Splendid Isolation

For months I’ve been reading newspaper accounts and blogs of people isolated in staterooms because of COVID.  Some couples get along well, some don’t wear so well in close quarters.  Some people spend time watching TV, some reading, and some are bored.  Suzi and I are getting along fine.

I’m finishing my isolation. (The morning after writing this I tested negative so I can leave the room.)  Suzi is nearer the start of hers.   I have not found isolation difficult. So far, I’ve finished three books and are well into a fourth sitting on the veranda listening to waves against the ship and hearing an occasional flying fish bellyflop as we loll along at a leisurely 12 knots.  One book is a history of Captain Cook from an indigenous perspective (written in the dullest academic style possible), one a Janet Evanovich Jersey novel, one an Irish mystery and one of literary fiction about 21st century Muslim immigrants to America.  When Suzi was ashore in Ra’iatea I enjoyed sitting on the verandah watching the town and trying to spot the two groups of Chinese Dragon dancers going from store to store celebrating the Lunar New Year.  Of course, we missed the celebration on the ship.

My imagination was fired by the various drills that the crew hold on port days when most passengers are in port. I listened to the running PA announcement of three different drills.  A man overboard simulation, an oil spill drill during bunkering with the deployment of a containment boom and an abandon ship drill.  Most of the drills were held on the starboard side of the ship, our cabin is on the port side.  A man overboard on my side would go splat rather than splash.  And while the abandon ship drill was at lifeboat stations port and starboard, they couldn’t very well lower them on my side of the ship, although I did lean over as far as I could without the risk of going splat to see the backs of life vests running around the deck below.  Listening to the PA announcements and following the progress was like listening to a radio drama, leaving a lot of room for my imagination to play.  I’m glad I am of a generation that was raised to do that.

When we read about people in isolation on other ships Suzi and I decided to go for a balcony stateroom figuring that our luck was not good enough to go 128 days without catching COVID.  It was the right decision. If I had a small pane of glass between me and the sail out from Ra’iatea it would not have been nearly as interesting.  We could feel the breeze an sun while watching the colors of the water change with the depths and the waves play against the reefs while the green islands reflected sun and shadow as we maneuvered out of the lagoon through the gap in the reef. 

In James Mitchener’s Tales of the South Pacific, Bali Hi was the forbidden island that you could see but not visit.  Bora bora had built an industry about being Bali Hai (Mitchener was stationed there) with “Bloody Mary’s” being the tourist bar.  Bora Bora was our forbidden island, not just for the COVIID struck McClears but for everyone on board. We were originally scheduled to stop there, but to protect the nature of the island they have limited cruise ship capacity to 1200.  We have two hundred too many.   We sailed by the forbidden island on our way out, looming in the mist, like in the Rogers and Hammerstein song.

I leave my drapes open on sea days to be awakened by the sunrise, and sunrise did not disappoint during isolation. 

But at sunset most of the ship is either at dinner or a show.  Not being allowed out of the room I took full advantage of some stunning sunsets.

This captain likes to run with fewer lights than Captain Mercer did, and given the privacy screens on either side of the balcony, when we turn out the lights in our stateroom and sit on the verandah and let our eyes adjust for about 15 minutes we are greeted with views of the Milky Way and constellations that we don’t see in the northern hemisphere, all to the sound of lapping waves.  It is a wonderful way to end the day.

It is, indeed, a splendid isolation. They bring us all the food we ask for. Guest services calls us at least once a day to ask if we need anything. Tonight, is a dressy night on board and we are eating the same beef Wellington they serve in the main dining room except I am wearing crocks, sweat shorts and a Tahitian T shirt Suzi got me in Ra’iatea.  It will be charged to Alaska Airlines, which has not yet reunited us with a lost bag that I fear may remain lost.  One sect of the Alaska Airlines baggage cult assures that it is following us, another says the ticket is “closed,” and one poor baggage lady in Salt Lake City insists that she has it and has no idea of how to get it to us.  Our Catholic friends are undecided whether we should pray to St. Anthony or St. Jude.  In the Cathedral in Tahiti, I lit a candle for both of them along with a contribution to the alms box.

My new T-shirt. “Genuine” Tahitian Design, “Made in China.”

The doctor or nurse call to check up on us and keep us stocked on meds  I am on a strong cocktail of anti virals called Paxlovid, which is a mix of Nirmatrelvir pills made in China and Ritonavir made in Italy but packaged together for COVID use in the US.  Neither of us is feeling particularly badly but they were worried about me because of my history with COVID hospitalization.  The doctor asked what I would do when sprung.  I said “go swimming”  She said “No, wait a while, walk first.”

I have figured out how to make our coffee table rise on its pedestal so now we can use it for a game table.  Suzi has found yet another train game and we will play it waiting for sunset and the stars that will follow. 

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