Home Is Where the Anchor Pulls Up

October 10th, 2018


I bought a shirt a few years back that says “Home Is Where the Anchor Drops.” It seems so apt for my life, but I realized tonight as the sun set in Bar Harbor and we headed off to disbark in Boston tomorrow, that for me, home is also where the anchor pulls up.

My cabin is usually on the lowest passenger deck near the bow, so when the windlass starts cranking several hundred meters of chain and an anchor to boot, it makes quite a racket.  Still, it is such a joyous sound.  “Oh boy,” it says in my language, “what’s next?”

For almost every passenger on board, tonight involves the melancholy of packing and saying goodbyes to people who can get surprisingly dear in a short amount of time.  It’s also been a day, I imagine, of savoring that last bit of lox or prosciutto and having that last lunch with free-flowing wine, or that last cocktail by the pool.

For me it’s different.  I basically live in a floating hotel that takes me to a wonderful new adventure every morning.  Getting off and being on land for a while seems less like home than this does now.

Ten days ago, the hall was lined with suitcases, and I enjoyed the great feeling of having the ship almost to myself for a few hours before the new guests began to arrive.  This time, my bags are out too, and the new guests will never know I was there.

What’s next is a couple of days in Boston with friends, then about two weeks in San Diego before I am back on board a different but equally wonderful ship.  No melancholy for me today. No reason for it.  Just my face to the breeze and my hair blowing back, ready for tomorrow and the next day and the next, wherever the now quiet ship slipping through the Bay of Maine is leading me.

Oh Yeah, I Forgot Again

October 5th, 2018

Once again, while cruising port-intensive itineraries, I get too distracted to post anything more than a photo or a couple of lines  on Facebook.

i had a wonderful first cruise going north from the St. Lawrence River up into Newfoundland, which I have been told by residents is pronounced  Noofin Land.  I have been practicing, but it doesn’t come easily.

I got a lot of chances to practice my French, but Quebecois was a different story.  Even Nancy, my travel companion, whose French is pretty close to perfect, was perplexed from time to time.  I don’t think I made myself understood once, except maybe Bonjour and Merci.

I had my first chance to try poutine, the famous fill-me-up of Quebec.  It is soft French fries, covered with brown gravy and sprinkled with cheese curds (Nancy added peas—see photo below for the whole glorious mess).  There must have been two dozen variations on the theme (chorizo and guacamole, anyone?), but all I can say about the classic is that it tasted exactly as I thought it would, and that if I had gone to college at McGill I would have lived on it. Now, once was enough.


We had one rough day at sea, which seemed monumentally bad to many but about a 7 to me. Waves about  4-5 meters with gale force winds  in the wee hours when we all were trying to be asleep, so we didn’t really know we were actually briefly in a hurricane when the wind peaked. Unless my cabin is underwater briefly as it dives into the waves, I am not impressed.  Thank goodness for scopolamine patches, however.  Slap one on as a neck decoration and  swagger around pretending to be immune.

The fall colors were just starting when I arrived (see picture below taken about a week ago in Montreal) and haven’t totally taken over yet, but on this second cruise we are seeing a lot more. I suspect the full orchestra of colors will play between when I go home on October 14 and return to Montreal on October 30 for the last cruise in the area, repositioning on Silver Wind to Florida, along with the geese and many of the human residents of Canada. I seem always to be told the best is past, or the best is coming when it comes to fall colors, but it looks pretty wonderful to me right now.

Today we are cruising very slowly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, required by maritime law to protect endangered right whales, who can be hit by ships going full speed.  Thus a fairly short journey becomes a sea day, but it is looking like one straight out of fall clothing catalogs—sparkling sunlight,  a little fall breeze to make the cheeks rosy and the scarfs and jackets I rarely get to wear just perfect for the occasion.

All for now…peace, blessings, and a sense of wonder be with you.









Canada, in Comparison

September 14th, 2018

Yesterday morning, I went to the Toronto passport office just to make sure all my papers for my Canadian passport were in order before I mailed them. I waited about ten minutes for my number to come up and went to speak with a very pleasant woman behind the counter.  She said they could process it there, without my having to mail it, but I would have to be able to pick it up in person.   I told her that wouldn’t be possible because I was leaving Monday morning for Montreal. She  asked, “can you prove your travel plans ?”  I showed her my flight reservation on my phone calendar, and she said, “Well, I think that qualifies you for urgent processing of your passport. Can you come in tomorrow?”

Well, yes! I was in and out in about 40 minutes that day, with more than I had come for.  With a little bit of scrambling around, and the help of the people who served as my references, 24 hours later, after no wait and another round of pleasant people, one of whom took the photo here,  I have my Canadian passport.

Here’s another story.  When I was pickpocketed in Barcelona this spring,  my driver’s license was in my wallet.  I carry it for ID abroad, so I can leave my passport in the safe.  I tried to submit an application for a duplicate online, assuming that because the license wasn’t near expiring and I had no violations on my record, it would be simple. It wasn’t.  The online site told me I had to go into the DMV in person.  When I got home in July, there were no appointments for the next  two months anywhere in San Diego County.  The first available slot was after I left on another assignment, and the calendar had not yet opened up for any appointments in October, after I returned.

The solution, according to the DMV, was to go in without an appointment and wait in line  Here’s how well that works: Dan tried renewing his license that way last month, only to wait in line more than three hours until he had to leave for another appointment, without ever getting the license. The next time he got there at 6:30 in the morning, two hours before they opened, and there were still three dozen people in line. He waited for two hours then waited another hour inside, but managed to get the license.   That’s what you go through for routine renewal or replacement in the comparatively high-functioning State of California.

The moral here is that bureaucracies can work well.  The passport office in Toronto does.  Everyone smiles, the office is clean and well lit, and the service is quick.  The attitude seemed to be to do all they can for the client.  I got so much more than I came in expecting.

Contrast with the grimy and dilapidated DMV office in San Diego.  So many more services need to be done in person, yet it is in the same cramped space it has been for decades, with people spilling out the doors just to get to the point where they can get a number to begin their wait.  If you are lucky you will get a clerk in a good mood.  If not, be prepared to be treated like just another aggravation in his or her day.  With luck, you will get what you came for, but you will probably not go away feeling the clerk cared much either way.

Okay, maybe it’s a first world problem, compared to what most people have to deal with.  I’ll grant that.  But really, in this and other ways, I feel as if my country is barely clinging to status as a first world country.  We are a threatened democracy, we have crumbling infrastructure, dysfunctional government services,  no universal health care, young adults crippled with debt for schooling, environmental deregulations that are making some places uninhabitable, with many more to come.  Enough yet?  I could go on.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  My experience in Canada is evidence of this.  Yet little by little, Americans have come to expect less and less from their government.  I remember when I first came to work at San Diego City College, I quickly learned not to expect that the drinking fountains would work.  That’s how it starts.  You stop expecting even a basic level of function, then you start assuming things will go badly, then you realize, stunned, what many poor Americans, white or of color, have known forever—that to the powers that be, it is perfectly okay if people (certain kinds of people in particular) don’t get their needs met.  The solution is to adjust one’s expectations.  In other words, the motto for this coming American age may be”Welcome to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  Please bring your own toilet paper.”