Sunday, July 31, 2011
"1. Avoid museums. This advice may seem absurd, but let us reflect a little together: if you are in a foreign city, isn't it far more interesting to seek out the present, than the past? Usually, people feel obligated to go to museums, because ever since they were small they have been told that traveling is a search for this type of culture. Of course museums are important, but they require time and objectivity -- you need to know what it is you want to see there, otherwise you will come away with the impression that you saw several things that were fundamental to your life, but cannot remember what they are.
2. Frequent bars. Unlike museums, this is where the life of the city can be found. Bars are not discotheques, but places where the people gather to have a drink, pass the time, and are always willing to chat. Buy a newspaper and observe the bustle of people coming and going. If someone speaks to you, strike up a conversation, however banal: one cannot judge the beauty of a path merely by looking at the entrance.
3. Be open and forward. The best tourist guide is someone who lives there, knows everything, but doesn't work at a travel agency. Go out into the street, choose someone you wish to speak to, and ask him or her for directions (where is such-and-such cathedral? Where is the post office?) If this bears no fruit, try someone else -- I guarantee that in the end you find excellent company.
4. Try and travel alone, or -- if you are married -- with your spouse. It will be harder work, no one will be looking after you, but this is the only way of truly leaving your country. Group travel is often just a disguised way of pretending to go abroad, where you speak your own language, obey the leader of the pack, and concern yourself more with the internal gossip of the group than with the place you are visiting.
5. Don't compare. Don't compare anything -- not prices, nor cleanliness, nor quality of life, nor means of transport, nothing! You are not traveling in order to prove you live better than others -- your search, in fact, is to find out how others live, what they teach, how they view reality and the extraordinary things in life.
6. Understand that everyone understands you. Even if you don't speak the language, don't be afraid: I have been many places in which there was no way of communicating with words, and I always found support, guidance, important suggestions, even girlfriends. Some people think if you travel alone, you will go out into the street and be lost forever. All you need is the hotel card in your pokcet, and -- should you find yourself in extreme circumstances -- take a taxi and show it to the driver.
7. Don't buy too much. Spend your money on things which you won't have to carry: good theater, restaurants, wals. Nowadays, with the global market and the internet, you can have everything you want without having to pay for excess baggage.
8. Don't try and visit the world in a month. It is better to stay in one city for four or five days, that to visit five cities in a week. A city is like a capricious woman, who needs time to be seduced and reveal herself completely.
9. A journey is an adventure. Henry Miller said that is is far more important to discover a church no one has heard of, than to go to Rome and feel obliged to visit the Sistine Chapel, with two hundred thousand tourists shouting all around you. Go to the Sistine Chapel, but also get lost in the streets, wander down alleyways, feel free to look for something, without knowing what it is. I swear that you will find it and that it will change your life."
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Ah, I love having the ship to myself at 4am. By now, the party people are all passed out or at cabin parties, and the morning shift doesn't start for another hour or so. My only companions are one guy playing FIFA 2008 in the crew lounge and an engineer fetching a cup of coffee for his buddy in the control room. All's well, the night shift is holding everything down and the Old Lady is making about 6 knots to the North. It's a lovely feeling when everything is usually so busy and crowded.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Entry 124, July 23rd, 2011, 2:17am (GMT +2)
Today we opened the first of the cast's two production shows. I just finished memorizing the hour long show, which is how I've been keeping myself entertained as I've played the show nearly sixty times now. Next is internalizing the different tempos and cue times, so that I don't have to use the click track either. Gotta keep things interesting, after all.
The cast is starting to open up, which is good. A few of them came to the back deck tonight, which was nice although they got a little bit swarmed by potential suitors.
I left back deck early though, after arriving late and drinking only water. We had a late jazz set, and after three days of working almost all day I'm a bit tired. It was a particularly rough night at the jazz set – I didn't feel like I was playing anything well, but I just had to keep going because that's the gig. Later several people came up and thanked us for the excellent music, and I just grinned and bore it. I know that usually you don't sound as bad as you think you do, but that doesn't make it feel any better.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
You know what's harder than fasting? Eating only the amount of food that you actually require. Fasting is quite easy -- just avoid the mess altogether. But eating a smaller amount than usual is very difficult, because once you've finished your plate the memory of how it was to eat is right at the forefront of your mind and you want to get another one. It is much easer to retionalize the second plate than the first one.
So this is my practice right now. Being present enough during the first plate that I am staisfied with it. Gotta take care of the body, you know.
The new cast install is extra work, but not as much as I feared. We have run one of the shows every morning this week, along with our usual schedule of rehearsals and performances. It is a bit tiring (an extra hour of intense playing on top of everything else) but so far so good. I was starting to see some bad habits develop today at the second show, but that was in my fourth or fifth hour of playing and I was able to nip them in the bud.
The worst part of the install is missing port time. I had to skip Malaga today. Hopefully I can still hit Rome next week. Gotta get that pesto!
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Entry 122, July 20th, 2011, 11:00pm (GMT +2)
Yesterday the ship was in Ibiza, and I went with several friends (new and old) to Bora Bora beach. Bora Bora is notorious for being the heart of the party in Ibiza, and so in the spirit of exploration I decided that I needed to visit at least once. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint!
The beach itself is relatively unremarkable (Barbados and Grand Cayman are far more beautiful). You don't go there for the beach, though – you go for the party! Clubs and restaurants stretch the entire length of the water, and the area between the boardwalk and the surf is packed with people. They are mostly young people, either in their twenties or trying to look like they are. Loud music thumps incessantly in the background, so distorted with volume that it becomes nothing but a throbbing beat that sinks down into your bones. Tanned Spaniards grin toothless grins and sell pot. Groups of women with gold tassels glued to their nipples carry around flashing signs advertising strip clubs and whorehouses. Speedboats and jet skis pull inflatable rafts with drunken revelers through the surf until they faceplant into the ocean, roaring with laughter. Men and women wearing swimsuits walk the boardwalk, selling frozen shots, jello shots, tequila, sunglasses, jewelry, hats, tickets to clubs, glowsticks, and everything else. Vendors' stalls and massage booths are squeezed between the clubs, including a “fish massage” where you put your feet in a tank of saltwater and let the fish eat all the dead skin off of your feet. The beach swims in sunscreen, tanning oil, and booze.
We set up camp, joining the crew members that were already there to form a party of about twenty. We'd borrowed Anna's cooler earlier and filled it with drinks (which reminds me – I still owe some people some Euro). There's really not much to tell past that point. We drank the beer until we ran out of beer, then we drank the sangria until we ran out of that, and five hours after our arrival I was drinking cheap vodka straight out of a plastic 1.5 liter jug. Whew! That'll put hair on your chest (something I could have desperately used). People talked, joked, fought, goofed off, got stung by jellyfish, made love, and enjoyed the scenery – all the things that people usually do. It was a good afternoon.
I wish we could've stayed for the evening, but we had to leave just as the party was in transition from day to night in order to catch the boat. Andrea and I talked to the taxi driver in Spanish on the way back (hablo y entiendo castillano muy bien cuando estoy barracho!). The party then continued on the back deck, where whiskey became the drink of choice. I made it until about 2am before going to bed . . . so after you do the math, I was drunk for almost ten hours straight. That's a first.
Needless to say, I had a pretty impressive hangover this morning. I don't want to drink that much again any time soon, but I am glad I went to Bora Bora (for the experience, and because it was fun). Will I go back? I don't know.
Oh, and a little bit of other important news. I sign off the ship on October 2nd and wander Europe for a bit. On the 5th I meet my family for their vacation in Paris (wooo!), and then I wander a bit more until the 20th. On the 20th I meet the Independence of the Seas in Southampton where I am covering someone's month of vacation time. We'll be sailing to Portugal, returning to the Canary islands, and seeing a bit of Spain and Italy again. More details as soon as I get them, but I'm excited to be playing on a different ship for a bit before returning back to the states and I hope that you will enjoy reading about the additional locations here in the blog.
Oh, and I'm flying home November 17th! See some of you then!
Sunday, July 24, 2011
For those of you too lazy to click on the link (most of you), know that the premise of the competition is that a machine is invented that can tell you with exact certainty how you will die, but not where or when. I hope you enjoy the story -- I am not a professional writer by any means, but I think this one turned out okay.
EDIT: Blogger is playing havok with my formatting. It should still be fine to read, but ignore the full width black lines that I can't make go away and that are cutting through one of my paragraphs. The short lines are supposed to be there.
EDIT 2: Please don't steal my story! :)
Katherine O'Connor leaned across the table, whispering in spite of the hum of conversation that filled the auditorium. “Keith!”
“What?” Her colleague was flicking through slides on his laptop.
“I hate giving these public talks.”
“You'll be fine, Katie. You know the process inside and out . . . it doesn't matter that James isn't here.”
“I know. It's just that he's so much better at this.”
“At . . . talking to people. Making them laugh. He's always so relaxed . . . I don't know how he does it.”
Keith touched her elbow. “Relax. It'll be fine. Besides, they're a bunch of academics, the more boring you are the more they'll feel at home.”
She rolled her eyes. “Thanks. That's SO encouraging.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I'll be here making funny faces at you the entire time. Like this --”
“Stop! Ha – stop it – haha!”
Keith had crossed his eyes and was waggling his tongue around. Katherine pulled away from him, trying to keep a laugh held back behind her hand.
“Look, just keep the slides moving, okay? Oh, bloody hell, it's time already, isn't it?”
Keith nodded. “Go get 'em, girl.” He winked, rolling his left eye around in its socket.
“Gross!” She smiled before moving to the podium.
The amphitheater was filled nearly to capacity. Row after row of faces turned to look at her as she approached the microphone. The expectant chatter gradually died away
even before she reached the stand.
“Good--” her voice was unexpectedly loud in the sudden silence. Katherine swallowed and began again. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank you all for coming here today. My name is Katherine O'Connor, and it is my honor to--” she shifted her note cards, “-- to present the Dr. James Leder's findings to the university. Unfortunately Dr. Leder himself could not be here today, as he has been unexpectedly detained by his work. I will be assisted by Keith Owens, my fellow doctoral candidate and the third member of Dr. Leder's team.”
Keith turned and waved to the assembled professors. “Howdy, folks.”
Katherine cleared her throat before moving to her third note card. “But before I begin outlining the results of the Dr. Leder's project, a bit of history is needed. I'm sure you've all heard of the Fatality Diagnostic Device, more commonly known as the Machine of Death.”
A brief murmur swept through the audience, and many heads nodded.
“The device was invented early in the twenty-first century, the byproduct of larger, failed work in experimental blood testing. By taking a tiny blood sample, it could predict with exact accuracy the cause of a patient's death before it happened, although not the time or place. Or that was the theory, at least.”
Next slide. A picture of twelve smiling scientists wave at the camera.
“The team that invented the machine was the first to test it, of course. Every single one of them drew 'suicide.' No fault could be found with the machine, but it was
dismissed as a failure and mothballed.”
Next slide. A newspaper headline reads, “Scientist Commits Suicide: Machine to Blame?”
“The Machine of Death was forgotten about until twelve years later, when the team's leader committed suicide. His death was followed quickly by several others on the team. The last surviving member of the team was found dead three years ago in a federal mental institution.”
Next slide. A circular flowchart.
“The use of the machine on living subjects was promptly banned, of course, by nearly every nation in the world. The deaths remain a mystery, but it is thought that knowing how one will die is too much for the mind to handle, resulting in untreatable insanity and eventual suicide – a self-fulfilling prophecy. The machine has since faded into obscurity as nothing more than a morbid footnote in history – until now.”
Next slide. A picture of a young James Leder kneeling in the dirt in the mountains.
“Dr. Leder stumbled across his idea while working in the burial mounds of Macchu Picchu. Use of the machine on the living was of course strictly prohibited . . . but could hardly be expected to harm those already dead.”
A grinning skeleton took the place of the previous slide, giving a bony thumbs up, and the audience laughed. Katherine shook her head at Dr. Leder's grim sense of humor before switching to her next card.
“But the machine requires a blood sample to function correctly, and except in cases of the very recently deceased blood is impossible to find. Dr. Leder's key breakthrough was the blood synthesis process, where a tiny sample of the subject's DNA is introduced into donor plasma via a specially engineered virus. The machine can then read this sample as if it was the victim's own.”
Next slide. A list of applications appears; archaeology and law enforcement are two of the entries.
“This breakthrough has many implications for Dr. Leder's home field of archeology. Our current work has been focused on proving the technology's reliability in the field. Dr. Leder has been working alongside Dr. Armstrong's team in Virginia, performing a parallel analysis of corpsesfrom the American Civil War. If the machine can produce identical results as Dr. Armstrong's team, we will have added a new and powerful tool to the archaeologist's –”
Katherine looked up, startled. There was a raised hand at the back of the auditorium.
“Questions will be taken at the end, please.” She looked back at her cards and tried to focus. “. . . new and powerful –”
“Ms. O'Connor, what of the rumors that Dr. Leder has gone missing?”
Katherine looked up again. A tall man in a gray overcoat was standing now in the very top row, pencil and pad of paper in his hands.
“James is – Dr. Leder is – alive and well, thank you very much, just very busy.”
“So busy that he's missed every single speaking commitment he's had for the past two weeks?”
“I – I – but . . .”
Keith stood up. “Dr. Leder is engaged in very serious, time sensitive research. Any inquiries regarding his whereabouts should be directed to the university. Now, if you don't mind, this is supposed to be a scientific lecture, not a press conference.”
The sea of faces turned back to the reporter. He opened his mouth again for a moment, before shrugging and flipping his notebook shut. A few seconds later the door swished shut behind him.
Keith turned back to Katherine with a smile. “Now then, Katie, where were we?”
“Oh, god, Keith, it was a disaster!”
“Calm down, Katie. There's nothing to worry about.” He waved to the bartender for another two pints.
Katherine was holding her face in her hands. “Yes, there is! There are lots of things to worry about!”
Keith took one of the mugs, pushing the other across the oaken bar towards Katherine. “Here. Take this, it will help.”
She peeked through her fingers at the beer. “Keith . . .”
“You're not understanding how this works very well, are you? Here--” he took one of her hands from her face and wrapped the fingers around the glass handle. “Next, you open your mouth. Eventually we're going to start putting the beer in it.”
Katherine looked at the beer for a second, finally cracking a smile and turning away from him. “Dammit, Keith.” She took a swig before turning back to him. “But admit it, we've got problems.”
He turned to his own beer. “You know, technically, he might not be missing. Maybe he just felt like taking a vacation”
“For two weeks? Without telling us? Keith, James is gone. Gone! How much longer can we keep it a secret?”
“Only a little longer, Katie. We only need a little more time to finish the project. You know what
will happen as soon as the university finds out that he's missing, the whole thing will go up in smoke! All of our work, all of our samples . . .”
“They'll find out eventually anyway, and then it won't matter.”
“Not if we have data to give them. Good, solid data – it will speak for itself. They won't be able to ignore it. You know just as well as I that we're the brains behind this project.”
Katherine shook her head, but Keith kept going.
“Listen, James is a great guy for getting funding and talking to the board and all that people stuff. There's no way that we'd have even got off the ground without him,
but he doesn't have the smarts for this sort of thing. Your virus was genius, Katie, pure genius, and you deserve to get recognized for it. Not to mention that I'm pretty much a prodigy at getting bones out of the ground and into the right order, if I may say so myself.
Katherine broke in. “Keith, what if he's hurt? What if he's been kidnapped?”
“Katie, James is a grown man. If he wants to leave for a little while and blow off some steam, we should let him. He's got no wife, no kids; this project was his life. Even
if he was in trouble, he'd want us to finish it.”
“We've got to tell somebody.”
“And we will, soon! But we're so close. Another four days – maybe three, right?”
Katherine sipped her beer. “We ARE pretty close . . .”
“So let's finish his work, and then we'll talk to the authorities, okay? It's what James would want.”
“I guess you're right.” Katherine finished off her beer and stood up. “On that note, I'm headed back to the lab.”
“Now?” Keith was taken aback. “I was about to order another round . . . come on, you know you want one . . .” He grinned and pulled playfully on her hand.
She tried to pull away for a moment. “Keith . . .”
“Two more!” he called out to the bartender before turning back to her. “There's no way those samples are done yet anyway.”
“One more Keith, ONE, and I mean it.” She sat back down.
It took her two tries to key in her password on the lab's electronic lock. One more had turned into several more, of course. She'd only been able to coax Keith out of the pub by promising to go straight back to her apartment and not to the lab. He had walked her home to make sure.
Arriving at her door, she'd turned around only to find him standing much too close to her with his arm around her waist. They'd stood that way for a long moment before she'd ducked under his chin and kissed him on the cheek. “Goodnight, Keith,” she'd said, before pulling away and slipping inside.
She smiled to herself. The cheeky rascal . . . maybe some other night, but not right now. She had too much on her mind.
On her second try the keypad blinked green and let her in. She shut the door behind her, breathing in the comfortable smell of warm electronics. Server towers lined either
wall, humming quietly, while the rest of the lab sat in silence.
Katherine left the lights off, turning on only her own desk lamp. An animated waterfall disappeared from her computer monitor as she flicked the mouse. “Oops--” she sat heavily. “A bit too much beer, there, Kate.”
Her eyes scanned over the batches of samples that were running in the incubator. Sealed in the warming chambers were trays of tiny plastic capsules, each filled with a few drops of blood and the virus containing the DNA of a civil war soldier. Because Dr. Heder's method only required a tiny sample, they'd left the bulk of the remains in Virginia for Dr. Armstrong's team to study.
The virus required heat to work, but the blood would become unusable after too long in the incubator. This had been the trickiest part of the process to perfect.
Three trays blinked on her monitor, ready for testing.
Still a little unsteady on her feet, Katherine made her way to the incubator grid. She checked the
numbers on the trays and pulled out the first, laying it down on the testing table. The device (Keith had scrawled “Machine of DEATH” on the side in grease pencil, along with a skull and crossbones) was quite small and was mounted to a spring loaded arm over the table. A
sharp needle pointed down from the black box, while a cord ran back from the device to a receipt printer that had been rigged to print the results on a small strips of paper.
Securing the first tray, Katherine grabbed hold of the device. She plunged the needle into the first capsule with practiced care and waited for the machine to do its work. After a few seconds there was a brief buzz and a bit of paper spat out of the printer.
She tore it off. There was a garbled mess of numbers and letters. “Damn. Another spoiled batch.” The next capsule produced the same result, and the next. The entire tray was spoiled.
So was the second tray. She kept working through them, just to make sure.
Finally she reached the last capsule on the third tray. The needle bit into the capsule; the printer buzzed. She looked at the strip of paper and was startled to find:
“What?” She turned the paper over, almost expecting to find something else printed on the back. She closed her eyes and opened them again. The words stared back at her from the printed slip.
“It's got to be an error.” She looked at the capsule. “All the rest were ruined . . . I bet this one just got scrambled. Still . . . I'll run it again.”
Katherine retrieved her keys from her desk to open the sample cabinet. Reading the number of the anomalous result from the tray, she began digging through the containers of bone dust. “889 . . . 890 . . . 891 . . . ah, 892.”
Snapping on a pair of latex gloves, she removed the small plastic vial and unscrewed the lid, only to find –
“Empty? That's weird.”
The container was totally empty. She opened number 891 and 893, but they were both still nearly full. It was only container 892 that was empty. “That's odd.”
She sat down again at her desk, peeling off the gloves. After thinking for a moment, she penned a quick email to Dr. Armstrong explaining the odd result and asking for another sample from subject 892. She CC: ed Keith, and then locked up the lab and headed home. Her bedside clock read 4:17am when she finally collapsed on her pillow.
Katherine awoke to the persistent chime of her cell phone. Opening one eye, she saw that her clock now read 9:24am. The phone was somewhere on the floor, along with her pants . . . she reached one foot down off the bed, wincing at the throbbing pain in her temples.
“Ooooooh . . . too much beer, Kate, too much beer.”
The phone was deep in her jeans pocket; Katherine got it right as the call went to voicemail. A few moments later it pinged and was silent.
Katherine called her voicemail and turned on speaker phone as she staggered to the bathroom. There were two new messages – the first call hadn't woken her up. A woman's voice greeted her first.
“Katherine, this is Dr. Armstrong. I got your email this morning, and I wanted to call you back because 892 is missing. I'll call you if we find him.”
“Missing, huh?” Katherine paused in the middle of brushing her teeth. She could feel the haze in her mind begin to clear. “That's weird.”
The second message was Keith. Katherine smiled when she heard his voice.
“Hey, Katie girl, good morning! I don't know what to tell you about 892, it's probably just a glitch. We'll check it out today. I'm at the lab already, I'll be by around ten to pick you up.”
“Ten! Argh, you energetic bastard . . . and you had more to drink than me, too.” Katherine twisted the shower knob.
Half an hour later, there was a single beep from the street below her apartment. She slid into the passenger seat of Keith's car, half a banana still in her hand.
“You know, you're not very good at listening sometimes.” Keith was smiling.
“I gave you explicit instructions to avoid the lab last night, and where'd you end up?”
“Maybe I was just feeling contrary.”
Keith laughed, a single short monosyllable. “Ha! That's for sure.”
Katherine raised an eyebrow at him, but he didn't look back at her. “I heard from Armstrong.”
“She can't find 892 either.”
“Really?” Keith turned to her for a second. “That's strange.”
“Yeah. She said she'd keep looking, though.”
“Well, I hope she finds him. Automatic handgun . . .” He shook his head. “It doesn't make any sense.”
Katherine was sitting at her computer later that day when her cell phone rang again. She called over to Keith. “It's Armstrong!” before answering.
“Hey, Katherine, this is Armstrong. Are you at the lab?”
“Yeah. Keith's here too.”
Katherine stole a glance at Keith before answering. He sidled up beside her from the other side of the room. “He's out, but he'll be back soon.”
“Mmm. Well, I'm sure you'll both want to know that we found 892.”
“Really?!?” Katherine leaned forward in her chair. “Mind if I put you on speaker?”
“Sure.” Katherine tapped her phone and set in on the desk. “Hi, Keith.”
“Hey, Doc. What'd you find?”
“We found 892 . . . somebody had moved him a couple days ago, I don't know how we missed it. Anyway, that's not the big news. The big news is that he's not civil war – he's modern.”
“Somebody's dressed him up pretty well . . . on the outside he looks just like the others, but when we dug into the femur to get your new sample, we found fresh bone. I don't know how we missed it the first time.”
“How did – automatic handgun – do you think . . . ?” Katherine couldn't finish her thought.
“I've contacted the police. They've blocked off the whole area, but I need to ask you a favor.”
“Uh . . . sure.” Katherine was still wrapping her head around what Armstrong had told her.
“Katherine, can you bring the machine here to Virginia? If you show the authorities Dr. Leder's process, maybe we can use it confirm the murder weapon. It would be a great chance to prove his process in the field.”
“I'd be happy to do it, Doctor Armstrong,” said Keith.
“Thanks Keith, but I'd rather have Katherine, since she did most of the work on the virus. Can you make it by tomorrow?”
“Uh, yeah, sure – I'll leave tonight.”
“Thanks, Katherine. Listen, I've got to go, there are police everywhere--”
“Not a problem, doctor, I'll see you tomorrow.”
Katherine turned to Keith. “I don't believe it – a murder?”
Keith shook his head. “I hope not. That's not exactly what we had in mind when we started this.”
“Are you okay to finish things here without me?”
“I think so . . . we're almost done, right? Just data entry at this point, really. Should be a piece of cake. Although if you have to take the machine with you --”
“I'll take the spare, don't worry.”
A beep sounded from Keith's terminal. “Hold on, I'll be right back.”
Katherine's terminal chimed as well. Turning to the screen, she could see that she'd gotten an email from Doctor Armstrong. It read:
Here's the info on 892 that I got before the police took custody of the remains. I thought you might find it interesting.”
Attached were several images and data files. 892 was a Caucasian male, around five foot, ten inches tall. He had been in his late fifties at the time of death –
“Ha, James is fifty seven, wouldn't it be funny if--” Katherine's breath caught in her through. What if . . . no, there's no way. It couldn't be . . .
She scrolled through the documents, eyes darting from entry to entry. Finally she came across another note: “Subject was developing arthritis in both hands.”
She looked sideways at James' desk, vacant now for over two weeks. He'd been complaining about his fingers for a while before his disappearance . . . there was a nearly empty bottle of aspirins sitting on the tabletop.
Katherine turned back to the computer, heart racing. If that WAS James in the grave, he'd been shot. Murdered! But how? And who? Who could have disguised the body as a soldier, buried for almost two hundred years? And who could have broken into the lab and stolen the rest of the sample? For that matter, who even knew the details of what they were doing here?
The answer came to her in a flash. “Oh, no. No, no, no, no . . .”
Keith, the brilliant archeologist, always piecing together ancient skeletons from bits and pieces of shattered bones. Keith, the only one besides her and James to have access to the lab. Keith, who had been urging her to keep quiet about James' disappearance all this time.
Finally, at the bottom of the email, she read one final note from Dr. Armstrong. “Oh, and I sent this to Keith too. Let me know if he got it all right.”
Katherine's blood went cold. She stole a look at Keith's desk out of the corner of her eye. He was reading, expressionless.
“No, it can't be him, it can't be.”
But who else could it have been? Even if the body wasn't James, who else had the technological know-how and access to the equipment to pull it off?
“Okay, if it WAS him, what do I do?” Katherine looked around. “If Armstrong sent him this email, then he knows that I know. I have to get out of--”
A hand on her shoulder made Katherine jump nearly out of her chair.
“Whoa, Katie, did I scare you?” Keith was standing right behind her chair.
“Ha, no, of course not. I guess I'm
just a little on edge.”
“Can't say I blame you.” Keith removed his hand. “Anyway, I'm headed to get some lunch. You want some?”
“No – no, I'm alright, thanks.”
“Are you sure? Chinese?” Keith added the last word in a sing-song voice.
“No, I'm . . . packed my own.”
“Well, it's your loss. I'll be back in a bit.”
The door clicked shut, leaving Katherine alone. She looked around the lab once before shaking her head. “This is crazy. Keith didn't kill anybody.” She sat for a moment longer without moving before getting up and walking to Keith's terminal.
It was still logged on, but the screen had gone blank. She reached for the mouse, hesitating for a moment. Finally she pushed it. The screen blinked on, revealing Dr. Armstrong's email. At the bottom was a brief note. “Oh, and I'm going to send this to Katherine as well. Let me know if she gets it.”
Katherine stepped back from the terminal, shaking her head. “No, no, no! He didn't. If Keith was the murderer, why would he leave me here alone to go get lunch? Unless . . .”
Katherine slipped out of the lab. She crept down the hallway, past the dentist's office next door with its antiseptic waiting room, and peeked out into the parking lot towards where Keith's car was parked.
Keith had not left. In fact, he was standing in the parking lot with his back to her, rummaging around in the trunk of his car.
“Oh, shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.” Katherine ran back to the lab. Her hands were shaking badly and it took several tries to key in the right password. Finally she got back in, and slammed the door shut behind her. Then she grabbed James' desk and shoved it in front of the door. The aspirin bottle skidded across the floor, rattling. She stacked a few other pieces of furniture on top of it before pausing, her chest heaving.
“I gotta get out of here.” There was one small, high window in the lab that had been sealed shut when they leased it. She got up on a chair and began tearing at the foam weatherstripping with her fingers. It tore off in great long chunks, and before long she was able to pry the window open far enough to slip through. Grabbing her handbag, she stuffed it with her purse, a bottle of water, and her phone. Then she paused for a second.
The machine hung from its spring loaded arm, black and alien. Taking a screwdriver, she undid the screws that held it in place, but her trembling hands stripped the last screw. “Damn, damn, dammit!” Katherine wrenched the machine from its final bracket, which sheared off with a sharp metallic snap. Grabbing a few extra needles and a vial of her virus, she shoved it all into her bag before tossing it through the window and climbing up and out the window herself.
Katherine landed on top of a dumpster in the alley behind her building. Grabbing her handbag, she slid off the dumpster and ran down the gravel alley, penned in by a long chain link fence. A short distance away there was a hole cut in the chain link fence that she squeezed through. She found herself at the top of an embankment above the expressway. Easing her way down the slope through the tall grass, she reached a concrete culvert and scrambled under the embankment to the other side.
After a short climb up the slope on the other side of the expressway, Katherine abruptly emerged into an upscale subdivision. She passed a few houses that were still under construction before reaching the first intersection. Looking up at the street signs, she pulled out her cell phone. “Hi, can I get a cab at the corner of . . .”
Katherine's rental car idled in the early morning mist. The rolling Virginia countryside was bathed in it, although she knew it would disappear as soon as the sun became more than an orange glow on the horizon.
Her trip had been uneventful. She had been looking in her rear view mirror the entire time for any indication that she was being followed, but there had been nothing.
Just ahead was the dig site. Dr. Armstrong's team had been working the unmarked grave for several months, doing their best to identify the victims within. Now it was surrounded by yellow police tape that formed a barrier almost fifty yards wide in all directions. A small trailer stood inside, the archaeological team's mobile office.
Katherine turned the car off and stepped outside into the clammy air. Her shoes crunched across the gravel road.
Even at this early hour there were two uniformed officers standing at the entrance. Katherine presented her university identification to the guards and they let her under the yellow tape. She knocked on the trailer door. “Come in,” came a muffled voice from inside.
Doctor Armstrong was sitting inside at a cramped desk, bent over a stack of medical examiner's forms. On the long table opposite was a skeleton. She rose to greet Katherine. “You're early! I didn't expect you so soon, I've been up all night working on these --”
“It's Keith. Keith did it. He killed James.”
Armstrong stared at her. “Katherine, what are you--”
She pointed at the skeleton. “That's James, right there. He's the skeleton, and Keith killed him.”
Armstrong looked once from Katherine to the bones and back. Then she sat. “Tell me everything.”
And so Katherine did. She started with Keith's disappearance two weeks ago, and covered everything up to Armstrong's phone call. As she recounted the story she began to
sense the increasing absurdity of it all, and her voice began to falter. She hadn't actually seen anything that proved Keith's guilt, had she? Was it all in her imagination? Through it all Doctor
Armstrong listened without fidgeting or saying a word. Finally Katherine finished, and a brief pause settled over the small room.
“Am . . . am I going crazy?” she finally asked the doctor.
“No. But we need to do two things. First, we need to prove that he --” she pointed to the bones “-- is Dr. Heder. And second, we need to alert the authorities to James' disappearance. You might be right, but we have no proof.”
“No, you don't, do you?” came a man's voice from behind them. Katherine spun around.
“Keith!” The scientist was standing in the doorway. “How much did you –?”
“Do you mind if I come in?” Neither of the women said anything. “I'll take that as a no.” He stepped fully inside the trailer, shutting and locking the door behind him.
“Actually, you're missing two things,” continued Keith. “Proof, and motive. Why, Katie, would I ever kill Dr. Heder?”
“I . . . I don't know.”
“Without his backing, this project would never have gotten off the ground. This project, which, let me remind you, is due to make both of our professional reputations. Why on Earth would I kill him?”
Katherine stared at him, mesmerized by his slow walk around the room.
“Tell me, Katie, did you bring the machine?”
“Did you bring it?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Come, now. It was gone from the lab when I got back.”
Katherine hesitated for a moment, and then eased her handbag onto the table. “It's in the bag.”
“Good. Get it out.”
“I don't understand.”
“GET . . . it . . .OUT!”
Katherine was stunned. Keith had never raised his voice before. For a brief moment his calm mask had slipped away to reveal something very different. She opened the bag and removed the machine. Keith kept talking while she assembled it.
“Officially, it's known as the Fatality Diagnostic Device, but everyone calls it the Machine of Death. I think they're only partially right.” He smiled. “Is it ready yet?”
Katherine locked the needle into place. “Yes.”
He nodded. “Good. Use it. On me.”
Katherine shook her head. “No! You know that's forbidden!”
Keith opened his coat, pulled out a heavy black pistol and pointed it directly at Doctor Armstrong. A long silencer was screwed onto the barrel. “Use it, or Armstrong dies right now.”
“You'll go insane! Don't you remember what happened to the original test subjects?”
He sighed. “Katie, use it on me now or I kill the doctor.”
She glared at him. “Fine.” She grasped the black device. “Where?”
Keeping his gaze and the gun barrel pointed firmly at Doctor Armstrong's heart, he offered her his left arm. “Roll up the sleeve. Anywhere on the arm is fine, I've tested myself so many times now I can hardly feel it.”
“You've done it before?!?”
“Yes! RUN THE TEST!” he roared, still not turning his attention from Armstrong.
Katherine opened her bag and pulled out the printer. Reaching inside for the power cord, she also palmed one of the spare needles, moving it to the front pocket of her jacket as she bent down to plug in the machine. It came to life with a quiet whine, much like a television turning on. She rolled up Keith's sleeve, shuddering to think that this was the same arm that had been around her waist only two short days ago.
She pricked the inside of Keith's forearm with the needle. Immediately the machine began to hum, and after a few seconds the printer buzzed. A short slip of paper was
ejected, and Katherine tore it off.
“Read it. Now.”
She turned it over and read two words. “James Heder.”
“Now do you understand?”
“You tested yourself, and because the result was Doctor Heder . . . you killed him?”
“Exactly. I didn't believe it a first, of course, but after I tested again and again with always the same result I finally had to accept the inevitable. The science behind the machine is foolproof; believe me, I looked for any loophole I could find.” He shook his head. “There aren't any. It's always right. Just look at the inventors.”
Katherine shook her head, but Keith continued.
“I waited as long as I could. The plan was to finish this project first, and then to kill him. As you can see, I couldn't quite wait that long – the risk became too great.”
“So you killed him while we were here, and then disguised his bones? What did you do with the rest?”
“Boiling water to take the flesh off the bones, and stray dogs to finish the finish the flesh. As to disguising the bones, it wasn't hard. I was able to keep most of the samples from his skeleton from making it to the lab, but I missed one.”
“The one I tested . . . but when I emailed Doctor Armstrong about it, I sent you the email too and you knew all about it!” Katherine held her face in her hands.
“There was no way for you to know. It was a lucky break for me, though, finding out the night before that you and Armstrong knew about the skeleton. You're both too smart not to figure it out, especially after you sent that email to Katie, Doctor. It wasn't ideal, but I knew that I needed to stop the secret from getting out any farther.”
“So you went outside to get your gun and come back and kill me?”
Keith frowned. “Yes, and no, Katie. You see, I'm not a murderer, really. I killed James because he was going to kill me. As far as I see it, that was self defense. Killing you or Doctor Armstrong, though, is a little more tricky. I probably would have killed you anyway, Katie, but it would have been a rash decision. Too rash. Luckily for both of us, you made your escape.”
“What do you mean, luckily for both of us?”
“You see, Katie, I had some time to think while I was following you here. I was still resolved to kill both you and Armstrong to keep my secret safe, but I didn't feel good about it. Finally I realized that there's one sure way to see if I must shoot you both, here, now, or let you live. The machine.”
“Yes. It's genius, really. I'll test you now, and if the result is 'Automatic Handgun,' 'Keith Owens,' or something else similarly explicit I'll shoot you. If not, then I'll let you go.”
“And if it could go either way? What, will you flip a coin?”
“No, I'll probably kill you anyway just to be safe.”
“And if we refuse?”
“Then I kill you both with a free conscience, knowing that you forced my hand. Probably Armstrong first, as I'm pointing this pistol at her currently, although I'm not ruling out a reversed order.”
“If you say so. Now, if you would hurry up, please, and decide, my arm is getting tired.”
Katherine looked at the machine, whining quietly in her hand. After a moment's consideration, “Alright. I'll do it.”
“Katherine! No! You'll go as crazy as he is!” Armstrong tried to push forward but the end of Keith's pistol warned her back.
“Don't worry, Doctor.” She took the machine and pressed the needle to her skin. “I know what I'm doing.” She pulled the trigger.
There was a prick of pain, but less than she expected. A moment later, the printer was buzzing. She tore off the piece of paper but held it in her hand without reading it.
“Well?” Keith still hadn't taken his eyes off of Armstrong.
“I can't read it.”
“Is it illegible?”
“No, I mean that I can't bring myself to look at the paper. I don't want to know. You'll have to look.”
“Besides, how do you know that I won't lie to you? I'm not going to tell you if it says 'Automatic Pistol.' You'll have to look at it eventually.”
Keith considered this for a moment. “Fair enough. Put it in my free hand.” He held out the arm that Katherine had drawn blood from.
“Okay.” Katherine slipped the bit of paper into his hand. Keith brought it up towards his face, slowly. Finally his eyes flickered down to the writing.
Katherine pounced on him, tearing at his throat with the spare needle in her fist. The pistol went off, but Armstrong had ducked under his aim in the split second of surprise and the shot went into the roof. Katherine's momentum carried them into the wall, but Keith's arms pushed her away. Still holding the pistol, he cuffed her with the stock across the face, cracking her nose and throwing her onto the examining table. Bones crunched beneath her as the table collapsed, and Katherine lay dazed in the remains of Dr. Leder. Armstrong froze as the pistol swung back towards her.
No one spoke for a second . . . and then Keith began to laugh. Slowly at first, but then faster and more loudly. He was doubled over, wracked with sobs, but still pointing the weapon at Armstrong.
“You don't get it, do you? Neither of you can kill me, even if I gave one of you this pistol!” He lowered his aim, and then threw the pistol on the floor. “Only James could have done that, and he's dead. Even if they arrest me, I'll outlive any jail they put me in. I'll outlive every nation that there ever is – every species! I'm immort—”
He coughed suddenly, putting a hand to his throat. There was a thin trickle of blood down his neck, and the spare needle from the machine was buried more than half its length in his flesh. Katherine and Armstrong watched transfixed as grasped the needle and pulled it out, grimacing in pain. Another small trail of blood spurted from the wound as he jerked the last bit of metal out.
“Oooh, that smarts.” He touched his neck once, and examined his bloodstained hand. “As I was saying, Katie, you can't kill me. It was a nice try, but you missed. Hurts like the devil though.” He touched his throat again. With the look of someone suddenly remembering something he turned back to her.
“Oh! And I almost forgot! Do you want to know how you die?”
He staggered over to where she lay in the pile of bones. “Oh, but it's a humdinger of death. A real plum.” His voice was jumping up and down now like a used car salesman or a carnival announcer.
“No, Keith. I don't.”
He was leaning over her now, a few spatters of blood from his throat landing on her pants. “But you have to know! It makes James here look boring!” His breath was stale and metallic in her face. “Maybe I'll tell you. Maybe I'll tell you right now. You could join me, you know. We'd make a good team – once we fix yours, of course.”
“Keith. No.” She looked up into his eyes. They were wide and bloodshot; not at all the warm brown that she remembered. “I'm warning you!”
He smiled and looked at the piece of paper in his hand. “The way you die is –”
“No. You. WON'T!” Twisting around, she grasped a shattered piece of femur and thrust upwards with all her strength. There was a crunch, a grunt, and Keith was gone.
Katherine pulled herself up along the wall. Keith has sitting back on his haunches, a shattered piece of James Leder's femur protruding from his ribcage. He stared down at it, cross-eyed. “Oh,” was all he said, in a very small voice, before falling backwards. He took two more wracking breaths and then was still.
Katherine sagged backwards. “Armstrong, are you alright?”
Doctor Armstrong stumbled over to Katherine. “I-- I think so. Is he dead?”
“Yes. But there's one more thing.” Katherine dragged herself over to Keith's left hand. She pulled the fingers apart and removed the bloodstained slip of paper. Without reading it, she tore it into tiny pieces.
Armstrong looked at Keith's body. “You know . . . it was right. The machine was right.”
Katherine shuddered. “I know.”
There was a loud banging at the trailer door. Katherine jumped. “Doctor! Is everything all right? What's going on in there?”
Katherine looked at Armstrong. “The police! What do I tell them?”
The doctor shrugged. “The truth. The machine will back you up, and so will I.”
“But I killed him!” More pounding on the door.
“He was going to tell you something that has killed twelve – well, thirteen people, now. I think you can claim self-defense.”
Katherine looked at Keith's body, lying on its back with James's femur protruding between its ribs.
“Katherine, no one can handle that sort of knowledge. Keith proves that better than anything. You'll be fine.”
Katherine took a deep breath. “Yeah. I guess so . . .” She rose, and went to unlock the door.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Entry 121, July 19th, 2011, 10:26pm (GMT +2)
Today I decided it was time for me to visit Bora Bora beach in Ibiza, the capital of the party capital of the world. I spent most of the day on the beach drinking vodka straight from the bottle, if that gives you any idea of how my day went.
The beach is excellent. Never have I seen sanasara marketed so openly or so easily. There is loud back-beat music playing everywhere twenty four hours a day, and beautiful women in bikinis are as plentiful as leaves on the trees. I feel like I have been to the nucleus of party on this planet. It will likely take me until tomorrow to recover, but luckily tomorrow is a sea day. I'm off to the back deck to continue the celebration. If you get drunk messages from me, I apologize in advance.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Entry 120, July 19th, 2011, 12:39am (GMT +2)
I continued my exploration of Barcelona today. I had a short day due to a rehearsal in the afternoon, so instead of the all day expedition to Montserrat (still in the planning stages) I wandered over to Park Guell, the last major Gaudi construct that I had not seen in the city.
It is a beautiful park, but is located quite a long ways straight uphill from the metro station. I met a nice girl from Amsterdam named Mirjam who had a map, and so we explored the park together. There's one shot that I like in particular from a high point in the park where the entire city of Barcelona is visible. I also caught sight of a castle far away from the city that I had not seen before and that looks quite interesting . . . I don't know what it is called or how to get to it, but maybe I'll find out.
The park itself is lovely. I can really see how Gaudi carried the influence of natural forms over into the design and construction of the Sagrada Familia. In the park, though, he isn't using massive towers of sandstone and basalt – instead, he's using the landscape itself as a building. Paths wind through the hills in the same way that they wind through the inside of his buildings. The curving ramps and walkways are supported by arches that look like twisting tree roots but are really made of stone. I don't know how he makes symmetry look so organic – that's one of the themes of Gaudi's work that has really amazed me.
There were musicians everywhere in the park. They looked too well dressed and organized to be freelance street musicians – I have to guess that they were organized by the city. Many of them had CDs for sale. There were classical duos, a guitarist playing bach, flamenco groups, a type of West African plucked instrument that I can't remember the name of, and several others. Of particular note was the one man band playing several percussion instruments and a pair of digereedoos all at the same time.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Entry 119, July 17th, 2011, 10:51pm (GMT +2)
Today our new cast signed on.
A change of cast is a significant milestone on a ship's internal calendar. The cast is a large, active part of the ship's social scene, and so the sudden replacement can change the entire social dynamic. People use the shift in casts as a sort of calendar – “Oh, I've been here for the past two casts,” or the like.
It actually makes quite a lot of sense to use the casts as a unit of measurement like a month or a year. They're always here a certain amount of time, much like the phases of the moon or the length of the year. The departure of this cast was accompanied by a week of celebrations and merriment, much like the end of the year or the solstice is marked in many cultures.
I haven't met very many of the new people yet, but they've been around. We'll have extra work this week doing the install, and they will only do one production show performance. Next week we'll probably add the other one.
Anyway, there are a lot of new faces today, and a lot of the old ones are missing. Our usual music director, Lubo, is back on board, and our usual bass player, Linkon. It is good to have them back. I think one of my drinking buddies is back on board too, Nicky (the T & D manager. How she escaped the transit strikes in Greece, I have no idea). Such is the way of things. We'll miss the old ones and welcome the new.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Entry 118, July 16th, 2011, 4:56pm (GMT +2)
I mentioned a book yesterday, “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho. Well, I read it again today, and am beginning to feel it sift through my brain. It's a short book, seventy some pages, but I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about people searching for truth. It reminds me of “Siddhartha” in many ways.
Anyway, here's a brief look at the story. Santiago is a young shepherd from Andalusia. He left the seminary (his parents wanted him to become a priest) so that he could travel. After a few years of this he begins having a recurring dream about a treasure hidden in the pyramids. Shortly thereafter he meets an old man claiming to be the king of Salem who gives him a pair of stones, and he leaves for Africa to find his destiny (even though he has no idea where Egypt or the pyramids are). I don't want to spoil the rest for you, but it's a story about omens, free will, and courage.
Here's the most surprising thing that I realized after reading it. Throughout the book, Santiago comes to realize that everything is part of a larger, unnameable whole (the tao, perhaps?). The soul of the world (as the alchemist calls it) leaves him signs everywhere that point to his destiny, because “when one is pursuing what they are supposed to find, the whole universe conspires to help them.” The surprising thing about this is that I could agree with him.
I didn't know that I could believe that there is a universal, unnameable truth to the universe. I profess agnosticism in day to day life and until now thought that faith was something beyond me. How can I reconcile agnosticism with belief?
As I understand it, agnosticism refers to the impossibility of proving god's existence or nonexistence. This is true – an intellectual proof of god's existence is impossible – but that doesn't mean that we can't know in other ways. As the Tao te Ching says: “How do I know this is true?/I look inside myself and see.” So maybe I am capable of faith, if I can only learn to “know” things in ways that are alternatives to intellectual reasoning.
So do I think that the omens that Santiago sees in the book are literally signs left by a conscious deity? No. But I do think that people see what they need to see sometimes. Just because they come from inside instead of outside doesn't make them any less powerful or important.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Entry 117, July 16th, 2011, 2:56am (GMT +2)
I just read a fantastic book by Paulo Coelho called “The Alchemist.” Tomorrow I will write about it – but tonight I need sleep. Anybody else read it? I'm still digesting it, I read the thing too quickly it was so good.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Entry 116, July 15th, 2011, 1:27am (GMT +2)
I made it in to Rome today despite still feeling pretty down with this head cold, and I'm glad I did. I spent the day in the forum and Palatine hill, where the center of Roman archaeological remains are.
It's a huge area – easily several acres – that fills a roughly triangular space between the tomb of the unknown soldier, the Colosseum, and the hollow where the Hippodrome used to be. The entrance is marked with only a small arch, some two or three hundred meters from the Arch of Constantine. The ticket is for the Forum, Palatine, and Colosseum combined, so if you're looking for an easier way to get a Colosseum ticket I recommend the Forum ticket office. Even though the line was shorter than the massive Colosseum line, I still had to wait about an hour.
So how were the ruins, David? Well, I wrote a brief haiku while I was exploring (a brief haiku? is there any other type?):
White bones of antiquity
Baking in the sun
Beetles crawl up Caesar's nose
But seriously, they were pretty awesome. (Coincidentally, I saw the place where Julius Caesar was cremated, and there were fresh flowers there. More than 2000 years dead and he's still got fans, what a G). The Curia, or senate meeting hall, is very well preserved, as it was turned into a church at one point. I actually got to sit in the place where Roman senators used to sit. Many of the other buildings,
though, were just ruins, foundations, or bits of column. A few of the columns showed signs of attempted demolition, but I guess they were built too strong to tear down and turn into churches. Most of
the rest is lying in pieces on the ground – bits of detail work, a cornice, rows of broken columns lying on the ground, covered in ivy. There was a third of a basilica (in Rome, this had no religious purpose but was a place where justice was administered) intact that must have been massive.
What I never realized about Rome was how involved in day to day life the temples were. Almost all of the buildings on the forum were temples. The Roman treasury was stored in the temple to Saturn, and several of the other temples also served as offices or as seats of political power. It is such a difference from the United States where the separation of political and religious power is taken so seriously.
From the Forum I hiked up the Palatine Hill. This is where the guidebook began to become a bit “imaginative” with its recommended route (later it vaulted straight over a chasm that I would've needed a grappling hook to traverse). I had to backtrack a few times before finding my way to the top where the series of palaces had been built and rebuilt before finally being covered with gardens during the Renaissance. Rome set an interesting precedent in Europe for the consolidation of political power – many of the guides I read mentioned that until the palaces were built, Rome wasn't really a monarchy. The palace provided the emperors with a seat to govern from and the infrastructure to govern with.
There's not much left, but there were several huge houses there at one point. Most of it has been reduced to half walls that now divide a series of meadows. Titus's (or was it his son's, Domisomething?) hall of mirrors is visible – built because of his assassination paranoia. Didn't help him much, since he got assassinated anyway, but . . . the stadium built by Severus Septimus is clealy visible as well, set down a level from the main palace. You can stand opposite the emperor's box and imagine the gardens that used to exist there, with various nobles strolling through or being carried on litters. Severus Septimus is also the one who supervised the extension of the Palatine Hill towards the Hippodrome via several artificial terraces held up with a series of arches.
I can't even really understand how old most of this stuff is. Most of it has been around 80 to 90 of my lifetimes. And to think that there were ancient things around when the Palatine palaces were new! When were the pyramids built? Thousands of years before that? Past a certain age, I can't understand it. Intellectually, maybe, but not emotionally.
The train was packed on the way back. I ended up smashed between three sweaty Italian teenagers in the vestibule of one of the cars (no air conditioning, of course). An argument broke out between some of the passengers, and this old Italian lady started screaming at everyone for a good quarter hour. I went through my mental Italian phrasebook to see if I could help calm the situation, but neither “thank you” or “what the fuck!” seemed very appropriate and that's about all I know.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Entry 115, July 13th, 2011, 11:59pm (GMT +2)
It has been a busy couple of days!
This is the current cast's last week, and so we had a going away costume party for them yesterday. The theme was “The Letter L” . . . which required some ingenuity to make happen, as costume supplies are hard to come by on a cruise ship.
I'm impressed with my shipmates, though – they really came through. Someone found a lion costume backstage, another person came in a leotard, and there were at least two Lady Gagas (one dressed in her caution tape outfit). There was a lady of the night, two leprechauns, a lamp, a pair of extremely amorous and very male lesbians, the love angel, linens . . . you get the idea. After some debate (I rejected “love,” “lipstick,” and “laundry”) I came as a lifeguard. Shoes without socks, swimsuit, RCCL-issued lifejacket, plus sunglasses, and bang! Instant costume.
The plan was to leave that party early and go into Florence the next day, as I was starting to feel a bit sick. I woke up this morning much more sick than I was the night before and decided to bag it. It's just a cold, but I can feel it moving down from my nose into my chest and so things are likely to get worse before they get better. Rob is sick as well, so I read all the lead trumpet parts on the production show tonight. Everything went alright except for “Spinning Wheel” . . . the first C# just didn't happen. I'm closer to being a lead player now than I was a year ago, but I'm still not there yet. There's still a lot of work to do.
Anyway, I'm off to bed. I'm sick as a dog and with any luck I'll feel good enough to get into Rome tomorrow. Need . . . pesto . . .
Friday, July 15, 2011
Entry 114, July 12th, 2011, 8:51pm (GMT +2)
I think I've figured out why I'm here.
Not the big picture, of course, the “why are we here?” question that has been the butt of philosophy jokes for centuries. No, I think I've finally figured out why I have done what I've done since graduating from college. Why I moved to New Hampshire, and bounced around on people's couches, and finally took the job here on the Grandeur instead of doing something sensible like going to graduate school.
I've been looking for something since I graduated, but I didn't know what until today. I've been looking for the place where I fit in the world. More specifically, I've been looking for the place where my music fits in the world, and to be honest I haven't found it yet.
In school, we studied bebop. We studied hard bop. We studied swing, we studied the blues, we studied Duke, the Count, Monk, Miles, Trane, Dizzy and all the cats. This is the music I love, and this is my musical heritage, but I haven't found the place where it fits in the
It fit back in school, of course. But who was our audience in school? Our friends, our family, our peers. People came to our concerts to give to us, not to receive, and that's backwards. Musicians should give to the audience, not the other way around.
Maybe there is a place where it fits. Maybe there is some secret valley somewhere where bebop is the hippest thing since sliced bread. I'll keep looking, but I'm not convinced I'll find it. There are a few places I need to check, places where it is much more likely to live than the places I've been recently (New York City, Barcelona, Paris, Japan), but what I see so far is not encouraging.
So let's say that I keep looking, and I never find the place where the music I love fits. What do I do? Well, there are two options. 1. I can get upset at the world for not being the way I wish it was, or 2. I can change. If music doesn't speak to people the way we're making it, then I guess we need to change how we make it.
Because music is still important to people. This much is obvious – who do you know who doesn't listen to music? People have always needed music and always will. The problem is that the “wrong” music is important to them. We jazz musicians always talk about educating the public and fixing them so that they like the “right” music again. Wouldn't it be easier to learn their language instead of forcing them to learn ours?
I believe that it is possible to create a music that I love that normal people today can love as well. I think that we can make a music that has just as much depth, soul, and integrity as jazz does, and that also speaks the language of today's culture. Isn't that what bop musicians did in the forties? Isn't that what Miles and Coltrane did? It has been done before, it can be done again.
Perhaps I sound like I've joined the “innovation” side of the “innovation vs. tradition” argument. Maybe it sounds like I want to throw out everything that has come before, dismissing the old masters as “corny” and “irrelevant.” This is not true. I'm going to keep studying bop because I love it, there's no question about that.
Maybe my own musicianship just hasn't been strong enough to make the old forms work in present day situations. This is a distinct possibility – I am far from a master of any idiom. I don't know how to tell if this is the truth or not.
Maybe I just haven't found the right place yet. Maybe someday I'll land in a town where everyone loves Art Blakey's sound and I'll live there for the rest of my life, happy as a clam.
But one thing I know is true. No matter how many Lee Morgan solos or Cole Porter tunes I learn, they're not mine. Lee and Cole can teach me a lot, but someday I need to make my own music. It may even be set in the frame of what they or other great musicians have done (likely, it will be), but at some point it needs to become mine. And if I want to make it my living, then I need to figure out where my music fits in the world. That's what I'm looking for.
It's a relief to finally know what I've been doing all this time!
Thursday, July 14, 2011
The only issue, though, was that the charts had a serious case of pianist-turned-composer-syndrome. That's when pianists forget that they're writing for wind players and neglect to put those wonderful little things called "rests" in the music. The show closes with back to back medleys, both of the 6+ pages long, and the last three pages of both charts are written straight through for the whole horn section. Normally there would be at least eight bars where the lead lays out and the second trumpet covers his bit so that he can play the obligatory high notes at the end (meaning that the 2nd player is screwed, but that's okay because that's what we're there for), but not in these charts.
On the second show, Rob couldn't hit the last few notes because he was spent. Even on a good day it would have been a stretch, and it wasn't a good day. The headliner gave him some crap about it afterward and things got a little frigid.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Ugh. Groggy today. I guess that comes hand in hand with sleeping 14 hours straight (I had some catching up to do). Lots of dreams with strangely important symbolic meaning. Do we assign meaning to dreams after the fact? Or do they actually mean something at the time on their own? I'd probably have to train myself to remain conscious while dreaming to figure that out.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
What are you waiting for! Show her some love:
Earlier today, just before flag parade . . .
I'm standing next to a silent, hulking giant of a man who is holding a Brazilian flag. I'm holding the Turkish flag. He seems new, so I decide to strike up a conversation.
I point at his flag, and then look up at his chest.
"Nice, man. You know, I bet you could even pass for a Brazilian guy."
His head swivels around towards me. I can practically hear the gears grinding in his neck.
"I . . . am . . . Brazilian."
His head turns back with a click. Awkward silence.
"Ahh. Well, that's probably why."
Monday, July 11, 2011
Entry 110, July 8th, 2011, 10:20pm (GMT +2)
During today's rehearsal our headliner remarked that we weren't giving him enough energy. “Come on, guys!” One of the horn players remarked under their breath, “Gimme a break, I'm just playing the part.” He didn't mean to, but I think he summarized the problem pretty well. Our job as a band is not just to produce notes in rhythm, but to make good music. The guys in the band don't care for this particular headliner, and so they're not giving him any energy. To me, this seems like the worst of unprofessional behavior – screwing with the music just because of ego – but it isn't my place to call anybody out on it (I am the new guy, after all). I'll be ready to move on after this contract.
Today was a lazy day. The Celine Dion tribue act only had one trumpet part, and Rob offered to play it so I had the day off. I spent most of it working to defeat Sephiroth, the arch villain of Final Fantasy VII. I got to the final boss fight, but am woefully underprepared, so I'm off to find a weapon hidden in a sunken submarine or something . . .
Saturday, July 9, 2011
I spent the day exploring the bluff near our dock in Ibiza. There is a road that goes to the top, but there's also an unofficial shortcut involving a dirt path lined with fossilized seashells, and an even less official shortcut that involves a decrepit staircase, an abandoned dock, and several stray cats. The view at the top was beautiful -- I just missed the sunset, but I got some other good pictures. There were a trio of round cement holes sunk into the ground that I think used to be a shore artillery battery during World War II . . . they were linked by an underground bunker that I explored using my cell phone as a flashlight. It wasn't very large, and two of the entrances were blocked with rubble, but it was still pretty cool.
The wind was freshening as I made my way down the bluff. The other cruise ship anchored off the coast was using tender boats to ferry passengers back and forth to the shore . . . they must have been having an interesting time of it as the wind picked up!
Friday, July 8, 2011
The mountain wa awash in luscious green plant life everywhere we looked. There was a brief thruderstorm that reminded me of home -- it was one of those fast summer storms where you can see the line of rain advance across the ground towards you. We found some shelter in a pavillion along with a bunch of other tourists and continued exploring after it passed. The original stadium was actually built for the 1936 Olympics, but the games were canceled due to the Spanish Civil War. From the plaza ourside there was an amazing view of the city. We could see the old cathedral, the Torre Agbar, and of course the Sagrada Familia with its attendant cranes.
Surrounding the group of stadiums and fountains are extensive gardens that wind up and down the sides of the mountain -- mazes of green, filled with small secret niches and long hidden fountains that drop step by step for hundreds of yards. After about half an hour of wandering we were able to find the Greek theater, an authentic reproduction of a Greek ampitheater that is carved into the side of the mountain and seats about two thousand people. Surrounding the upper lip are a line of cypresses that divide the theater proper from the surrounding gardends, where cafes are linked together by dirt paths and streams of water meander between the tables. The stage is backed by a raw rock wall, and the wild forest comes right to the far side of the theater. It would be an amazing venue to play in. I checked the schedule -- both Keith Jarret and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are going to be there this month. Man, now that's the gig!
The heat, humidity, and the smell of the warm wet leaves of Montjuic reminded me of summer back home. I am sad to miss the Michigan summer . . . but when the Grandeur bit into the first big ocean roller a few minutes ago, I couldn't help but smile. I'll be glad to come home, but I'm not ready yet!
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Today marks the start of my 9th week in the Mediterranean, or my 18th week on board. I have about twelve more weeks to go, including this one (although they may ask if I can extend; I hear that this happens to musicians). With the two new musicians who signed on today, six of the nine members of the orchestra have rotated during my time here. In two weeks the permanent guitartist, Lubo, comes back, and the permanent tenor player is on in four.
Ben asked me a few weeks ago if I plan on coming back to the Grandeur, as they need to begin looking for a new assistant Musical Director. I told him thanks, but no thanks as I am not planning on coming back here any time soon -- but I realized later that he wasn't offering me the position. He needs to know that I'm not coming back so they can recruit a 2nd trumpet player who is a musical director candidate. It's not a job I wanted anyway; I've got other stuff to do!