Impromptus

Cruise Journal, Part II

by Jay Nordlinger

Friends, I’ve been writing a bit about the latest National Review cruise, which took place in Norway. For Part I of these notes, go here. And I’ll just get on with our second and final part.

Longtime readers have heard me complain about red and blue — a lot. In America, the Left is blue and the Right is red — which is bassackwards. Ahistorical and all the rest of it.

Well, during the cruise, I hear from my friend Kristian Norheim, who is running for a seat in the Storting — the Norwegian parliament. He is a member of the Progress party, which is the country’s Reaganite or Thatcherite party. In Norway, I proudly consider myself an honorary “Prog.”

(For a piece I wrote about Progress in 2010, go here.)

Kristian sends me a couple of articles from his district: One of them is headed “Cheering for blue.” The other is headed “Blue offensive in Telemark.” In other words, the conservatives are on the march.

As far as I know, America is the only place that has blue and red confused. Guess we’re stuck with it!

And I promise not to complain about this situation again for — oh, let’s say three hours.

Having a walk in Haugesund, I pass a statue of a nice-looking lady. Who is it? It turns out to be Marilyn Monroe.

I understand this lady was beautiful, and talented, and tragic. But the world’s obsession with her — that’s a little hard for me to understand. I get the Che thing better.

Later on, I do some googling — and find that some of Marilyn’s forebears came from this region, apparently. She is considered something of a native daughter. I see.

On Haugesund’s main drag, there’s a new-looking Palestine Café. Elsewhere, there is a kind of mural for an old, evidently defunct store: Rabinowitz. That tells some of the story of modern Norway.

My colleague John Fund makes a nice point — which I’ll put in my own words (absolving him from responsibility): The American Left loves Norway, for its socialism, its “progressive” foreign policy, its antipathy to Israel, etc. But what do they say of the country’s oil riches? Hmmm?

Norway is the Saudi Arabia of Europe. Talk about “Drill, baby, drill.” Our Left loves to talk about “Big Oil,” scornfully. Norway itself is “Big Oil.”

I see a name repeatedly in Norway: Bakken. That reminds me of North Dakota, and its Bakken formation — fount of North Dakota oil. (The name is pronounced “Bockin.”) I did a piece on the North Dakota oil boom last year: here.

And I saw a bumper sticker in that state: “Rockin’ the Bakken.”

Onboard our ship are two renowned British historians: Paul Johnson and David Pryce-Jones. Both of them were tutored at Magdalen College, Oxford, by the legendary A. J. P. Taylor. David despised Taylor, and, in fact, “fired” him, as he says: He left him for another tutor, Raymond Carr, the historian of Spain. Paul thinks a little better of Taylor.

I remember something he (Paul Johnson) wrote about Taylor once: It was important to Taylor to give, whether in his books, articles, or personal appearances, “good value.” That was Taylor’s phrase: “good value.” I believe his father was in the retail business.

Paul gives good value too (and so does David P-J).

So does Daniel Hannan, another Brit: a sterling writer and politician. (He would be loath for Britain to give up sterling, now that I mention it.) Onstage, he’s talking about the EU. And he makes a witticism I enjoy: Two of the founders of the EU were Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman. Europe, and the world, would have been better off with Claude Monet and Robert Schumann.

(Though the composer, of course, went sadly mad. I have a scholar friend who blames Clara, the wife Schumann loved so much, and perhaps in error.)

Stick with the Brits for a moment — you’ll like this. Paul Johnson and John O’Sullivan speak about Margaret Thatcher. Both knew her well. Johnson starts by saying that Thatcher prided herself on her hair: and a fine head of hair it was. It served her well.

When they were at Oxford, he asked her to go punting with him. She said no, it would mess up her hair.

One night, something really unexpected happens: I drop by the ship’s showroom, to catch the comedian. And he is brilliant — flat-out brilliant. I could not have predicted that.

He is Jonathan Clark, and he does impressions — impressions of singers. He does them with deadly, and hilarious, accuracy. He sings well himself — just straight. He does impressions of non-singers, too. He does comedy of many and various types.

And, again, he is brilliant. I’ve seen a fair number of comedy acts in my life — never one better. Including Rodney.

Good as Clark is — great as he is — he can’t be the funniest man onboard, because our Rob Long is here. Let me give you a little taste of Rob.

I speak of a restaurant, and say it’s “what we used to call an ‘Oriental restaurant,’ before ‘Oriental’ became verboten, for some bizarre reason.” Right, says Rob: “Now it’s ‘pan-Asian.’ In other words, Hirohito’s dream has come true.”

That’s Rob: funny, yes, but also deeply informed.

During a panel discussion, I ask him what shaped his views. He says, for one thing, that he read Modern Times (one of Paul Johnson’s best-known, best-loved works).

Same goes for me, by the way. Same goes for a great many.

Geoff and Janet Matthes are longtime friends and cruisers. This cruise is a special one, because, for the first time, they have brought their daughters — four perfect Nebraska girls, with plenty of blonde hair between them. Their ages range from something like 11 to something like 18.

The eldest says, “When we travel together, we’re a spectacle.” If so, a magnificent spectacle.

Above, I said that we had two renowned British historians aboard. Well, have another: Robert Conquest.

I learn something: Bob celebrated his 19th birthday in Morocco. When he was returning home the next day, the Spanish Civil War broke out. He has seen a lot of history, lived a lot of it — analyzed and written about it, incomparably.

Richard Pipes titled his autobiography “Vixi,” i.e., “I Have Lived.” So has Bob, to put it mildly.

Another of our guests is Daniel Mahoney, the political scientist from Assumption College — superb. He says that one of our problems today is that people don’t understand “the tragedy of civilization.” Just how fragile civilization is, and what it takes to defend it, and perpetuate it.

It would be unreasonable to expect people to have the sense of a Conquest or a Mahoney. But they could do better . . .

In the course of our final session, Dan Mahoney and the great Michael Novak talk about pornography — at my instigation. They explain the destructive effects of pornography, on individuals, families, and society. It is all very moving. As I’ve said before in this journal — I wish I had a transcript.

James Pethokoukis, the economics writer, whiz, and guru? He is a former Jeopardy champion. Very easy to believe.

Onstage, the captain of the ship hangs a medal around the neck of our publisher, Jack Fowler. Jack has logged a lot of miles at sea; the medal is in recognition of that fact.

Won’t you join him, and us, sometime? And if you have already — come again? Thanks much, y’all, and see you soon.