Thursday, April 17, 2014

Miniature Entry: On the Loss of a Great Writer

I wish I had something poetic to say about the wonderful Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, who has just died; but I don't.

Instead, I can tell you that in my freshman expository writing/fiction writing class at Harvard, which I hated, I once said in a discussion that I saw great similarities between the plots of "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" and Auntie Mame.

I did this just to provoke an aneurysm in a snooty bitch classmate from Miss Porter's. She always spoke in a breathy voice redolent of italics of her desire to "explode the confines of linear fiction," and she openly loathed me for turning in assignments that were funny. Every time one of my stories got a laugh, she would shake her Annie Hall bob in disgust and bite the end of her pen.*

It worked. She actually did get so angry she left the room. I've always been grateful to Mr. Márquez for that. And, of course, to Patrick Dennis.

This will probably be the only Márquez tribute that mentions them both.

RIP, Gabe.

Now I have to go finish roasting a chicken.

*She was also an avowed Freudian.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Miniature Entry: Life at Sea


At present I am aboard the Cunard liner Queen Victoria, sailing from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale via the Panama Canal.

If you've been reading for a long time you know I love Cunard ships, past and present. I am supposed to be having (on doctor's orders) a complete rest from work but of course you know I wasn’t going to climb aboard without any knitting.

So I've taken to doing a little in the Winter Garden, in the mornings. As you would expect, it's a surefire conversation starter. The passengers are in the main fairly elderly. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them knew Queen Victoria personally. When she was a little girl. I couldn't be happier–this is my crowd. We tend to like the same music and the same movies.

I was clicking away a few mornings ago as we headed for Costa Rica and a flurry of tropical print hove into view. The person in the print stopped, then dropped into the next chair. She was English, ambiguously eighty-ish, artfully preserved.

"That," she said, pointing at my knitting, "is very impressive work. My father was a knitter, so I know."

Whereupon we started chatting.

She is doing the World Cruise, Southampton to Southampton. This is something like her forty-fourth Cunard voyage. (The brand breeds loyalty.)

"Of course my favorite is and forever shall be the QE2," she said. "They'll never build another like her."

I nodded. I never sailed in her, mind you. I only saw her, once, back when I was on the Minerva II and she docked beside us in Malta. I remember that seeing C-U-N-A-R-D on the side of ship for the first time gave me chills.

"But may I say something? I'm going to say something."

She leant toward me and through her dark round sunglasses I could feel her glare. "You young* people," she said firmly, "have absolutely no stamina and no idea how to have a good time. No. Idea."

I raised my eyebrows.

She pointed towards the windows above us, which belong to Hemispheres–the ship's disco. "They will close that bar tonight at one o'clock and you will all go to sleep. Ridiculous. Ridiculous! On the QE2 we never dreamt of bed before sunrise. A party every night. Until sunrise. We knew how to have a good time. You young people, I don't know what's wrong with you."

"Well," I said, "the seventies were different, weren’t they? All that cocaine would keep anybody awake."

This time her eyebrows went up. She leant even closer.

"You'd better believe it, kid," she whispered. "You'd better believe it."

 *Yes, on this ship I'm young. I'm quite possibly the youngest person aboard not scrubbing pots or being looked after by the Cunard nannies.

Note: The lady in the photograph is not the lady in the story. She's another lady, with whom I danced rather madly one evening.