This blog-journey was inspired by and liberally borrowed from a classic book and well-known 19th century American writer you may recognize. I’ve added my modernized twists.
The Programme and Bombastic Hubbub
The travel itinerary had been released months earlier. The 163-day voyage would make port in The Azores, Britain’s Gibraltar, Marseilles, Rome, Athens, Constantinople, Odessa, Smyrna, Beirut, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Tangiers, Bermuda, and home to New York harbor. Only a few select passengers would be chosen for this fashionably grand journey across the Atlantic. It was to be a who’s who list of celebrities to far away places that most could only dream. Quickly the trip was the talk of the country as much as the names to be offered tickets of passage.
“It was a novelty in the way of excursions—its like had not been thought of before, and it compelled that interest which attractive novelties always command. It was to be a picnic on a gigantic scale. The participants in it, instead of freighting an ungainly steam ferry—boat with youth and beauty and pies and doughnuts, and paddling up some obscure creek to disembark upon a grassy lawn and wear themselves out with a long summer day’s laborious frolicking under the impression that it was fun, were to sail away in a great steamship with flags flying and cannon pealing, and take a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history!”
So how does one finagle himself past the stringent bowelless “Committee On Applications” and onto a prestigious vessel with numerous notable travelers? Voilà! Utilize a popular Shakespearian tactic known as inflated nothingness:
“I referred to all the people of high standing I could think of in the community who would be least likely to know anything about me.”
Having miraculously been selected as one of the traveling “select,” a supplemental programme arrived in the postal box. It informs the passengers boarding, the Quaker City will be graced by the celebrated Plymouth Collection of Hymns for heavenly song. A more joyous activity can scarcely be found. There were more pragmatic items to be addressed:
“This supplementary program also instructed the excursionists to provide themselves with light musical instruments for amusement in the ship, with saddles for Syrian travel, green spectacles and umbrellas, veils for Egypt, and substantial clothing to use in rough pilgrimizing in the Holy Land. Furthermore, it was suggested that although the ship’s library would afford a fair amount of reading matter, it would still be well if each passenger would provide himself with a few guidebooks, a Bible, and some standard works of travel. A list was appended, which consisted chiefly of books relating to the Holy Land, since the Holy Land was part of the excursion and seemed to be its main feature.”
With such acclaimed fanfare and America’s social prominents and acolytes, surely there was more ornation to be done! A renown physician and reverend upon the passenger list perhaps? Someone from the Ben Carson and Billy Graham family lines would conflate this voyage nicely and return America To Greatness in the eyes of the world, yes?
“Reverend [Carson] was to have accompanied the expedition, but urgent duties obliged him to give up the idea. There were other passengers who could have been spared better and would have been spared more willingly. Lieutenant General [Rex Tillerson] was to have been of the party also, but the [Russian deals and collusion] compelled his presence on the plains [of Siberia]. A popular actress had entered her name on the ship’s books, but something interfered and she couldn’t go. The “Drummer Boy of the Potomac” deserted, and lo, we had never a celebrity left!”
Alas, the August proportions of wonderous pomp and circumstance and snazzy names were pruned down or rescued despite the vivacious programme to the City of Amour, the Sultans of Constantinople, the enlightened Greek culture of Smyrna, the hallowed martyrs of Jerusalem and Jericho, concluding with native Bermudians. With such effervescent destinations, nay, what chance there be for any fuss?
Final Preparations and Bon Voyage
Curious about the goings on at the slip where the Quaker City underwent some refitting, questions about the additions and non-additions were about and murmurings of why. As departure loomed the details of the steamer, amenities, and personalities of the “select” versus the unselective rattled ears and out of mouths. It seemed the adventure had already begun and the great ship had no more cargo than it had when her builders laid the keel, let alone cast off from port. What more could possibly add to the anticipation?
“I was glad to know that we were to have a little printing press on board and issue a daily newspaper of our own. I was glad to learn that our piano, our parlor organ, and our melodeon were to be the best instruments of the kind that could be had in the market. I was proud to observe that among our excursionists were three ministers of the gospel, eight doctors, sixteen or eighteen ladies, several military and naval chieftains with sounding titles, an ample crop of “Professors” of various kinds, and a gentleman who had “COMMISSIONER OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO EUROPE, ASIA, AND AFRICA” thundering after his name in one awful blast!”
Clearly I have found myself outclassed and outgunned. If I hadn’t so little to offer, I would reconsider my risks among such company, but the allure and majesty of a Mediterranean excursion complete with all possible luxuries, history, spirit and drink had transfixed my compass beyond reason or caution. Why was this particular organic cargo necessary? How many enemies has this gaudy, trumpish man bred?
“I fell under that titular avalanche a torn and blighted thing. I said that if that potentate must go over in our ship, why, I supposed he must—but that to my thinking, when the United States considered it necessary to send a [trum-pity] dignitary of that tonnage across the ocean, it would be in better taste, and safer, to take him apart and cart him over in sections in several ships.
Ah, if I had only known then that he was only a common mortal [posing as an orange Zeus], and that his mission had nothing more overpowering about it than the collecting of seeds and uncommon yams and extraordinary cabbages and peculiar bullfrogs for that poor, useless, innocent, mildewed old fossil the Smithsonian Institute, I would have felt so much relieved.”
Soon enough the call went out, the Quaker City was ready to receive her illustrious seafaring men and women and those higher ranked. The pier was congested with carriages, luggage, porters, and hats of every sort all scurrying to unload, load, and embark. The traveling costumes were quite the unattractive sight as the rain and drizzle fell revealing molty wigs and toupees not even a Wall Street umbrella could hide. Even the glorious Stars-n-Stripes was limp along the ship’s flag pole. Yet, the time was nearer for casting the ties off the pier, the gangways retracting…
“Finally, above the banging, and rumbling, and shouting, and hissing of steam rang the order to “cast off!”—a sudden rush to the gangways—a scampering ashore of visitors—a revolution of the wheels, and we were off—the pic-nic was begun! Two very mild cheers went up from the dripping crowd on the pier; we answered them gently from the slippery decks; the flag made an effort to wave, and failed; the “battery of guns” spake not—the ammunition was out.”
USS Quaker City
Apparently, while threatening the North Korean leader with never before seen fire and fury, someone forgot to first check the inventory of gunpowder and shot. It was too late. All bark and show, but no bite or brains. And if that shouldn’t clamp a bigly Chihuahua yap closed:
“We steamed [ten minutes?] down to the foot of the harbor and came to anchor. It was still raining. And not only raining, but storming. “Outside” we could see, ourselves, that there was a tremendous sea on. We must lie still, in the calm harbor, till the storm should abate. Our passengers hailed from fifteen states; only a few of them had ever been to sea before; manifestly it would not do to pit them against a full-blown tempest until they had got their sea-legs on. Toward evening the two steam tugs that had accompanied us with a rollicking champagne-party of young New Yorkers on board who wished to bid farewell to one of our number in due and ancient form departed, and we were alone on the deep. On deep five fathoms, and anchored fast to the bottom. And out in the solemn rain, at that. This was pleasuring with a vengeance.”
Pleasuring with a vengeance indeed. All the steamy, drippy expectations of a grand exit, a phenomenal finale had all the pow and distance of a little trum-pity cap-gun. So much hoopla for hasty idleness. You might imagine how utterly relieved I was to hear the ring and hail for the prayer meeting and hymns to soothe our drab, wanting souls — like intestinal gaseouness sitting on a Buloke-wood seat atop a trotting donkey — I was thrilled.
Lulled by the to-and-fro sway of the ship, and the wavering chatter of voices outside my cabin hallway…
“I soon passed tranquilly out of all consciousness of the dreary experiences of the day and damaging premonitions of the future.”
Would tomorrow hold more tantalizing surprises, more peculiar intrigue? Was more even possible and of what recipe, what flavor? Sweet or sour?
To be continued…
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