Saturday, December 10, 2011

Local Living

"Yoyo," said the man in authority to the bartender. "Her drinks are on the house."

I could get used to this, I thought, sipping my mango juice that chased the Nespresso coffee. I'm not a fan of instant, even gourmet instant, but it beat the free stuff in the lounge, and I'm a fan of "on the house."

The man in authority, who might even be ship's captain, or maybe chief engineer or consultant or manager, of even chef, had sat down at my table at lunch.

"Blah blah blah chef blah," said the server who placed the chef at the center of our table.

"Chef," I thought. "Maybe I can tell him I'm allergic to seafood." But of course he wasn't the chef, he was the chief of something—though I'm not sure exactly what. This was all done in French, so I had to catch on that chef didn't mean head cook before I realized someone important had taken me to Yoyo's bar and given me free coffee and juice.

He's Romanian by birth but fluent in English and French as well as Romanian. I think he's more the ship's mascot than anything else. Eventually, I asked if he'd been on-board when my friend Amanda (who we last saw in Sydney, where she was visiting en route to a New Zealand cruise on a work assignment) was on the Aranui.

"Belle fille Amanda!" Indeed he did remember her. And this led to a free coffee and mango juice. I'm going to have to drop Amanda's name more often.

"She's writing an article on the Aranui for Travelgirl magazine," I explained. "And she has photos for you, but couldn't get the DVD to burn before I came. She'll send them."

A local kid ran into a bar with his friend, and Yoyo instructed the kid to go fetch him some drinking water for the coffee machine. The kid and his friend diligently ran off.

"This is home for everyone," explained the man in authority. "I am godfather to this boy, and his mother works on the Aranui also."

(I hope I got that right. Details, details.) 

The ship's crew works two weeks on, one week off, so they are at sea more often than they are at home. The kids trotted back with the drinking water and then were sent off to get more. Kids are welcome on-board during holidays when they aren't at school.

I liked this, that the ship was a family endeavor.

"And Yoyo, he is never in his shirt after we leave the port."

That was true. Yoyo was stripped down to just his red-and-white floral-print Polynesian wrap around the waist.

"And that's our owner there," said the man in authority, pointing to a Chinese-American from California. "The owners work also, they come on-board and make sure everything is going smoothly. When it goes smoothly, I know everyone is doing their job."

The Aranui was winning me over.

Later, I had dinner with three Americans, one from San Francisco, another from Dallas, and a third—who was an expert on tiki-pop-culture and Trader Vic's–from Lorton, VA. We sat at the table near the door and were served first this time, unlike lunch when I'd been at the last table and lunch had taken two hours.

I thought I'd work, but getting up a 4 a.m. took its toll. I went back to the dorm, where I opened my locker, then had to close it to let a French woman by, then opened it again and managed to change clothes without being too vulgar in public. Half-naked French people were all around. Like Starship Troopers locker room scene in French, without the giant bugs.

Precariously, I climbed the ladder into my tiny cubbyhole bunk. No one was out late—this had been a long day. Ten passengers fell asleep as one.

And no one snored.

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