Sunday, May 31, 2009

Norwegian Dancer Light on His Feet — and Work Ethic

My favorite part of cruising starts every evening about 10 p.m. when the curtain goes up on the live entertainment stage. OK, the dude that played the bells that first night was a bit boring after one number.

Correction. Make that very boring. We walked out along after 15 minutes of politely trying to care.

But I was glued to my seat during the musical nights when the singers and dancers put on an hour of high action and talent for us. I tend to pick seats close to the stage (the better to try to rip off an illegal photo with the Nikon hidden in my purse), so after three separate performances, it’s no surprise I became familiar with their faces.

Which is how I recognized the lanky European dancer working the breakfast buffet on our fourth morning of the cruise. I know these employees often do more than one job on a large ship, but typically the entertainers double as … well, someone entertaining. A tour conductor, the gal selling you Bingo tickets in the casino, etc. I’ve never seen one busted down to busboy duty.

Technically, I still haven’t. This kid kept my attention at first because he was a bit bow-legged and walked very oddly for someone with such a flexibility on stage. Second, he was so skinny, I couldn’t help but wonder how he kept those pants up around his hips. And in the midst of all this pondering, it came to my attention I never actually saw him pick up a dirty dish.

Whenever a family would abandon its table, Mr. Teenage Dancer subtly wandered down to the next section of the dining room, carefully looking in the opposite direction of the dishes with their scrambled egg remains. At one point, the table right under his nose became empty. He stood there staring at it for a second, glanced around to see who was watching, and sauntered away. A few minutes later, two regular Joes showed up and bussed the table for the next diners.

Ron and I sat there for a good half hour, specifically to laugh at this performance. We never saw him do a lick of work, unless you count trying to flirt with one of the girls. “If he keeps it up, that boy’s going to get his ass kicked from the rest of the dining crew,” my husband predicted.

We couldn’t stay long enough to see the end of that number, but he didn’t look anally challenged on stage that night, so I’m assuming he managed to dance past the consequences another day.

If anyone plans to take the Gem’s Mediterranean cruise this summer, email me. Not only can I get you a great deal, but I’ll point out this guy so you, too, can watch the side show.

Friday, May 29, 2009

iPhone Addiction Strikes Again

My husband has Fridays off. I had this fantasy where I, too, would not work on Fridays and thus we'd have wonderful 3-day weekends together. But we self-employed types scramble 365 days a year (yes, I've been known to do work on Christmas) and in the end, it simply wasn't practical.

But I could have lunch once in a while.

So around noon today, I walked out in the kitchen, where Ron was tapping away on his computer. "What are your lunch plans today?" Dead silence. "Well, I guess I'll just fix a bowl of Raisin Bran then and hit the bank." Dead silence.

I woof down my cereal to the sound of my own chewing, and head back in the office to fill out my deposit slip. And that's when Ron's almighty iPhone rang.

"Hey! Great! OK, I'd love to have lunch -- McDonald's, Burger King, Qdoba. I can meet you anywhere." Get outta here! Not 30 seconds earlier he was too engrossed in his work to take a break, and now he's headed to lunch (real lunch, not Raisin Bran) with a buddy? Them's fighting words.

Ron, as usual, looked pole-axed. "I didn't hear you. I guess I had other things on my mind." Yah, like apparently how important it is to answer the iPhone but not your wife standing right in front of you.

Next week, I've learned my lesson. If you want to talk to Ron, that's 317, 987 ...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Welcome to Spain — We Sell Expensive Toiletries

Sorry for the long pause in posts. I got caught up in jet lag and holidays this past week ...

Which is the same thing that happened to me on the Barcelona end as well. Now this was not my first transatlantic flight by a long shot. I know the rules of jet lag: Force yourself to stay awake and go to bed at the proper time in the country you are now in to get adjusted faster.

But I still hit that hotel room at Diagonal Zero, took one look at the bed and announced I was taking a nap. Sometimes, staying up for 48 hours straight simply isn't as easy as you wish it would be.

Neither is getting up an hour later, when the alarm goes off. Or two. Heck, after three hours of deep sleep, I finally grabbed at enough consciousness to stumble into the bathroom and turn on the shower. Surely hot water would get me back on my feet and out there exploring the city, like I'd paid $234 for this hotel to do.

And that's when I discovered that there is a curse on travelers who thumb their noses at the jet lag rules. I stuck my hand in my toiletry bag for the shampoo, and pulled out a gooey mess. The conditioner's contents had shifted big time during the flight, oozing all over everything in that compartment: Qtips, deodorant, hairbrush, rubber bands, cotton balls, razor. I spent the next hour washing off everything in my bag and making a shopping list of A) things I couldn't salvage and B) things I suddenly realized in the unpacking process that I'd left at home. Like ... oh, toothpaste that I'd bought 12 hours before the flight, and sunscreen that was in that same CVS bag.

Here's an ugly truth about shopping in Europe: These things cost more in Barcelona than they do Indianapolis. But at least they aren't goopy and they kinda make good souvenirs if you like trying to read the ingredients in Spanish.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Hablo Espanol -- Please!

Foreign language instruction in school is a dangerous thing.

Oh, I'm all for sitting through two years of Spanish, French or German — as long as you either use it and get better or forget it completely. But if you're lost in the middle, you arrive in Barcelona, Spain and do really stupid things.

Like wander into a tapas bar and order paella negro. Heck, they even translated it for me as "dirty rice" right there on the menu. Which, of course, means "black beans and rice" for people like me who last sweated a Spanish exam in 1979 and think we still recall what was on that culture test.

Ask any counter person at Qdoba — Julie Sturgeon loves black beans and rice.

So naturally I said Sí — and 10 minutes later was staring down an unbelievably smelly skillet of rice, some kind of black coating and a big crawdad smack in the middle with mussels spread around as a bonus. I stared at it for a good three minutes trying to find the courage to stick my fork in that mess, steering around what looked like a dead cockroach, and take a bite. It was about as far from black beans and rice as you could get. Merde -- whoops. That's French, the only word I managed to pick up from my college roommate's vast store of foreign language knowledge.

I managed to tolerate about 6 bites, but the fact my husband was enjoying a nice chicken and a belly laugh the entire time wasn't helping. I finally coaxed half his chicken from his plate to mine, using the threat that I'd have to spend still more money filling up on the one word I could translate in that city if he didn't: Dunkin Donuts.