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In each of the four elevators in this floating hotel is a coloured mat with the day of the week printed on it. Each day the mats are changed so that the passengers can, if they wish, keep track. By day four it’s easy to understand why this might be a good idea; it feels like being in another world, because you’re sort of nowhere, moving all the time from one place to another, and bounded by the artificial schedule constructed for your amusement. Is it wrong that I want to sneak into the place where they keep the mats one night, and put a different one in each elevator?
The four days we’ve spent in the Mediterranean have been remarkably calm. As we move into the Atlantic, that will probably change. As I write, we’re passing through the straits of Gibraltar, the narrow bit between North Africa and southern Europe. Although we pass so close to Morocco, our ports of call consist of three in Spain and two in Portugal.
The ship staff has been outstanding when it comes to making our experience accessible as blind passengers, and yesterday I was able to get a staff escort on an organized tour of an abandoned mine in Cartagena, along the southern coast of Spain. I’d never been in a mine or a cave before. We took an open-air train on a road winding up the side of a mountain, then ascended into the top level. All the time we were there, regardless of the ambient noise of talk, shuffling feet or sound effects of the tour, there was an underlying, muffling stillness that I was conscious of all the time. It was a kind of persistent silence upon which human sounds were mere fluff. The air had a constant temperature and humidity, and a faintly sulfurous tang, that contributed to the sense of immutable permanence. The air and the stillness left me in no doubt that I was inside the Earth; it was a remarkable feeling.
This mine is renowned for its acoustics, so much so that each summer Flamenco artists come from all over Spain to perform inside it in a grand festival. For our entertainment, a group of guitarists and dancers gave a dazzling half hour performance that made me want to leap out of my chair! I had this little fantasy that the musicians would feel my passion, and hand me a guitar and beg me to sing a song from Canada. This harmless bit of daydreaming wasn’t exhibitionism; I just wanted to sing in such an acoustically unique place. Alas, they somehow failed to perceive my ecstasy, and simply got into their car and left before our train started back down the mountain.
Today the four of us left the ship and walked around Malaga, still in southern Spain. We spent some time in a lovely botanical garden, plunked down incongruously between heavily travelled urban streets with really high speed limits. The garden had lots of orange trees, which I’d never touched before. It was the first sense I’ve had that we’re in a semi-tropical zone. Some of the plants had leaves so big you could have curled up in one!
Grateful for my few words of rusty Spanish, I was able to order a cappuccino freo (cold cappuccino) in the little café we stopped at outside of the tourist district. In preparing for our trip I tried to brush up on my religious cursing, and Madry de Dios that was one of the most delicious coffee drinks I’ve ever had: a hot and cold layered confection with frothed milk and cinnamon on top, yum!
The traffic isn’t quite as unnerving as it was in Rome, but I found myself taking up our friend’s custom of murmuring a brief “Hale Mary” before each street crossing. It has become a kind of joke among the four of us, but, maybe because we’ve been in such staunchly Catholic countries with such energetic drivers, it’s begun to take on the faint whiff of sincerity that only someone raised in Catholicism can really understand. We walked through a 100m or so long tunnel that carries people and cars beneath a mountain, and Santa Maria! It was loud!
Sitting here on my narrow bed, I’m starting to feel the boat moving on the swell, and hearing the tiny creaks around the corners of our cabin as the ship rocks. We’re probably in the Atlantic now. As cruise ships go this one isn’t especially big, 750 passengers or so, but it still seems like a really big boat to me. We’re definitely among the youngest passengers, and certainly some of the least formal. The recommended dress code for the dining room advises us to “Dress to impress.” We’ve impressed all right, but only by our lack of style. Even when I put on my nice new dress for dinner, I spoiled the affect by going to the dining room with my hair still wet from the hot tub. I’m irredeemably hopeless when it comes to glammer, but I’ve accepted it. I figure the four of us already stick out like a fist full of sore thumbs because of our disability; our dress down approach is the least of the reasons people have to stare. My partner and I agree that we could have managed just fine on the cruise in terms of self-sufficiency if we’d come on our own as two blind people, but socially we’d have a hard time finding our tribe, which makes us really happy to be here with good friends.