The following is one of a series from a trip we took this past month, beginning with the Portuguese Camino, then northern Italy, and ending with a cruise through the Greek Isles and Croatia. The month span of the trip not only gave me a vacation from the news but also brought home how much we are connected and need to consider who else is on the planet. I begin at the end of the trip, the difficult part of the journey for me.
This week Donald and I have been sailing on a cruise ship on the Adriatic, Ionian, and Aegean Seas through the Greek Isles. Our balcony overlooks miles of silence, despite all the noise and activity within the ship itself. There’s a lot to be said for limiting the numbers of these cruises and I am glad Venice will do so in 2020: every day several ships pull up to a little Greek island and regurgitate something like 1000 plus tourists each. At Corfu, I counted five cruise ships one day. We stand in lines to get off and then we inundate the town. After walking in standing-room-only crowds, we stand in lines to get back on the ship. On Santorini, I stood in line an hour to catch the cable car down the cliff to our ship. Yes, the Islands have become dependent on tourism, and yes, I am told they are very ambivalent about this fact. In fact, Montenegro decided it wasn’t worth it after two ships collided coming and going: we could not visit this country which was on the itinerary. Which brings me home again, to the question of what is it going to take for Napa Valley to reach a similar conclusion— or will we choke on our own successes?
Okay, you may have guessed that I am ambivalent about this cruise. It started soon after boarding when we were all called to our emergency stations in one of the main dining rooms. We watched as staff demonstrated how to put on life vests, telling us the greatest danger was fire. Not to leave anything plugged in when we left our room. Not to dry laundry on our decks. And then there is illness: wash our hands often. Use the antibacterial cleansing dispensers ever time we enter or leave a toilet or a restaurant. I tried not to show my rising anxiety, but between germs and fire and sinking, I felt my stomach clench.
Suddenly I was four years old refusing to get into the rowboat that my father had just rented. We were vacationing at the Lake of the Ozarks. My parents planned to row my small sister and me out into the lake. As my mother was putting on my life vest, I asked what it was for. It’s in case the boat sinks, my mom explained casually. That was it! I would not set foot in the boat. They left me with nearby vacationers who offered to watch me and who, at my request, bought me a coke from a machine on the dock, something my parents later scolded me for.
Flying has also always seemed risky. Do we really belong 36,000 feet in the air? Trains are safer. But this forgotten memory of boats roused its head in the “Versailles” dining room of the Norwegian Star. Our greatest danger is fire, the voice on the inter-calm announced. Don’t smoke. Don’t hang clothes on your deck. Unplug everything electrical every time you leave the room.
Laundry on the deck? The windy deck? There is also the hazard of never seeing your undies again, but how would they catch fire? This seems like overkill, but I am not taking any chances. After the California fires of the last three years, I have had enough of fire! No drying on the deck. Yes, I will unplug and I don’t smoke.
But there are other dangers. What about suffocation in crowds? Or participation in an economy that renders the locals unable to afford homes in their ancestral lands? What about our carbon footprint in flying to the cruising site, and then the carbon footprint of the cruise itself, which competes with air travel? And the pollution of our oceans, which is also significant.
But it’s not a clear-cut issue. Yes, I also enjoyed this cruise, although I won’t do it again for the above reasons. The peace on the deck outside our cabin with its wide vistas mesmerizes me, bringing the rhythm of waves into my dreams. And then there’s visiting ports and sailing seas that have always inhabited myth more than the everyday world for me… meeting people from Italy and Greece, Australia and England, Germany and the Ukraine, Mexico and Northern Ireland… it’s a melting pot of a ship. I can’t help but think there’s a value of all of us in this together, taking turns, standing in lines to get on and off, laughing at a child challenging a grandfather at shuffleboard or offering to help an aged parent up a ramp. We may speak a number of languages, but we also speak the language of the heart: petting stray, fat cats patrolling a dock, having our pictures taken with willing resident dogs because we miss our own back home. We have more in common than we don’t.
We’ve got to make it on our planet. We got to find a way to cool this earth down. Maybe within this high carbon footprint, polluting ship is also a seed of hope: the experience of our common humanity, even with all its hazards.