March 04, 2014

Jamaica by Morning

The crazy, colorful streets of Falmouth, Jamaica and vicinity:


Ah-la-la. Cruiseland, USA. Out the frozen tundra of the Great White Ohio to a  plane taking us to Hotlanta which would then ferry us to Fort Lauderdale. And so  it went smooth as silk, car-plane-tram-plane-taxi-boat in that particular order.

Arrived around 2:30 and after a quick room visit we hit the Windjammer where  I indulged in terrible food sins: fried chicken, pizza and a hamburger.  All RC needs is a beer I.V. and they'd really have it down.

At some point I mean to take an impromptu tour of where the staff lives. I'll  have to sneak and will surely get caught immediately but I've been curious since  I've read that book on the lives of the cruise ship workers.

Read a bit of St. Augustine's Confessions on the aeroplane. He  adjectives the word pleasure with “venomous” given its tendency to lead us  astray from God. Which isn't particularly nice to read while on a cruise!

Also read a riveting piece on Schiller's view of beauty, of how it balances  and engages both our passionate side and need for intimacy as well as our desire  for order and control. The author also made the very intriguing and true  statement that:

“when we recognize beauty in a piece of music, or the graciousness of  someone's conduct, we see things we know we have neglected or betrayed, and we  feel an astonishing combination of anguish and delight.”

Schiller says if the sense drive dominates we become brutish and superficial  and if the form drive is too dominant we become dry and callous.

This reminds me of the stereotypes in the religion: the liberals superficial  (felt banners of the '70s) and brutish as far as not caring too much about sins  like abortion, and traditionalists being dry and callous and living too abstractly.


I cherish the Eucharist and to a lesser extent Rosary beads: both tactile expressions of God's  love and reassurance.  Protestants, obviously being similarly embodied, find theirs in the fetish they have for their physical Bibles. 


Wonder is not optional. Lately G.K. Chesterton's advice “Don't look a gift  universe in the mouth” seems apropos. (How clever that line! It urges us to  gratitude while providing the impetus for that gratitude by upping the ante from  a gift horse to the universe!) I tend to find wonder in natural landscapes or  seascapes and in fiction or poetry. Sometimes music. Winter has a diminishing  effect on wonder since the trees of the local park are bare and lifeless and the  local pond is iced over, silent and flat-looking. That leaves fiction and poetry  and I've been culpably absent from those of late.

Reading requires a kind of trance best fed  nightly. There's a kind of discipline to fiction reading, surprisingly.  Sometimes you have to read your 10-12 pages even if it's not that appealing  because the next day it will be – you've built that muscle so to speak.


Last night we blew off formal dinner and headed to the cigar bar briefly: ah  the magic scent therein! Three other smokers; eventually a woman came in and  ruined it with a cigarette. She obviously defined “cigar bar” loosely.

Had four Sierra Nevada Pales  before the Platinum show. I may be a heavy drinker by  societal standards but that seems a bit fuzzy, a social construct. One era's heavy drinker is  the next's light-to-moderate drinker. What I really want to know is how much the  old medieval monks drank.

Coffee, my old friend, hasn't been much of one lately. The “scarcity  principle” seems to apply in spades to that favored liquid: When I had only a  cup a day, it felt precious, even life-giving. Now that I have two through the  day it feels a tad commonplace.


In the novel “Goldfinch”, the author details a rich house in  Manhattan with antique furniture antiseptically arranged with lights on like taxiderm animals. A character in the story contrasts it with the controlled  chaos of a antique shop, with jumbled juxtapositions of all kinds of furniture  with “different personalities” and yet arranged together, chairs together,  settees together. It reminds me so strongly of that piece on Schiller about  beauty being a reconciliation of order and chaos, of emotion and logic. The  antique shop exhibits both while the rich family's house is “dry and callous”.

Can we see the sense/form divide play out in American class distinctions? The  upper class rigid with well-ordered lives but dry and callous, while the lower classes so sense-oriented, sometimes brutish or superficial, gambling, smoking,  drinking?


There are two worlds on a cruise: the private balcony and the public (ie  pubic) places.

Embodied  we are - we all have one - and there's a story in each one. Genetically for sure,  but also environmentally given our weight, tattoos, scars, even hairstyle.  Self-disclosure as robe removal, we inevitably tell about ourselves when we get  (nearly) naked and the surprise is that we do so in this public environ. At  least when we wear clothes we're able to project a certain image. Here on deck  our sins of excess are often evident.


Bottom line to everything, the answer to all questions: God didn't make us,  or the world, in a finished state. He chose, for reasons mysterious to us, to  make a creation that tends toward the end of perfection over time. So the  catechism says, and I think it rather neatly explains the paradoxical mix of  beauty and death, of good and evil, that we see in nature and ourselves.

“But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world  “in a state of journeying” toward its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this  process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the  disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less  perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good  there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached  perfection.”


Haiti greeted us this morning. A unrelenting sun, shockingly hot already at  7:10am without breeze. Picturesque green mountains all around and the pungent smell of fires from  domiciles in the hills. Cooking breakfast? Or businesses? I can see smoke from  several source but can't make out through the trees what the associated  buildings look like.

We started out on our adventure after a leisurely breakfast-in-bed (or close  enough for guvmint work - the couch being right next door). Walked into the swelter-heat, down the pier and to the central point until - alas - Steph  realized she'd forgotten her snorkel gear. We retraced our steps, adding maybe a mile in goodly and  much-needed exercise, and arrived back around 10, 10:30.

We took a tram (that's new!) and scoped out the much enlarged Royal Caribbean  grounds. Been maybe four or five years since we'd been here and they've made  significant changes. More beaches for sure, and we picked “Nellie's”, a winsome  cove that seemed to have fewer people around due to it being farther away from  the big shelters where lunch is served as well as from the disembarkment point.

A helpful Haitian (say five times fast) copped us the perfect spot (and  likely the last remaining really good spot): under the dappled shade of a tree  within easy sight of the water. Oh how sweet the simple pleasure of dappled sun  and the near prospect of reading! And the beauty-view of great green mountains  in the hemi-distance beyond the calm sea. All hemmed by quaint stone walls,  rustic and interest-adding. Unobtrusive bungalows sat along the far edges.

We entered the water and swam to the buoys and saw the ship, Liberty of the  Seas, big as life on the right. Afterward back our spot, an exuberant native  wearing a shirt titled “Beach Monitor” talked the ear off a young French couple.  I told Steph he should be called “Beach Talker”. A musical language, French.

Speaking of t-shirts, we saw a big dude wearing one saying “Yes I'm Fat But  Have a Big Cock”. Okaaaaayyyy, another sign of civilization coarsening.

Another guy's shirt said “This is not a beer belly, it's protection for my  rock hard abs”. Yes, it's all how you look at things…

Suddenly, without warning, it was lunch time. (I must've spent too much time  reading t-shirts.) We wandered to the shelters and I picked up some bbq ribs and  corn and we sat next to a solo cruiser, a retiree in his 50s (forced to retire  due to disability of some sort related to having smoked for 35 years but not  grave enough to force him to give up an active schedule of golf). This is his  third cruise this year, and we're not through February. Says he booked  this one three days before we set sail at about 50-60% off and thus overcomes  the “single surcharge” cruises engage in. He told us a lot in a little bit of  time, that he was divorced due to stress related to both losing one of their parents within a 24-hour time period in faraway places. Of the cost, $80,000, to  charter a private jet in order to get his mother's body from some far-flung  place halfway around the world. Of almost being in an accident driving home  after a cruise after two weeks of the “patch”, a “psychotic” drug that prevents  sea-sickness. That he lived in L.A. for a long time and loved it but it's just  too expensive now and so he's settled for Sarasota, Fl. Colorful lot, these  cruisers. At least compared to us.

After lunch we hustled through the art market where I picked up a couple  bookend statues. Very different vibe these days - no high-pressure, and they  take Visa! Who knew Haiti, or at least Labadee, would become so gentrified? The  prices too were commensurately higher for this new professionalism. Somehow I  missed the old amateurism.

Then onto our “Snorkel Safari”, an almost 2-hour excursion that probably  wasn't worth the price but… The “best snorkeling in Haiti” is probably faint  praise but we bit and while we didn't see too many fish it was still nice to see  the stark brain coral, the occasional flash of neon-blue fish, the floating  jellies. Unexpectedly, sixty of us were forced to follow a rather narrow coral  trail so there was little time to linger or spread out much. And in the  universal hierarchy proper to the male eye, it's pretty difficult to concentrate on fish with so many bikini-suited females in range.

On the trip back they liquored us up with two rum drinks, stiffer than I  expected. I also bought a drinkable Haitian beer “soon to be exported” called  “Prestige”.

Juiced by the rum and beer, it was back onboard and we headed immediately for  the 12th floor to enjoy the last regnant rays. Leaving a port is a “little  death”, an opportunity for instant nostalgia. Hard to pull away from those green  mountains.

So: delightful day. Zipped by faster than a zip-line. I always underestimate  how much I'll like the “Potokem Village” of Labadee. If its charms are mostly  ahistorical and manufactured, it still has an odd power. Haiti may lack natural  resources in the usual sense but they sure don't lack resources of sun, ocean,  and verdant hill – which can presumably be shared for tourist dollars. Glad to  know Royal Caribbean is doing its part.

I got to spend a couple hours watching the north coast of Haiti, east to west, as the ship hugged the shoreline (maybe 'hug' is the wrong word - we didn't follow too closely). An older gentleman next to me had his binoculars and peered at the third world country, as close as he'll surely get to those little seaside villages.


Morning ad in breakfast menu
Offers a mimosa
breakfast alcohol,
the  way Truman started his day,
And the Inklings on Tuesdays.


Woke this morn at 6:50 but no Falmouth, Jamaica. Still cruising along open  ocean, suggesting that there was a reason we had to roll away from Labadee at 3  - we were too far out to make it to Jamaica otherwise. I tend to take for  granted the ship can make it anywhere in the Caribbean in short order if it  wants to.


(Later) Most interesting was the tour and scenery as we went the thirty minutes to Montego Bay. Montego Bay itself - blah, tourist trap extraordinaire. Maybe just the particular beach (Aqua Sol Theme Park near Blessed Sacrament church) we were on but it was certainly nothing to write home (or in a  trip log) about. Local gals giving $25 half-hour massages. Got a complimentary neck rub.

Jamaica looks poor; lots of those ramshackle tin corrugated roofs that say  “poverty” next door to high rises. Funny how the stock images of a country seem  true: saw some Rastafarian beards, the distinct hat wear and the smell of  marijuana smoke.

Took a nice run along the main strip. Dangerous intersection proved a bit  challenging - almost got hit. They drive on “wrong” side of road here. Locals  tried to flag me down for monetary gain. (Amazing how many friends I have here  that I don't even know.) Wanted to run to little church “Blessed Sacrament” but  appeared fenced off all around road. Hopefully do some post trip tourism and  read more about the country and that particular church. Definitely feels like a  crime-ish area given this beach is gated. Never good when church is gated  either. I stuck like glue to only main road aware I stuck out like an ugly girl  at a beauty pageant.


Last day at sea, oh sola mio!
Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

I breakout a virginal cigar and look at the calm 7am seas, balcony-bound, zephyr-wind with zaftig sun. Always interesting to see the “full on” peeps who go with the all-you-can-drink $55-a-day alcohol packages. I probably am spending $30 a day, not including tips, so it's pretty close to being worth it just for the novelty of  having the cruise feel like a true all-inclusive. Of course if you're sober  enough to know how much you're spending then you're too sober. Haven't been even  close to having a hangover this trip - I'm hoping lack of hangover is a sign  you're not doing your liver too much damage though I suspect the issues are not  related.

Speaking of alcohol, met some talkative, blitzed people on shuttle back from  Jamaica. White-haired 60-something gentleman from Poland had got in tiff with  girlfriend and she refused to go on island with him so he immediately met four  middle-aged female passengers and spent the afternoon impressing them with his cheer and, reportedly if suspiciously, his knowledge of European history. They all went the bar route rather than  beach route and were suitably elated.

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