Days Two (PM) and Three, Tuesday and Wednesday, 5/17 and 5/18 2011.
I'm sitting in Sir Samuel's, one of the bars on Deck 3 of the Queen Mary 2, waiting to order some green tea and writing, but no one seems to notice that I am here. I wanted to just sit down and have someone immediately come up to me and ask me what I wanted. This is a cruise ship, isn't it? I am supposed to expect good service, right?
I watch the busy woman with the glasses and pony tail crossing the room from the bar to several other tables, serving coffees and teas. Perhaps you have to go to the bar to order something here. I stand at the bar, still not getting attention. I am still expecting someone to ask me what I want. I am about to be bold and brash and call out that I wish to have some Sencha Green Tea with Lemon when I notice the server go over to the area I had just been sitting in and begin to clean up. I stroll back over and call to the server, trying not to be the ugly American but wanting to get the service I expected. “May I order something, please? I was sitting here earlier, but no one came by.” She is surprised and apologizes. She seems harried, and I realize that she is just busy. And probably not expecting any new customers in the middle of the morning. It was about time I got over myself. My excuse? Tired from traveling. Tired already on Day Three of my travels of being overlooked because I was a solo diner.
I become suddenly charitable. When I was sitting there earlier typing away on my lap top, I must have looked like the last, and apparently abandoned, member of a larger party. When I got up from the table, the server took it as a cue that the party was now completely finished with their refreshment. But, as long as a bar is open, you should easily be able to get service, whether at the table or the bar. It isn't exactly Dublin in the late 1980's! (I remembered when my mother, sister, aunt, and I strode into a pub full of men and expected someone to ask us for our order and, after standing at the bar for several minutes, finally got the attention of the frowning bar keep who lightened up when we ordered pints of ale).
My tea has now arrived and I am trying to ignore the fact that it arrived as a tea bag and hot water instead of a steaming pot of fresh tea leaves brewing. I am expecting luxury treatment on a luxury liner. What a snooty individual I am! I am spoiled from visiting the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House. I am now remembering I had a complication last evening when I first boarded. I had arrived on the gangway at the time the Cunard instructions told me to, which turned out to be much later than the bulk of the passengers. By the time I came on board, my champagne (!) was sitting in a bucket of melted ice and very few people were about the halls. I had to check my large bag at the gangway and was expecting it to be waiting for me in my cabin. But it was not. The Purser did not know where it was. I had to leave for dinner before finding out if I was going to be wearing the same outfit all week. (Capris and a red button-down blouse with 3/4 sleeves would look stunning at the Royal Ascot Ball!)
Indeed, I am too influenced by BBC period dramas staring Helen Bonham Carter. Yes. I am truly playing the part of the decadent dreamer. Or is it the pampered princess? You choose. Please note that after lunch I am having a massage and manicure.
Despite my complaints here, I am enjoying the ship. I had dinner last night with my assigned dinner table companions in the Britannia Restaurant and discovered that one of them, a young woman, was, like me, traveling solo to Paris from the ship! We promised to compare itineraries. She is going directly to Spain, though, from France, so we will most likely miss each other once we leave Paris. But it would be fun to hook up for dinner one night while there. The other folks are from all over the U.S. Only one couple is not. They are British and have lived in the U.S. for 40 years. Everyone was polite and very interested in my research and a couple of them knew a good bit about Eleanor of Aquitaine and British royalty.
After dinner, I went straight back to my room. A few minutes later, my bag showed up in the hands of my steward, Bianca, who was glowing with excitement. She had shared my frustration earlier at not having my bag before dinner, but had assured me it would arrive. I think she took personal pride in the fact that it did, finally, arrive.
Now as I sip my tea in the bar, I ponder the question, why am I here? This luxury liner with its jewelry and clothing and art boutiques, its spa and Queen's Ballroom, its restaurants full of servers in white linen jackets and bars that stay open until 2:00am, all seem to be a far cry from the atmosphere of serious research study that I craved and that sparked the idea for this journey. I was to use this ocean trip to prepare for my intense research later. At least partly. But this is only my first day on board. Time to get used to the ship and have some fun enjoying it before I burrow into its corners to read and write. I haven't even found the library yet! The last thing I want to do now is read the histories of France and Spain that I brought with me, orexamine the Dresden train system maps to figure out how to not get trapped in a train and miss my stop, ending in Berlin. (One of my dinner companions talked about a friend who came to visit them in Dresden and didn't get off the train soon enough and did end up in Berlin. It was a long ride back. Now I am nervous about a new something that might go wrong with my complicated itinerary in addition to all the other things I am already nervous about.)
The White Star staff on board the Queen Mary 2 is exceptional. Other than the busy woman in Sir Samuels, every staff person has greeted me with a hearty good morning. Every single one of them. And they work hard. Constantly. They seem cheerful about the work. Like they know why they are here and why they are working so hard. I hope it is true. Hope that they are sending oodles of money home or working towards university or an eventual Visa in the country of their choice.
There are so many languages spoken here. So many accents. People of every color and culture. And we are intimate somehow on this ship. We are all headed in the same nautical direction. We all trust the Captain and his crew to get us to Southampton safely. We all wish to have a pleasant time of it. Most of us are at our leisure. The rest are working their butts off. But, except for the uniforms, you can't tell who is on vacation and who isn't. Everyone is smiling or enthusiastic. Actually, the White Star staff is smiling just a little more. That's just not right. I and my leisurely comrades have expectations – high ones – that are likely too high to be met in any reasonable world. We are a little too tense.
The ship's bell just rang for noon. The Captain came on to tell us that the fog we began to encounter some time early this morning is starting to abate, but the weather report is only momentary on the Atlantic, and will change again, so stay tuned for the next report at six. Our route will take us quite close to Nova Scotia and we will pass south of the southernmost point of Newfoundland tomorrow.
The satellite connection to the wireless is horribly slow, so uploading photos takes three minutes each. And because they charge by the minute, I am trying to be picky about which photos I shareI have to content myself with little darts into internet connectivity. I have bought 130 minutes of internet time, and I am already down to 104 because it took me a while to realize how limited it was. But the epistles themselves are cheap, and I will keep them coming.
Based on an essay originally posted on electricrider.net on May 18, 2011