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June 25, 2011

Cornelia's Aweigh



By Cornelia Read

So I just finished my first-ever voyage on a boat (not counting ferries or dinghies or floatingish thingies that are inflatable and/or require what the sailor types in my lineage always refer to as "a nice breeze" to locomote). Which was pretty damn cool, I have to tell you.


The trip was an enormo-prezzie to the fam from my mother, in honor of three of her grandkids having graduated from various and sundry schools this month.


Mummie (hey, if you are a parent of the female persuasion and gift your offspring with splendiferous adventures of this magnitude, you deserve the classically haute-Mitfordian pronoun, right?) treated me, my sister, my sister's husband, my eldest girl, my niece, my nephew, and two school pals of niece and nephew to the proceedings, which was damn fine and gobsmackingly generous of her.


Mom does tons of awesome stuff for us all, and I don't know how she comes up with the buckage for it. I think she subsists on cardboard soup and government-cheese fumes in between these stunning bouts of maternal largesse or something. Really.


I have learned many things during my time at sea. Here are some of them: 


1. If you are a woman who has two sons in the Navy, DO NOT let them take you drinking in Pearl Harbor, because you might wake up with a two-foot-tall tattoo of angel wings from your shoulder blades to your waist, even though the last thing you remember is being led into a room with all these weird pictures on the walls and one of your kids saying, "you can do Mom in the other room, me and my brother will stay together." And then waking up with your nightgown stuck to your back, totally hospital-cornered into the guest bed so tightly you can't move.


On the bright side, this woman's sons did this to her because they think she IS a wonderful angel, and she already had a number of tattoos. And it's really pretty (she showed us by pulling down her tanktop straps on the Denali Lodge shuttle bus, and also I saw her getting her formal portrait photo done on the ship). But still.

And hey, could be worse:


Although I think this one might be suitable revenge on the guy who did the angel wings tattoo at one's children's behest, if one were to, say, kidnap him and take him to a rival tattoo parlor, after nuking him with one of those Marlin Perkins Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom tranquilizer darts.


2. Go to the fire drill on the first day. Because you’ll want to know what to do if bad stuff happens. Which it so totally probably won’t, but still. Sometimes it does. And I say this because this is the ship my Grandmother Smith christened in the ‘30s.


3. Bring stretchy pants. Because you will eat the entire side of a house at every meal. With ice cream on it. Probably flambé.


And then a couple of bowls of gravy and some chocolate mousse. And twice your pre-cruise weight in smoked salmon.


4. If you are bringing your own luggage to the departure dock, make sure that the guy you give your stuff to attaches THE TAGS FOR THE ACTUAL CRUISE LINE YOU ARE GOING ON to each of your bags (e.g., if you are going on a Princess Lines cruise, having the guy apply Holland America tags is a really, really bummer idea.


As you may have surmised, I speak here from personal experience.)


5. If you forget suggestion number four, be on a ship that has nice people working on it. Because you will need awesome, awesome people who will make it nice for you even though you are wearing the same clothes for three days (and totally feel like Immigration is going to send you back to fin-de-siecle wherever from Ellis Island--with “Scarlet Fever” chalked on the back of your itchy homespun-tweed shmatte where you can’t even see it--well before the Holland America boat decides to take its sweet time lolling into Juneau.)

The people on our ship made Gavin McLeod and Lauren Tewes


look like rank amateurs. Even though they only played captain and cruise director on TV and stuff (okay, I do admit I kept expecting to find Isaac mixing frothy/frosty day-glo libations in a blender behind the Lido deck bar,



and to run into various bejeweled Gabors in the elevators.


Or at least Paul Lynde or something.)


6. A lot of people end up crashing in Alaska from elsewhere. And their stories are pretty great.


But here is a caveat from a tourbus person about the whole “there are five single men to every single woman here on The Last Frontier” thing:

“Sure, the odds are good. But the goods are odd.”



7. IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: Do not let your fine-looking teenage daughter go party with the dudes who run the zipline for the rest of the day until the ship embarks after they send her whizzing along cables above the tree canopy for an hour and a half unless you want her to hang out with some guy named "Steve the 'Stache" and discover an entire galaxy of body-piercings neither of you had ever envisioned in your wildest nightmares. Even though she is rock-solid on assuring me that she is not interested in any of them, but she got great pictures of them sent to her by Steve the 'Stache over the last several days. Isn't texting fun?


So even though I worry she might change her mind, which she insists she totally won't, I did love hearing about the slightly exaggerated ruler (with witty disclaimer caption) the aforementioned Steve has reportedly had tattooed on his inner thigh--which had me doing spit-takes of mirth throughout dinner that night, every time I thought of it. Which almost makes up for the whole piercing-galaxy thing.

And, hey, she just got another text from Steve the 'Stache. Who is a mere eleven years older than she is.


8. You totally fucking can’t see so much as a single molecule of Russia from anywhere in the town of Wasilla. Even if you’ve got a westward-facing window seat on the upper level of the Princess train-to-Denali’s dome car.


So there. Neener neener.


Then again, it's a little tough to see the ex-governor in Alaska right now. But they don't have cruises in Arizona.


9. The legal smoking age in Alaska is nineteen, which becomes an important thing to know if you have recently decided on a whim to buy each of the three kids in your traveling party who just graduated from high school his or her very own sixteen-dollar Arturo Fuentes Hemingway Classic from the ship’s cigar bar.


Like, especially if you have just told the bar-server chick who’s kinda-sorta in charge of the place for the evening that your young companions are all eighteen. Whether or not they are actually, uh, seventeen. Allegedly.


Not least if the bar-server-chick-k/s-in-charge-of-the-place-for-the-evening only remembers that the smoking age in Alaska is nineteen after you’ve helped your young companions set fire to said trio of sixteen-dollar cigars.

Though it is rather fine to finish smoking your respective Hemingway Classics on the fantail of the Promenade deck at midnight when it’s the longest day of the year, still totally light out, and you happen to be sailing through a really groovy-looking fjord in Alaska. Just saying.



Especially when you and your three young smoking companions can sing all of the verses of Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat” from memory, afterwards.




Complete with lyric-appropriate arm motions.


[DISCLAIMER: My young traveling companions are all really nineteen. I have intimated that they were underage merely for humor purposes. They were slow learners and all held back for a year in grammar school. Cross my heart and pinkie swear. And I didn’t let any of them sample my rocks glass of Scotch, either. Because, let’s face it, a fine single malt is, like youth, wasted on the young.]


10. Pack your sleeping pills, your toothbrush, your deodorant, and a change of undies in your carry-on bag.


Even if you didn’t sleep at all the night before you flew to Vancouver because your writing group is on California time and you are Skyping in from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to hear what they thought of your second draft--which means 8 p.m. for them is 11 p.m. for you, and doesn't leave you a whole lot of sleeping time by the end of the session before you have to get back up again.

Because despite that stuff, all-nighters are no excuse for stupid. Or crappy packing.


11. The long-term parking lots for the Newark Airport are actually located in Western Pennsylvania. So you’ll want to get up at 3:30 and not 4:00. Even if you didn't sign off with your writing group until 1 a.m. And this is especially true if Air Canada’s ground crews are on strike. But I’m pro-labor so it was worth it to leave earlier.


And I also waited for my bags to come out onto the Vancouver conveyor belt thing with a smile on my face for two whole hours. So take that, O douchey ass-hat scab-licking corporate-lackey-shill Governor of Wisconsin.


And cheers to you, my striking Canadian compatriots: Si se puede, eh.

(Sorry about the Bruins kicking your asses, too....


Oh, wait... I’m not sorry at all about that.

And I’m a Sabres fan, eh?




12. Douglas Adams was absolutely correct when he posited that “no one has uttered the phrase ‘as beautiful as an airport.’” Especially when it’s in New Jersey and you’ve been awake for circa forty-eight hours.

(I will spare you an illustration.)

Although he might have reconsidered if he’d been admiring the interior design of the Vancouver Airport for two hours from a bench next to the baggage claim. It’s pretty great.

(But, you know, still an airport. Not, like, a splendid afternoon in the Bois de Boulogne or the view across Florence from Fiesole at dawn or whatever.)


13. Denali (AKA Mount McKinley) is REALLY FUCKING BIG. And I say that having trekked to the base camp on Annapurna.


Trust me, the Himalayas are totally pussified by comparison.

Kind of like Vancouver’s hockey team.




14. I make a habit of dancing once a decade. I recommend doing this on a cruise ship. I just did. It was totally great. Especially when me and my niece's pal dragged my mother out onto the dancefloor for "We Are Family." 

And now I will not dance again until 2021. Phew.


 15. I found out my new $49 iPhone takes video. My old $200 iPhone did not, but it was four years old or something.

Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out how I'm going to post them. So here's a nice lady on a ship waving goodbye, instead:



Tell me about a trip that you loved... And please forgive me if I don't check in very often the day this is posted--ten-hour flight back to the East Coast, and spotty internet...



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Cornelia, I'm so glad you're cruisin' not in rewrite hell. Keep dancing and going for drinkies. I've never been on a cruise but love to travel by boat . . . adore totally, those hovercrafty ferries for the overnight between Denmark and England. Did that with Steppie, Jodie, and their Mummie, and his exie one year. Could have totallie left out Exie who I wanted to give a tatto to myself, like the one in your piccies, but Steppie's Mummie was very generous with the sharing of after school activities and would have frowned upon me.

Go Bruins. I would say "Go NY" for the vote they passed today but was afraid someone might think I meant Go Y_s, which I cannot even bear to write, nevermind say. Anyway . . . hockey go brách!

Hi, feeling totally guilty about the long-term parking in Newark Airport, which I know I recommended. But it sounds like the trip has been a complete blast aside from the luggage mishap and Steve the 'Stache. (Note to Grace: I hope you realize the ruler on his thigh is probably fake small.) And when you got to the point in your post where you compare Denali with Annapurna....well, my heart swelled with pride. You are simply the best person to armchair-travel with/through/by. Go Deborah for thinking of it and being generous enough to fund it! xox Ari

What an amazing gift from your mother - we all thank her, if only for making this blog possible. Apart from the entertaining, as usual, writing, I love me some Muppets and Astaire/Rogers.

The ruler on the inner thigh made me laugh out loud; but then, it wasn't my daughter. :)

Safe travels back home.

I had the wonder experience of spending six weeks in Israel when I was in high school. It was a fabulous summer. There was a down side, since then I have not tanned well. But I was a bronze Adonis in the summer of '79.

On the trip back to the US, we got bumped from the London to USA leg. We were students, our flight to JFK needed to loose some people so British Airways could transport a spare engine. I ended up flying to Boston while my suitcase went to New York. We also ended up getting the 'space available' seats. My ended up in Business Class. I had a very nice wine with my streak lunch, thank you. I did have to explain that the 30 minute delay on takeoff was, me. He got over it. I had to explain to customs that yes, I had been out of the country for six weeks and all I have is a carry on bag, my suitcase is in New York, honest. I did get to see a Concorde land in New York the next morning.

I did some amazing things in Israel: I climbed Mt. Sinai; floated in the Dead Sea; climbed Massada; toured the Dome of the Rock; danced with a soldier at a disco on the shores of the Sea of Galilee; weeded cotton fields on a kibbutz on the border with Gaza; and read from the Bible in places that chapter discussed. (My future fortold. I read Deborah "between Ramah and Beth-el in the hill-country of Ephraim." {Judges chapt.4} This is the chapter about Yael. Princess one is Yael.)

Happy Travels!

The Wife has done a few cruises and every time returns even more convinced that I am right in claiming that "trapped on a cruise ship" is probably one of the worst places I could be.

Trips I like? I dunno... the ones I remember with a smile all seem to involve some unexpected awfulness which in hindsight has become comedic. I am perhaps pleasure-averse.

Cornelia, I'm not sure I have ever enjoyed a trip as much as I've enjoyed this blog.

Your blog entries are always such a pleasure. Your trip sounds like it was truly wonderful. My hubby and I are planning a cruise to Alaska next year, I hope it is as much fun.
Go Bruins . . . Heh

Wonderful blog, Cornelia. Wish I were there. I've always wanted to go on a cruise, and you make it seem so glamorous, well, except for Steve the "stache".

I enjoyed my trip to England (by myself) last Fall. It was so freeing to travel on an unlimited Britrail pass for two weeks. Hop on, hop off. Loved it! Also being able to touch and be inside buildings that were constructed in the first millineum was pretty cool too. I loved walking on the cobblestone streets in medieval parts of towns, seeing graffiti on the walls of castles and cathedrals from 500 or more years ago and standing in the places where significant events in history occurred. The whole trip was pretty amazing, and I can't wait to go back.

Thanks for sharing the fun -- what a great gift! The first cruise I went on, I shared dinner seating with an extended family. Steve and Julie had brought their own two children, plus other family members, in a "more the merrier" group, and it was. I started going to Jonesborough for the Storytelling Festival, at their invitation to stay with them -- Steve introduced me "we met her on that cruise and liked her, so we decided to keep her."
Marsh organized the storytelling cruises for ETSU and said it was "like herding cats," but such fun for us all, and we did work on stories in such interesting places! I agree that one should have some clothes in carry-ons and save the loosest clothes for the end of the trip -- the food is too good to miss! . . . and I LOVE being pampered!
Marsh said to expect challenges, and welcome surprises, or else "stay home and sort socks." I learned to make sure the baggage is checked properly for the final destination -- it took much scrambling to get my bags from the layover in Detroit to final arrival in Rome .. . and ginger is great for motion sickness!

Cornelia, I'm green with envy. Is there a chance your mom wants to adopt a daughter close to her own age? Because, seriously, I'd throw my own mom over in a heartbeat for a trip like this.

Just kidding. Maybe. :-)

I've had two "best trips", both in the last 10 years. The first was a week in Paris followed by a week in Tuscany, in the company of a very good friend and her good friend, who were leading six of us women to wonderful venues focused on fashion and food. The second trip was last year, a week in Peru (with two days at Machu Picchu) and a week in Ecuador. We spent four days in the Galapagos, on a 20-person boat, which ruined my hopes of ever taking a cruise. I was so seasick the entire time. Boo, hiss. But it was still a fabulous experience. On that trip, two of the women were from Alaska, both having moved there in the 70's. I heard that "goods are odd" quote for the first time from them! And they should know.

The only US state I have not been to is Alaska. Did you get to see any whales, or were you entirely focused on watching out for your daughter and keeping her from comparing tattoo rulers to body parts?

What a wonderful post, trip, and great visuals! I also enjoyed the responses. As I am an armchair traveler now, nothing to report, but my enjoyment of you guys.

Cornelia, you give great blog.

The only cruising I've ever done (on a ship, as opposed to all of the car cruising I did in high school) was in the Navy and it was not glamorous or even much fun. Well, ok, I did get to see a Blue Whale once and help fire the 50 inch guns on a destroyer, but other than that...

Most of my most memorable trips have been car trips around North America. Every summer, my folks would pile us all in a car and we'd drive a few thousand miles, often managing to include a stop in Disneyland. The longest trip was from NorCal to Yellowstone National Park, then all the way down to the Grand Canyon, then to Vegas (this was at the height of the Rat Pack era, circa 1965), then San Diego, then Disneyland, then San Francisco, then home. In a 1951 Cadillac. With no air conditioning. And three kids who constantly played the "How best can I fuck with my siblings until they crack" game.

I'm surprised that Mom & Dad didn't leave us in the Utah desert.

I also remember the many "Random Roadtrips" that my best friend and I took in the 1980s. The concept is simple: take a map of 2 or 3 states (our map was of those states west of the Rockies, and we'd draw numbers for the three states), then get good and liquored up and toss 3 to 6 darts at the maps. Go where the darts land, or as close as you can get.

We once went to Medford, Oregon, then near Lompoc, California, then somewhere in the desert near Yuma, Arizona, then to Grass Valley, California, then home to San Jose. We also took many Random Roadtrips around NorCal and even around the Bay Area

It's been a few years since Grace & I have taken a road trip, or any sort of vacation (Curse you, fucked up economy!), but we hope to take a long one next summer. Two middle aged hippies and two Canine American Princesses in a car for 5-6 thousand miles. Yeah, that'll be interesting.

Our twenty-two pound Maine Coon Cat, Buffalo, rode in the car with us from Boston to Tucson. He loved it. We stayed overnight in hotels and he would run in from the car, straight to the bathroom, and stand there until we fed him. Then he'd jump up on the bed and dare us to ask him to move over. Fortunately we usually had a room with two beds. We just waited until he picked one and we took the other. There ws no sense in arguing with Buffalo.

Cornelia, I know Buffalo looked cute in that picture of him trying to lay down in my old TopSiders, but he has scared medical residents and fellows out of my office. Heh, I still get letters.

To post your iPhone video to TypePad, I think you have to upload it to a video web host site like YouTube, and then use the exact link for the TypePad insert. I think.

My first ever by-myself vacation was in 1978, I was 18 and had a friend who lived in Rockledge, Florida. I went for the whole month of July! We had a great time, went to the beach to tan & swim & flirt with boys nearly every day. A one day road trip to the Magic Kingdom was a blast. Also a road trip to Gainesville where one of my friends had a Dr. appointment. We stayed overnight in a Holiday Inn and I still have the towel . . . We had a wonderful time enjoying our last summer as 'kids'. Went to movies, ate junk food, shopped. It was the first time I ever met anyone with a pool in their backyard, which I thought was totally amazing.

Since Facebook has come along I have tried to find the 3 girls (now women) that I was so close to in Rockledge but no luck. That summer started my life long love of Florida and Disney World.

That video of Ginger Rogers dancing is amazing. I sat a row behind her at Reagan's first inauguration. She was very elegant (though not quite so slender). It had rained a lot the day before, and all the women's expensive heels were caked with mud. She didn't seem to mind one bit and was extremely pleasant to the people who helped her through the aisle. She seemed very classy.

Oh, Gaylin, that's the trouble with women and facebook. I've changed names twice since I was eighteen and I'm surely not the only one. I would love to find out how it is all turning out for the wonderful women who leaped into adulthood with me. But the name change thing leaves me only hoping they're still out there and all is well.

Carol, wouldn't it be great if there was an unseen box in Facebook where you could put a maiden name or name change so that when you searched for someone under an old name - the new you would show up!

Delightful post, Cornelia. Brought back lots of good memories. Trips with family provide lasting memories for the younger ones, but trips with friends bring much more laughter for the adults . . . or so I've found. Remember Kitty Hawk, Nancy P?

I have noticed that some of my women friends use maiden and married names -- maybe if I used Mary Fussner Garrett, more people could find me? (and maybe we women should think about keeping our names?)

There is a way in Facebook to show an alternate name that doesn't appear on your profile, but comes up if someone searches for you. Go to your profile, click on "Account" on the top right, click on "Account Settings", then click "change" to the right of your name. There's a place to put an alternate name, and you can choose whether or not you want it to show up in your profile. I use my maiden and current married names in my profile, but I have my ex-married name in the alternate box.

Becky, I'm so jealous you were so close to Ginger Rogers!

Leave it to you to meet interesting, tattooed people on a cruise. All I ever seem to meet are pharamaceutical sales representatives.

I'd add to your list of recommendations that it can be a good idea to have a boyfriend who, when you fall down on your butt while dancing in a club on an upper deck, picks you up and insists that you keep dancing instead of running away and hiding, and insists that no one noticed or cared, because that's very good for your emotional well-being.

And I'd apologize that we kept you up so late telling you how awesome the new book is, but I'm too busy being jealous that you have Margaret Maron commenting on your blog post.

Kitty hawk was wonderful, MM.

Ah, Cornelia, you never have any fun, poor lass.

You've reminded me of my first cruise --on which three people died, a crew member got stabbed in Panama, half the passengers got sick ( pretty in green) ,and we ran aground in Galveston Bay. Good times.

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