National Review has just finished its latest cruise, one of our Caribbean jaunts, with a cast of thousands aboard. Care for a few notes? (Just a few.)
I have had a little experience in the Caribbean in the past 15 years or so, and here is an observation: Often, Caribbean islands will disappoint. But Caribbean waters, never. Ever. They are everything they’re cracked up to be, and more.
Where do such blues and greens come from? Could any painter dream them up?
First on the stage are John Sununu and Fred Thompson. And when I say “John Sununu,” I’m talking about the father — the former governor of New Hampshire, a chief of staff to Bush 41 — not the son, the former senator.
By the way, I recall a quip from William Safire: “I know how to spell ‘Sununu.’ I just don’t know when to stop.”
As we have known for years, Governor Sununu is one smart cookie. They don’t give out Ph.D.s in mechanical engineering at MIT for reciting nursery rhymes. His political analysis is super-crisp. So’s his English. Oh, is it good English.
At one point he says, “That’s one of those ideas that are . . .” I went, “Whoa.” Even English majors don’t know about that.
Later on, in San Juan, I will hear him converse with a Puerto Rican official in Spanish. Not many Spanish-speaking voters in New Hampshire, I imagine. But Sununu knows the language.
While I’m on language: Sununu’s wife, Nancy, speaks in a New England accent so wonderful, you could weep. When regional accents at last die out, it will be a tragic day in America.
Must we all sound like we’re from Neutralsville, Anywheresville, Nowheresville, U.S.A.?
Upon the stage, Sununu says something that makes my blood run cold. A lot of Republicans are taking for granted the defeat of President Obama in 2012. They shouldn’t. Obama has been through serious political lows. Almost nothing has gone right for him. He has not really started to fight back — to campaign.
And even now he’s at 45 percent in the polls. As high as that.
Sununu expresses the devout hope that Republicans don’t screw things up this cycle: by nominating someone who can’t think, can’t talk, can’t persuade, and can’t win. He also hopes that we will unite behind the nominee and go all-out in the general election, no matter who the nominee is.
No pouting, no sniffing, no sitting on the sidelines.
I interview Fred Thompson, not once, but twice. The second time, I ask him about some personalities he has worked with — Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry. He says, “What is this, Oprah?”
I was thinking more The Mike Douglas Show.
Nobody is crisper or sharper than John Bolton. I tell him he has allowed me to go on the cruise, because, if he were running for president, I’d be knocking on doors for him, and licking envelopes.
Many of our passengers want him to be secretary of state. Ideally, he would be president, and Elliott Abrams, another of our guests, would be SecState.
Victor Davis Hanson — who knows about everything — talks about the ability of America to adapt. He says that, no matter what, we manage to stay “one step ahead of the posse.”
I observe that two steps would be more comfortable. But VDH has at least given reason for hope: hope that we’re not sunk.
Where was your introduction to oceans? What was the first ocean you ever saw or set foot in? I was introduced to oceans in Maine. It was high summer, but the water was still too cold to set foot in, much less swim in.
I’m always slightly surprised that the Caribbean is like bathwater, as it often is.
Salty sucker, too.
On Grand Turk, I see a single golf hole, just a makeshift thing — near the governor’s mansion. The green is guarded by mules. Not too friendly-looking.
My favorite walk in the Caribbean is El Paseo del Morro in Old San Juan. It is a near-perfect combination of sea and land, of the natural and the man-made. The walk at twilight is particularly special.
There are a lot of stray cats about, but somehow they’re not mangy — they’re handsome and cared for. They are also splendidly proud and indifferent.
Actually, now that I think about it, my favorite walks in the Caribbean are through surf. But still . . .
Some of us meet with Luis Fortuño, the governor of Puerto Rico. He calls himself a “Reagan Republican” — and he sure is. I hadn’t heard that phrase in a long while.
I’m one too, by the way. Years ago, I said that the best thing Reagan had ever done for me was give me something to call myself: a Reaganite.
Fortuño says that Puerto Rico should be either a proper American state or an independent nation. No more messin’ around with Mr. In-Between. He makes a case, too (and he favors statehood).
Remember when President Ford made Puerto Rican statehood his cause, in the lameduck period of his presidency? That was to be his legacy, I believe . . .
Bernard Lewis is a guest of ours. He is, as you know, the veteran Middle East historian. I suppose there’s a sager scholar on the planet. I certainly have not met him.
Bolton or Abrams for secretary of state, people say. But try this on for size: Andrew McCarthy for attorney general. Now we’re cookin’!
I spend an hour and 15 minutes with Mark Steyn upon the stage, and, at the end, I can’t stay off my feet — neither can the audience. He receives a standing ovation that goes on and on. It is possibly longer than one of Stalin’s.
And those were coerced.
On Saint Thomas, David Pryce-Jones smiles on seeing a monument to Rothschild Francis (a political figure of the Virgin Islands who lived from 1891 to 1963). In America, we have men whose first names are Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, etc. Have we ever had a Rothschild?
Not sure . . .
Maestro Lorin Maazel’s father was born in New York in 1903 to immigrant parents from Russia. He was born on Lincoln’s birthday. His name was Lincoln Maazel. He died two years ago at 106.
So American, so wonderfully American.
This is wonderful too: I hear David P-J talk to a local cricketer about cricket — its rules, its history, its leading personalities. When I discover the subject that P-J doesn’t know a lot about, I’ll let you know.
The pelicans are diving their heinies off at Magens Bay, Saint Thomas. They hit the water like torpedoes, bam. Seems like it ought to hurt!
As I swim among them, I’m sort of afraid they’ll mistake me for prey. To be collided with by a pelican would be . . . uncomfortable.
In any event, I’d pay good money to see pelicans go about their hunting. Too bad for the fish, sure, but what an exciting show.
On the beach, a young woman has a book — my 2007 collection. Big, hardcover clunker of a thing. Looks totally out of place on a beach. She says, “I tried to trade it in for a Mark Steyn book, but they wouldn’t let me.”
In a little food shack and bar, well off the beaten track, I listen to some men who are drinking. Caribbean English: one of the world’s more pleasant tongues.
On the side of a truck, I read, “Blinds and T’ings, Windows & Floor Coverings, Commercial & Residential.”
In the shack, I order a big, lovely fish — lots of bones. As I’m preparing to go, one of the women says, “Oh, no, baby, there’s a lot of meat still left.” She proceeds to take my fork and knife and build a little pile of meat for me.
I’m full, but of course I eat it. The ladies and I blow kisses goodbye.
Funny that we now make a separation of fish and meat. Jesus says to his fishing disciples (in King James), “Children, have ye any meat?”
Not far from the shack is the St. Thomas Dairy, and its accompanying ice-cream parlor, Udder Delite. It is. The chocolate-and-coconut milkshake — surely one of the best things that have ever passed through my lips.
On the ship, I attend the Filipino Crew Show, fairly late at night. They sing various songs and dance various dances — all of a national character. In everything they do, they’re perfectly sincere, which counts for a lot. They also have a lot of fun — which counts too, for their fun is infectious.
They sing their national anthem, and wave their flag. I find myself moved by this. They’re far from home, and they obviously love their country.
You know what I mean, I trust, when I say that other people’s anthems, and other people’s patriotism, can be moving. Everyone recognizes the impulse. There is patriotic love — “true patriot love,” as one anthem says — the same as there are other kinds of love.
Of course, patriotism, nationalism, anthems, all that — it can be quite sinister. Depends, right?
I recall WFB (as I always do): “I’m as patriotic as anyone from sea to shining sea, but there’s not a molecule of nationalism in me.”
Among our passengers are many Texans, and I’m pleased to discover that, by and large, they know about Ted Cruz. And are heartily backing his run for the Senate. As George Will says, Ted’s as good as it gets, a Reaganite dream. To have him in the Senate would be a tonic to us all.
At dinner one night, the husband of a couple says, lovingly, “We haven’t agreed on anything since we said ‘I do.’” He goes on to say, “It took us till our children were in high school to settle on names for them.”
Mona Charen’s companion is one of the three sons she has with her husband, Bob. He is 15-year-old Ben — and he wows the entire ship. Some passengers say to Mona, “Does he write your columns for you?” The most gratifying thing is that Ben is actually as nice as he is smart.
One afternoon, Mona is introduced on a panel. The first person in the entire auditorium to clap is her son. Every mother should have such a child, no?
Often, I ask people how they got to be conservative, or right-of-center. Often, they say, “I found Rush Limbaugh. I listened to Rush Limbaugh.” I wonder whether conservatives in the political class know how much we owe to Rush. I wonder.
Our Charlie Cooke is aboard, and, as I have written before, he is “Sir Charles” to me. He doesn’t much like this, being more American than most of us who have been in the U.S. for a very long time. He grew up in Cambridge and went to Oxford. He toured for a while as a rock musician (if “rock” is the word — I’m never sure). In one of our sessions, I ask him to explain to the audience what he likes about America. He does so, brilliantly. I can almost hear the audience sigh with appreciation.
Then many mothers and grandmothers ask to adopt him.
There is an equal number of adoption requests for Bob Costa.
I hate to break it to the conservative cruising public, but both of these guys have parents.
Back in my cabin one night — sorry, “stateroom” — I notice that someone — a steward — has scrunched my toothpaste up. Has pushed all the paste near the top, making the upper portion nice and plump.
Now, that’s service. Makes the “turndown” seem ordinary.
The president and CEO of Holland America, our cruise line? Stein Kruse. Which any English-speaker would pronounce . . . well, you know . . .
I could go on, y’all, but you have turkeys to baste and cranberry sauce to prepare. Have a wonderful week, and I’ll see you in December — certainly before Christmas.
We can still say “Christmas,” right? Has the Wise Latina made a ruling lately? Has Michelle put the kibosh on figgy pudding?
I’d better stop before the rant juices get the better of me. See you!