Cruise Journal, Part III

A cruise ship off Roatán, Honduras


During World War II, Lewis served in intelligence (British intelligence). I ask, “During the Thirties and into the war, did you know Nazism was doomed? Or did you think it would conquer Europe?” “It did conquer Europe,” he says.

Oh, yes — had forgotten about that. I was thinking long term. But, says Lewis, he figured it was doomed, as it soon proved to be. (After millions of deaths.)

He makes a point about the Middle East too seldom made: a point relating to sexual frustration. There’s not much “casual sex” in the Middle East, says our scholar (and famed observer of human affairs). A man has two routes to sex: marriage and prostitution. Many can’t afford either.

So, Combustion City (as the first Bush might say).

Here’s something else from lunch — I enjoyed learning this. Bernard has “played with” about 15 languages, as he says: “played with.” He has a gift for “making noises.” That is, he can reproduce sounds in other languages, even when he can’t speak a given language very well, or at all. This can lead to awkward situations.

What do I mean? Well, a native speaker may think you know the language when you don’t. And he may suspect that you’re toying with him somehow.

I tell Bernard about Bill Buckley — who, when a child, learned French. I think he had a French governess. Into adulthood, he pronounced the language very well. But he didn’t speak it equally well. He could ask a question in excellent-sounding French — and not be able to understand the answer.

So, what did he do? Now and then, he put on an American accent, just so as not to mislead anyone (and create trouble). “Où sont les toilettes?” he would ask, in a marked American way. Then the people would be slow with him, indulgent of him.

Bernard understands entirely, of course — and “can relate,” as we used to say (in the Seventies, was it?).

Something else about language: Lewis says you can buy one and get one free — or two free. To take an easy example, Danish. He learned Danish, owing to a Danish wife. And this language led on to Norwegian and Swedish.

Same with some Middle Eastern tongues, he says.

I have 50 more things to say about Bernard Lewis — at least — but perhaps I should point you to his memoirs, published this year: Notes on a Century. A feast, an education, a treat.

We have a cruise passenger I’ve known for many years. She and her husband have come on maybe 15 cruises, something like that. Very nice lady. And sharp. From Wisconsin.

But not originally — this is something new to me. I learn it at dinner one night, on this cruise. She was born in Germany. Her father was in a concentration camp for eight weeks. They let him out, and ordered the family to leave the country — lucky them. They could leave with the equivalent of 20 dollars. If I have heard correctly, they sailed on the last German ship to leave Holland.

That was October 1939 — late, but not, for them, too late.

As you can imagine, my friend has strong feelings about America, and what it has represented, and deep concerns, about where it is going.

Mona Charen and her husband, Bob Parker, have three sons. The youngest, Ben, is along for the ride. After meeting and listening to him, many of our passengers want to start a political action committee for him. Ben is only 16 — but I agree: Let’s get movin’ . . .

I’d like to tell you about another longtime NR cruiser — and her daughter. Mom is a true-blue conservative; Daughter is a liberal. I have a talk with her, the daughter, on the last day of this cruise.

“How has it been for your mom?” I say. “Has she enjoyed the cruise?” “Oh, very much,” comes the answer. “It has lifted her spirits. She was so down after the election. I was happy and relieved, when Obama won. But my mom was so upset, I couldn’t enjoy the victory. She was just disconsolate. I hated seeing her in that condition. I would have thrown Obama to the wolves, just to make her feel better.”

That, my friends, is love. May we all have such daughters, and sons!

In the dining room, there is the traditional March of the Baked Alaska. The accompanying music is the Radetzky March. In former times, the marchers carried and waved sparklers. (Sparklers as in the Fourth of July.) But that has been cut out. Now they wave napkins. What a comedown. I blame the regulations of the Nanny State.

But I’ll be griping about politics soon enough — day and night — and I’ll now just say thank you: for cruising, either in person or, much less satisfyingly, through this lil’ journal. Plus: Happy Thanksgiving!

To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.