Wednesday, December 2, 2009

First Night on Board the MS Arlene

Pt.18 - Meet the Captain

Link to Pt.1 of this series

Meet Him, Greet Him, But Not a Word of English
And there was the captain, shaking hands with everyone — so glad to meet us all. Meanwhile Andre and another of the Captain’s henchmen, a guy with no lips that reminded me of the concierge back in Paris, handed out the glasses of champagne. We took a love-seat, to complete a circle around one of the small tables. There was a small plate of salty pastry shells on the table. We had some. We had some more. The group of ladies around the table were all talking — to each other — in German. I understood some, pretended to understand more, laughed at the right times, but could not engage them in conversation. They passed us the pastry plate — I said “Gerne”, and “Danke” but they knew we were not of their group, and respected our privacy whether we wanted them to or not. I wished one of them would talk to us, so I could impress them with my German.

We found out that the national makeup of the passenger list (about 150 people) as 70% German, 10% French, and 20% English. Two of the English passengers were Americans. We talked amongst ourselves, and the half-hour went fairly fast in people-watching. It didn’t seem to be the time to get up and mingle.

And Now Ve Vill Talk About Ze Tours
The announcements began. Our unofficial “cruise director” was a German lady named “Lisa-Beth”. She conducted the shore excursions at the ports, usually bus tours, and when she was on the ship and the ship was underway, she provided commentary over the PA system, always in English, German, and French, so you always got to listen to it in two foreign languages, as well as her heavily German English. Her shore excursions usually cost at least $30.00 per person, and we were to pay her directly, not to pay the ship — that ees ze arrangement. We came to refer to her as “Frau Helga”, the prison matron. Her authoritative manner seemed to go with the Sitzbank and mandatory Vivaldi cabin music combination.

Peter, Frank & Jack

At 8:30, we were invited to proceed to the dining room, for seating assignments and dinner. Tables were assigned by language, arbitrarily. Since we were some of the last ones to get down into the dining room, our table assignment was right at the bottom of the stairs leading to the dining room. We met our assigned table companions for the trip. Peter Finch is a retired engineer from Oxford. Frank is a retired lithographer from Bristol. Peter and Frank were companions since before grade school. They were constantly ribbing one another. There is a mental block, here. The more I try to remember actual dialog, the more it eludes me. Jack Mahoney, from Scotland rounded out the table. He is a retired professor of Ethics.

Now Fressen Sie!
The meals are always superb. Ultimate flavor, and picture-perfect presentation were always the order of the day. There were six servers, and they served the entire room more or less simultaneously. Servers were in their early twenties. I never learned any of their names, and they all waited on everybody, rather than having territorial tables. Some looked like waitresses. There was a Cambodian girl who always looked very happy. One was a walking embodiment of grace and beauty, more on her, later. The servers never engaged in conversation with the diners, but were always there whenever someone needed something.

Listening to Peter and Frank was like listening to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Peter always described things in minute detail and complete sentences, in a complete monotone. Frank, on the other hand, was full of exclamations and animations. Frank was married, but left his wife behind, because she didn’t like to travel. She encouraged him to take the trip with his companion Peter. Peter had lost his wife within the past year, and was adjusting to life on his own. He was also prone to some sort of arthritic inflammation, and was sometimes in great pain. When he was hurting, he sat more quietly with his head lowered. His arthritis bothered him particularly in the mornings.

Professor Jack was always eager to distract Peter into a private conversation about ancient civilazations. Our trip included many sites which Jack wanted to see, places that he had not yet seen, although he had travelled the world extensively. Tomorrow’s shore excursion, the Camargue was one of these places. When we indicated that we weren’t planning on taking the bus tour, he told us about the Coliseum at Arles, which sounded like something we wanted to see. That day, he had seen the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. We decided to try and see that the following day, when we returned to Avignon.

Back to Der Sitzbank - Gute Nacht
After dinner, we were still exhausted. Upon returning, we found that the room had cooled down some, and that we could cool it down even further, now, by opening the window. There was no insect problem with opening the window, so we left it open. In the distance the dark spectre of Spectacles was lit by only a few feeble lights coming from the upper deck. A cruise boat was navigating up and down the river. On the side of the boat, there were lights mounted of searchlight intensity. Apparently, night river tours have the capability of illuminating their own scenery as they go along. It was like a searchlight in our windows, but we were in bed anyway, and the boat was on the other side of the river. We slept like stones.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

1 comment:

Leslie Hanna said...

I love reading your trip journal stories! When I went on a cruise, we had an assigned waiter and he was our best buddy the whole week! It's interesting how the different cruises work.