Tasmania: Week 137

Formal night on the Sea Princess

Consummate: showing great skill and flair

The first thing I noticed were the neatly uniformed hosts aboard the Sea Princess. They turned down my room every night and brushed the crumbs off my table cloth. If I wanted to order a cocktail, all I had to do was look up- hosts were patiently scanning the room with a plastic tray and a notepad in hand.

Maybe I was too sensitive to people just doing their jobs, but I felt like the word thank you was hemorrhaging from my mouth. One thanks to use the hand sanitizer outside the buffet hall, two thank you’s for a napkin, four thanks to order a cocktail, and another eight words of gratitude randomly dispersed during dinner. Of course I was grateful for the impeccable service; I just wouldn’t have minded a little more neglect.

Invitation for the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party

The second night on board was the formal dinner; black tuxedos and white gloves circulated through the crowds, handing out flutes of champagne. The heart of the ship was styled like a Miami hotel circa 1980: all plate-glass and gold-toned banisters. The ground floor was marble and there were skinny palm trees flanking the glass elevator and white grand piano.

For some reason I was expecting ballroom dancing but in reality there were at least four different studio backdrops which took up a large portion of the floor. The captain gave a small toast and then a few people took turns pouring more champagne onto a pyramid of glasses filled with blue champagne. My friend had rented a tux with a black bow tie and patent leather shoes and when we sat down to dinner I noticed our host’s jacket had the same cut and his starched white shirt had identical pleats.

Formal night on the Sea Princess

Patter: the jargon of a particular group, meaningless talk, chatter

The Princess Patter is the ship’s daily newsletter. Each night, while we dined and watched choreographed musicals, the four-paged newsletter was placed in our room’s mailbox- one blue and white Patter for each of us.

Champagne Art Auction, Walking in Comfort & Relieving Back Pain, Skin & Make Up Tips, 50s & 60s Music Trivia, How to get your smile 6 shades lighter?

Page 2 of the Princess Patter on the Sea Princess Cruise to Tasmania, Australia

The activities were questionable, but the enthusiasm for freshly delivered mail was hard to squelch. I convinced my friends to attend a line dancing class taught by a skinny Welsh guy named Martin. He was young, but his thinning hair and comfortable yacht attire made him seem much older.

“Now if you feel your hip is hurting, don’t push it,” Martin devilishly instructed the crowd. “You will feel really silly filling out the insurance claim forms.”

Martin also hosted the Singles and Solo Travelers group. While he waited for people to cautiously trickle into the Razzmatazz Club, he impatiently tapped his foot and leaned against the leather upholstery. About sixteen people showed up, more people than the club usually held at any given time during the night.

The majority of attendees appeared to be comfortably retired women, however there were a few exceptions: one divorcee, one shy young guy with braces, and a retired Australian priest who quietly sang to himself when he wasn’t talking. The first two questions people always asked were: where are you from and how many cruises have you been on?

Top deck of the Sea Princess cruise to Tasmania

On port days, when the ship was docked, the Patter was supplemented with a Princess Port Guide. The insert smelled like a carbon copy receipt and contained information about the weather and an abbreviated history of the location.

Port Arthur, our second destination, was a working penal colony from 1833-1877 and was meant to be a punishment station for repeat offenders. It was also the Australian testing grounds for a recently imported method called solitary confinement. Based on the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, the ‘separate system’ replaced physical punishment with dehumanizing isolation. The tour guide informed me in a ‘glass half-full’ kind of tone that only one person had been driven to suicide.

More than 100 years later Port Arthur would once again be the background for human suffering. On an autumnal day in 1996 a gunman took the lives of 35 people and wounded another 23. Standing there, it was hard to imagine a more incongruent event unfolding in the tranquil harbor filled with crumbling sandstone buildings. The only silver lining was the fact that the massacre became a catalyst for successful gun legislation reform.

Port Arthur Historic Site: Tasmania, Australia

Spring chicken: a young person

Five days into the cruise we docked overnight in Hobart, our last destination. It was 11pm and the cleaners were vacuuming around our feet while we finished up the last of our tropical cocktails. The Razzmatazz Night Club was completely empty so my friends and I followed the young wait staff rushing off the ship in their street clothes. It was college night in Salamanca Place and the eve of a state holiday. It also didn’t help that the drinking age is 18.

As I glumly pushed past hordes of boisterous teenagers tottering around in red stilettos and pastel mini-dresses, I thought about the day I arrived at the White Bay Cruise Terminal. I had felt so youthful because I had neither a walker nor swollen ankles. I could also probably still count the number of grey hairs on my head.

How fleeting that feeling can be when you are stuck in a writhing mass of teenagers.

Left: Berlin Buddha, 2007, Zhang Huan- This piece uses 8 tonnes of incense ash - collected from temples around Shanghai - packed into the aluminum mould opposite. Right: Cloaca Professional, 2010, Wim Delvoye - a man made digestive track that poops at 2pm.

The next morning we caught a ferry to the Museum of New Art. It was the place I had been looking forward to visiting the most and it had somehow escaped being mentioned anywhere in the Princess Patter or the Princess Port Guide: Hobart.

I did find this in MONA’s brochure: Looking at art used to be boring. It still is, maybe, but at least here at MONA you can get drunk and/or rage against the machine.

On describing the permanent collection: When we say ‘permanent’ we mean we change it quite a lot, when we feel like it. There are all your favorites, and some stuff you totally effing hate.

Not quite Princess Patter material.

Actually, MONA is not quite museum material either. As the creator David Walsh puts it, MONA is an anti-museum, “that pisses off the academics.”

I think Walsh wishes more people were offended; truthfully, it was the best art museum I have ever visited. From the posh ferry to the eclectic collections (think kitten pelts and roman coins across from Jenny Saville) to the iPods used to vote on the whether the art was good or not- MONA is way ahead of the curve.

Zelfportret, als grootste worm van de wereld, 2008, Jan Fabre

And for the low, low price of AUD $75,000 you can receive a lifetime membership which will allow you to, “enjoy all the benefits of Eternity Membership – parties, catalogues, annoying pamphlets, being sucked up to. Then – when you die, we have you cremated and put in a fancy jar in the museum. David’s dad’s there already. Don’t you miss out.”

PS. This is not a joke.”

About: Tasmania

About: Port Arthur

How to get to MONA: MR-1 Fast Ferry or MONA Express bus depart from Brooke Street Ferry Terminal in Hobart. MONA bicycles are also available for rental for use on the intercity cycleway to the museum.

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