Sunday, September 13, 2009

Day 58: Countries Beginning with A

Yesterday the ship docked in Sarande, Albania.

Sarande looked pretty much as I expected it would - featureless apartment blocks, a handful of building shells that had obviously been abandoned in mid-build. Even the ship's literature about the port warned that there wasn't much to see and virtually nothing you would want to buy. I thought it would be more interesting to wash underwear and socks.

It's a shame, because a couple we were talking to last night managed to land in town just in time to watch a good old-fashioned fist fight at 10 in the morning. They described the experience of walking through the neighborhood near the dock as "pretty scary". But they had good pizza and a beer for much less than you would pay anywhere else.

And the beach was pretty. But I already knew that because you can see it from the ship without walking through the neighborhood.

So in the end we each had our own reward. They had a genuine travel experience. I have clean underpants.


I know that a day or two ago I had a good old-fashioned whine about the English who as a nation seem to have developed a cultural skill at stepping in front of people.

But I've decided that's not half as annoying as that breed of American who thinks that because you're in the same universe as they are that you give a rat's ass about what they think. And it seems that an unusually high percentage of the Americans on cruise ships fall into this category.

Every night this trip LK and I have looked at each other and simultaneously said, "Bloody Americans!" in memory of that great scene in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life". It's the dinner party where everyone dies of food poisoning and the Grim Reaper comes to collect them. He gets so fed up with the American nattering on that he points his finger at him and says, "Shut up, you American! You Americans, all you do is talk, and talk, and say "let me tell you something" and "I just wanna say." Well, you're dead now, so shut up!"

I just want to say that much of the time these people are bothering us, they aren't even talking to us. They seem to have their volume control set permanently between the settiings of "Annoy Those Nearby" and "Talk to Someone in Another County". And even that might be OK if what they said wasn't so inane most of the time. But the country that invented 24-hour news channels, talkback radio and Oprah Winfrey seems to have developed the art of making sure that none of us have to suffer the torture of silence or, just as bad, hear our own conversations without raising our voices so the people across the room hear us, as well.

Let me tell you something to make it clear.

Last night we went to a special wine-and-food-pairing dinner. While waiting for the whole group to gather, several of us sat around in the ship's library drinking a glass of champagne. There were two couples from New York traveling together. They're the ones who had the cheap pizza and beer in Albania. We know because they told us, and then told the next couple that arrived. Oh, and the next one after that.

They also told us all about the other wonderful places they have seen this trip (as if none of the rest of us were along for the ride), about the wonderful bartender who gives them such special attention on Deck 10, about the vodka whose name they couldn't remember but it doesn't matter because the wonderful bartender remembered it the next day for them, about the waiter in the dining room who looks like Tiger Woods and whose picture they took and how happy he was and would they email it to him, and ...

Well, you get the idea. All of this in about 10 minutes. Bloody Americans.

Before she seated us, the cellar master - a determinedly cheery Romanian - had us all introduce ourselves and say where we were from. All of us already knew, of course, that the four were from New York because they had told us. None of the rest of us had actually said anything about ourselves, so we were surprised to discover that there were two Australian couples from Adelaide in the group.

At the seating, there were two tables of four and a chef's table set up for 12. We sat across from the Aussies at the larger table and genuinely enjoyed their conversation. Well, except for when it got a little awkward at one point when one of the Aussie women, assuming Linda and I were experts on all things American, leaned across the table and asked, "Are the Jews in America conservatives?"

Fortunately, the New York contingent was sitting at one of the small tables, but I had a hunch there were people at our table much better qualified to answer that question than I was. Nevertheless, I tried for the best politically correct, non-offensive reply I could think of after four glasses of wine. "Well, traditionally the Jewish bloc of voters has leaned toward the liberal side," I answered in my best professorial tones hoping that would be the end of this line of discussion.

Until her husband said, "But the Jews always have so much money. You'd think they would be conservatives."

Some of you who know me well will be surprised to learn that there are times when I shut up, hoping LK will step in and help out with the conversation. But of course, 4 bottles of wine wouldn't have been enough to get her to jump in on this one, so I finally had to do my best waffling about "Well, of course, it's been 20 years since we lived there, and blah blah don't know that much about it blah blah and anyway generalizations are seldom right blah blah."

Fortunately, a new wine was being introduced and nothing is quite so able to get the attention of an Aussie as a new drop to drink. By the time all that was settled, LK proved pretty adept at starting another line of discussion. I think she asked them if they had heard what a bargain pizzas and beer were in Albania.

One of the nice things about dual citizenship is that I can either think of myself as an Australian or an American, depending on which seems the better option at the time. By the end of last night's dinner as we left Albania, I wasn't sure which I would choose. But as we were getting up to leave, my new Aussie mate made up my mind for me.

Despite 3 1/2 hours of food and and at least 8 or 9 glasses of wine, he looked at the Romanian running the show and said to her, "Hey. We haven't got good value yet. How about another glass of wine?"

Oi. Oi. Oi

No comments: