Cruising Speed, Part I


Fans of William F. Buckley Jr. — and who’s not? — will recognize the title over this column. “Cruising Speed” was the title of one of Bill’s books: an account of a week in his life. He followed that up with Overdrive — the account of another week (as I recall). For now, we’ll stick with “Cruising Speed.”

Have just come off National Review’s “post-election cruise,” in the “Western Caribbean.” (I am going with official Holland America language, when I say “Western Caribbean.”) Thought I’d scribble you a little journal, in two parts. Shortish. For me.

We had something like 780 passengers. Passengers in general were something like 2,100. So we NR people constituted more than a third of the ship. (Isn’t my math impressive? I’m trying to give John Derbyshire a run for his money.) This was the biggest NR group ever — the biggest aboard a ship, I mean.

Everyone commented that the passengers were in a really good mood — feeling great, after the November 2 “shellacking” (of the Democrats). But, as I recall, everyone was in a really good mood after the ’08 election, too: feisty.

In Ft. Lauderdale, at the Shop ’n’ Save near our hotel, you could find the New York tabloids. Told you something about the population in Lauderdale. It was as though I had never left my neighborhood in Manhattan — the tabs were on sale on the street corner (basically).

There are some really, really elegant neighborhoods in Lauderdale — with canals running through them. (I don’t know if they use the word “canals,” but I do.) Some of those yachts are practically as wide as the canals — big monsters, resting behemothly in still, narrow waters.

A flock of birds came at me, hard. They shot out of a tree. They were menacing, hawk-like. But they looked like . . . parakeets. Could they have been? I think of parakeets as sweet tweety things in the parlors of maiden aunts. These babies were . . . fierce. You could almost have been in a Hitchcock movie.

Aboard the ship, our surprise special guest was Pat Toomey, the senator-elect from Pennsylvania. When Jack Fowler, our publisher, introduced Toomey, the crowd roared, and roared. It was kind of a gladiatorial moment, frankly. Great.

Toomey wouldn’t make a bad president. At all.

Another guest was Prof. Bernard Lewis, the great historian of the Middle East. You always learn a lot from Lewis — just being in the same room with him, you feel wiser. He was born in 1916, six years after his king, George V, assumed the throne. In America, Wilson was president — in his first term. We had not yet entered the war.

I had about 45 minutes with Lewis, upon the stage. What I mean is, we had a little conversation, before our passengers. We talked about Turkey, Iran, the Palestinians, Israel, the Islamicization of Holland and Belgium — many things (as time allowed).

I’m tempted to think that there will never again by anyone like Lewis — that he is the last of a certain type of scholar. The last of the first-class scholars. But this cannot be true. I will give you an analogy from music. In every generation, there are those who say that we’ve seen the last — heard the last — of the greats. “Oh, Nikisch! Oh, Hofmann! Oh, Caruso! Conducting, piano playing, singing — all of that has come to an end. Boo hoo hoo.” And it’s never true. It’s always bunk. There are always others.

Last night, at a Chinese restaurant, my companions and I saw James Levine — a man who is in the pantheon of conductors, an immortal. And there will be others . . .

I’m sure that, in the time of Thucydides, and shortly thereafter, people said, “That’s it — history-writing has come to an end. There will never be another one who is up to the job.” And it wasn’t true.

Nonetheless, I can’t imagine another scholar — another scholar of the Middle East — like Lewis. The MESA crowd long ago took over Middle East Studies. As Lewis once told me, this was similar to the takeover of Chinese Studies by Maoists.

At any rate, I’ll stop whining and worrying now, and simply say how grateful I am that Bernard Lewis is here.