I find that I feel odd writing about the crossing. I have my notes, and I have my photos, but I still can't believe I did it.
Here's the thing: I am not from a family that often indulges in life's big luxuries. When I was a kid, five of us (parents, grandmother, and sister Sue) did make an epic journey of sorts; but it was from the Arizona to Ohio in a Plymouth Scamp that was pulling a U-Haul trailer. We stayed at Holiday Inns, we ate at McDonald's, and we liked it.
The last of my relations to travel from Europe by water was my great-grandmother, Anna, in 1910 or so. She came over in a leaky bathtub called the Re d'Italia and (to hear her tell it, and I often did) she spent the entire journey from Palermo to New York in the baggage hold eating her own hair because my great-great grandparents couldn't even afford steerage.
As with the London write-up, what's below is taken from my travel notebook mostly unedited, so hang on tight.
London to Southampton
The romance of travel is dead. How many old, British novels have I read in which Lady Cordelia Tosspot pulls on her gloves and says crisply, "I must dash, or I shall miss the boat train." Then she pops into a cab, and arrives at a soaring train station amid puffs of steam, and is handed into a brass-bound coach and served a drink while a flotilla of eager porters heaves her trunks and hat boxes into the luggage car.
The boat train is no longer how you get there. You now take the boat bus. It is not a luxury experience, though it has a luxury price tag. First, you sit at Victoria Coach Station in a plastic chair, inhaling fumes from the adjacent Burger King and watching the pigeons crap on the cell phone vendor's pushcart. Then you drag your own suitcases out to the baggage van, and pile into an overcrowded coach. You drive for two hours down the motorway listening to the obnoxious Italian next to you (who doesn't think you can possibly understand him, since you're American) rag on American clothes, deportment and culture while noisily devouring a Coca-Cola and eating a ham-and-cheese sandwich from Subway. His elbow frequently digs into your ribs, and you retaliate with a surreptitious lace needle to the arm.
Arriving at Southampton, you stand in line for forty minutes at the Cunard terminal, which is a large, tin shed heated to about 22 degrees Farenheit.
Then, having posed for the obligatory "Welcome Aboard" photograph of yourself looking like a neglected rag doll, you step into the Grand Lobby.
The string quartet is playing. The fresh flowers smell heavenly. The light makes you look ten years younger. Every surface is polished and glowing. And your steward, Charles, welcomes you warmly. This assemblage is waiting on the table in your stateroom along with a tray of hors d'oeuvres.
Suddenly, you feel a whole lot better.
This, by the way, is Southampton as it looked from the balcony of Stateroom 11.136.
And this is what happens when you're taking panorama shots but your traveling companion has already popped the cork on the champagne.
A Day at Sea
- 7:30 am. Room service arrives with coffee (Tom), cocoa (me). Room service is free and they will bring you anything, anytime. Regret now that I did not test this by ordering a chocolate milkshake and a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off at 3:27 am. Maybe next time.
- 8:30ish. Shower, dress, breakfast in the Britannia Room.
- 9:30ish. Nab good seat in Sir Samuel's (wine bar on Deck 3 which in early morning provides unlimited access to pain au chocolat). Knit.
- Alternately, nab choice seat in library looking out over prow.
- Or, sit at library desk and work on big project am not supposed to talk much about right now but please stay tuned.
- Noonish. Lunch in Britannia Room.
- Or, go to ship's planetarium and nap there. You're not supposed to, of course, but the chairs are very comfortable and it's dark and the gentle rocking of the waves makes it impossible to stay awake and listen to Tom Hanks talk about mapping the universe.
- Or, walk on deck. Photograph Transatlantic Hat at work, and admire the ship's funnel, which is the sexiest piece of industrial design I've ever seen. The horns are from the original Queen Mary and can be heard for ten miles.
- Or, get a massage in the ship's spa. (No photo available.)
- 3 pm. Needleworkers Group in champagne bar on Deck 3. Meet, over the course of six days, endlessly fun, fascinating and talented parade of knitters, quilters, embroiderers and lace-makers. Learn much. Laugh much. Knit not so much.
- 4 pm. Friends of Dorothy meeting in Commodore Club. This is, believe or not, an "official" shipboard activity listed in the Daily Programme. We are given our own section of the club complete with fresh flowers and a little sign. Enjoy hearing, at least once a day, loud inquiry from clueless passenger to waitress: "Who is Dorothy? And why are all these men friends of hers?"
- 5 pm. Dress for dinner. Three formal nights (dinner jacket), one semi-formal (dark suit), two elegant casual (jacket and tie). Would like to point out, please, that I tied my own bow tie.
- 5:45 pm. Cocktails in the Chart Room. Since I don't drink I only had several very unglamorous glasses of water, but the chairs were extremely comfortable.
- 6–8 pm. Dinner, Britannia Room. We are extremely lucky with our tablemates. Three entertaining couples, two from the United States and one from Canada. We are usually one of the first tables to fill and almost always the last to empty–the company is that good.
One of the guys is an independent movie producer and gave us an advance copy of his latest, a Western romp in the good ol' style called Palo Pinto Gold. If you have fond memories of Roy Clark from "Hee Haw" (and I do, thank you very much) or you voted for Kinky Friedman when he ran for governor of Texas, you have to see this movie.
- 8 pm. Retire to stateroom. Charles has turned down the bed and left chocolates (check flavor, hoping for Dark or Orange) and the Daily Programme for tomorrow. Tom reads aloud highlights from schedule while I knit.
- 8:30ish. Check out the dancing in the Queen's Room, which you might expect from the name to have been full of Friends of Dorothy but which emphatically was not. Was full of very white people dancing very whitely. Slowest damned waltzes I've ever heard. The rising generation needs to reclaim the waltz as the breathless, invigorating thing that it ought to be.
This is a shot of the the Officers' Gavotte in full flight.
As you can see, I experimented with a slow shutter to make it appear as though the dancers had actually been in motion.
- Or, take off tux and put on swimsuit and robe and go sit in hot tub on Deck 12. Perfection, as very relaxing before bed and entire pool area is empty. One memorable night, we took the wrong elevator (there are four elevator banks, it's easy to get confused) and wound up on the open deck instead of at the pool. So we ran, giggling, across the moonlit planks through the Atlantic wind in our robes and slippers. I felt like Zelda Fitzgerald.
- 9:30ish fall asleep reading fantastic book on Louis XIV from library.
[Written on day two] When housekeeping shows up at my cabin they just knock on the door. But today I noticed there are some Fancy People on this deck, traveling in what Cunard calls "Grill Class." They have suites, butlers, and their own dining room and pool. They also have doorbells. Little shiny brass doorbells.
I am sorely tempted to take the cloth laundry bag out of our closet, ring somebody's doorbell and scream, "Trick or treat!" when they open the door.
The Pet Lamp
The stateroom was faultless except for one of the two sconce lamps over the writing desk, which had come loose and jiggled frenetically up and down, like Paris Hilton on date night. At first we meant to ask Charles to have it looked at, but we kept forgetting. And then we became fond of it. You'd open the door, and it would jiggle happily at you like a puppy wagging its tail.
By the second day it had become our "pet lamp" and I photographed it.
Being out of sight of land for more than two days can make you act very, very weird.
Don't Get Too Cozy
On the navigational chart that's posted so you can see where the ship is, has been, and will be, the captain helpfully marks the spot where the Titanic sank and lets you know when you'll be passing over it.
It is far too easy to get used to life on a Cunard ship and extremely heartbreaking to give it up. So the night before arrival, everybody gets a little crabby–except the people who are staying on another couple weeks to sail to Miami and the Caribbean. (Those people, if they know what's good for them, don't say much and keep to their rooms until the rest of us disembark.)
When the Queen Mary sails into New York, she doesn't go to Manhattan. She's too big. They had to build a new terminal for her, in Brooklyn. To get to the terminal, the ship sails under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
The top of the funnel clears the bottom of the bridge by about six feet. Here's a picture.
That shot was taken at 4:15 am. The temperature on deck was about 18 degrees Farenheit. I am glad I got up to see it once, but will happily to sleep through it next time.
This was New York in the morning.
Arriving in the United States by ship was oddly disorienting. It was very much as though we'd gone to sleep in a British hotel, woken up and found that everything outside had gone American.
I have no photographs of the plane from La Guardia to Chicago. We left New York early, and it only took two hours to reach O'Hare, but the flight seemed to last a whole lot longer than six days on the ship. No dance floor, no elbow room, and when you tell an American Airlines stewardess you'd like a chocolate milkshake and a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off you're not likely to get the answer for which you were hoping.
Getting used to life on shore has been so dreadfully trying, my dears. Dreadfully.