6. Crossing the Line

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Apr 9th, 2011
6. Crossing the Line

Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday: the next three days, before we reach Dakar in Senegal, are to be spent at sea, cruising slowly along in warm tropical waters of an intense blue.

The ship’s routine as well as the layout is now familiar; we are on chatting terms with several fellow passengers, and we spend some of each day working on the laptops, albeit with very frustrating connection speeds. There is a Wi-Fi spot at the back of the Universe Lounge and it makes a novel place in which to sit quietly and do one’s emailing and other work etc. Sometimes with the dancers practising for the evening’s performance. James with the help of our ISP, now has a work around for the FTP access problem, so he can upload files for client websites, whew. (He does not try to sabotage the ship’s navigation system.)

Early morning calm - main pool deck

The Sky TV satellite feed is no longer working. The passengers who daily cluster round the TV in the lounge areas are abruptly cut off from news about the Japan disaster and the unfolding struggle in Libya. One little old lady, who had claimed a front corner spot and settled in with her knitting each day (like Madame LaFarge at the guillotine), is very put out.  The screen now shows looped footage taken by ship’s photographers, of scenes from late-night revels, wherein various tipsy passengers are encouraged to participate in silly games and do embarrassing things by the animation crew. The ship’s blurb says we are cut off because we are in a shadow area, out of reach of the satellite footprint. (But I bet they are using their SatNav on the bridge). I think that maybe the news is such a downer that they’ve turned it off??

But the revels and events continue as per schedule. There are bingo games, bridge groups (no, we didn’t), chess tournaments and quizzes. There is a daily art and craft lesson – making crepe paper flowers etc. – and a demonstration by one of the Thai cooks: how to carve up fruit & vegetables into pretty shapes. But done so fast and deftly that you can’t really learn much. I attend my Italian lessons (just learning useful phrases and a bit of vocab).

There is another formal-dress ‘gala’ dinner – the count and countess appear at the casino in a fresh set of aristocratic-looking outfits, the tiara gets another outing. Gossip has it that he has told his dinner companions that in his mansion/palace/castle there are no less than eight pianos, and that he has been forbidden to practise on the ship’s piano, and will complain to the captain about it.

A show billed as a ‘comedy’ turns out to be a pretty lame magician show. The conjurer flips oversized playing cards and switches oversized cones around. There are a couple of standard knot-in-the rope tricks. Then he gets two ‘volunteers’ from the audience and proceeds to strip them alternately of watches, wallets, keys, finds a bra in one guy’s pocket, etc. etc. The finale is removing one guy’s shirt without taking his jacket off and without him noticing…. as the ‘volunteer’ leaves the stage, it is discovered that one of his socks has also been removed…… hmmm.

The sea is reported to be a bathwater temperature of 30 degrees; the air is like a gust from an oven, the sea completely flat and blue with just a gentle swell. Some of us stay inside the air-conditioned areas, but the international smorgasbord of cellulite on the deck loungers has mostly turned from white and is progressing through red to varying shades of brown. Even I have a dip, it is very pleasant to be gently sloshed from one end to the other as the water moves with the heave of the ship. In the pool I meet a lady taxi driver from London who can barely swim but is bravely doggie-paddling up and down within reach of the hand rail.

The jogging track

I have been doing a half-hour fast walk round the topmost deck in the early mornings, to try and burn off some of the energy consumed at all those meals. I march past rows of lifeboats which have that fresh-paint and rope smell, dodging the crew who are out swabbing the decks in time-honoured fashion.

The on-board shops have different special offers each day – 20% off this and 15% off that. Today there is a ‘sale’ of leather accessories, and James surprises me with a beautiful calfskin purse by Valentino… Lovely!

Another english-language movie comes onto the circuit, so we see Renee Zellwiegger in ‘New in Town’. It’s a cross between the Bridget Jones and Ellen Brokovich story. She does her best with a mediocre script, but this one’s not going to be Oscar-winning stuff.

Pastry cook Neptune

At 4am while everyone is fast asleep (presumably even the midnight-feasters) we cross the Equator. The traditional ceremony – only for those who have not crossed before – will be held on the main pool deck in the morning. James and I each remember doing this ‘crossing’ as a child on the boat to (or maybe from) Africa – vague recollections of someone comically dressed as King Neptune, with rubber octopi and kissing a dead fish, and the anointing of the new line-crossers. Also of some transgressor who had not given proper tribute to the royal presence, being caught, held down and punished by evisceration (a string of sausages brandished) to the extreme hilarity of the audience of kids. Bloodthirsty little beasts we must have been.

On this trip, our Neptune was a very large (okay, enormously fat) person (maybe the ship’s cook?), draped in a toga and a long white wig, leaning on a large wooden trident. Passengers who were due to be introduced to, and anointed by the King had been instructed to wear their swimming costumes, and at the appointed hour they all filed out, daubed with body-paint. This was probably to identify them as victims and make sure no innocent bystander got the treatment!

The Royal anointing consisted of being doused over the head with – white wine, then a raw egg, well rubbed in, then cocoa powder, then whipped cream, then red syrup etc. etc. (hey, maybe he was the pastry cook) until everyone was a complete sticky mess. (No slapping with a fish or any of the remembered rites of passage….. tame!) But funny nevertheless – I was hoping they would then all get hosed down with seawater, but they jumped into the pool to wash the gunge off. The water turned the colour of mud in 30 seconds flat. The staff had to drain and scrub it while we were all at lunch, what a job!

1 Comment

  • Gillian

    10 Apr 2011
    Reply

    yep, I remember our Equator crossing – very similar, except it was sometime during daylight hours – and R&I watched (in horror) from our bar stools :)

    Wasn’t there some ridiculous early morning ‘keep fit’ session you could join?

    But, I forget, by now you are ensconced in Florence and memories of the Melody are fading …

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