Originally mailed May 1, 2004. Shortly after this letter was written, JAR HQ brought a replacement cast on board to replace us (without any prior notice). It was a shock to us all in that tiny five person cast, and while that water has long passed under the bridge, I often shake my head that I still work for this outfit. Still, I didn't know at the time we were going to be laid off, and life couldn't get any better. Here's a copy of what I wrote:
I looked at the calendar today, and besides finding out that today is Saturday, that it is also May 1st! Looks like I've been on board a whole month now! How about that...
Time is flying by, but I am having a great time! At the moment we are docked in Bordeaux, France. Spent the morning walking around town, discovering a huge farmer's market, which was mostly flowers, and a large antique flea market type thing. Hate to say it, but French antiques are just as expensive here as they are in America. Saw lots of amazing statues and fountains, and then found my way into this really nice park. Hard to put into words that aren't cliche, but it was what you would expect. Beautiful old buildings, trees, rolling hills, a little river with old boats docked on it. The only thing I found peculiar was that next to this playground, and I mean right next to it, was this old, old cemetery, with about a dozen headstones that were so old you couldn't make out any words at all. Its my theory that having the playground so close gives the dead a chance to feel young again... Still, when I was a kid, I loved to dig.
I basically just followed my nose around the city. Today is some sort of French Holiday (Someone told me it was Labor Day here) so most of the stores were closed. Oh well, I'm not really a shopper anyway. Fortunately, most of the pastry stores were open, so I got me something good, with lots of filing, and walked the streets eating it (Something about eating and walking in Europe... more appealing here)
Getting here was difficult though. We picked up our charter cruise on the 28th in Lisbon, Portugal. (A charter cruise is when somebody or something like a corporation buys out the ship for a cruise, in this case Merrill Lynch) The schedule was to be at sea on the 29th, and on the 30th arrive in Bilbao, Spain. Well, our day at sea was choppy and rough. Our ship got tossed around pretty good. I don't mean gale force winds here, but enough to make life a little difficult. I was on ping pong and shuffleboard duty that day, and no one showed up. That was fine with me, as by noon I didn't want to do much standing anyway. I spent as much of the day as I could in bed. Then, I hear that we ain't going to Spain, something about the dock being closed because of bad weather. Crap. Another day at sea. The next day, more of the same. I spend all day in bed, until around 9 when I was called to do the show. Thankfully, at nine we also came into the mouth of the river that leads us to Bordeaux, so by 10 we did a show and I was back to normal. Still, for those two days I did not eat, I did not walk, I simply did not.
Oh, and Lisbon... They have the biggest suspension bridge in Europe there, as well as the huge Statue of Christ, an exact match of the one in Rio. Went walking around the old part of town underneath the bridge. It was there that I saw a great many dogs up three stories from the street on little balconies, barking at everyone below them. Imagine the power they think they have, a king presiding over his kingdom.
Exercised my Spanish in Spain... Somehow it didn't occur to me that when you buy a calling card in Spain, it ain't gonna talk to you in English when you call it up on the phone. Found this out when I tried to call home from Cadiz, Spain. Somehow, I caught enough Spanish to manage to get a couple of calls across (Marque means push, in case you hear that following a number or two).
Also spent a day in Casablanca, Morocco. Probably the dirtiest, yet most interesting city I have seen on our itinerary. Escorted a tour to the Grand Mosque (Third largest in Morocco). This puppy was built only 12 years ago, taking only 7 years to complete. Inside there is room for something like 25,000 people (no chairs or pews here) The middle is for the men, and the outer part of the room for the women. There was this huge door that opened up to the sea, so the room could be a little chilly, so some smart Moroccan put in heated floors so they wouldn't freeze. Down below is where they wash for prayer, and there are all these basins and fountains. They wash right, then left body parts, three times a piece (except the face... just once!) You'd figure a hall that big would rent out like gangbusters for bingo, covered plate, Kiwanis meetings... nope, never happens.
Oh, and there is no bar in Casablanca that the movie based its bar off of. You can find "The Casablanca Bar" in the Hyatt Regency with pictures, but it really isn't a big deal. They had a piano player there, but again, his name wasn't Sam.
So I get back from the tour, and then go back out to see the market. The market is like what you see in the movies. Thousands of shops lining little roads and streets (no cars). Lots of commotion, noise. Shops sell the usual music and shoes with a lot of local culture as well. I was going to buy some bread when I noticed the Moroccans don't mind handling ALL the food with their hands, arranging it several times, then the kids get involved, arranging and rearranging. They love to arrange their bread. I bet the bread is real good. Anyway, I was with some girls from the ship, who were out to by shoes (Shoes??? Shoes???) We went into one shop, when this dude starts talking to us. Before we knew it, he was taking us to about a dozen shops, all of them his, and all of them spread out. Didn't know where we were going, got to a shop, then zoom! Off to the next. Before I knew it, we were in a men's Moroccan store, and I was wearing a nice men's dressing gown, white and ornate, and it came all the way to my ankles. Nice, but not something I would wear outside of the house. So then I start trying on men's blouses (actually it was more like the dude throwing shirts on me, one after the other.) So I find one I like. Its dark blue with black lacing going up the sleeves and down the collar. Great! Wrap it up, I say. But before I can finish, he starts wrapping the turban around me. So I had the turban on, the shirt on. Interesting look, but not the ensem I was looking for! Still got the shirt though. Oh, and the dude, who is born and raised Moroccan, has a girl friend in Wichita Falls, Texas... Huh...
TO ALL MY FELLOW ACTORS AND MUSICIANS- We all know how hard it is to hold jobs during the day, many of us teaching, and therefore spending all of our energy and voices. Still after doing what we gotta do, we still have the time and energy to do what we love at night. So, being here and playing shuffleboard for work, then doing a show might make me soft, but I will never complain about my daily duties. Other entertainers that I work with seem to be put out by working a 5-6 hour day playing ping pong and checking out DVDs to the guests, and have voiced their complaints. I don't agree with them, and want to tell them about all my pals who are making it happen at home, but working long hours to do so. Anyway, I think of all y'all... You all deserve to be here.
Speaking of the entertainers... I have to share this story. One of the girls, Fiona, is from Canada. She was telling me about a job she had acting on some island East of Canada that I had never heard of, close to Halifax. Something like IPC. (Already forgotten) Anyway, she seemed upset that I didn't know anything about Canadian geography, and started railing on how stupid Americans were, about how we don't care about Canada, and about how she could name all 52 states...
Another theory... One common thread in every tour I have been on is that we always visit a church, always. I mean, its nice... Old architecture, paintings, history... But I wondered something. After talking with several passengers that I had become chummy with, I have come to the conclusion that many people (myself included) see inside more churches in a week long cruise than in several months at home.
One of the passengers came to me during one of my social visits in the bar and said she needed to apologize to me. This lady and her friend had been on 2 or 3 tours that I had escorted, so I had talked to them and gotten to know them a bit. She said that she had just realized that I was a singer on board, and this being the last day of the cruise and no more shows, said that she was sorry for missing my performances. I asked her if she saw my name tag that I wear on the tours that says "Michael" and below it "Singer" She said yes, and told me she thought it was my last name!
Met a man who graduated from TCU back in the late 60s. Big Texan. He told me a story about how he didn't care much for his new son in law until they got into a boxing match using autographed gloves he had in his game room. He knocked the boy down once, giving him a black eye, and the boy landed one on his chin, sending the man down three bar stools. That's when they made the father son connection. The conversation ended by him slipping me a hundred dollar bill. I tried to refuse when he says "Are you a Millionaire? Are they paying you a million dollars to be here?" I said "No, sir, but I guess I am one step closer."
Duke - I still need your street address
Dan & Duke - worked up a jazz set with the band... Should be up next cruise
Jessica - I went to eat in the dining room the other day... They had this thing draped on the table. It confused me because at first, I could not even see the table! I mean, I could feel the table, but where was the table? Oh, and Andre says hi.
Randi - Finished two whole books, and am now reading two more concurrently.
Jesse - I was right, Lemons really are green over here! (Oranges are orange)
Okay, I guess that's way long enough... Till next time,