• James Eric Fristad

Oostering of Wester ... dam! dam!

Updated: Jul 10

"Vew-wy stwange," as Elmer Fudd might have said.

Suddenly the ship assigned for our reserved trip from Rome around to Venice, has been swapped for one of its sisters. Notice today, to the effect that: "Same design, same deck plan, same everything — you'll like it." And surely we will like it, once we get used to the new nomenclature.

Still, one wonders what ever happened to Westerdam, whose floor plan included our reserved stateroom, 8099? On the alternative Oosterdam — you understand the curious title now, above — yes, it is right there in the same place on Deck 8, with the same slanted-out, slightly longer balcony at 45 degrees that sort of looks towards the starboard bow. "8099, yes. Aaah." One mildly happy thing is, if we do end up buying a memento coffee mug there, as we have done in the past, it will have a completely fresh cluster of letters for our cupboard to boast of, when we have returned (we have a preposterously oversized, midnight-blue Westerdam mug already).

One notable thing, Holland America's publicity photo of Oosterdam is more comely than anything for Westerdam. Augmented by the new, dramatic sky that seemed more fitting than the original's generic blue, I think it looks pretty spiffy. Maybe a blog topic anon, about nudging and massaging canned photos to make them pop a little?

But one does get a little paranoid, you know, about what behind-the-scenes machinations look like, the cutting and pasting of schedules — pulling one 83,000 ton boat out of the Adriatic because it seems/feels/gratifies/profits more to substitute a parallel mega-watercraft? Were it any other year among the several decades past, such questions would never have much staying power. It would cross my mind as a curiosity, sure, but who really cares as long as we get to make the trip? Then the pandemic arrived, and a host of worries with it.

I guess this floating-hotel swap really brings to the surface a tough little gang of uncertainties about the whole enterprise. Each uncertainty suggesting one of those mean kids who hang out in alleyways on your route home after elementary school. Wanting to mess you up because being fearsome and toxic is who they are, what they do. And not just related to this final week's worth of 2022 events for us, but the rest of the whole scheme I've cooked up. Miami, Bermuda, Lisbon, Bordeaux/St Emilion, Girona/Barcelona, Avignon, Levanto, Rome, etc... Just how fragile are those dreams, in fact? Not to be over-dramatic, but if you have followed my little occasional screeds here, there must be some lingering question in your own mind about the uncertainty of it all.

We know we will be fully immunized, and with a booster if at all possible; that we'll bring a number of masks with us, KN-95 type — so we'll be (literally) covered where needed. Almost certainly masking will be requested at transportation hubs and aboard airplanes and probably trains. Maybe in market settings abroad, likely during tours indoors. To some extent, too, I'm thinking mouth/nose coverings will be needful on buses, in crowded venues like street fairs. What about beaches? Mountain trails? Meadows? Even when skulking around archaeological digs? It is unlikely but possible, and realizing that possibility thrusts DECISIONS into our innocent and naive faces ...

Is it worth it? The whole away-for-56-days enterprise ... what degree of restriction would it take for us simply to simply abandon the whole deal? Maybe go back to the digital-imagination factory and re-do everything for another year? Or (infeliciter dictu) just to bag the entire concept of going abroad, ever again? Sounds grim, kinda terminal.

Fundamentally, I do not want to give it up. Really, anybody can go abroad in an ordinary year.

As many friends here realize, for us mask-wearing, or not, has nothing to do with illusions being extra-American. The absurd linkage that too many people (anybody wanna spend some time in Arkansas, these infected days?) stick in there between the two issues is, candidly, offensive to me. Putting that fabric gadget across my glistening smile, and trusting my ears not to deform via the always-pulling elastic around them, has nothing to do with my feeling vulnerable and wanting to protect my body from this often-horrible pestilence; it has everything to with showing concern for fellow humans. How expensive is it to demonstrate love for "one another"? Even if I am the only one in Avignon's Les Halles Market who's been vaccinated, and am not worried about passing along the virus to others, it matters to me that I demonstrate to the other peeps in the store, that they are worth my caring about. It's a Christian thing. All those strangers matter enough that I will volunteer a little inconvenience to show other people how applied love gets done. For many this attitude won't make sense, but there it is.

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