Aug 02 22 2002

On The World

For the last ten days, I've been aboard The World, a brand-new ship that's designed to be apartment building that sails around the world. (I thought I'd have net access. I didn't. Have you missed me?)

This wasn't a long-planned expedition, and I thought I'd have net access and would blog en route. A few glitches slowed that, and I decided to wait for my return. So I'll be talking about last week in Skye and Lewis, Derry and Dublin in the coming days, mixing present and past.

Not far from Belfast, there's a place where Finn MacCool built a road out to the islands. Or a volcanic lava flow cooled very, very slowly, forming a pavement of hexagonal columns. Or something like that.

People have been making pictures of this for a long, long time. For years, I didn't travel with a camera, preferring to limit my picture-making to my own (inept) watercolors. Digital cameras are too much fun to leave behind, and -- after all -- it's in keeping with the spirit of the place.

One of the nicer surprises about The World was the ship's library, a large and comfortable space with a fine collection of books. I expected a closet of best-sellers and travel guides, but this was clearly selected by someone who reads. There's a complete run of Everyman's Library, a fine assortment of modern fiction, and a very good bookcase of recent biography. Plenty of best-sellers and literary hits, of course, but there were also a surprising number of fine books by writers who aren't terribly well known.

This is, I think, an example of thinking a concept through. If you're planning a floating apartment building that sails 'round the globe, bookstores are going to be a problem. Amazon is going to be a problem, too, because you need to have books shipped ahead to where you're going to be later, and if they're late, the books have to chase you. Since the passengers have already paid handsomely for their apartments, the ship owners don't need to maximize revenue from every square foot of deck space. And, since a big ship necessarily employs a lot of people, you're bound to find someone who can double as a resident book critic if you look hard.

Aug 02 27 2002


The islands of the Outer Hebrides are nearly treeless, nearly barren, and their winters are cold and clammy. The old black houses were simple winter shelters with thick stone walls, a room, and a byre.

Standing outside this black house, now preserved as a museum, the bus driver launched into that familiar story known round the world: Those Kids. "The problem is the TV. We used to sit around for hours and tell the stories. Now, the kids watch the television and play with the computer. Now, kids don't even really know who their relatives are."

Tales told in winter.

Aug 02 28 2002


One of the joys of traveling in the U.K. is the pub. Americans got their drinking fouled up under Prohibition and still can't get it right. Here's one, on a rainy Belfast street corner.

If ever want and need were one, it might well be in Passport To The Pub: A Guide to British Pub Etiquette by social anthropologist Kate Fox. It's a lively look at pub behavior which grew, I suspect, from a field notes in a more serious study -- this work wasn't played for mortal stakes, but I suspect there's an examination of violence and male bonding somewhere in the vicinity. Passport is published on the web by Fox's Social Issues Research Centre (Oxford), and has interesting observations on types of pubs, types of patrons, and the elaborate rituals and gift economies that lubricate social, political, and economic exchange in the public house.