I had intended to write outside on the back veranda, to pause from the screen and look up and watch the gentle swells advancing like a million mice beneath a thin sheet of azure silk, but all the chairs were taken by old people doing nothing. In a way you could say that most of the people here are old people doing nothing, except when they totter downstairs to eat, but that’s not fair; there are many here who have life in their bones and a spring to their gait. Sometimes, however, it seems as if Rachmanoff’s “Isle of the Dead” should play in the hallways, and the sound of muffled oars come from below decks. Then you find someone younger you never noticed before, and wonder if we’ve passed through some magical fog that rejuvenates some, takes decades off their age. It only works up to a certain point; once you’ve crossed a threshold the fog doesn’t work anymore, but they still take the cruise every year, still sit out back in silence, waiting for the mist. This time, perhaps.

After four or five days the novelty is off and the routines are set. You recognize some people because you share the same haunts. In the Cigar Room, for example, there is a old stork found at all hours, smoking; she weighs no more than 40 pounds and is probably made entirely of ash; sneeze in her direction and she vanishes. Her husband is a tall vulpine creature wearing a constant smile of evil and delight. There’s the Pilot Couple we met the first day - he’s a former Air Force instructor with a certain Derek Flint mien, and his wife’s a pilot for World Airways. They go everywhere and scuba dive, and come back with tales of strange fauna that laid unknown under the water for all of time until people learned to take air with them and descend into the World Below. There’s the Complaining New Yawkers. Oh, they’re a pair. We met them the first day while waiting for our cabins; everyone was sitting out by the pool, eating and drinking, and they sat down with a huff: she was a better-dressed version of someone who went to prison every Friday to see her husband, who was in for 40 years for racketeering - heavy, arrogant, suspicious. Her husband looked like money, but it hadn’t brought him happiness. She complained that the area was too crowded. Mind you, we’re all waiting for our rooms. No one can go anywhere else. Of course it’s crowded. My wife, always looking on the bright side, said “at least the food’s good.” The man fixed her with a flat stare and said “I suppose, if you’re from Kansas.”

I didn’t hear this, because if I had I would have said . . . something, possibly a bark of laughter over his predictable provinciality. My wife said we were from Minneapolis, and he nodded. Same thing.

Later, going to our room, we passed their cabin, where he was pointing out a stain on the carpet and telling the maid to do something about it. Right away, sir. The maids here all mostly Phillippinos, far from home and family for six months at a time, and they do not get days off. Right away sir.

Ugh. Then there are the men who plod around the walking course, keeping the knees oiled, but who often move at a pace that holds everyone up because they walk in the middle, or walk in pairs with one of them blocking the passing lane. It’s a jogging path but no one jogs. Last of all, the old fat men who have spent a lifetime building their belly and walk around with it hanging out, white and hairy, like a trophy they won for finding their mouths with their hands. The biggest of them lie pasted in the deck chairs, basting in the Caribbean sun, looking like bombs waiting to go off and shower the rest with a spatter of guts and undigested cheesecake.

If it sounds ghastly, it isn’t; it’s just humanity on parade, and the ones who irritate you always stick out. They don’t define the place. The people who are here for the Hewitt cruise are a marvellous bunch, and I'll say more about them later. There's nothing like meeting people who are instant friends you never knew but might as well have known for years; ship life is good for forging such instant bonds.

COZUMEL

The first day wife and child went on a jungle tour; I stayed behind to think about my speech, or perhaps give my speech; it blurs together. I do know that I took a cab into town. Haven’t been in Coz in almost ten years. It felt the same. A few changes; bigger ferry dock, a few old favorite restaurants gone or replaced. I don’t know why I like the town; it’s shabby once you’re off the main drag. That might be why.

Here, you take a look. Obligatory bust-on-plinth in the main square:

 

Bird on a rock in an back alley:

 

 

Painted signs. Everything's painted and most of that's faded.

 

 

You know, in Mexico, wrestling is real:

 

 

The God of Recumbant Ashtrays:

Really: that's an ashtray in his belly. The statue is in an atrium in a horribly smelly part of the duty- free terminal, which apparently is the scene of a nightly ritual honoring whichever god watches over those who pee on the floor.

Odd ruin - looks Roman, but it's probably from the 1970s:

 

Our ship, flanked by larger examples of the genre:

 

 

Rather than take a cab back, I decided to walk to the pier. The sun was merciless, but I had a cap and a can of Coke and a tube of sunblock, so I figured it would be a lark. Thirty minutes, tops, and besides, I knew the way. En route I passed an enormous condo project that had been mere girders the last time we’d been here, and girders the year before . . . and the year before that. Mexico is full of buildings people start and abandon. Even when they finish something there’s the unnerving sight of metal nets sticking out of the roof in case they want to add another floor; they look like hard bristly hairs sprouting from a giant’s mole.

We stayed in port that night, so no dinner on the ship: into town to sample the wonderful seafood of Pizza Rolandi. The pizza’s good, but the seafood is exquisite, and fresh; you actually see a fellow walk through the front door with something just caught, headed for the grill. The driver said he would take us there, sure. It was closed. Of course: Sunday. Thank you driver for warning us. But Pancho’s Backyard was open, so there we went. I noted to my wife that when last we sat here, she was pregnant, and we spent the meal looking through a book of baby names. She was astonished: of course! Yes! And then we both looked at our daughter, who rolled her eyes.

“You’ve been here before,” said Mother.

“Not really,” said Daughter. “I didn’t get to order anything, now did I.”

“It was here we chose your name: Brunhilda.”

“WHAT?”

“We thought better of it.”

“Good.”

“Quaniqua Postuma.”

“DAD.”

 

The next day: snorkeling expedition. Lined up in the duty-free era, signed waivers, listened to a speech, and were bade to form a line of twos. Instructions were given in great detail: we would be getting our snorkeling gear, then we would be taught to use it (oh, crap, lessons? Even if we know how to snork?) then the guides will take you through several stages of the depths! Once we are there you will find chairs and a pool and you can relax when you are done. Follow me! Pay attention to Pepe who is at the head of the line with the sign! We will be going out of the duty-free shops, outside, then to the left!

We formed a line composed of twos, as requested, and made our way out into the World. Once outside we did indeed head to the left, after which we entered a hotel lobby, came out the other side . . . and arrived at our destination, which was a resort right next to the duty-free area. Ah well.

I tried to get a Leon beer; no one has it anymore. The conglomerate beer barons of Mexico have crushed it, I guess. (Update: nope. Bought by Modela, just not widely available in tourista areas, because they figure no one will order it. Big mistake. Only Mexican beer worth drinking. And they RUINED the label.)

Made it back to the ship for Tea and Trivia, a nap, another astonishing meal with innumerable courses leading up to lamb so tender it bleated when your poured on the sauce, and then another long night in the lounge - this time with Hugh Hewitt, who’d finally made it on board, and was hailed by everyone for two simple reasons: A) he’s a great guy who’s full of bright chat and savvy, and B) this was who they’d paid to see, after all. Cigars and fine libations and Sinatra on the Cigar Bar music system. Conversation is like college, but only if you add 30 years of reading and learning and thinking. In retrospect I suppose I am insufferable, because I’ll remember le quote juste and deploy a little Milton, ho ho, and combine it with some Augustine,* and feel terribly pleased with myself. But I feel as if I have remembered so many things I have forgotten, simply because I had no chance to use them; I feel capable, and all the petty miseries of the last few months have boiled off. This is the best thing I have ever done, I suspect.

(*Someone pointed out that the desserts were deadly, and I said I had denied myself foreknowledge of that fact, and so I ate, and knew not eating death. If I’d worked in Dante it would have been the pretentious Liberal Arts major tri-fricken-fecta.)

Thanks to Google Street View, you can take my walk from downtown to the dock. Or poke around downtown. Click on the double-arrow box on the lower portion to collapse the map, if you want a larger view.

Different world than the slideshows of yore, eh?