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“Our Trans-Atlantic Writing Adventure”

Our Trans-Atlantic Writing Adventure

Cynthia’s Column July 2009

Our adventures on the high seas turned out to be a smashing success.  I had been visualizing this cruise for many months, and I have to say the reality even surpassed my vision.  We had twelve writers and one spouse for this 16 day marathon, and amazingly not a lemon in the bunch.  Even the matchmaking I did, pairing up two sets of roommates that had never met, turned out great.

The cruise line gave us a gorgeous classroom, actually The Board Room, with a long oval table and comfortable chairs for exactly our size group.  It had huge windows looking out over the ocean and a large flatscreen for movie clips.  We had a great mix of writing focus: novelists, memoirists, essayists screenwriters and playwrights.  Styles ranged from dramatic to wildly funny.  We laughed until we cried, and we cried until we laughed.

Our collective goal (scribbled anonymously) was 723 pages.  We surpassed it by more than a hundred pages and as we docked in England, we had written 826 pages in two weeks.  This comes to an average of almost 70 pages per writer!  My secret wish was for 50 pages per person, so, you know, WAHOO!  We surpassed my fantasy goal by 40%.

By chance it turned out that we had resources for each other so specific that it seemed like some sort of magical synchronicity.  If someone was deeply enmeshed in a subject, someone else in the room had spent 30 years struggling with the same issue.  This kind of thing.  We had experts on a fabulous array of topics.

Each of our 7 At Sea days, we spent the morning in class and I taught right brain/left brain techniques, story structure, screenwriting, dialogue, how to write a non-fiction book proposal, Laura Whitcomb’s Novel Shortcuts techniques, love stories, and pretty much everything I know or have learned in a lifetime of writing.

Afternoons were intensive individual writing time.  No talking.  About half the group would reconvene in the board room and hook up laptops to the power strips.  From two to five p.m. was silent.  If we passed each other in the corridors, we’d grin and give the finger-beside-the-nose sign borrowed from Newman and Redford in The Sting.  Then we’d reconvene for dinner, a five course extravaganza, with adjoining tables.  We’d change seats around every night so that each of us would get a chance to know everyone else.  After three hours of no talking, dinners were lively, chatty, funny, and the bonus:  fabulous food.  We fell in love with each other, our waiter, Alan, our wine steward and even our waiter’s assistant, Angel.

The TV commercial where they talk about being treated like royalty was exactly our experience and there is a period of readjustment to real life back home where you can’t help thinking “Why isn’t my bed made and where’s the chocolate on my pillow?”  Not to mention, “I have to buy groceries and cook them?”

Oh, and there were exotic ports.  A brief rundown:

Nassau, Bahamas.  We hired a horse carriage for $10 apiece to give us a tour of the old city the way it once looked (and sounded.)  Followed by the Straw Market where they offer every conceivable designer handbag knockoff on earth and T-shirts. My favorite was the Warner Brothers logo, and under it “See a Cop, Warn a Brother.”

Bermuda.  We stepped off the ship into a cab and asked to be driven to the town of Hamilton to shop by way of “a gorgeous beach.”  It turns out all the beaches in the Bahamas have pink sand.  Really.  A delicate pink color from some shell that breaks up in the surf.  Our taxi driver, Terry, drove us to a gorgeous postcard beach where there was not another soul.  Our own private pink beach.  Magical and surreal.  Then shopping in the quaint little town, and lunch in an outdoor café bordering an old park with children playing.

The Azores.  The sidewalks and streets are paved with beautifully crafted black and white stone mosaic pictures.  Stars, cornstalks, geometric patterns.  And the buildings are made from white stone with black ornate stone trim.  It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but felt more Scandinavian than Portuguese.  We hired a real antique carriage with a pair of horses here and rode it back to the ship where a marching band played a concert on the dock for the tourists hanging off the ship’s balconies.

Lisbon, Portugal was the most beautiful place, to me.  I shot a hundred pictures here, all of them gorgeous.  We stepped off the ship and into a cab and asked the driver to take us to the castle at the top of the city, so all our wandering would be downhill.  We found ways to avoid the crowd of tourists from the ship in every port.  Some of our group loved to do the guided tours of wine tasting or exploring ruins.  I prefer wandering around, getting lost and found.

Lisbon has narrow streets with balconies and laundry hanging above you like colorful holiday bunting.  And tile everywhere. Hand painted blue tile murals.  Colorful tiles decorating homes, walls, everything.  Red and yellow cablecars worthy of a San Francisco postcard.  Red tile roofs.  The whole city was a huge photo op.  We had lunch in a little café with freshly caught fish in the window.  You point to a fish and they cook it up for you.  Since I’m writing a gypsy play now, I was hoping to find a gypsy skirt and shawl and in Lisbon I found beauties.  A black fringed shawl with elaborate flowers hand embroidered in gold colored thread.  Treasures.

We had two ports in Spain, Vigo and Gijon.  Cathedrals, squares with outdoor cafes.  Lunch overlooking the port at an open air restaurant with that Spanish seafood soup with whole langostinos, muscles and clams in the shells.

The only day of rain we had was in La Rochelle, France which made it seem like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  After two weeks of sun and 70 degree weather, the rain was gorgeous on the ancient stones streets and the little port.  The photos are so beautiful I wouldn’t have wanted it one drop dryer.  Lunch at a creperie with cidre.  Bien sur.

Our last night together onboard our ship was moving and joyful and sad.  We shared our experiences, acknowledged each other and ourselves and laughed and cried.

We have not only planned our first reunion for August, but are already planning next year’s cruise.  You are invited to join us.  We depart April 10 for a 14 day cruise from Miami trans-Atlantic, to the Canary Islands, Barcelona, Spain, Villefranche, France, Florence or Pisa, Italy, ending in Rome on April 24 on the Royal Carribbean cruise line.  Prices, including the writing course, begin at $1,376 per person for an inside cabin.  (Less than $100 per day.)  $1,766 for a balcony room per person.  Non-writing roommates/ spouses travel for $500 less.  Air faire is separate, but this price includes all meals and being treated like royalty.  If you email me, I’ll send you a flyer.

This is just one more instance of life proving that in spite of popular belief, dreams do come true.  And I have a dozen new best friends.

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