After ten years of unremitting coaxing, we have finally persuaded Rick and Mary Jean to come on a cruise with us.
We took the train to Seattle. Mary Jean was delighted with the train station, having admired it often from outside, she greatly enjoyed her first view of the Edwardian opulence of the interior décor. The train was on time, our seats were comfy, the weather was clear and the view was incomparable, as always.
We had two hours in Seattle, and as Rick was familiar with the area, he and Kyle went out and hunted down lunches for us. Falafel and babaganoosh, and tabouli and enough garlic to fend off vampires.
Three hours on the bus got us to Vancouver, and ten minutes in a cab got us to our hotel, the exquisite Pan Pacific. Where the views are breath-taking, the rooms are palatial, and the service makes you feel like the particularly favored guest of the queen.
A delicious dinner at Steamer’s Pub capped off our long and uneventful day. They brew their own. The Stout and the Nut Brown Ale were quaffed with delight.
As a certified lightweight, I went for the IPA and found it splendidly refreshing. Since Canadian beer has a higher alcohol content than American, we all went straight to bed. Wish I could have stayed awake, though. There was a performance of Indian Music in our hotel, and I was enchanted just watching the arriving patrons. A sari is SUCH a graceful garment! And the men with their big dark eyes and flashing white teeth, the turbans and glorious beards and moustaches – Such romantic, virile fellows!
Here’s a view of our vessel in the dawning light. We like the Pan Pacific for so many reasons – one of which is the fact that the cruise ships dock right there.
Embarkation was well organized and as efficient as could reasonably be expected. And our rooms were freaking glorious! We had splurged on adjoining Neptune Suites. The steward cheerfully opened the partition between our verandas, so we could enjoy the views together. It was fairly chilly in Vancouver, though, so we didn’t spend a lot of time outside the first night out. Note: Always take a jacket or sweater to life-boat drill in Vancouver. That sea breeze can be brisk.
I’ve been frustrated with my hair, trying to grow it out a bit, and it’s at one of those awkward stages. So I went to the salon and asked if they had any operators who could braid it up Caribbean style. The manager smilingly handed me over to Juan from Sri Lanka. He was a lovely boy with kind eyes, warm hands, and not a clue where to begin. “French braid?” He asked, running his hands with some puzzlement through my curls.
“No, Caribbean style. Lots of little braids, flat to the skull. Like they do in Jamaica.” He smiled (What a beautiful smile he had) and said, “Be right back.”
He returned with Shirleen, the nail girl, who was Jamaican. She took immediate charge and said, (With a rich Jamaican accent) “You do it like this.” Then she sectioned off an inch wide band of hair from my forehead to my crown, leaned my head back firmly against her generous bosom, and began plaiting the silver strands into a neat, flat braid. “Like this, man,” she said, with her fingers flying. “Can you do it like this?”
“I can - try,” he murmured. His accent was also thick, and the two didn’t really communicate well.
Shirleen had evidently braided squirmy little kids because she was very firm and efficient. “You watch, man,” she commanded, and started another braid. “Like this. See?”
My hair is longer in back, and I wanted braids coming up, so that all the ends met at the crown. She stood in front of me, pulled my head forward so that the top of my forehead was pressed firmly against her sternum, wedged between those tender cushions, and continued plaiting briskly away. This process requires that the hair be tugged firmly and the braids be torqued as snug as possible. When she started with those short hairs on the back of the neck I would wince, and she would say, “I am sorry for your pain. Beauty comes with pain.”
Other hairdressers gathered around to watch her deft expertise. Other customers, coming through the shop would pause to watch. “Doesn’t that hurt?” I heard a man ask. “It’s worth it.” I said.
“You supposed to say, ‘no,’” Shirleen told me.
The salon manager had to go find little rubberbands to hold the braids. In the meantime, Shirleen had Juan handing her clips to hold the ends snug. Shirleen’s next nail appointment showed up, and another hairdresser, a beautiful boy from the Phillipines with a mouth like Mick Jagger. Took over. He explained that the hair at my temples was too short to French braid, and too silky, but, using gel and lots of hairspray, he managed to put it in a tiny lacquered queue over each ear which he pulled firmly back till the wrinkles around my eyes were stretched smooth, then pinned the end tightly into place. I think he would have used hot glue if he had a gun handy. The manager showed up with the rubber bands, and Mr. Jagger-smile began tweaking and jerking. He devised his own variation on my intent. I had wanted all the ends tucked neatly into a bun and pinned down. He fluffed them up and created a coronet of curls across the crown. He was RUTHLESS, jerking the clips out and wrapping those rubber bands down TIGHT. In situations like this, I try telling jokes to distract myself. Evidently my humor doesn’t translate well into Phillipine or Sri Lanken. I kept laying out a beautiful punch line and hearing that flat silence, then the polite, “Haha,” that says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Shirleen kept popping back to supervise the finishing touches. “You make sure it’s right across the top of de head,” she cautioned. “Else she can’t sleep on it.” I imagined having to cant my head on the pillow to avoid lying on those knots of hair and rubber bands, and I blessed Shirleen. While Juan and Mr. Jagger-smile were still cinching the rubber bands down, a Serbian hairdresser with gorgeous brown cat-eyes showed up, carrying a handful of bobby pins and she began nailing the ends of the curls tight to my scalp. She didn’t actually draw blood, but I don’t think she would have cared if she had.
And then, Mr. Jagger-smile picked up and aerosol can and said to me, “Close your eyes, darling.” He proceeded to lacquer the whole confection into a stiff, shiny edifice. I could walk through a hurricane, and those curls will not move.
Kyle calls it my Jamaican facelift. I feel like a queen. Women keep coming up to me and telling me how beautiful it is. And I CAN sleep on it. Beauty is pain, but a few aspirins take the edge off.
Our first full day on board was a day at sea which is always great for figuring our where you are and getting your sea legs. And, for getting your hair done if you want.
The next day, we arrived after lunch in SanFrancisco. Sailing under the bridge was a treat! Rather than sign up for a ship-sponsored excursion, Rick and MJ, who knew SF well, suggested we take the hop-on, hop-off bus. Our first stop was Chinatown.
MJ wanted to buy some tea, so we stopped at a herbalist’s shop. The smells! The sounds! The things for sale!
Giant dried mushrooms and colorful boxes of mysterious elixours. I watched a bone-thin old lady in a white coat measuring out twelve careful handfuls of bark onto twelve white squares, then adding carefully weighed doses of a yellow powder, then counting out a precise number of little red things. I think she was the apothecary. Chic young women in high-heels and business suits came in, spoke to the clerks in Chinese, handed over credit cards and walked out with neat white little packets or zip-lock baggies full of tea, or paper bags containing dried fish maw. (I have no idea why.) We were the only round-eyes in the shop. We bought Gunpowder tea, Rose Darjeeling, and five blossoming green tea balls. Then we stopped at an emporium that MJ and Rick knew about, and I left with a gorgeous aubergine silk coat.
The bus tour continued on through the painted ladies – the victorian houses that have been maintained and decorated with playful abandon and careful attention to detail. We were on the top deck, and I nearly twisted my head loose, gazing at this cornice and that dentil molding and those columns over there. And then – oh then, we went through Haight Ashbury! Yes, it has been fourty years since the summer of love, but I still resonate to those plangent strings. I was grinning so hard my face nearly split in two. Finally, over the Golden Gate Bridge, then back across it to the docks and a return to the ship. For Mary Jean’s Birthday dinner in the Canneletto restaurant.
You may notice that Mary Jean is wearing blue eyeshadow. This is quite unlike Mary Jean but she did it as a gesture of solidarity with me. You see, the ship sponsored a 5K walk for the cure that morning before we reached San Grancisco, and we both participated. I was goofing off and tried to do a grapevine step to vary the workout. I tripped over my own feet and fell like a great sequoia, bruising leg, hip, arm, shoulder, and cracking my right occipital ridge against the deck so hard that the people walking ahead of us turned to see what the noise was. So I had a sizeable audience to witness my embarrassment. Sigh.
Over the next few hours, the eyebrow bruise flowed down over my lid. By the time we headed to dinner, I had the “smokey eye” look perfected on the right side. So attractive. )-:
The next morning we docked in Santa Catalina. I was up early, savoring my tea on the veranda, when I noticed splashes in the water. The approached the ship and I saw that they were fish, leaping and frolicking and headed straight for the ship. Rick, on the adjoining veranda is quite familiar with these waters and confirmed my guess that they were dolphins. “It’s a nursery,” he “Adult dolphins are larger. Like that one there.” For at least half a mile, the sea was churned by leaping little dolphins, swimming up to smile at us. (I think the ship may have frightened schools of fish toward them.) It was a glorious experience!explained.
Which set my wag into gear for the whole day. We proceeded to take a zipline tour. It was so fun! MJ is fearless! Kyle and Rick are dauntless. And I gleefully squealed my lungs out.
After a thouroughly forgettable meal at Coyote Joes (don’t go if you can help it) we took a semi-submersible boat ride over to Lover’s Cove. I was on my knees on the floor with my face against the glass most of the trip. It’s a good thing we weren’t crowded. The bright orange Garabaldis are like gold coins in the clear water. The seaweed and kelp swoop and sway. The sea-urchins munch their patient way across the sea floor. There were calico bass and opal eyes and a gazillion little dark fish that were too skittish to identify. It was awesome!!
We were all pooped from our exciting day, but I still had some mischief left. I had to do a little yarn bombing while I had the chance.
The next morning, we docked in SanDIego, the end of the cruise. Again. Rick and MJ knew the places to go and the things to do and graciously took us up to Point Loma, told us stories about their lives in the city and their courtship there, and finally got us to the airport in time for our flight. They stayed in So. Cal for a few more days to visit Mary Jean’s family. Kyle and I flew home to our happy kitties, our secure internet connection, and our own sweet bed. Life is so very good for us right now!!