Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

This installment of art dealing in the Baltics is already winding to a close, and soon I’ll be making my way around the British Isles and down to the Mediterranean for the remainder of my contract. The weeks have flown by and afternoons dragging deep on hookahs in St. Petersburg have begun to blend seamlessly into early mornings of bratwurst and beer in Germany. The hazy stream of memory may have something to do with the nature of my relaxation in certain ports, but after endless days in the trenches of art dealing, few things can return a man to sanity like empty glasses at tables full of friends.

This season has been quite different from last year, particularly given my position and responsibilities onboard. Last summer, I had a team with me that could split up tasks, and a Gallery Director that could handle the logistics. All I had to do was delegate and show up to give seminars. Now I am moving art at 7am, running full gallery hours every evening, and changing the art on the walls on an almost daily basis. Suffice to say, my time is far from free, so getting off the ship in the ports of call has actually become a novelty. It used to be that the moment I finished work, I would rush off the ship, perhaps because the prospect of going back into my prison cell of a cabin was decidedly unattractive, but now, I finish lugging art around for hours and the most interesting thing to me is the top of my pillow. Am I getting old? Or am I just beginning to take waking up in a new country every day for granted? I don’t want it to be either, frankly, because turning 24 is hardly a “milestone” birthday, and becoming jaded after only two years at sea is a premature emotion that has no real solution except early retirement. Every cruise I meet people with real lives who are occupying the nooks and crannies of the Regent Voyager as a diversion from that existence they’ve left behind for a short while. But for me, this has become my life, days and weeks and months passing with the same regularity as they would in a flat in London or my old house in Chicago. This has become normal. It has become difficult to imagine two months on land as anything more than a vacation. The problem is that I have heard from countless seamen that once the oceans become home and land becomes a foreign idea, it is time to make your exit. The question that looms before me is this, where would I go? What would I do? Although being an art dealer is far from my true passion in life, it results in a steady paycheck and life experience that would be impossible in any other profession. Obviously, that shouldn’t be the motivating factor behind my decisions, but every time I watch the news I continue to hear about the flagging job market and the hangover of the recession that has not yet receded. There are not too many things encouraging me to return to a life of permanence and dry land. I don’t think it is normal to be oblivious to which day of the week it is, but this life does afford me a type of stability that I may not find back in the states. Realistically, what would I actually do? Use my three year old English and Biology degrees to slip my way into some entry level position doing god knows what god knows where? I think not.

The call of the typewriter is strong in me, and I know that I should be writing far more than I am, but I find myself knee deep in experiences, rather than moments that oblige me to document those same semi-miraculous minutes. Perhaps it is basic laziness and my perennial penchant for putting off the truly important things to me that has landed me in such a reflective and questionable mood. Writing onboard is a tricky thing, however. I never feel like I am actually relaxed, because I live at work. The only time that things flow and fall into place both mentally and artistically is when I am as far from the boat as possible, holed up in a café or a bar somewhere off the beaten track, so tour groups and clients stand no chance of invading my temporary sanctum. Those opportunities, as I said earlier, are few and far between in comparison to prior contracts, and the afternoons that I do slip away from the ship are usually spent with friends, similarly blowing off steam in tucked away spots in our various ports of call. I know that practice makes perfect, but the longer I am away from the fearsome blank page, the harder it is for me to imagine coming back and conquering it. Sometimes, this little travelogue is the closest thing I have to actual writing for weeks at a time, and this is basically just a stream of consciousness that I could just as easily be saying to you over a cup of coffee. There are thousands of “writers” out there who aren’t working as art dealers, they are actually writing. Sure, they may be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches three times a day in a cold water flat in Hoboken, but they are at least sinking teeth into their passion, going ten rounds with it every day as they struggle and sweat over the keys. I am basically flirting with it, hoping it will stay around long enough for me to settle down and get serious. If I wait too long though, my passion might just meet another eligible bachelor and leave my ass cold on the curb. Given that in the years since graduation, I have always been employed in one random way or another, writing has taken a backseat as a hobby. At face value, my justification for that unfortunate truth is as I said, I had other jobs and other things to steal my time. But as more months go by, I feel that may not be entirely true. For years, I have been casually referring to myself as a writer who happens to be working in a hotel temporarily, or as a globetrotting art dealer, but I fear that the truth is, I am an art dealer and was a banquet manager who likes to write. That being said, I can’t accept that because it represents a reality too difficult to swallow while maintaining a stable self-conceived identity.

Fast forward three days….S and P downgraded the United States’ credit rating, and the world seems to be in an uproar. My clients this cruise are turning green around the gills, because their return to real life might be fraught with new perils. The news passes through my ears and mind as sweetly as slow jazz, present to pay attention to for only a moment before my head moves onto the next steady stream.

Despite the flash mobs roaring in America, I spent the day wandering the streets of Amsterdam for the first time in more than three years, since my Spring Break walkabout through the meccas of Europe. I seemed to know the streets, when to stop for trams and busy bike paths, navigating the twisting alleys and canals with the unblinking certainty of a local. I found myself grinning through the sensuous wafts of the coffee shops with temptations that bring me closer to Nirvana than any other. I stumbled into one of my favorite outside cafes, where three years and four months ago I sat and read Thomas Pynchon over Heinekens and a full pack of Lucky Strikes. I used a cigarette holder back then (a gift from Phoebe), and my cigarette case was black. Now I have a silver case, (another gift from Phoebe) and have since lost my holder. The only other difference in those two hours of blissful solitude was my choice of literature. It was one of the strongest moments of nostalgia I have ever experienced, because it crept out of nowhere and blindsided me. The flood of moments from that month long journey swept over me, the foggy week in Amsterdam, the slippery days in Dublin, the wandering afternoons in Paris, and the Sangria fueled adventure in Barcelona. Despite the fact that in this contract on the Voyager I will travel once again to all those places, it is completely different this time around. My friends back home often comment on how wild and free life must be for me, traveling the world. Their comments may be true from the outside looking in, but from someone who in years past has seen these exotic places realized to their fullest, our paltry 5 hour adventures in these ports reflect naught but shadows of their potential. I used to sit for hours in cafes without having to look at my watch, or fall asleep in the sunshine without fear of missing all aboard. I didn’t care if morning strolls turned into lazy afternoons into ridiculous nights as long as I could find my way back to the hotel before my next flight to parts unknown. The freedom of my current lifestyle comes with unavoidable highs and lows that wear me down like the ancient track of an emotional rollercoaster.

As I sat and mused at the Dutch beauties walking by, I began to run through my options for the future. It is one of my favorite and most futile practices, mainly because whenever I make a plan, it goes six types of sideways and I end up in a completely different and unexpected part of my life. I have realized that my existence is a swirling morass of entropy. But I have to pass the time somehow, and occasionally I can convince myself that I am in control. All of my plans start as of November 28th, because I am definitely going to finish this contract and travel to some truly wicked places in October and November. But after I am finished with that, the options are as follows.

1. I can fly back to the United States, enjoy the holidays at home for the first time in years, and take a nice long vacation. In February/March, I can come back to the cruise ship life recharged and ready to work on my nest egg for another six months. I’ll operate under the hope that the bitterness and occasional disillusionment that I am currently experiencing is only a side effect of being in my fifth month away from dry land. Having a decidedly fucked up personal life hasn’t helped matters or mentalities either. I can then put off any major life choices for yet another contract and let the oceans be my home for another chunk of my twenties.

2. I can fly home for the holidays, just like my first plan, but instead of going out for another spin around the oceans, I can bid Park West a favorable adieu and leave my days as an art dealer behind me. I can settle myself back in Chicago for a short time, then maybe move downtown and try to find work at a magazine, newspaper, museum, or art gallery. Realistically, I would become a bartender, pay the bills, save as much as possible, and in the brutal hung over mornings after late nights of pouring red bull vodkas, I would write. If I am ever going to start my long-awaited career as a writer, I need to get the cruise ship monkey off my back and just do it. It won’t be glamorous, it won’t take me around the world, but the savage moments of self-loathing might subside.

3. My third option is basically the same as the second, except instead of situating myself in Chicago, I can make the big move to the Big Apple. There are two different scenarios within the New York idea. Over the next few months, I can work up another application for Columbia and really put in the time needed instead of the somewhat rushed attempt of last year. I can make the move in the spring regardless of the outcome of the application, or I can wait to see if I get in and re-evaluate from there. The second scenario is simply to plunge into New York headfirst and get a job that puts money in my pocket while I slave away over the keys of my typewriter and try to generate something profound. Again, it won’t be the glamorous lifestyle that I’m used to, but I’ll be following in the footsteps of the only gods I worship, tackling New York and putting my mark on the world one page at a time.

4. The last option is one that I have courted for many years, and that is to get my TEFL certification. I could spend the winter months back in Chicago, seriously dedicating myself to perfecting French and Spanish while getting all the paperwork in order to teach English somewhere in France or Spain for a year or so. It would be another grand adventure while I slowly ease myself off the dangerous drug of cruise ship life. I could easily see myself spending a year in the French countryside, with amazing cities and experiences only a few hours in any direction. America isn’t exactly handing out jobs these days, but there will always be a demand for someone who can teach people how to speak English. Similarly, I can write on the side and have the peaceful isolation that I so desperately crave and which is so lacking in my life right now.

So those are the ideas bubbling around in my twisted mind at the moment. I don’t know if I am ready to hang up my gavel quite yet, but there are some days when I feel like I am living a lie. More and more often, I find myself smiling blankly at strangers as they tell me about their past acquisitions while my mind is thousands of miles away, wondering what my friends are doing, which bar they’re at tonight, or when I’ll see them next.

I have met some fantastic people on this contract who are gifted, talented, beautiful, kind, generous souls, but I already see the end of the contract approaching, and yet another tearful farewell at a gangway in some foreign port of call. Then I will once more be left with another hole in my chest to fill, and at times it feels like there are more holes than heart left.  I don’t want to be gone for so long that I am unable to reconnect with those people in my past that still mean so much to me. E-mails and occasional phone calls suffice for a time, but I don’t want to eventually exist only in memory. Memories are powerful things, but as people’s lives move forward, if I’m not a part of those new experiences in any way, I fear that I’ll be left behind, while the majority of my own experiences will be shared with people that I will likely never see again. It is a frightening thought, but one that must be entertained with some degree of careful consideration.

Measuring out the pros and cons of all my potential endeavors is essential, but I am certain that as soon as I move in one direction with anything approaching decisiveness, something will change, as it always does, and I’ll be thrown into another whirlwind chapter of my increasingly random and entertaining life. Expect the unexpected is probably the best rule I should follow, because at the end of the day, control is only an illusion.

Considering the lifestyle that I’ve chosen, the best thing I can do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.


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