Thursday, October 16, 2008

The QE2 leaves New York

This evening, just after I had arrived home and was prepping some shortribs for dinner, I heard the deep groan of a ship's horn from the water. I love the sound. Like a train's whistle at night in the country. It means, somehow, that all is right in the world. That something still works. Don't know why. It is reassuring.

I hear the horns of ships often, because these waterways are part of a working system. But tonight I thought, What IF...??? - and grabbed my camera. I charged up through the trapdoor to the roof, and was held breathless for a moment by the site of two ships.

Yes! It was them. The Queen Mary 2 AND the QE2. Beside each other, in a froth of foaming water from a fireboat. The Queen Mary was just allowing the Queen Elizabeth 2 to pass her, and sounding her even deeper horn: No, please, you first...The larger acknowledging the smaller, which was also the greater.

I started to cry.

It is the last time the QE2 will be in these waters.

These are very bad pictures. It is the first time in my life that I have wanted a real camera with a real lense and a tripod. I love my little Canon but it wasn't up to it. If Vince had been here you would have seen some real pictures.

They were far away, the light was low.

And nothing in the pictures can capture what it felt like to stand alone on the roof in the wind, and look out at the water, where these two beautiful, engineered creatures were heading out to sea, down one of the most fabled rivers in history.

And knowing that the QE2 would never be back. That she is going to be a hotel in Dubai, sans seven story smokestack. It is her final voyage, and why that should make me sad is the old mystery of why we love what we do, and what we find beautiful...

The passengers on a couple of Staten Island ferries must have had the view of a lifetime.

Some years ago I met my parents somewhere on a pier on the Upper West Side after they had disembarked from the Queen Mary, on her second voyage, I think. She was like a mountain, at the dock. But I find the older ship's lines, now that I have seen her, more beautiful, more shiplike.

A fireboat was having an apoplectic fit, showering red white and blue jets in arching streams. It followed them as far as I could see, past Governor's Island, over which I could still see the smoke stack of the QE2 and the Queen Mary's upper decks.

There she goes. The fireboat still showering madly. I would have liked to have been on board.

No one else was out on the rooves, and I was sorry. It is one of those things, and feelings, I will never forget.

We got up late, and went after bathings and shavings to the Lounge, where we sat in soft chairs by the glass wall and looked out past people sunning themselves to the blue water. We drank champagne or sometimes beer, slowly, and talked and talked to each other because there was so much to say and so little time to say it.

And before dinner we drank more champagne, watching the sun set through the thick glass walls, and after dinner, which we sometimes ordered at noon to please our waiter who was convinced we were starving to death, we drank still more, or sometimes cognac. Then we went to bed again, and two or three times in the night we would start talking, and eat a few of the little sandwiches the worried waiter sent down to us, and drink some hot consomme or more brandy.

Even when New York loomed near us, we felt outward bound. I bit gently at my numb fingers. I seemed beautiful, witty, truly loved...the most fortunate of women, past sea change and with her hungers fed.

MFK Fisher: "Sea Change, 1937-1939", from The Gastronomical Me


  1. You are something else. I teared up reading your post and then you top it all off MFK Fisher.
    I think we're related.

  2. I used to feel that way as a child, specially during violent summer thunderstorms at night when in the lull of the thunder, I could hear the train horn blowing miles away, and I knew then there was an order to the world, that things were humming along out there.

    The last time I teared up unexpectedly, I emerged from a visit at the Met to the unexpected marching bands of a Columbian Day parade (if I remember the banners correctly.) Some times your just overwhelmed with beauty in most ordinary but spectacular things.

  3. I can almost hear the horns... Thank you for the story, wish I'd been there...

    It reminded me of similar magical moments, watched from aboard - the colored water columns of the fire boats when arriving in Osaka, and an old giant saluting the young prince (the late France, butchered into becoming the Norway, blowing her horns at the CM2, youngest and most graceful ship of the French cruise ship fleet) just off Charlotte Amalie in the Virgin Islands...)

    Sigh. Thanks for the time machine. Beautiful giants on a timeless sea.

  4. from Chapter 1, "Loomings"
    Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?
    But look! Here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. they must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. and there they stand—miles of them—leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, street sand avenues—north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needle of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?

  5. Oh, heck! Now I'm feeling misty.
    There is, truly, something about a vessel crafted to sail oceans as a part of a whole.
    How lucky for us, so distant, that you give us the pictures and the words.


Comments left on older posts are moderated (purely for spam control). Please be patient, you will be seen!