2006/05/12

Back in port


Monday night I got back from Spain, where my significant other and I have been living for the past six months. On the British Air flight from Heathrow to JFK, I got to see the tiny-screen version of "King Kong". Hilariously ridiculous. What I liked best, and what stirred something deep inside me, was the tramp steamer "Surabaya Venture." Wonderful name! It summoned recent memories of the harbor in Java crowded with colorful pinisi, overlaying earlier memories of Brecht's Surabaya Johnny. But most of all, the scenes awakened a deeper memory of adolescent romance. Perhaps it was in Heart of Darkness -- which the boy on board is reading in the movie -- where I first discovered such a magical vessel, or perhaps it was some other novel. I read many sea novels of sail, steam and even oars, eager to climb aboard again in my imagination. In at least one of those novels the point-of-view character was a boy like me, maybe 13 o 14 years old, except that he had shipped out as an "oiler." This meant he spent most of his time down in the dark, hot, smelly and noisy engine room, watching and learning from the older men sweating beside him. Oh glory! The smells of the sea and the oil and that sweat, the noise of the engines and of the boat itself creaking in the waves, the incessant movement toward -- toward nothing, really, because every port was merely an interruption in the perpetual rocking on the briny deep. That was the life for me, when I was reading. The rest of the time I was stuck on dry land in a suburb of Chicago.

Now I've crossed the sea by air. I'll probably have to wait until my return to Spain to experience in real life the sweat and motion and smell and noise of a working vessel -- "El Cuco," owner and captain of the María y Gabriela based in Carboneras, a diesel-powered fishing boat that normally carries a crew of 8 to 10, has promised to take me out on one of his expeditions, maybe to the Baleares in the Mediterranean, or maybe off the coast of Africa, near Madeira.

Internet connection was a bit of a hassle for us in Spain, which is one reason I haven't posted for a long time on this blog. The few chances I got (when I could get to the public library and when the library's ADSL connection was working) I put into my other blog, the one in Spanish. (If you read Spanish, you may want to look at my recent book synopses there.) But this is my announcement that I'm back in New York, with ADSL in my very own home office, and I hope to be posting here much more frequently. Coming up: My take on Spain's social and political evolution and how the country is dealing with its terribly violent history; some urbanizing lessons (what not to do) from Spain; and, once I've done the necessary research to say something new, more on Latin America and on Latinos in the U.S.

Photo: "A typical Cardiff tramp steamer - the SS Pontwen, built in 1914." From website Wales Past.

1 comment:

Dirk van Nouhuys said...

I'll look frward to your comments on Latin America.