Tuesday, January 20, 2015

10: Arrival on New Island

First sighting of  New Island - rounding South Cape...

...and now entering Victoria Harbor. These are some of Alan's first sketches.

After another evening of dancing (for a while) and reading in his bunk, Alan rested well aboard the ship. The rolling of the swells helped lull him to sleep, and he began to feel a connection with the rolling of the ocean under the ship, something very comforting. The next morning, he walked around the decks hoping to run into Carla, but she was not to be found. 

He did spot land off to the west, however. "This must be the New Island coast", he thought. "Wow, a whole new place."

Alan realized that he was actually seeing something new with nothing to guide him - no Google maps, Vimeo pictures, Lonely Planet Guides, pages about the details on Facebook, or blogs like this one telling him about all the must-see places the authors have already been to!  He had wondered at this at first, but Alan felt he wouldn't question things here too closely, such as why Google Earth only presented open ocean where this place should be. He had his ticket, and a real letter of intent offering him a job that seemed ideal...wander around and sketch the scenery, how cool is that?

At almost noon, the Charles Ames pulled up to the Australia Dock in Victoria Harbor. Alan saw that this was not nearly as big a city as he imagined; no high-rise buildings, no big resorts on the beach, just small houses and some larger buildings visible along the waterfront and on that low hill to the right. The surrounding hills were an astonishing green, and looked completely uninhabited. And was that snow on the tall mountain? Cool!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

9: Alan meets Carla

Late the next morning, while out walking the deck, the singer from last night waved at Alan from the boat deck, one flight up. He waved back, then climbed up the stairway to meet her. "Hi, I'm Carla," she said and held out her hand. He shook it, and finally held her gaze, as he was reminded to do a few times by Michelle (and his counselor) back in Michigan City. "Well, um, pleased to meet you. I'm Alan," he told her. "And I'm wondering if we have met before. I mean, am I someone you've seen before?"  

"Well, that's why I wanted to say hello, Alan. I saw you while I was singing last night, with a feeling that you were someone. I really don't think I know you, but you are somehow familiar, like, family, or something." Alan looked at her and felt that this was getting strange...but he too felt a connection, a memory, a recognition of some sort. They both relaxed a little, and looked out at the ocean from the railing.

After a minute or so, Alan said, "My family is from California, in the USA, and I've been living in a town called Michigan City, in Indiana, in the American Midwest, for the last several years. Um, does that mean anything to you?" 


"Okay, well, I was really just hanging on there, making drawings and wondering what I'll do next...you know? Then I got this letter from someone named Margaret Mullen, Dept. of Tourism, Commonwealth of New Island, about illustrating a tourism guidebook. They offered me a ticket, at least one way, and a weekly stipend, so I said I'd do it! I'll get a return ticket when my job is done, I think."  

"Wow, a paid-for gig. That sounds really cool! Will they put you up somewhere?" 

"Yes, this Margaret said they have an apartment for me that overlooks Putney Bay, where I'll have peace and quiet and easy access to most of the island for my sketch trips. I'm supposed to meet Margaret and her boss Wainwright Stevens, in Victoria Harbor. Then I assume they'll send me out to where I'm to make these sketches. It's all a bit vague..."

"Hm, I'm wondering why they couldn't find someone local to do this...I mean, how did they ever find you? No offence of course, but it seems a bit incredible."

"Well, Margaret somehow got hold of a drawing of mine, and said I had depicted her childhood home, including her toy wagon, when I had actually just made it all up. I've been drawing and painting these places from my head for years now. And drawing them seems to help me stay alive, especially when I look too closely at the real world...is this making any sense?"

"Uh, yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense. And maybe that's what made me 'recognize' you last night. I got a feeling that you were someone I'd seen a long time ago, though you're really not, are you?" Alan shook his head, but he wasn't sure. "It seems that on one reality, I've never seen you before, but on another, I think maybe I have...do you get what I'm saying? And I'm not flirting here if that's what you might be thinking!"

"Uh, no," he smiled, "I don't think you are, and I'm not flirting with you (I don't think...), but I'm very glad we've met!" A bit red-faced, he grinned at her, and then they both looked out again at the ocean. 

"Hey," Carla finally said, "I gotta go, so here is my card and if you ever need a place to stay during your sketching excursions. Don't hesitate to get hold of me, OK?"

"Yes, I'll do that. Thanks!" Alan was delighted - now he felt he had some kind of human connection here, someone besides his employers. He gave her a quick smooch on the cheek and then she grabbed him and hugged him - a warm heartfelt hug at that. Alan was surprised at first, but then he could feel all tension and doubt drain away. He knew this is where he needed to be!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

8: At Sea that Night

The Milky Way somewhere over the Southern Ocean

Alan wanted to listen to the singer with that wonderful voice. He thought it sounded like that Scottish group Capercaillie. The music stirred up something inside of him, but he didn't know what exactly was going on. It sure felt good, though. While he watched the dancing, he sipped on a Moscow mule at the cantina bar. They also served hamburgers, so while having one of those and a second mule, he began swaying to the music, especially when those drums took over.

Again he turned his attention to the singer, her voice so melodic. Then with a wild look in her eye, she glanced at him, making him look away, and feel all fumbly. She kept it up, so finally he smiled back at her, and she nodded to him, ever so slightly. What is this about? Does she know me? Maybe he was just hyper-aware of anyone's notice because he was so far away from home, or that he had for some time now been so unsociable, so cut-off...?

As the night grew deeper, Alan noticed the Milky Way rising straight up above the ocean, arcing high above the ship and then back to the opposite horizon. Wow...he had ever seen it so vividly before, and it seemed so close, so intense! Again, he felt that something is definitely different here. He loved the thought that he is sailing on the Southern Ocean - how exotic! While staring up at the immense core of the galaxy, Alan had a strong feeling that this trip was already touching something deeper than than anything he has ever known.

A little dazed,  he finally went to bed.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

7: Leaving the Known World

The southwestern corner of Australia - Alan's last known location in the real world...

The boat was moving steadily out of the harbor, so Alan stood out on deck for a few minutes to watch the buildings and boats glide by, then the breakwater, and then the receding coastline. He took a deep breath of salty air; its coolness felt good after the hot morning on shore. The Australian sun felt a lot hotter around here than it ever did in Michigan City.

By the time Alan had finished his lunch and stepped outside again, Western Australia was only a long hazy line on the eastern horizon.

Alan walked around the ship, looking over the extent of his temporary world. He met several passers-by, mostly couples and a few families, but didn't say anything to anyone, nor, aside from a nod or two, did they to him. Near the stern he found the cantina. Its wooden awnings, hinged at the top, were all closed tightly, and a sign said "Will open at six."

He returned to the railing near his cabin, and remained there into the afternoon. He became mesmerized by the ocean: the ship's wake colliding with the small chop, the bigger swells that he could feel heaving beneath the ship, and the endlessness of it all. He felt the hot sun on his head. He pondered again the buzz that hit him in the waiting room, still tingling inside him, and that woman's remark... Then he drifted back to Michigan City, and to Michelle, his ever-patient friend. He wished she could have come with him - it does feel romantic out here. And what of this place he was sailing to?  Why didn't the Orient Hotel know about it? Wouldn't people from the island stay there? New Island...it could have had a more original name...he needed a bush hat!

Back in his cabin, Alan took some time to read. He found a brochure that told him his voyage on the Charles Ames would take about two days. He pulled out a novel he was reading, This Is What I know is True by Wally Lamb, and he soon nodded off. When he woke, he could tell the sun was almost down, so he hurried out to get a look. Just as the sun settled on the cloudless ocean, six bells announced supper. Alan went down again and this time there were quite a few other diners. He didn't feel very sociable, so he ate alone with his book.

Later, he wandered aft toward the cantina. (He knew forward from aft, by dang!) As he walked, he first heard a flute, then drumming, and then the sweetest voice singing something Celtic, he thought...

6: Settling on Board the SS Charles Ames

A steward with dreadlocks showed Alan to his cabin, a nice one on the main deck with a generous ocean view. Alan was unsure about sea travel, having never done it before, and hoped he wouldn't get seasick. The steward showed Alan all the details of his accommodation, such as how to flush the 'ead. (Oh, the toilet, Alan realized.) "Mealtimes", the steward explained, "are announced by a series of bells: two bells, rung three times, announce breakfast; four bells rung twice are the call for lunch, and six bells (two sets of three) are rung once for supper. A loud buzzer, by contrast, will announce various emergencies such as a fire, man overboard, or taking on water. Got all that?" Alan nodded as the steward pointed to the chart for all that on the door. 

"On a lighter note, if I may," he continued, "On almost every trip a few passengers do the drums and play guitars in the evening, out aft of the outdoor cantina....quite spontaneous, and sometimes there's the dancing. It's become a kind of tradition. Yer welcome to join us..." 

And then he left.

Alan sat down on his bunk. Now that was nice, he thought, but he wasn't sure he'd venture it...the music that is. He then began to wonder what the ticket-lady meant when she said "Glad you made it." Did she hug everyone coming through there? It left him with a good-feeling, that he was wanted, appreciated, but also mystified. 

He looked around and began to notice his cabin. He admired the partial bunk-sideboard to prevent his rolling off in rough seas, he figured. He continued to sit there, not thinking much about anything, just looked around his little room. He liked the well-worn varnished mahogany, the heavy white paint on the steel walls, the functional brass hardware. It was all of such practical design, he thought, and this felt good, too. 

Alan heard a long deep horn blast - and the shed outside his window slowly began to glide by. Soon after that, four bells sounded and Alan went off to search for the dining room.

Alan is embarking on a three-day, two-night trip to Victoria Harbor from 
Fremantle, Western Australia. He has trouble believing he has come so far!

Monday, December 22, 2014

5: Alan Steps into a New Plane of Existance

Alan showed his ticket to board the SS Charles Ames to the concierge at the Orient Hotel. The smart-looking young woman studied it, front and back, scratched her head, and and gave it back to Alan, saying she'd never heard of this shipping company, or, for that matter, the destination on the ticket! 

Unfortunately, there was no Fremantle street address on the back of the ticket, so Alan found a taxi out front and asked the driver to get him to the Rudyard Shipping terminal or offices or whatever... The taxi driver was Malaysian, with a thick Aussie accent, so all Alan could do was ask him to just drive around. After several minutes, not too long actually, Alan saw this little building and shouted "Stop!"

"Okay", he thought, "I guess this must be it." 

Alan retrieved his bag; the cabbie graciously accepted twice the cab fare in Alan's US dollars. (He hadn't yet changed any money, and then there was the tip, but still...)  As Alan approached the heavy-looking wooden doors, he noticed the neighborhood seemed strangely quiet for the location of an international passenger terminal. 

He opened the door.

A strange but softly pleasant buzzing sensation hit Alan when he entered the building. It pulsed all through his body, and then ebbed a bit but not completely. He sensed that  things were different here, and that he might not even be in Australia any more... 

The interior was dim, dusty and very quiet. There were a few faded "Visit New Island" posters on the walls, a row of lovely old waiting-room chairs, some vending machines next to a pay phone, and a long wooden check-in counter. He showed his ticket to an older lady who came to the counter.  She stamped it, and asked, "Any Baggage?" and Alan showed his one bag, and pointed to his backpack. "Change your currency?" Oh yes, Alan thought, and pulled out his wallet, and traded his US dollars for 38 rogers. Then the lady said, "OK, follow me"(she wasn't a chatty sort). They went out the back of the building and she mounted a pedicab with two back seats, asked Alan to climb aboard, and she proceeded to pedal them to "D" Shed in Fremantle's inner harbor, about four blocks away.  

And there was the Charles Ames, an older-looking passenger-freighter, all white with only a few rust stains, its forward crane still taking on cargo. Alan, amazed at the strength in her legs, tipped the lady, who smiled, gave him a hug (which surprised him) and said into his ear "Glad you made it!"  Alan was flustered but happy in a strange way, said, "Thanks", and walked up the gangway.

He found the bursar and showed him his ticket. The boat was to leave in about two hours. "Wow, how easy was that," Alan thought. He was on his way.

Monday, December 15, 2014

4: Alan Starts Out from Michigan City...

At 8:43 am this morning, Alan got on the South Shore train at the 11th Street stop in Michigan City, Indiana. He had to wait on the sidewalk - there isn't really a station here.  In downtown Chicago, He connected with a Metra train that took him to O'hare International Airport.

He had to use his own money to get to O'hare, but he had his tickets from the New Island Ministry of Trade for the rest of the trip. In Terminal 1 he boarded a Qantas flight at 3:30 pm bound for Perth, Western Australia. Almost 33 hours later, after stops in Los Angeles and Melbourne, he arrived in Perth about 2:10 in the afternoon, and Alan didn't know what day it was.  From the airport in Perth, he took a taxi to Fremantle, where he had a voucher for the Orient Hotel on the corner of Henry and High Streets.

After spending a lovely and very restful night at the Orient (the corner suite, third floor), Alan had a leisurely breakfast, and then inquired about directions to the Rudyard Line office. The concierge smiled, and with a kind of blank look, replied, "the what"?