Seeing red in duty-free storm at sea
Jose Carreras is as big a performer as they come and the Spanish tenor will be headlining the Bravo! Cruise of the Performing Arts out of Sydney next year. Contributing editor Judith Elen is just back from the 2016 “edition” of the cruise on which the star was Kiri Te Kanawa (Page 6).
What a diversity of experiences and destinations cruising offers today. I’m looking forward in the next few weeks to joining Ovation of the Seas on the Perth to Adelaide leg of its maiden voyage to Australia. One of the world’s largest passenger ships, I’m sure to enjoy its Bionic Bar, where robotic bartenders obviously free up mixologists to look at themselves fulltime in the mirror.
How things have changed since I boarded my first ship 40 years ago, bound for Sydney from Hong Kong. The vessel was a Soviet one, Fedor Shalyapin (named for a Russian baritone), and was quite elegant; it had been a Cunard Franconia. The ad for the cruise promised “British executive staff and friendly Russian crew”. The ship hit controversy later in the 1970s when it reportedly had a rendezvous with a Soviet submarine on the Tasman Sea. Soon after, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan sparked a Fraser government ban on Russian cruise ships.
Our first night out on the South China Sea was torrid and the next morning we were invited over booming speakers to crawl to the hospital station where Nurse Olga (her name emblazoned on a uniform) administered a very heady cure. Back in my cabin I fell into a golden slumber, broken by a fall on my way to the bathroom after which I lay on the floor for hours in a curious configuration but without a care in the world.
When revived, I sought out the library, which was well stocked with volumes on the life of Lenin. Early in my reading I learned he was a terrific bloke who cared heaps for the workers and peasants (but nobody else, which explained why the ship boasted “one class”). By coincidence, then Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev was a similar sort of guy, a work on his life revealed. Strangely, the shelves were empty under S for Stalin.
Part of the problem of this voyage was to do with some of my fellow Aussie passengers. It was the era of overseas duty-free sprees and these charmers had shopped themselves silly in Singapore and Hong Kong. They had zero curiosity about the ports we were to visit, including Manila and Port Moresby, and, indeed, pelted with ice those who dared to disembark. I just knew things were not going to turn out well when, one evening after the stew, a dessert was served with the look, feel and possibly taste of a green tennis ball. They were used as missiles in a hot pudding war, which left the “friendly crew” cold.
I’m sure there were great bars on board, but I didn’t explore. Maybe I was absorbed by revolutionary readings or didn’t fancy more ridicule for taking a shore excursion. On the basis of the seasickness medication, a Moscow mule (vodka, ginger beer and lime) would have had a real kick. But I wish now I had marched to the bar menacingly and ordered the house cocktail, “Make mine a Molotov!”