For a kid with a fear of the dark, public bathrooms, flying, and dying alone, I embarked intrepidly on a transatlantic cruise that mirrored the intended route of the ill-fated Titanic of 1912 from port at Southampton to New York City.
In fact, I crossed the second largest ocean in the world on The Queen Mary 2, the largest passenger liner in the world, twice this summer (to Southampton in May, to New York in August) aboard a palpable orgasm and leviathan of a luxury ship; with the $800 million spent to create the QM2, it’s safe to say—though I hate the wretched vernacular and trends of language attachment in our culture—that the Queen Mary 2 is kind of a big deal.
The Queen Mary 2 stands as the flagship of all Cunard Liners, a company started by Samuel Cunard with over 200 ships bearing his name. My pleasure voyage— with the purpose of getting me to England, before I carried on, carried on, carried on to continental Europe, Scandinavia, and eventually Russia—stood as the only pragmatic way to get me to St. Petersburg in style because of my general phobias and particularly my acrophobia, which prevents me from flying.
My brain afflicted with neuroses—stemming mostly from my mother’s side of the family with hints of general catatonic tendencies—I set off this past May in the fashion of Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, William Makepeace Thackeray, and other great authors on a transatlantic cruise on the most royal of all maidens. Having fully accepted my fear of flying after several draining—emotionally and financially—sessions with my analyst, I had had enough of Bernoulli and his silly principle; yes, I knew the inherent soundness of aerodynamics, but my desire for control, my penchant for the Romantic and literary, and my need—having nothing particular to interest me on the shore—to sail and see the watery part of the world, to drive off the spleen, made me set off on a voyage.
Of course cruising stands rather in its own field, quite sui generis, within the realm of travel, yet the QM2, realized in the winter of 2004 after five years of planning and construction, remains in its own domain, being the ship, the unbreakable ship, a floating island, a city of 2,600 passengers and over a 1,000 crew members.
The QM2, grander than the original Queen Mary brought into commission in 1936 and more impressive still than the Queen Elizabeth 2, leaves from 48th street in midtown Manhattan and appears like a big phallus at first glance. This looming ship of 14 decks accessible to passengers is replete with the Empire Casino, a two-tiered Royal Court Theater, a video arcade, a golf simulator, several pools, a racquet tennis and a basketball court, an art gallery, and the world’s only floating planetarium, Illuminations.
Two main dining rooms (the Britannia, or the Queens Grill Lounge for high market guests) serve scrumptious fair, and for an extra $30 per head, The Chef’s Galley (complete with fancy-shmancy dinner cooked in front of diners and a glass of wine for each course) and restaurateur/chef Todd English’s onboard restaurant provide food alleged even more impressive. For relaxing meals and off-hour eating, The King’s Court on the seventh deck gives an informal tune to a vast and scrumptious selection of food with its four separate dining areas of varying kinds.
The transatlantic cruise, which takes five days and arrives in port on the sixth morning allows for introspection, leaves troubles at shore, and during the first night on my eastbound cruise to Southampton, I sought to secure future amorous endeavors by sitting in The Golden Lion pub and putting virtue to the sticking sport in correspondence with damsels on land— one epistle to a poetess from Ohio who once dumped me in the form of two short haikus.
Perhaps most remarkable stands the fact that the QM2 runs so smoothly across a Pond so vast and prone to weather, swells, and general squalls anything but pacific — raging till the dying of the light. The stability derives from the combined use of four huge folding fin, UM series stabilizers by Rolls Royce-Brown Brothers which reduce the rolls of the ship by 90%.
At nights, perhaps the only things that can spiritedly steal your balance on the ship are the alcoholic drinks. You may in your head feel the rise and fall of the ocean after a white Russian or two, a slippery nipple, an apple martini, and a Monkeys Brain (Cherry Herring, vermouth, and Baileys in a solution such that the Baileys congeals to appear as the title of the drink); the ship then sways as people carry on with their keen Saturnalia, their debauched Dionysian inclinations.
Though the boat remained ordered, with the occasional tilt of ethanol, my life in the realm of Aphrodite did not remain in shipshape, for I met a lady. On a ship so riddled with order and care, I found my emotions like swarms of butterflies unable to be diagnosed by even the most astute of lepidopterists. But order is rare, as the universe certainly does not tend to remain static. So said a nineteen-year-old MIT gal I met in G32, the ship’s night club. We live in this beautifully dynamic world. Organization stands as momentary, fleeting, transient, ephemeral—generally infinitesimal where disorder stands in comparison.
I originally approached her with my journal, and although in vino veritas, in hard liquor there seems to exist extreme confidence in my character. I sat down at her table, and asked what she was writing. She looked a little bashful, curling the nice corners of her thin, bloodless, aesthetically-pleasing lips.
This MIT girl, of unconventional beauty and Romanian descent, told me the second night of the cruise that the trend toward entropy can be explained by the second law of thermodynamics, as she added kinetic energy to melt the ice in her Monkey’s Brain. The result of this inevitable, inexorable (indeed prophesied!) disorder: my squirming emotions.
My goal has always been—and I say “always” being since last winter when I planned my cruise—to have sex at sea, to take on the vast Atlantic in passionate thrusts. Lust or love are irrelevant—just something tactile, emotional, living. My one concern was that the motion in the ocean would get all the credit and not my prowess with technique, my acquired positions from The Book of Love.
I spent my days eating, studying Russia, and chatting in Russian to the Ukranian dancers on board—charming them with my Slavic tongue up from their long legs to their distinctly Eastern European blond hair. I would use the state-of-the art gym during the day or run on the seventh deck like the Word running across water, effortlessly crossing an ocean with the salty air, the thick fog at times, at others the brackish refreshing quality, blowing through my long hair rivaling that of Pushkin in magnificence. I would spend nights with the MIT chick, and she would discuss with me her penchant for literature, her love for Vonnegut and Calvino, and her intense interest in metallurgy.
Days on the cruise can be spent in the most mundane ways such as dance classes, bingo, or quiz bowl in the Golden Lion (in which a mention of your identity as a Princetonian will invoke a debate over which group of AARP subscribers will get you on their team), or tea at 3:30 in the afternoon in the Queen’s Room—an event during which I relished incomparable biscuits and scones and cucumber sandwiches and a large selection of Twinings of London tea.
Opting out of most of the Grand Show performances at the Royal Court Theater, I began to twirl pen pirouettes on page at the strike of midnight with the sea fueling my prose so as to cultivate a (19th century) Romantic mystique with such a lovely moon-soaked hour and more romantic in the amorous sense as well to serve the purposes of Aphrodite and her patronage of me, a veritable Don Juan Tenorio.
At night I would avoid the wretched Karaoke performed by overweight, well-fed-in-the-middlegetthefuckofftheplanet Americans and discuss South American politics with a Pharmceutical CEO from Argentina, or speak with a woman from Scotland about her idea for slum rebuilding in the States, or chat with a man from who spoke about his lucrative real estate career in Bristol, all-the-while speaking of how he has had the fortune to become, “Very comfortable, quite comfortable.”
The demographic of the ship, and what a demographic it is, varies, I imagine, from cruise to cruise, but the general crowd consists of rich old people from America and the U.K., wealthy and nouveau-riche South Americans traveling with their families, a comfortable selection of middle class people who have circulation problems that inhibit them from flying, or young and old alike who fear those scary flying things in the air known to most as airplanes.
But just think of the vastness of the travel at large. Think of noticing yourself on the radar screen equipped in the gym, some bars, and your stateroom that indicates your longitude as the exact same as Iceland or to see that you are no where to be seen from anywhere on Earth with no boats in your vicinity with the only thing protecting you from perishing in the depths of the Atlantic is this silly luxury ship.
The staff members consist of a most diverse and joyous group, from the common maintenance man from the Phillipines to the English gentleman host dancer of geriatric identity and pathology—from the ebullient Bulgarian conversationalist in the Golden Lion to the winking Polish wine stewardess who spoke Russian with me, from the Mensch of an English nightclub cocktail water to the Hungarian woman at the tour office for planning theater, travel, and accommodations once on shore.
The cruise most certainly did not have to remain a bacchanal and epicurean descent into liquor, food, and relaxation; in fact the enrichment programs and facilities on board can provide the sea-goer with the perfect amount of intellectual stimulation and edification if a hot metallurgist isn’t quite doing the trick.
The Oxford lecture series aboard the ship allows passengers to hear world renowned professors pontificate on relevant global issues—many dealing with U.S. and British relations—or opine, waxing—one would hope—eloquent on historical topics to a rather sizeable audience that can fill a theater onboard.
Members from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) company serve as ship players and perform on board in formal and informal settings, and the Orana String Quartet serenades the ship with the music of selected dead Germans.
Some artistic culture, if you can call it that, exists in the nether-sphere of the middle of the ship. I walked up to the Winter Garden lounge area during my second crossing where idiots were bidding on Nechita lithographs when Chagall and Lichtenstein were available. Philistines! Myopic wenches! The fabulous auctioneer yelled out, “Do I see three-thousand? Do I see three-thousand?”The soles of his shoes were floppy and beaten, and his soul appeared even more decrepit. A watercolor Rembrandt came out at sea along with Warhol and Matisse paintings, but people were bidding on Nechita.
In the ship with its library of comfort, in which I spent an evening philosophizing with the MIT metallurgist after we stayed awake all evening after a G32 stint, one can find the most exquisite collection of Classics at sea and the common chick lit—which I had the gall, gumption, chutzpah, cojones, brazenness—to throw overboard, though I lacked the desire to mar the lovely sea. History and travel books, guides to Europe and America stand as staples in the library with nice polished wood, dark and of marble consistency and charming, soporific chairs that call out lullabies, if such ditties can be metaphorically symbolized by a divan.
Alcohol flows richly on board, and although people do not become sloppy drunk—and if they do, they blame a lack of balance on the sea— there is a comfortable rocking inebriation with bars galore, flowing, flowing. The Veuve Cliequot Champagne Bar on the third deck boasts a cozy décor with suede couches and chairs that cater toward relaxing conversation or reading and the dry, Brut, and Rosée. Glass mermaids swam together on crystal basins serving as light fixtures on columns leading up to the champagne bar. The carpet had turquoise and dark orange and the faint yellow of champagne bubbling up for all to see.
A lot of time spent on board becomes introspective.. Some people decide that this is the equivalent of doing nothing, when such time alone away from the land can stand as quite salutary, rather tonic to one’s health of body and mind. In doing nothing, I once went out onto the balcony of my stateroom completely nude at night, with nothing there but the ocean to take me in her tumultuous bosom, and the thick wind to bath me in moisture.
Sometimes I would go out on the balcony at crepuscular times and watch the night revealing the thousand sordid images of which my soul was constituted — the white waves chopping below, the wide wake in the back, as we ironed out the ocean flattening it in our gargantuan force.
After dinner I would go to the Commodore Club—the blue jazzy bar with a cigar parlor just off the bar—and I would speak with Brits and Germans and listen to the syncopated rhythms of jazz and look out to the sea; the window gave the impression that I was in fact outside of the ship, a ghost, removed from myself looking in.
Sometimes I would show up at G32, where alternatively DJ Stevie J or DJ Smudge played that funky music, as I sought she of MIT metallurgical fame, commenting on the glorious metal work with the strength of a 9 ft high emblem pronouncing the name of the club. I ordered my drinks the only way I take vodka martinis—straight up, with olives, and preferably of Stolichnaya. The MIT damsel couldn’t take the strength of QM2 Chardonnay and poured Sprite as a mixer to add a tingly fuzziness to the white wine. Some singers would stand in the club with silver ties clashing with black shirts and moonlight the ship. I saw a guy on the dance floor trying to hide a boner.
One day into my second crossing, I passed a man, or perhaps he passed me, and he came up to about my belly button even at the very top of the tuft of his frosted blond hair. He sported a stunning smile with scythe-like canines and gleaming bicuspids, and he donned makeyougoblind silver shoes and a stylish Euro tracksuit; his girlfriend of gigantic height, excellent beauty, and carrying the man’s baby. I realized it was Rod Steward, of rock star immortality, and throughout the rest of the cruise, people on board reported Rod Stewart sightings and how he was staying in the most luxurious of all rooms—some vast palace of a two level apartment on this city at sea, replete with full stocked bar, blocked off tanning area, personal gym, living room. If one is willing to continually shell out the cash, the QM2 could serve a comfortable home infinitely.
Often, the sea boomed as Zephyr sang on, and the world seemed to be spreading apart, and we were cutting at it, and as we head down the Eastern Seaboard, the air was so thick I had to chew it as if after a yawn. Off the port side in the distance, I could see the dark blue of the water where as it was golden as the sun shone overhead. And my pen felt food on the paper as I dug into the pulp.
The westward voyage seems most fantastic upon arrival, for I have never seen America so beautiful, never felt so patriotic, never sung America the Beautiful so pleasantly as the morning I sailed into New York with the glow of the Statue of Liberty off the port side of the ship and the wind in my face. We entered the Hudson River, and I had never wanted to step on American soil so badly. I would return to Princeton and kiss the steps of Nassau Hall in the French style. I went out to the stern of the ship to watch the wake behind us, white at dawn, as we plowed through an ocean.I left the ship, but I had the dexterity in my mind to form the clay images— mentally pinch-potting—of the visage of beauties at sea, and the lovely ship that crossed and dominated an ocean.