You can almost see the crows as they waved nostalgic goodbyes to their beloved. You can almost taste the sea salt in the cold, crisp air. You can feel the exciment as the beautiful new ocean liner pulled away from safe harbor. It drips with history, in every step you take on it’s wooden boards, in every photograph of Hollywood legends and every display of war time heroism. The RMS Queen Mary now lives in the eastern corner of the Long Beach Marina in the place furthers from what it could have imagined, in the sunny shores of California. There it has docked for many years, long before I knew of it’s existence, before I was even born. Many would say it’s outdated for our modern times; yet, it’s allure is eternal, and the history it carries of better times is far greater than any we can forge now.
The truth is I’ve been aboard the magnificent vessel quite a few times, some for sightseeing, some for field trips, for food or drinks but last week with nothing to do on a gorgeous Spring day I drove down the whole 5 minutes it takes from my house to the ship and decided to be a tourist for one day.
The attendant at the booth said that we could choose a complimentary tour, either the classic history one or the ghost one. I often for the history one because even though we can read every specification of how and when it was built nothing beats walking the cabins where generations before me had walked, where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor traveled to New York, and where Winston Churchill in turbulent times would drink his troubles away.
The tour took us through ballrooms, and cabin rooms, and told us about life aboard the Queen Mary. The guide a chipper and threatically inclined fellow made the one hour of walking seem shorter and we ended on the deck just below the beautiful shops.
After resting for a few moments on the comfortable chairs, we toured the three main souvenier shops. One boasts mainly food, tea and British related gourmets. The second one is clothing and gifts and the final one if full of items you could take home from your trip to California, teddy bears, mouse pads, cups, glasses, flasks and adorable captain caps.
After wandering and not really buying more than cookies, because we had already and somehow inexplicably bought the whole photo package from the photo op room. (Oops) We wandered out onto the outside deck for coffe and fresh air. Much to the envy of past generations they now server Starbucks coffee inside and we sat down to rest some more.
Yet there is much to do aboard the Queen Mary, no one ever rests for long here, or so the ghosts say. The ghost myths come from its service during WWII when the British government called for it to stop being a civilian cruise liner and drafted it into service. It was painted grey, earning it the nickname the Grey Ghost, and it transported hundreds of soldier during the war years.
Perhaps those years changed it, just like they changed the world. A person is never the same after fighting battle, why do we expect things to not be affected? On the outside the beautiful lady of the seas was painted and restored to it’s pre-war glory. And it carried on transporting the luminaries of politics, music and arts. From the workers who steered the ship
To the staff who prided themselves in knowing the likes and dislikes of the passengers, to the Captain who carried the ship through troubled and calm waters alike the staff lived to serve. It’s almost magical imagining what life aboard a luxury liner would have been. It’s like a time capsule of better times, when everyone dressed up for dinner, cocktails included champagne and men would escort the ladies on walks around the observation deck.
Sure today we have sophisticated cruise ships, with dinning venues, wifi in every room, childrens camp, water slides and mobile apps but back then the calm of the water was all you had, a good book and the company of your fellow travelers.
And nothing but sea stretching out for days until the shore peaked through and you knew the journey had ended.
Perhaps that’s why I was truly sad and when I read an article about the financial struggles to cover all the repairs. What made me sadder was the comments of people saying that it had lived it’s years, that it should not be rescued, that after all this years we should just throw it out because it wasn’t popular anymore. As if all the history contained in it was not part of our history too, perhaps people don’t appreciate culture enough, perhaps they can’t comprehend the rate at which our world is vanishing. I don’t just meant physically, I mean all of it; history, traditions, cultures, families.
That day, last week pretending to be a tourist sacheying across the deck of this worldly lady, looking out onto the beautiful shoreline was one of the best spent days I’ve had lately. This boat has crossed oceans, bridged distances and saved the world in a way and we have the privilege of being for a few hours passengers of it.
Go visit the Queen Mary … It’s cause for celebration