By Nora Vasconcelos
By Nora Vasconcelos
From wooden galleons to luxurious cruise ships, several authors have found their inspiration on the magestic vessels that have crossed the seas througout the old and the modern times, writing fantastic stories in which both, the ships and the oceans have taken the main characters to unimaginable places, changing their lifes forever. Here, five of them:
The Phantom Ship:
Written in 1839 by Frederick Marryat, the story places young Philip Vanderdecken facing a dark destiny marked by his dead father whose ghost can only be freed by Philip. Based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman, Marryat develops a fascinating story in which he describes with great detail the life of the Dutch sailors centuries ago. While traveling aboard differt ships, Philip learns all the skills required to command a vessel as well as how to deal with the commercial aspects of the sea travels. However, he remains hunted by the idea that only him can save his father’s spirit, who is believed to be seing crossing the oceans and causing disgraced to any ship that happens to run into his ghostly apparition.
The Count of Monte Cristo
In 1844, Alexandre Dumas published The Count of Monte Cristo. Although the story is better known for the wrongful imprisonment and fantastic escape of its main character, what actually marks the crucial moment of the story is when the young and enthusiastic Edmond Dantes arrives to Marseille, France, commanding The Pharaon, a commercial ships that has taken the crew through the Mediterranean sea and which has lost its capitain, due to a terrible sickness. It’s Dantes brilliant ascent as a sea man which also causes him his terrible misfortune.
Futility – The Wreck of the Titan
As amazing as it might sound, 14 years before the sinking of the Titanic, Morgan Robertson published a novel that described a luxurius trasatlantic cruise ship, called Titan. Although the story has its origins in 1898, the coincidences couldn’t be bigger as the Titan crashes against an iceberg on an April day, while crossing the North Atlantic sea. While reading the book it’s hard not to feel inside the ship which displays all sort of luxurious elements. At the same time, it’s hard not to experience the passangers anguish when they realize the tragedy that is developing while the ship is going under.
In 1975, James Clavell published his novel Shogun. Taking advantage of his experiences while traveling through Asia as part of the Navy, the author managed to developed a captivating story that describes the adventures of the fictional captain John Blackthorne, a British sailor that commands a Dutch ship. The plot of the novel accompanies Blackthorne from the moment he fights his enemies in the ocean, to the moments his vessel, the Erasmus becomes a shipwreck in Japan. While learning the language and trying to understand the culture of that country, Blackthorne has only one thing in mind, to go back to the seas. The Erasmus, and the Blackship (it’s main adversary) become then an essential part of the story. Both ships will mark the destiny of the pilot.
She wore only white
Published originaly in German under the title Weit übers Mee, in 2012 it appeared the English version of this novel by Dorthe Binkert, which was inspired by a piece of news read in a newspaper that talked about a mysterious woman who boarded and traveled on a cruise ship wearing only white clothes. From here, the author developed a fictional story for this woman to become then, a stowaway that spent some days aboard the S.S. Kroonland at the begining of the last century. The novel also shows how her presence affected the lives of the people who got to know her while crossing the ocean.
By Nora Vasconcelos
It was the just the second decade of the past century when the radio stations found the way to keep an ample audience captive with programs that broadcasted live theater plays specially adapted for the radio format.
The lack of other forms of entertainments, such as television and the turbulent economic situation that came after the Great Depression, make these shows grow as the listeners found a way to escape from reality, even if just for a short while.
Radio stations in the U.S. such as National Broadcasting Company (NBC), Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), and Mutual Broadcasting System, offered all sort of programs that ran from about half an hour up to one hour.
Mystery, Drama, Suspense, Fantasy and Romance dominated the plots of original stories that were performed live by professional actors whose voices match perfectly with effect sounds that have managed to impress people up to these days.
As the documentary Back of the Mike (presented by Old Time World) shows: “rain was created by pouring sand over a spinning potters wheel which sent it down a metal funnel onto a microphone which was covered by a paper bag. Fire was created by wadding up plastic wrap close to the microphone”.
It was so that from the 30’s up to the late 50’s, detectives like Sam Spade and Boston Blackie came to live, as well as crime drama series such as The FBI in War and Peace and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, the same as superheroes such as Superman, Flash Gordon, Batman and Planet Man.
The broadcasts also included romantic stories, like the series Theater of Romance, produced by the CBS; Westerns, like Tales of Texas Rangers and The American Trail, and Comedy shows, including Abbot and Castello, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and the Bob Hope show.
Mystery play a special role in the success of radio shows as it attracted for many years famous actors such as Orson Wells, who was part of the Campbell Playhouse, and E.G. Marshall, host of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Other famous starts that joined the casts of some radio plays were Marlene Dietrich, Vincent Price and Mike Wallace.
When the radio stations didn’t play original scripts, they share with the audience adaptations of the works of famous authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde. In the same way, books like Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Hamlet by Shakespeare, Jane Eyre by Emily Bronte and Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne, were adapted into radio theaters that were able to present in a short time the essence of these works.
The magic produced by these broadcasts was increased with the rhythmic tunes coming from the live performance of the Big Bands, very popular at that time, swinging the audiences away with performers like Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Show.
Music and radio theaters helped many people get through the difficult years of the Second World War, as the audience used to keep their radios on hoping to catch the latest news from the troops abroad. Once again, radio shows gave them some solace.
Reknown brands took also advantage of the popularity of the shows, becoming sponsors of different series, such as Sears, Colgate, Palmolive, the same as hotels like the Lincoln and the Pennsylvania, in New York, joined their names to the Big Bands that performed their shows in there.
Unfortunately, as contracts and legal recording and broadcasting issues affected live performances of the musical groups, and with the recent popularity or commercial Television in color, the popularity of the radio shows gradually decreased until they weren’t popular anymore and their broadcasts ended.
Fortunately, the Golden Age of Radio has remained alive in the minds of many people who have shared their love for old time radio shows to new generations. At the same time, international organisms such as The International Archive have compiled and preserved many of this radio shows for all people to listen to them.
And now it’s time to say: Lights out!
By Nora Vasconcelos
As it often happens we save things to do them “someday”, but for Sunny and Al Lockwood a car accident made them decide that “someday was today” and then they agreed that it was time for them to go on that long dreamed cruise that would take them from San Francisco, California to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, traveling for 17 days aboard The Zuiderdam, a cruise ship which also would sail from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic through the Panama Canal.
But the dream didn’t end there, from their experiences, Al and Sunny wrote a book: Cruising Panama’s Canal, savoring 5,000 nautical miles and 500,000 decadent calories, published by Front Porch Publishing.
“We came up with the idea before we left on the cruise. We were reading books and articles about the history of the Canal in preparation for our cruise, and the history was so dramatic, so fascinating that we thought describing our trip through the canal would be interesting to others,” tells me Sunny, while talking about their book.
“Since I’ve made my living as a writer (for newspapers and magazines), I go through life with a notebook and pen in my hand. And Al almost always has a camera. So the idea of writing about our trip seemed pretty ‘normal’ to us.”
So, after 17 days cruising, and one year working about 5 days a week on their book, “writing and re-writing, cutting and throwing out stories, adding stories, trying to shape and polish”, Sunny and Al completed a book that invites the readers to be part of this literary trip, like good all friends who get together to share their traveling stories, from the moment they booked the trip, to the time they boarded the ship, the amazement that came from finding such an ample art collection aboard, as well as the cooking classes, the fun and relaxing times and the unexpected and surprising experiences.
Page by page, they take the readers along with them through the different areas of the ship, share their advice on how to keep fit and healthy, and their thoughts on how to transform the desserts time into magical and savory moments whenever Al has the chance to indulge his sweet tooth and write about it.
“I know a fair bit about desserts because I just love eating them. I also love cooking—baking especially, but I’m purely self-taught. And every time I find something really unusual—the Sacher Torte, for example, I’ll research its history (that one’s fascinating),” says Al when I ask him about his deep knowledge on the subject.
Al and Sunny also share their experiences on how to make the most of the shore excursions that, in their case, took them (and the readers along) to visit places like Zihuatanejo and Huatulco in Mexico; Costa Rica and its beautiful natural wonders and its unique Doka Estate and Coffee Plantation (a real paradise for coffee lovers); Cartagena, Colombia, and Half Moon Cay, Bahama.
And when the long awaited time comes to cross the Panama Canal, they share in great detail, step by step, all what it takes for a ship as big as The Zuiderdam (operated by Holland American Line), to fit into the different sections of the Canal.
Funny, entertaining and informative, Cruising Panama’s Canal invites everyone to go along on this journey “of thousands of miles and tens of thousands of calories”. Because this book is much more than a travel guide, this is a book that “has been a labor of love and sharing”, as the authors state on the acknowledgments section.
* All the images and photos courtesy of Al and Sunny Lockwood