When Plan B Involves Crepes

October 5th, 2019

This morning we anchored in the bay of St. Pierre, part of an overseas collective of France, tucked into the southern tip of Newfoundland. I had this gorgeous thought that I would go ashore early and find a cafe where I could indulge in what, bar none, is my favorite breakfast.  Honestly, a piece of fresh and perfect baguette, slathered with good French butter and equally awesome jam, cannot be surpassed in this world. Better even than the best croissants, although they are close behind in second place, and can also be enough to make me swoon straight out of my chair.

St. Pierre is truly part of France in its orientation, and I just assumed this goal could be easily achieved.  Indeed, I saw the typical scene of shoppers coming out of the boulangeries carrying one, two, or sometimes a dozen baguettes, but they were taking them either home, or to shuttered-up restaurants in preparation for lunch. The bakeries didn’t have any tables, so fulfilling my fantasy right on the spot was out.

I wandered all around the little town and didn’t find a single place open for breakfast.  Poor me, or should I say “pauvre, petite moi,” in a bid for Gallic sympathy.  I was thinking of heading back to the ship for a baguette breakfast that would be almost as good,  when I saw one ice cream shop open that was advertising coffee and crepes.

Well, okay, I told myself. It’s not my dream meal, but really, crepes are pretty authentic too.  So that’s what I had.

 

It wasn’t the world’s best crepe, or more than just a good cafe au lait, but it was a moment to savor nonetheless. As Plan Bs go, this one was just fine. I’ll save perfection for another day.

New World

October 3rd, 2019

 

I have crossed the Atlantic on ships before, but usually it has been from west to east, Florida to Europe. My one crossing the other direction took me from London to Iceland and Greenland, an then to Montreal, which had a very different feel from just going straight over the course of five days, as I just did,  from the Old World to the New.

This afternoon, the coast of Newfoundland showed up through a light dusting of hail on my balcony after a day of gale force winds and a fairly bouncy and choppy ride on the North Atlantic. I have gotten used to crossings and didn’t feel any sense of hallelujah at the sighting of land, but as I stood in the observation lounge on the ship overlooking the bow, I did feel a sense of camaraderie with the other people there, that we had all done this together.

When the ship was cleared by Canadian immigration around 5PM, surprisingly few people hurried down to go ashore to touch land, but i was one of them.  I packed totally wrong for wet weather in the 40-50F degree temperature range, and overnight temperatures close to freezing. I hate cold feet, so I hurried off to an outdoor outfitters store to buy a pair of wool socks and waterproof shoes. I have both these things at home and it drives me crazy to duplicate things I rarely use, but I want to enjoy the rest of this trip with warm, dry feet, so enough said.   It was funny though, because by the time I tried on shoes and got to the cashier, everyone in line was from the ship, having come away from home equally unprepared,

This is all a preamble to what I really want to say, and that is that at dinner tonight, by myself for a change,  outdoors on the pool deck with heat lamps and blanket (my favorite solo venue), I got to thinking about what it means to have crossed from the Old to the New World.  I felt a little giddy at the sense of being home. It was, of course, home in the most abstract of ways, because I am in Newfoundland, to which I have no personal connection.

Still, I found myself thinking about what it means to have one’s psyche formed in the New World.  I don’t pretend to know what is it like to be raised in the  British Isles or mainland Europe, but it seems to me that one must feel something about being the inheritor of well over a millennium of history, whereas I grew up in a culture where the meaningful past barely spans a generation or two.

I am part of a culture that traditionally has responded more to  open spaces than boundaries. I know I am speaking from the privileged outlook of being white in the world of which I speak, but still, being of the New World does relieve one of at least some of the burden of history, as much as it equally leaves one adrift without much sense of history at all.

This continent opens itself to possibilities, is steeped in reinvention, and  asks few questions about people’s pasts (tabloid journalism aside). I have been throughout my life so blessed with opportunities to change course, to  change me. It almost seems a requirement in this culture to be dissatisfied, and a defect of personality or character not to do something about discontent. It can be a scary, insecure world indeed, but an exciting place if one is at home in it.

I left the town of my childhood at age 12, and moved again at 13 and 14 to new schools in new cities.  Every time, I felt elation at being able to shed what I didn’t like about myself and embrace what I  believed I was becoming. This rather nomadic life made me very comfortable with change, eager to try new things, and not particularly attached to anything.  I think I would have done well as a pioneer in a former time. Now, in the 21st century, my pioneering means something different, keeping my life  interesting, growing, and productive.  Welcome home, I tell myself tonight, although part of being from the New World is to be home wherever I am.

Reluctances

September 28th, 2019

Often people comment on how footloose and fancy free my life is, and often I wonder whose life they are talking about.  I am traveling the world, to be sure, but as that expression goes, “wherever you go, there you are.”

I bring my personality with me everywhere, and most of the time it serves me well. I am optimistic, resilient, and good at seeing things from multiple perspectives.  I can fairly easily see the good in people and situations, and when I am disappointed I can shrug things off fairly easily as life lessons.

Reluctance is a word I have never seen in the plural, so I will invent it here. I have a few reluctances that have made me less able to enjoy this traveling life as fully as i would like.

First, I am reluctant to take any risks in port that might cause me to miss the ship.  Of course it makes sense to not want to be stranded, especially in my role, where it would affect me professionally as well as personally.  I don’t have any problem choosing not to do utterly stupid things,  like going far from the ship with only a dicey plan for  transportation back, but I sometimes am prone to being too cautious.

And sometimes I’m not.  I met a couple who live in Bangkok who told me if I was ever there, they wanted to show me around.  I had a stop in Bangkok, and we set a plan months in advance, not realizing that the ship would have to dock about forty miles from the city. My friend, who is an airline executive and the owner of a travel agency, said not to worry, he would send one of his guides and drivers to meet Dan and me and drive us in.  We had a fairly short port call, which meant that we would only have a couple of hours in Bangkok.  There were tours going into the city, and of course if they were delayed, the ship would wait for them, but it’s tough luck if you go out on your own and don’t get back.

Dan wanted to cancel, given that traffic was unpredictable, and I might have gone along, except that Charin, my friend , had gone so out of his way to make it happen, and geez, it’s Bangkok!  We would otherwise have spent the day in a boring container port with nothing to do.  So I decided to go, and Dan decided that since I was going, he was too.  Maybe he was thinking it I missed the ship he would rather be stuck with me than sailing off without me.

Anyway, Bangkok was fabulous. I can’t wait to go back and see more.  We had an abbreviated city tour, a great lunch , and then we were on our way back.  We got to the ship with only about a half-hour to spare, and if traffic had been heavier, I doubt we would have.  That close timing was in retrospect a good argument for reluctance on the stop in Bangkok, but I am glad I didn’t let my cautious side prevail.

It’s little things that get me annoyed with myself.  Yesterday was one of those times.  We were supposed to dock in Greenwich but because of weather conditions ended up further down the Thames at Tilbury.  Because it was an embarkation and debarkation day, there wasn’t a regular shuttle transporting guests into town and back, but a special intermittent shuttle to pick up and drop off people in Greenwich who were planning to begin or end the voyage there, and now had to deal with the changed plans.  I decided to hop on the shuttle to explore the town, but as I waited on the shuttle bus, I semi-seriously considered getting off and spending the day on the ship. As we were pulling away from the ship, I felt that glimmer of dread that I had just voluntarily created a situation where it was not  completely in my hands to get back to the ship on time (i.e. walking distance)

”What have I done?” I asked myself as we drove away, and ruminated much of the drive about how many backup plans I could put in place to get back the twenty-odd miles to the ship.  At the other end, I didn’t leave the shuttle stop point until I had heard from about three different people exactly where I needed to be and when.

Then I was fine. I had a fun time wandering around the town and got back just fine, but not very happy with myself for ever having built up such a simple jaunt into an imaginary crisis. I’ve got to keep working on that reluctance, but I remind myself that yesterday I did indeed overcome it a little.

I made some progress on my second reluctance yesterday as well.  Let’s call this one Culinary Reluctance. I don’t have a cast iron gut, and even less so as I get older.  I will spare the details, but it comes down to being generally very uneasy  about  eating food off the ship. I watch these shows about great street food, and I am so envious, but I just don’t dare.

Now that I am on ships so much, I get really tired of the food onboard.  In St. Petersburg this summer there was a Siberian cafe just across the street from the ship and after trying mushroom ice cream there (surprise yum) and rye bread and honey ice cream (another surprise yum) with my Russian friend Tatyana on my last stop in St. Petersburg for the season, I have vowed I am having lunch there or elsewhere every time next summer when I do the Baltic again. Likewise I have made a resolution to have lunch ashore at least sometimes in every port, just to make sure I am not missing out on the highlights of a visit.  Yesterday in Greenwich, in addition to taking the shuttle, which I described above, I decided to live up to my new promise to myself, so I stopped in a pub and had fish and chips and a pint of lager.  Yes, indeed I did!

Today I had another great day, this one with very little trepidation, because I was in the care of friends Peter and Sue, with me here. who live in Cornwall not too far from our port in Falmouth.  They picked me up and took me to a beautiful garden with paths that meander down to the sea.  What a great outing it was, and I even had soup and a scone without worrying about it. You see me at the top of this post, ready to dig in!   I am now back on board, and on my way to being a better, braver Laurel!