Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Ship is Noisy Tonight

The ship is a noisy place tonight.  In part it’s because the water became very wild as soon as we left the shelter of the Antarctic channel we were in.  The wind can be heard from some locations, a low howl, sometimes rising to a shriek.  In my cabin I can hear the bangs and pounds as waves hit the bow, and everywhere the ship creaks and rattles and thumps.

But the inhabitants are noisy, too.  The library is one of my favorite places, mid-ship, mid-height on Deck 5, a good place to be in rough weather.  It has the most comfortable chairs on board, leather with footrests.  From where I sit, I can see the waves, most tipped with whitecaps, rising and falling, racing at an angle to our course.  The wind whips spray high into the air, so the windows are drenched and I see thick flights of it fly past.

Usually at night the library is quiet, a few people like me reading, a few others on computers, doing internet, I assume.  Tonight, though, there is much coming a going.  Three men and a woman settle into a seating area on the other side of the room from me.  They speak Spanish, and are clearly having a good time, their conversation active and enthusiastic, but they speak so loudly it’s difficult to concentrate on my book.  People walk through, talking about the show they just saw, a comedian who was apparently very energetic, or about the band and who they danced with.  Crew members going off shift wander by, laughing but clearly ready for sleep, with perhaps a drink first at the crew bar.  As it gets later, other crew members come by, the night shift, cleaning and polishing the room, running vacuums, washing windows.  They’re always quiet, but four men arrive, guests, and sit at a table just behind me, ready to play cards, arguing good-naturedly about who should sit where.

I give up on the library and move to my next-favourite spot, two chairs sitting all by themselves in an area by the midship stairway and elevators.  Usually there’s no one there, and tonight is the same, no one sitting there, but the flow of people seems greater than usual.  Or maybe I’m just more in need of solitude.  Crew members go in and out of a door marked Staff Only, which clearly leads to the kitchen, because they wheel carts piled high with plastic boxes that lean from side to side with the roll of the ship, or with used coffee and tea sets rattling their china clinks.  There’s a pretty high metal ridge on the floor just where the door opens, probably covering the joining of the inside and outside carpets.  Each time the person or persons wheeling the carts have to reach down, sometimes at the same time as they’re reaching up to steady the load, so they can lift the wheels over the bump.  Guests wander by, seeking their cabins after the evening’s entertainment.  A couple walks by, shoulders rigid.  They stand around the corner from me, waiting for an elevator, and continue a fight they’ve been having.  The woman yells she won’t get an elevator with him, that he hit her with his watch, and that he’ll get to the cabin ten minutes after her.  I don’t really understand what’s going on, but I consider leaving as his voice, which starts low enough that I can’t hear what he’s saying, rises in volume.  She’s getting more upset about going in the elevator, and I hope they don’t come back and see me sitting there, knowing I would have heard them.  Fortunately, he somehow gets her to enter the elevator, although I can still hear her voice, decreasing in volume, as the elevator rises or falls.

Two crewmen go by with a cart piled high with boxes.  One sings, a song I almost recognize, and the other joins in with a high falsetto.  They don’t notice me.

Another crewman goes into the door, then comes out, nods and smiles at me.  He returns a little later and we chat, about how he has been to Antarctica two years ago on the Rotterdam and how it’s my first time.  (I’ve discovered that since I wear a name badge, the crew are much more likely to talk to me.  I’m not exactly one of them, but I’m close. )  He’s on night shift now, does this two weeks on and two weeks off.  We talk about penguins, and where I’m from.  He is surprised to hear I’m traveling with my daughter, he thought I’d be traveling alone.  He has warm eyes and a nice smile, is just starting his shift at 11:30 p.m., is relaxed and alert, ready to do his work, but happy to stand and talk for a while.

More people come and go, most don’t notice me, a few do.  Most who do ignore me, which is unusual, because on this ship usually everyone smiles and says hello to everyone they meet.  It’s late, though, and the ship is rolling, which means everyone dances a bit as they walk the hall, sashaying from side to side, sometimes catching themselves on the wall, sometimes scowling with fierce concentration as they work hard to keep themselves moving in a straight line.

I return to my cabin where the ship’s motion is more evident.  Melissa is out somewhere, and it’s blessedly quiet.  I lie on the couch and try to pretend that the ship’s motion is soothing me.

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