
it. How bad can it be if it is named after the restaurant?

It wasn't bad at all, but it was very . . . interesting. The pizza came with cheese, sauce, ham, mushrooms, artichokes and a boiled egg in the middle! I meant to take a picture of it for posterity, but by the time I'd gotten my camera out it had already disappeared.

Delicious pizza, a big cold beer, and sidewalk seating, all for less than 10 euros. A good day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Entry 90 6.15.11

Entry 90, June 15th, 2011, 12:34am (ship time GMT +2)

I visited Cannes for the first time today. It was the only port that I hadn't been off the ship in yet, for a combination of reasons. I suppose it was also my first time on French soil, and now that I think about it . . . that's pretty cool.

Cannes (pronounced “Kahn” (as in Kirk's scream at the end of Star Trek III)) is in the South of France, along the famous string of beaches, resorts, and other playplaces of the rich and famous. It also hosts the famous Cannes film festival, which ended about a month ago. The city is definitely structured around the “privileged enjoying their privileges” (as Jimmy Stewart says in “The Philadelphia Story”). The long beach is broken up by strips of land owned by rich hotels or restaurants, and is crowded with sunbathers and holiday-makers as far as the eye can see. Never before have so many worn so little so fashionably . . .

Leaving the beach and heading into town, one finds themselves winding through block upon block of luxury boutiques and expensive sidewalk cafes. Style obsessed women with twig-thin legs and four inch heels stalk their prey through the canyons with Louis Vuitton handbags that likely constitute a substantial percentage of their body weight.

As you can imagine, this was not really my scene. It was nice, to be sure, but when you are living on ten bucks a day for incidental expenses there aren't a whole lot of things to do (particularly after you convert to Euros!). Next time I think I'll visit the beach and try to crack this farmer's tan.

There is a nice museum in town, up in the old fortress on the hill. It has a really odd collection of art – Eskimo artifacts, an exhibition on pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, a room of Egyptian and Roman busts, and then three rooms of French landscape paintings from the 19th century. Wha??? I believe the story is that the museum was formed by the joint donation of two barons' personal collections, which makes some sense.

I also climbed a tower and got some nice pictures before meeting a friendly young Irish woman named Kitty. She works for the National Trust in Great Britain, an organization deserved to preservation and history, and was on vacation in Cannes with one of her friends. We got some drinks and laughed about the relative differences between the USA and the UK before exchanging emails. Now I've got a friend in London (hi Kitty, if you're reading this! (hopefully I wrote down the right URL . . .))!

Oh, and I passed my 90-day evaluation with flying colors! No longer on probation with the company! Woo!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Entry 89 6.12.11

Entry 89, June 12, 2011, 7:12pm (ship time GMT +2)

I've learned one very important thing about human beauty from the beaches in Europe, where nudity is commonplace. I won't go into details, but here's the point: we're all pretty funny looking when we're naked -- and there are no exceptions. Old, young, fat, skinny, men, women, supermodels or hunchbacks, we all are just plain goofy looking when we don't have any clothes on.

So what does this mean for human beauty, and the ways that we're attractive to each other? The absurdity of the naked human body precludes anyone from being inherently more beautiful than anyone else, and yet there are clearly people who are more attractive than others. So where, then, does human beauty reside?

I say that it can be found in two places. First, in the skillset of beautification unique to each culture. In Western society, this includes makeup, fashion sense, dieting, surgery, and all sorts of other tools that people employ to be considered beautiful. Their mastery (or lack thereof) of these skills affects how attractive they appear.

The second place that it can be found is in the development of internal characteristics such as intelligence, compassion, and wisdom. The person who has mastered these traits will appear beautiful to those around them, as they are able to sit comfortably and confidently in their own selves. Understanding and accepting the self is beautiful.

So what does this mean for our own self-perception?

At this point I am getting distracted by the movie that is showing on crew television. A bunch of babes dressed in army fatigues are being hunted through the forest by a bunch of equally attractive guys with machine guns, except that there's also a teleporting skeleton that rides around on a horse and keeps throwing spears through people. It is a pretty fantastic movie, you can understand my distraction . . .

Friday, June 17, 2011

Entry 88 6.11.11

Entry 88, June 11th, 2011, 11:07pm (ship time GMT +2)

I made another 45 bucks today doing copyist work. Last night's act had some
pretty terrible charts; they had been penciled over and erased so
many times in so many different languages we could barely read them.
He mentioned his frustration several times during rehearsal, and said
that he was bummed he wouldn't be back home to get them fixed for
another month. Opportunity knocks, eh?

After the rehearsal I approached him and mentioned that we'd done some
similar work for other acts before. We got talking and he said he
usually pays $25 a page for “lifting” an arrangement (this means
transcribing from a recording) and $5 a page for copying. This is
what we charged the other guy, so I spent two hours today redoing his
arrangement of “What a Wonderful World.” Nine piece band x 5
bucks a page = $45 in my pocket!

Oh, and now I have a score to study, too.

Moral of the story? Pay attention in theory class, kids!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Entry 87 6.11.11

Entry 87, June 11th, 2011, 2:20am (ship time GMT +2)

I had a very, very long day today.

Ate breakfast with a friend at about 7:20 in the morning after only five hours of sleep. I then caught Mike Spiegel on facebook chat for an hour or two (hi Spiegel!) before heading to meditate, practice, and attend rehearsal. The rehearsal went long, but we got off the ship around 1:15 to climb the rock of Gibraltar. Protip: it is a long way to the top . . . many, many stairs. Two hours up and two hours back down.

The view was amazing, though – we could see Africa across the strait, as well the constant passage of freighters back and forth. Massive oil tankers looked like toy boats from our vantage point. There's been talk of a bridge across the strait . . . let me tell you, that would be a BIG bridge. We didn't have time to explore the fortress dug into the stone or the natural caves, but we did see the monkey den. Apparently the rock is home to a large number of monkeys (who would have guessed?), who spend most of their day either lounging around or stealing from tourists. I avoided any loss of personal property, but I saw a couple purses get snatched.

I hurried back to the ship, showered, got paid, played a sound check and did two shows. I was beginning to feel pretty tired at this point, since I'd been up an entire day and had climbed a mountain in my spare time. Before the second show we found out that the orchestra was responsible for playing a jazz set after our gig, covering for the singers' cabaret set in the schooner bar (they'd dropped the ball and hadn't rehearsed anything . . . come on guys, really?). I don't mind playing, but on five hours sleep the chops were starting to get a bit tender (not to mention the brain, the legs, and everything else).

So we threw together a jazz set from 11 to midnight. Right as we were getting ready to finish up, the word filtered down through the ranks that the guests had complained that there were no singers, and so we had to continue playing until the singers could be woken up and provided to the masses (hungry for entertainment, I guess). At about 12:30 the singers showed up, with nothing prepared and not knowing any tunes. They're musical theater types, not jazz singers, but you would think they would know something, right? I mean, we just pulled an hour and a half of music out of nowhere to cover for them and they don't even have one song? Sigh. Vocalists.

Finally “Summertime” was decided upon and happened in D minor. We tried to do another but the singer bailed out after calling the tune and we finished it as an instrumental. At this point we cashed it in after five and a half hours of playing.

So yeah, long day. Gotta get some sleep, we have a meeting with the cruise director tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Entry 86, 6.10.11

Entry 86, June 10th, 12:36am (ship time GMT +2)

Our replacement bass player signed on today. He introduced himself with a hearty handshake and the name “Big Ed.” It's an accurate moniker, certainly (is moniker the word of the week? I think it is). He has been working on ships for twenty years and was a musical director on Carnival (I think?) for a while. Now he only works fill ins (shorter contracts, covering people's vacations). He seems like a nice guy. Big dude with a little voice.

Good meditation today. One of the new spa girls saw our show earlier this week and remarked, “it didn't look like you guys were having very much fun. I mean, you have a pretty cool job, right?” She's right . . . I've been trying to return to the “beginner mind” whenever I play.

Malaga has a really strange cathedral. It is shaped like a normal cathedral, but the architecture is totally Greco-Roman. Lots of colums, trangular roofs, and domes – not very much like the other cathedrals I've seen so far. Also, outside the visitor entrance there is a bunch of modern art, mostly bells. There are several of the wooden rockers that the bells hang from (all very large, old, and worn) paired with pieces of sheet metal welded together in various bell-like shapes. Quite odd, but a bit refreshing in my opinion. I can only handle so many effigies of the crucified Christ a day, after all.

Entry 85, 6.7.11

85, June 7
2011, 10:36pm (ship time GMT +2)

meditation practice is developing. I've been meditating in the
morning and in the evening, as well as at various points in my
practice routine. I am finding it easier to let go and quiet my
mind, although it is still difficult to remain quiet through ten
breaths. Last night I got particularly deep under the surface of
consciousness. I had the acute sensation that I was the sound of a
bell or gong being rung, the vibration never ending or decreasing but
continuing to build in intensity until I was sounding throughout the
entire ship.

“The Three Pillars of Zen,” Philip Kapleau mentions
hallucinations or occurrences of this type. They're harmless and a
natural byproduct of stilling the mind, and can safely be ignored.
They are a good sign, though, that progress is being made. I know
that I should not be attached to any results of meditation, but this
makes me feel good.

spent the day in Ibiza, Spain, today. I went for a long walk in the
evening under the orange light of the streetlamps. The smell of the
ocean at night is intoxicating. It reminds me that California was my
home before anywhere else was. I want to go for a long drive with
the windows down with no particular goal in mind, although that would
be a bit difficult at the moment.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Siddhartha Entry 2

Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse (Entry 2)

Pg. 64


Kamala,” said Siddhartha and straightened up to his full height, “when I came to you into your grove, I did the first step. It was my resolution to learn love from this most beautiful woman. From that moment on when I had made this resolution, I also knew that I would carry it our. I knew that your would help me, at your first glance at the entrance of the grove I already knew it.”

what if I hadn't been willing?”

You were willing. Look, Kamala, when you throw a rock into the water, it will speed on the fastest course to the bottom. This is how it is when Siddhartha has a goal, a resolution. Siddhartha does nothing, he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he passes through the things of the world like a rock through water, without doing anything, without stirring, he is drawn, he lets himself fall. His goal attracts him, because he doesn't let anything enter his soul which might oppose the goal. This is what Siddhartha has learned among the Samanas. This is what fools call magic and of which they think it would be effected by means of the daemons. Nothing is effected by daemons, there are no daemons. Everyone can perform maginc, everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”

Kamala listened to him. She loved his voice, she loved the look from his eyes.

-End quote

This is how Hesse addresses one of the contradictions of zen – how does one embrace non-action and yet keep on living?

Siddhartha meets Kamala as a young man and immediately knows that he will learn
the art of love from her. There is no doing or trying on his part – he just acts. There are a few things that have to happen before she will accept him, of course, as he comes to her an unshaven beggar, but he makes no plans or preparations. The necessary opportunities arise without effort.

Stephen Mitchell says this in his notes in the Tao te Ching. “The master's actions are effortless because they are appropriate responses. There are no decisions, no questions of good and evil.”

I am learning to think, learning to wait, learning to fast . . .

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Entry 84, 6.7.11

Entry 84, June 7th, 2011, 12:14am (ship time GMT +2)

I think Barcelona may be my favorite port on the European run. It is my favorite on the Spanish leg, certainly, while its competition on the Italian run is Rome. Rome, of course, has much more to offer from a historical and cultural standpoint, but when it comes to liking the places I visit Barcelona may have it beaten. Rome is still too big a concept to hold in my mind all at one time, while Barcelona is becoming somewhere I feel comfortable.

The city reminds me of Chicago in a lot of ways. The long straight coastline that the city is built on is reminiscent of Lake Michigan, and there are lots of big avenues. The difference, of course, is that Barcelona doesn't have a cluster of massive skyscrapers at its center, and isn't surrounded by the rusting remains of America's manufacturing might. The city is surprisingly metropolitan despite containing only 1.5 million inhabitants.

Today was a good day ashore. I expanded my sphere of exploration Eastward from where I left off last time, following one of the streets to the plaza St. Jaume (many of the names in Barcelona are in Catalan, which is mostly like Castillan Spanish but seems to have a little bit of French mixed in) and eventually the Santa Maria church. The church was beautiful inside, not as large as the cathedral, but with a smoother, more Renaissance-influenced style. I then picked my way through a series of narrow alleys to the Picasso museum (closed because it was Monday), the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (closed to set up a new Incan exhibition), and to the Merkat de _____ (can't remember), (closed for renovation). Despite my lack of success in achieving my original goals, I did find a number of other small interesting places that made the day worth it.

I've inherited one of my dad's traits – apparently I look like I know where I'm going even when I don't. Today two different groups of people asked me for directions, despite the fact that I've been in the city of Barcelona for less than twenty four hours in total. I was able to help one group, but not the other . . . it was a definite first to be asked, “Do you speak English?”

After a pretty good cup of coffee I wandered to the waterfront and made my way back to the ship. On the way there I got to witness the Port Vell pedestrian bridge in action; when sailboats need to get out of the marina two different sections of the bridge actually rotate out of line with the others to create a slanted opening. Much more artsy and hi-tech than the Curacao pedestrian bridge, although I bet the Curacao one is cheaper by a long shot.

Still, I wasn't ready to return to my plastic, air conditioned cube quite yet so I loitered around the marina for a bit watching the ships come and go. Since I was unable to get into either museum, I spent my admission money on some postcards (long overdue, I know, you'll be seeing them soon) and used them to get into a conversation with a cute girl sitting by herself on the dock. Turns out that she's a German student here in Barcelona for a week for class, and was waiting for the rest of her group to head back to the town they're staying in. She pointed out the new cathedral that's been under construction for over a hundred years. It is absolutely wild and insane from an architectural standpoint, and was designed by Gaudi back in the 1800's. It might even be done in my lifetime . . . is there some sort of law that says cathedrals have to take forever to build?

Anyway, I'm exhausted, and I can see it affecting my writing voice, so I'm going to wrap this one up. Better entry tomorrow.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Entry 83 6.5.11

Entry 83, June 5th, 2011, 11:20pm (ship time GMT +2)

Our bass player was discharged and sent home today for medical reasons . . . he never did really get it back together after his attack last week and so now he is gone for good. Hopefully back home he has a chance to rest and figure out what went wrong.

This leaves us in a bit of a spot, though. None of the other bands on the ship have a bassist at the moment, and so we're fresh out of bass players. For tonight's show, the musical director (who plays trombone) played the bass part on a keyboard while I covered the trombone parts on trumpet. This may work to cover the week's headliners (most of them don't write for two trumpets anyway), and we can probably cover Gary's parts in the shows with the backing track, but big band and jazz sets are totally out of the question and the other bands are picking up the slack. If anybody shows up needing two trumpets and trombone for their stage show we might be in trouble. Hopefully we'll be able to limp along until Miami sends us a new bass player (heh, I wonder if they'll call Lincoln to end his vacation early. He'd been on the ship ten months straight, but he's had three weeks of vacation, right?).

Also, our pianist just found out that his dad has cancer. If he leaves on compassion leave the rhythm section is going to start looking pretty thin . . .

After only two weeks on the davit team, my boat drill assignment has been changed yet again. Now I am working at a passenger muster station. Boat drills are pretty easy (at least compared to working the life raft station) but now I have to do passenger drill (PAX drill) as well. Passenger drill happens at the beginning of every cruise on turnaround day after all the guests are aboard but before we leave the harbor. International law requires us to hold this drill so that all the passengers know where their lifeboats are before we set sail. Working a muster station means that I have to check off the guests on the master list so that we know they've attended and then arrange them in orderly fashion along the deck. It also means that I get to indulge my inner flight attendant (now there's a phrase I never thought I would use) and mime the proper use of a life jacket as the captain explains their use over the ship's PA system. “Please remember that smoking is not allowed in the cabin or lavatories at any time. Tampering with a lavatory smoke detector is a federal offense. There are two exits at each end of the cabin, but please keep in mind that the closest exit may be behind or above you . . . as the fragile aluminum fuselage has been shredded by slamming into the ground at five hundred miles an hour.”

My favorite guests are the ones who are already drunk and begin miming things back at me as I put the life jacket on. Classy, guys, classy . . .

Speaking of drinking, I learned an extremely dangerous drinking game on the back deck last night. I don't know if it has a name, but the one rule is that if someone strikes the beverage you are drinking with a bottlecap while you are drinking it, you immediately have to chug whatever you are drinking. Dangerous enough when played with beer, yes, but my poor roommate had just gotten a rum and coke with four shots of Captain Morgan in it when someone hit his glass with a bottlecap. Like I said, dangerous.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Entry 82 6.4.11

Entry 82, June 4th, 2011, 10:38pm (ship time GMT +2)

Ship security has been keeping a rotating watch on one of the cabins in our corridor all day today. Someone must have been confined to their quarters, but we're not sure who (I'm pretty sure who it is due to their conspicuous absence all day, but I'm going to keep my mouth shut until I know for sure). There are a variety of possible reasons for this, but usually it means that someone has gotten fired and is confined to quarters until they sign off. It's the first time I've ever seen security enforcing it though.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Entry 81 6.3.11

Entry 81, June 3rd, 2011, 10:43pm (ship time GMT +2)

I have a new emergency station. This is my second week at my new post – if you will recall, I used to be in the “Assistance Group,” along with everyone else who had no real useful skills in an emergency. Well, apparently my escapades riding wheelchairs through the dining room and saving dozens of people from an imaginary fire caught someone's eye, because I've been moved to a davit team on the starboard side of the ship.

A davit is a type of crane that is used to lower things over the side of the ship – in this case, life rafts full of crew members. In the event of a sinking, the idea is that we'll hook a life raft up to the davit (they come in big white canisters a bit bigger than a 55 gallon drum), pull the inflation ripcord, load it with crew members (35 per raft) and then lower them into the water. This is the preferred, perfect-world version of events . . . the less preferred methods (in order of undesirability) are 2. chucking the canister into the water, diving in after it, and pulling the ripcord, and 3. waiting for the ship to sink and the pressure activated release to send the raft back up to us.

We have four rafts at our station, stacked two by two. There are eight more that could become our responsibility as well, stored on the fantail (the very stern). There's a block and tackle mounted to rail that we're supposed to use to haul them from the fantail to our station, but considering that the assistance group meets right next to them (remember them? No useful skills? Lots of extra muscle?) my team leader said that we'd probably just carry or roll them over because it would be faster (if we were abandoning ship, I'm sure that the crew would be sufficiently motivated to help).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Entry 80 6.2.11

Entry 80, June 2nd, 2011, 4:38pm (ship time GMT +2)

I did not get to go to Rome today, which is very disappointing. As you know, the ship docks in Civatavecchia, a port about an hour away from Rome itself. There are buses and trains into the city on most days – but not, as it turns out, on national holidays. Today is Republic day, I think, and the word is that the Italian national transit systems operate on a flexible schedule today. By flexible, I mean that the locomotive engineers drive as far as they feel like going, and then stop for as long as they want – if they've shown up to work at all, that is.

Call me a coward, if you will, but I decided not to wager my continued employment with Royal Caribbean on the ability of an Italian to resist taking a smoke break.

Which means that I am stuck in Civitavecchia for the day. It is an industrial port – I've only explored in one direction from the pier so far, but so far all I have found is a few wharfs, a marina, a couple deserted cafes, and large fish market. The fishing boats are all in dock today, but I saw a couple men in the market repairing some nets.

There's also a little park that seems to exist for no particular reason, sandwiched between one of the old city walls and a hotel (did I mention that a few of the roads cut through old stone walls that have latin inscriptions on them?). It is quite pretty and smells like Lavender. That's where I'm sitting and typing this at the moment. Everywhere we've gone on the Mediterranean coast has smelled like flowers so far (well, except for the parts that haven't. Like the fish market). I can hear a dove cooing somewhere nearby.


Well, it turns out that I went exactly the wrong direction when I left the bus. After an hour of wandering, I came back to the end of the pier and went the other direction. Less than a hundred yards away I found a massive string of cheap restaurants, plentiful internet, and gelato carts. Figures.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Entry 79 6.1.11

Entry 79, June 1st, 2011, 10:40pm (ship time GMT +2)

Today's first production show was a little more exciting than we like them to be. Near the end of the second tune, our bass player Gary collapsed onto the floor of the orchestra pit. The musical director called the bridge, and there was an “alpha” call over the ship's PA system. A minute later the staff captain and the chief safety officer show up at the orchestra pit with two blue boys, picking their way through the maze of sound cables and music stands as quickly as possible. We helped them carry Gary out into the corridor, and he disappeared (presumably on his way to the medical center). Mind you, we did all this while continuing to play the show! Luckily Miko (the sound tech) figured out that something was wrong and turned up the prerecorded backing track to cover up the holes.

Gary's doing okay – he was conscious when we went to go see him after the show, and even said a few words before the Doc shooed us out. It was probably a panic attack, his roommate said that apparently his girlfriend back home is having some pretty major surgery soon. Hopefully he'll be back on his feet by tomorrow.

Other than that it was a fairly uneventful day. I mentioned having some problems with my chops the other day; since then I've gone back to the materials Dave Sheetz gave me in New Hampshire and they worked like a charm. I've got a high F back and still felt good after the second show today . . . I may practice some more later tonight. Doc Reinhardt was the man . . .

Monday, June 6, 2011

Entry 78 5.31.11

Entry 78, May 31st, 12:14am (ship time GMT +2)

I managed to avoid playing myself into the ground for the past two months, but I messed up these past couple days and am now paying the price (for the brass players out there – never play FF in the middle or low registers, even if it feels good at the time. Too much embochure spread when you're playing five/six hours a day). We had a really long day of playing today, and really long day two days ago without much rest in between and I was pretty worn out by the end of the fourth show tonight. Gonna take it easy tomorrow . . .

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Entry 77 5.29.11

Entry 77, May 29th, 2011, 9:04pm (ship time GMT +2)

Course: NNE Speed: 8 knots

Wind: SSW, light

North of Mallorca

I find myself with a minute to spare after two days of activity. Yesterday the orchestra had the busiest day that we've had since I signed on. We worked from noon until around 1am, a thirteen hour day. We had flag parade, a sound check, a matinee show, a rehearsal, two farewell shows, and then two jazz sets. This is nothing compared to some members of the crew who work up to seventy hours a week, but for us it was a lot.

The ship is wandering North, about to clear the island of Mallorca. The mountains, shrouded in wisps of cloud, lie off the starboard beam, while the sun sets off to port. A light breeze catches in my hair as I sit here on the back deck . . . this is a moment of quiet before the rest of the crew get off and begin the night's festivities. A good moment.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Entry 76 5.27.11

Entry 76, May 27th, 2011, 7:10pm (ship time GMT +2)

One Hour Out of Gibraltar

Course: ENE Speed: 15 knots

Wind: West, Seas: Calm

I have been encountering a feeling that makes quieting my mind difficult. It is restlessness, an inability to focus, and it leaves me irritable and self-critical.

When I feel this way, nothing satisfies. I can eat huge meals and still be hungry. I can drink as much booze as they'll sell me and I'm still too sober. I can sleep all day and still be tired . . . there is a gaping maw somewhere inside, and satiating it with worldly pleasures is only a temporary stopgap. I feel like there is a crab with a hundred legs trying to carve its way out of the back of my head. Has anyone else ever felt this way?

When I feel this way, I spend the day in useless activity, darting here and there in brief, nervous bursts of energy. In the evening, I have accomplished nothing, and usually have a lot of trouble falling asleep. The only solution I have found so far is to lie down on the ground somewhere and stare at the ceiling, letting my mind run as fast as it wants. Eventually it gets tired and starts to relax. The crab dissolves. Then I can get up and meditate, exercise, or practice. These activities usually leave me calm and focused.

I don't know what causes this restlessness. It happens more often when I sleep late into the day, but other than that I don't have any idea why. Perhaps it has something to do with the first of what Buddhists call the five fears: the fear of loss of life. This includes the fear of wasting one's time on Earth. Maybe this is what I'm feeling?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Entry 75 5.27.11

Entry 75, May 25th, 2011, 12:59am (ship time GMT +2)

I fasted again today. This time it was harder to do – the hunger comes in waves, usually at mealtimes. This tells me that what I am feeling is a function of habit, not an actual need for sustenance. Regardless, I am looking forward to breakfast tomorrow morning!

I find fasting to be an interesting meditative tool. There is a sharpening of the mind that occurs when the body is not giddy on the wave of endorphins released from eating a meal. Also, the accumulation of appetite is a constant reminder to remain detached from my desires. In this way, it carries my morning meditation through the entire day.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Entry 74 5.26.11

Entry 74, May 26th, 2011, 12:14am (ship time GMT +2)

The orchestra was busy today. We played a big band set in the early afternoon, and then had a rehearsal for tonight's motown act. The big band set went just fine, but the rehearsal was rough. Many of the arrangements had serious notational issues. The biggest problem was that half of the charts couldn't make up their mind which trumpet was playing lead. I would be the top voice, and then Rob would be, and then I would be, back and forth – “Dancing on the Ceiling” switched every single phrase! It was a mess.

The singer can't read music (another one . . . sigh . . .) and so he had no idea that there were any problems. We explained it to him in vocalist terms, though, and he understood – and then offered to pay us to fix the charts! The musical director and I split the problem arrangements (three each) and so I spent two or three hours between the rehearsal and the first show working on my computer. It was an easy thirty bucks (I wanted to fix the charts further, but I would've needed the other horn parts), and proof that opportunity exists in every situation.

I guess this officially makes me a copyist!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Entry 73 5.25.11

Entry 73, May 25th, 2011, 3:25am (ship time GMT +2)

Blood red moon

leaves trail across waves

Steel hull

slides through the darkness

Dammit, I know I'm drunk when I start writing bad free verse.

I saw not one, not two, but three potential couples having “the discussion” outside of their cabins on the way from my cabin to the crew mess to type this update. You know the discussion I mean, where they define themselves before either heading inside or not. C'mon people, a little subtlety would be appreciated!

I cannot help but feel that some Tao is involved in dancing to loud music while intoxicated. Something in there leads back to the way. I think that all activities that youth engage upon as “dangerous” are actually just reactions to fear of the self. Drinking, rampant sex, drugs, overeating, video games . . . they are all just ways of temporarily escaping the self. We all are afraid of the self, but dancing while intoxicated helps us forget to be afraid.