Monday, May 3, 2010

Cruise Week 2

April 26, 2010
Oops! No Azores!

While it hasn't been an entirely miserable day, in terms of weather, it has certainly been miserable enough. This morning the waves and the wind were both so high that, after several attempts, the captain, advised by local port officials, made the decision that it was too risky to try to dock at Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel. Needless to say, much disappointment. I was not looking forward to the possibility of taking my onshore tour in chilly, dank (and possibly rainy) weather, but I did indeed want to have some time ashore and to see Ribeira Grande on the north side of the island, an old city I didn't see on my 2007 cruise. There is apparently no intention to give us a second day (or an extended day) at any of our other stops. Sigh. Obviously Celebrity can't control the weather, but they ought to do something to compensate us for this loss of one of our five day-visits: if not an extension elsewhere, then at least an onboard voucher or even free soft drinks for the rest of the cruise.

Another pretty much lost day on deck, though I made myself do some walking outside, if only because I hate treadmills so much. Rough seas and a southeast wind. Only last Saturday gave us a wind coming more from the west than the east, making the decks pleasant. After lunch the clouds finally began to lift, so that it was possible to believe there was actually air between ocean and cloud, and later still there was even the occasional bit of sunshine, but we have yet (as of 8:45 p.m.) to break out of the low pressure system entirely and encounter blue sky. I certainly hope the weather in Europe is better than what we have had crossing the Atlantic.

I worked on a new string quartet drawing today and gave it and two others to the group today. There is still one of the violinists I have only gotten into the group drawing and will try to get a solo drawing of her tomorrow, as she's feeling left out. Unfortunately where I'm able to find a seat for a performance limits whom I can see clearly.

This afternoon I watched Angels & Demons, a movie I hadn't seen, and found it rather better than the movie of The DaVinci Code, though I enjoyed that book more. I've also watched (pretty much, that is--sometimes I nod off) Miracle at St Anna and Brideshead Revisited. Both are worth watching though, since I haven't read either of those books, I can't comment on their accuracy. I seem to recall at BBC or Masterpiece Theatre version of Brideshead from the '70s, but that's too long ago for me to remember.

Another time change tonight, our fifth of the voyage. I don't know if our sixth comes between Lisbon and Cadiz, or Cadiz and Barcelona.

April 27, 2010
Lawzy! Good weather!

Yep, a nice day: mild wind, mostly sunny skies, calm seas. Finally a day like almost every day on the 2007 cruise. Whether it was actually warmer, or just felt warmer, I don't know. But they say it much reach the upper 70s in Lisbon tomorrow, which would be really nice! It was so pleasant to walk easily on the open decks and even to sit out and read a bit.

I worked on another violinist drawing today, taking two photos of the drawing--one of the music and mike stands I drew before the performance began; and then the second after I drew in the violinist. I also worked on Disbelief again, adding in the drawing for a text I wrote a few days ago and doing a new text and drawing as well. There are now 29 "panels" for the collection, counting the title page.

April 28, 2010
Óbidos, Portugal

Today two fine things happened: 1, I stepped onto solid ground for the first time in 8 and a half days; and 2, I had Lay's Potato Chips for the first time in longer than that. No surprise that we did not disembark from the ship on time: cruise lines always have excuses (which may be legitimate but still feel like evidence of poor planning) and never seem to feel that they owe their customers anything for depriving them of shore time. I've been assured that things will go smoothly at Cádiz tomorrow, but I won't hold my breath.

My trip today was a visit to Óbidos (pronounced something like AH-bee-dohsh), a walled hilltop city north of Lisbon, still looking much like it must have a few hundred years ago. We had a great guide, and the town is really lovely. The streets are made of stones about four or five inches square, with a smoother center walk of larger stones, and are of course narrow. The streets go up and down, following the contours of the original hill, I assume, and the buildings are mostly painted (or white-washed?) white, though there are blue highlights in places, plants trained to grow up walls, or flowerpots suspended outside windows. A rather Mediterranean sort of look. Many of the houses have become cafes or tourist shops, but much of the town looks still lived in, which is not always the case with these preserved cities. I noticed also several guest-houses which would probably be beautiful to stay in, but I wonder how expensive they would be!

After our group tour I did a little shop-browsing and bought a touristy shirt (made of polyester) which will be much easier to wash in the shower than cotton t-shirts are. Then I went to the mini-mercado which had lots of juices, but no V8 or tomato juice: it did however have LAY'S potato chips and Coca-Cola, both of which I bought. The prices were quite reasonable: the half-liter Coca-Cola was 0.90 euro, or something like $1.20, which is cheaper than they often are in the US, and the 5 ounce package of Lay's was 1.25 euro, if I remember correctly. I went back to the square, shaded by huge sycamores and near one of the churches where the guide had brought us earlier, and sat on the wall in the shade and had my picnic lunch: apple, muffin and tuna packet, along with some of the Coca-Cola. I saved the Lay's for later as time was growing short and the rest had already filled me up. This was the first time in over a week that I have had anything like my 'normal' lunch, but perhaps I'll be able to do likewise tomorrow in Cádiz. The church dates from the 16th to 19th centuries, the guide told us, but is on the site of an earlier church, which replaced the mosque of the Moorish centuries, which had replaced a Visigoth temple. Before the Visigoths, there were Romans and Celts in the city.

After returning to the ship, I worked on a drawing of the south bank of the Tagus River, where there is a Christ statue similar to the one in South America and one end of the suspension bridge which crosses the Tagus. It's one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, designed by the same firm which did the Golden Gate Bridge. It was originally named for the dictator Salazar who had it constructed, but was renamed several years later Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge), after the date of a left-wing military coup which overthrew the decades-long dictatorship in 1974. Portugal is now a democracy. It was interesting to sit on deck and work on the drawing, with the bridge off to my right, humming away as traffic crossed it. It was quite a loud sound, perhaps intensified by the water beneath it.

Cádiz / At Sea
April 29-30, 2010

On Thursday we had our longest day-stop, about 11 hours in Cádiz, built on a peninsula on the Atlantic coast of Spain. It's the perfect city for a visit from a cruise ship. The port is right next to the city, and the city is compact and easy to navigate on foot. I took a sightseeing tour which began with a bus ride around the outer rim of the city (with the sea mostly to our right) and then continued with a walking tour within the city, where the streets are much too narrow for buses. We visited the cathedral, large and lovely with quite a number of chapels (16, I think) along the outer walls, and a spacious and not at all gloomy crypt underneath. The composer Manuel de Falla is buried here. Many of the buildings have businesses on the ground floor and dwellings above them. Looking up you see windows and balconies, sometimes decorated with flowerpots. Because it is confined to a peninsula, Cádiz is even today less than twice as populous as it was during the Roman period. Its history stretches back more than 3000 years to its founding by the Phoenicians, though the myth claims Hercules as its founder. Cádiz is outside the Straits of Gibraltar (aka the Pillars of Hercules), once considered to be more or less the western end of the world. We both began and concluded the walking tour at the Plaza de España, which celebrates the Constitution of 1812. This Constitution upheld the monarchy of Ferdinand VII, whom the Spanish considered the rightful king, rather than Napoleon's pupper (whose name I can't remember), but also established freedom of the press and of religion and championed small farmers against the large semi-feudal landowners who had previously controlled most of the land.

After lunch back on the ship, I walked back into Cádiz, an easy thing to do here, and first took a stroll along the walkway by the ocean and into the Parque Genoves. At one point an old man had two rod-and-reels set up, braced against the wall with their lines trailing down into the ocean. After leaving the park and sight of the water, I promptly got lost--partly, I suppose, my fault, but also partly to blame on the not-very-good map the cruise ship provided, which left far too many streets unnamed. Anyway, I eventually stumbled back onto the street where the walking tour guide had shown me a cool bookstore I wanted to revisit. Called Quorum, it's quite a large store for a city this size--less than 150,000 people, not counting suburbs--and I in no way gave it as much time as it probably deserved. I came away with mass-market paperbacks of El hacedor by Jorge Luis Borges and Bartleby y companía by Enrique Vila-Matas. The Borges book is a mix of fiction, essay and verse, and is the only book of Borges fiction I haven't read, so I was pleased to find it. (It's available in English as Dreamtigers, but I want to read the Spanish.) I also bought a Coca-Cola and a Spanish donut from a local bakery. I was quite surprised to see donuts. While drinking the cola I walked back toward the shore and the walkway along the city walls, and then turned back toward the plaza and away from the water. I found some grafitti near a school, one of which seemed to be directed, in imperfect English, at an instructor, unless TACHER is a Spanish verb I'm not familiar with. Nearby was a stick-figure boy who was very well-endowed (or suffering from a terrible tumor).

We passed through the Straits of Gibraltar around midnight, but I was already in bed by then, I think. On my previous transatlantic, we passed the Straits by daylight when it was possible to see. At night it didn't seem worth the effort!

Today was our final sea day as we cruised north-northeast up the coast of Spain toward Barcelona. A chilly day--mid 60s temperature--with a great deal of haze, but some sun. I hope tomorrow will be warmer, but who knows?

May 1, 2010

Today I took the Gaudí tour offered by the cruise line--some bus riding, some walking, a good mix. We saw a bit of Gaudí from the bus, but mostly Barcelona's Modernist architecture along the way. Our Gaudí focus (Gaudí, 1854-1926 [I think]) is one of Spain's most important architects) was Parc Güell and the Temple of La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family). The park is up on a slope overlooking the city and was not originally intended to be a park at all, but rather a gated community for 60 families, a bit removed from the hubbub of Barcelona. But the community, funded by a rich man named Güell, failed due both to the distance and to the unsettled conditions in Barcelona at the time (90 years ago?) Only three houses were occupied, including Güell's and Gaudí's. Gaudí's is now the site of the museum dedicated to him, and Güell's (which was actually a building already there and renovated for Güell, who had 10 kids) is now a public school. The third house, way up on the ridge, is still a private residence. All the other lots which never sold are now the heart of the park, which also contains a public area designed by Gaudí, featuring a large open plaza built upon dozens of pillars above a second area now used for musical performances and so forth. The plaza is ringed by an undulating continuous bench, hundreds of feet long, encased in mosaic designs and including a lumbar-support ridge and holes for rain water to drain off through. Some of the outside support columns tilt outward and thus serve both as columns and as buttresses to support the weight of the roof/plaza above. There are also an arched viaduct where visitors can walk above and below and, at the gate, two smaller (but not exactly small) buildings, at least one of which was for the gatekeeper's family, if I remember correctly. Both are multi-storied and have towers.

La Sagrada Familia was begun in the 1880s and was still under construction when Gaudí died in the 1920s. And it's still under construction today, following Gaudí's plans where possible and trying to keep more or less to his spirit where not possible. During the Spanish Civil War, which began about a decade after the architect's death, much of Gaudí's surviving plans and designs were destroyed. Gaudí was very Catholic, and the Church tended to support General Franco in the war, leading to animosity from the anti-Franco republican forces. The nave is still undergoing construction, but the church is scheduled to be consecrated this November anyway. The current lead architect plans to have the church finished in 15 years, but looking at what remains to be done makes one wonder if this is at all likely. The highest tower, when finished, is supposed to be over 500 feet tall, making it the highest church tower in the world, if it comes to pass. All together the church is to have 18 towers.

Gaudí used organic forms, inspired by plants and trees, in his architecture, and his works have been seen as being fantastic and even fairy-tale-like. The northern side entrance to the church, currently in production and representing the Passion of Christ, features work designed by a younger Barcelonan architect, much more angular in shape and somewhat controversial for this reason as well as for the nudity of Christ on the cross. One of the figures designed for the scenes depicted around this entrance has Gaudí's face, as a tribute to him.

Today's tour, and Thursday's in Cádiz, both left the ship on time! Amazing. But today's weird event occurred about 5:45 this afternoon. I was about to shave and shower so I could have an early supper and then go to the 7 p.m. musical performance. But when I turned on the water to shave, the sink tap ran brown! I had to wait about 45 minutes, while the ship's technicians tinkered with the system to get the problem corrected. Apparently something to do with chlorinating the fresh water they had taken on. Hmmm. Anyway, once I got finished shaving, showering and washing clothes, I went straight to the theatre for the show, but left after 10 minutes or so. Too show-tune-y poppish for me. So I had a peaceable supper, reading my Vila-Matas book, and talking for a few minutes to one of the waiters who is from Peru and is quite a fan of Mario Vargas Llosa

Nice & Eze
May 2, 2010

The last full day of the cruise. We are scheduled to arrive in Civitavecchia (port of Rome) during the wee hours, for early disembarkation to airport or train station or hotel. Some passengers will remain for a Mediterranean cruise. My tour today included Nice, on the coast, and Eze up in the hills high above the city. We anchored in the bay outside Villefranche and took "tenders" to shore. There we boarded a bus to the old center of Nice (or the center of old Nice) for some time to wander and look around. There is a really nice flower market and produce market along one of the streets and of course restaurants and cafes and bakeries. In 2007 I had tea many times on the sea wall at Sliema overlooking the Mediterranean, but I think people in general are more impressed if I say, "I had morning tea at a sidewalk cafe in Nice, just across the street from the Mediterranean." And I did, in fact, have morning tea in Nice this morning. Our guide told us that the name Cote d'Azur actually comes from the name of a book written in the 19th century. The people here liked that designation for their coast and so they adopted it.

The flower and produce market was a couple of streets back from the sea, and flanked by many places for food and drink. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that Les 3 Diables is right next door to Heaven. Before doing our walk here, we took a driving tour of Nice along the coast, including the stretch of road named in honor of Princess Grace of Monaco. The guide also told us that Tina Turner and Elton John have houses in Nice.

Our drive up into the mountains was beautiful and not terribly long. There are actually two towns called Eze, one up in the hills where we went, another near the shore. Eze in the mountains is quite small, with up and down brick pedestrian streets, lots of shops and cafes, and houses which have been in the same families for as long as 6 generations. It was originally a lookout town, watching out for invading ships. The exotic garden (Jardin Exotique) was pretty, but for a former resident of El Paso the plants looked mostly like things you'd see every day there or in New Mexico and Arizona.

For those of you keeping score: 1] a half-liter bottle of Coca-Cola in Eze, 1.50 euro (In Obidos it was 0.90 euro); 2] that pot of tea in the sidewalk cafe in Nice was 3.20 euro.

Cruise rules: 1] Be really nice to cruise ship staff. Most of them will do whatever they can to help you. 2] It doesn't matter if you're nice to most of your fellow passengers. Most of them won't notice or acknowledge any courtesy (though they might react to outright rudeness.)

No comments: