Saturday, May 10, 2008

italian for beginners

i've become positively danish in my behavior when i fly. i, practically as a rule, do not speak to the people sitting near me (if they are strangers, of course--if i fly with family or colleagues, of course i speak to them).

yesterday on my flight up to manila from singapore, i was one of the last to board the plane and found myself increasingly dismayed as i realized how far back in the plane i was seated (monkey class on the short-haul flights). plus i was schlepping the big coach shopping bag and my huge iYiYi box, which i had just acquired in the airport, in addition to my purse and computer bag. so, i was a bit flustered when i got to my seat. i finally stowed my stuff away in 3 different overhead bins and disturbed the other two people in my row to get to my window seat.

when my blood pressure had gone down a bit and i could breathe again, i noticed that the man next to me was reading a charter party agreement. the word "drydock" had caught my eye. so, i asked him if he was a ship broker, thinking that no one else in their right mind would be sitting on a plane reading a charter party agreement.

he replied that he was joining a ship in manila and since it was a new charter, he had to read through the agreement. i asked his position on board and he said he was the captain. i'm certain that my eyes lit up at this discovery and i began plying him with questions.

the first comment he made was that he and his kind (seafarers) were "dinosauri." he was italian, you see. a charming, erudite italian captain who had been sailing since 1973. and the stories he had to tell from that sailing time! i got out my little notebook and scribbled notes.

he was joining a bulk carrier that was discharging in manila. he would sail on sunday for borneo, where they'll load it with coal (who knew coal came from borneo?), which they will discharge in india, up near the border with pakistan.

he hadn't sailed a bulker before. of late, his assignments have been onboard livestock carrriers. i asked if they were converted car carriers--which i'd heard of as livestock carriers. but he said no, the Stella Deneb had been specially built for the purpose of carrying livestock. the link is to a story about how the vessel now has a young female captain as master. captain tosques told me about her--she had been his chief officer and he told me that she had just gotten a well-earned promotion to master. i love to see stories of women in seafaring!

i asked about what it was like to sail around with a farm onboard. how many people it took to care for the animals (there can be upwards of 60,000 sheep onboard at one time). there is a crew of about 30-some whose job it is to care for the livestock. feeding and watering them is an automated system, but mucking out the stalls is an important task. he referred to the animals as "passengers," and said it's not unlike a cruise ship--where the main task is keeping the passengers happy (and healthy).

we talked a lot about life onboard--and how the captain sets the tone for the social relations between those onboard. he said he always makes an effort to ensure that people speak together at mealtimes and that they do what they can to have a social life onboard. he said that onboard the livestock carrier, "we make party. we eat some of the passengers." he said that often on a voyage, he gives lessons in making lasagne to the chief stewards, who are usually filipino. he said they are usually very good cooks, but he, being italian, can't help himself and wants to impart the knowledge of authentic lasagne-making.

i found myself utterly charmed by this italian captain. he was so funny, so genuine and so down-to-earth. i wanted to call husband and ask if he minded me bringing home a small italian captain so that we could sit around and listen to his stories. i had one of those moments of pure, unadulterated happiness as i sat and listened to him. what a wonder people are! the stories that they have to share. their outlook on the world. how it can change your own if you are open to it.

i took his name and email so that i can write a story about him for one of the campaigns i'm working on at work. it makes me sad that the first thing he said is that he is of a dying breed. more than 90% off the goods in the world get to where they're going via ship. so, if there are no more seafarers (less and less people are choosing the career), we will all have trouble getting our stuff.

i am often struck when i've had a conversation with a seafarer at just how practical, down-to-earth and authentic they are. they are often completely comfortable in their own skin in a way that the insecure world of the office does not breed. i always feel enriched by the encounter, mostly because their stories are nearly always funny and a good laugh will always make you feel better. but it's also because they are just so real and they remind me to get off my high horse and live in the moment. talking to captain tosques definitely made me forget all about the petty concerns i'd had about being in a window seat in row 55. and that was a simply delightful first italian lesson.


Sabin said...

I´m eager for the day I can read the stories you´ve been told!
You should really write it down!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

"thinking that no one else in their right mind would be sitting on a plane reading a charter party agreement." Too true ;)
Your post title is the name of one of my favourite films, which happens to be Danish.
It's cheesy and romantic but it's a rare one that I really like.
I wonder if you named it for that, or just coincidence?
Your story is a humbling one. Teaches us to slow down and pay attention, that we'll miss great stories and people if we're not looking. I love your "meeting people" tales. More, more!

julochka said...

gabi--i'll continue to write as i get time. :-)

elementary--you are too astute--i was indeed referencing the italiensk for begynder film. :-) i should have known you would catch it! you're right that it's important to tune in to those around us. one of the reasons why i'm writing about these encounters is to remind myself how important that is!

Jaime said...

How wonderful to be invited into someone else's world for a little while, especially when it is so different from our own. He sounds so interesting!

Elizabeth said...

Somehow I always have a conversation with someone when I am travelling by myself. The most hilarious things can happen on a train ride, like meeting your future husband.

john and lisa said...

Just found your blog today because of a beautiful blue embroidered blanket that I saw on Pinterest. I read your story of Italian for Beginners. How beautiful. My husband and I are too of that dying breed of sailors. We sail on a ship that does research in Asia. Its a fantastic lifestyle and gives us much freedom. It pays for our trips to the Roskilde festivals. We've been four times, flying there from Hawaii. Thanks for all your posts. I look forward to reading many more. Lisa