no time in confiding that he used his collegernsalaty to pay his taxes on the amplernroyalties of his textbook. But when hisrnwife asked him to order a bottle, he alwaysrnrefused. P^ach night he faithfully setrnup his telescopes on deck, but it was oftenrntoo cloudy to see very much. Eventuallyrnwe were rewarded with a white blurrnwhich, he assured us, was Halley’srnComet.rnIt took several days for the passengersrnto recover from this fraught beginningrnand start to enjoy themselves. Wernstopped in Grenada, which had been invadedrnby our heroic troops. No signs ofrnthis campaign remained. In Tobago —rnwhich our cruise pamphlet called “thernidvllic island of Robinson Crusoe,”rnthough that fictional character had nornconnection with the place — we picnickedrnon the beach.rnThe daily routine makes a cruise arnsomewhat regressive experience, a bitrnlike being at a giant house party or a protractedrnfamily reunion, where rituals arernobserved. At first, it is fun to dress forrndinner, to go to the captain’s cocktail parfy.rnYou have a program of events, with evervihingrnlaid out for you, including whatrndegree of dressed-upness is required eachrnnight. There’s a hairdresser and a manicurist,rna sports director and a masseuse, arnsteam bath and a barber, a sickbay, a doctor,rnand a reading room. The ship is arnshell in which you are encased and encapsulated,rnand all these strangers becomernas familiar to you as your neighborsrnat home. In fact, they become a goodrndeal more familiar, since you see them inrnall varieties of dress and undress, andrnthere is nothing to do but talk to them orrnobserve them eating, drinking, andrnspeaking to other people. Ships encouragernintimacy. People tell each other confidencesrn—and perhaps lies —much asrnthey might in railway compartments.rnThis is perhaps one of cruising’s charms.rnIn our somewhat impersonal world,rnwhere most people travel the fastest wayrnbetween two points, hoping for as littlerncontact with others as possible, cruising isrna real anomaly. You take a completelyrncircular journey, hope to lose all sense ofrnhme, and don’t mind in the least meetingrnas many congenial people as possible.rnBut there’s the rub. The person you enjoyedrntalking to once may be a bore byrnday three, and )Our routes of escape arernlimited.rnI foimd it difficult to read or write onrndeck or in the lounge. I kept looking up,rnas the people swirled around, so I wouldrnnot miss a chat, a deal, or an assignation.rnWe took home plenty of unread booksrnand a couple of blank journals. Afterrndinner, instead of attending the nightclub,rndance hall, and gambling casino,rnI’d stroll on deck, eager to be on my ownrnfor a bit, and then retire to my room tornread. One evening, I met a middle-agedrnbut newly married couple who pointed tornthe sky and said: “That’s our star!” WhenrnI asked about that romantic idea, theyrnproudly showed me a deed that provedrnthey had actually bought a piece of thernsolar system.rnIn some ways, a cruise resembles anrnacademic conference: a place to observernflirtations, pairings, quarrels, and hurtrnfeelings. We soon got to know the prettiestrnyoung woman on board, eager for adventurernand adept at eluding her mother.rnWhen we docked outside Port-of-Spainrnin Trinidad on Christmas Eve, she wentrnoff on the tender to explore the bars withrnthe handsome Greek cabaret singer, hernof the shirt open to the waist, gold medallion,rnand hairy chest. Hours later, as thernship was steaming off to sea again, I metrnher mother scouring the halls. “Wherernon earth can that child possibly be?” shernwondered. I had to restrain myself fromrnsaving, “She’s making it with Giorgos inrnroom 43.”rnThe cruise line was caught off guardrnon Christmas Eve. A group of the religiouslyrninclined were outraged that no arrangementsrnhad been made for a service.rnAn officer was dispatched on a motorrnlaunch to fetch a priest and returned withrnsome haggard Graham Greene-ish character.rnMany passengers were half-asleeprnin their bunks when the dreaded intercomrnsummoned us to Midnight Mass.rnAfter Trinidad, the ship set off for somernserious ocean cruising down the coast ofrnVenezuela. The real adventure layrnahead in Brazil, where we would find,rnthe cruise pamphlet assured us, “alligators,rnturtles, monstrous manatees, jaguarsrnand coiled anacondas crouched deep inrnthe jungle.”rnNext day, as the wind came up, myrndaughter’s ping-pong balls sailedrnunerringly overboard, and the ship’s supplyrnran out. Unlimited chocolate eclairsrnand a rough sea proved her undoing.rnChristmas Day dinner became The DiminishingrnParty, as everyone at my tablerngradually decided to celebrate queasily inrntheir bunks. I sat alone, surrounded byrnlobsters, turkey, and desserts, and salutedrnthe survivors at other tables, waving myrnpaper hat and squeaker across the nearemptyrndining room.rnFor the next two days, the programrnread “At Sea.” Here the time warp camerninto play. In a setting where Fred Astairernwould ha’e felt at home, the passengersrnsat at tables around a dance floor, smokedrncigarettes, drank cocktails, danced withrntheir wives, watched the wavering chorusrnline, laughed at the feeble cabaret jokes,rnand made believe they were handsomerndevils in some romantic movie. Ourrnhost, the charmless cruise director, a badtemperedrnItalian who thought he couldrnsing, each night croaked out his themernsong, “Mala Femmina.” In the daytime,rnhe was responsible for the often haywirernarrangements; at night, he scowled at thernaudience and screamed at the childrenrnwho disturbed this curious adult ritual.rnThe entertainers themselves were tiredrnand jaded, at the nadir of their profession.rnThe young classical performers, in contrast,rnwere lively, fresh, and enthusiastic.rnAs the ship lurched creakily from side tornside, threatening to fling her and her partnerrninto the grand piano, the sopranorngamely took off her high-heeled shoes,rnplanted herself firmly on the floor, andrncontinued to sing.rnSoon it was time for the lecturers to dorntheir dut)—after all, we were part of thernentertainment—though none of us werernintroduced, in person or in the daily newsrnsheet. The man who had hired me hadrnordered 30 copies of my Hemingwayrnbook. But since the book-signing part)’rnwas scheduled before m’ first talk, no onernknew who I was or came to the party. I satrnrather forlorn amid piles of my neglectedrnmasterpiece.rnI couldn’t take this personally, and thernarrangements for my first lecture were asrnhaphazard as ever)’thing else on board—rnthe service, the interminable waits for therntenders that took us to and from the ship,rnalmost anything that involved organization.rnMy audience had been mistakenlyrndirected to the darkened movie theater,rnwhere Papillon still had 45 minutes tornrun. We shepherded them to the cabaretrnlounge, where I stood at the podium,rnframed by les girls, who were rehearsingrntheir show. They gradually tap-dancedrntheir way across to the exit, all feathersrnand bottoms.rnI gave three talks about books and peoplernloosely connected to the places wernwould visit: the South American travelrnbooks of Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Isherwood,rnand Paid Theroux; the Brazilianrnpoetry of Elizabeth Bishop; and RogerrnCasement and the Rubber Boom inrnAUGUST 1999/39rnrnrn