Life Before COVID-19

Grayscale photo of a woman wearing facemask

I am a lifelong learner. First, let me qualify that.

No, I no longer look forward to wedging my tall frame into a student desk and sitting on a hard chair in a room kept deliberately chilly just to keep me awake.

The kind of learning I love takes place in the Grand Salon on padded seats, in the gently rocking bosom of a luxury cruise ship, and it features lots of slides and lively discussions (not to mention complimentary beverage service).

I love the variety of wonderful things to be learned in such classic comfort, but the ultimate teachers are the people of the places we visit.

One of our best cruises was aboard the MS Paul Gauguin, headed for the exotic islands of the Marquesas. We fell in love with the islands about which Melville had this to say:

“The Marquesas! What strange visions of outlandish things does the very name spirit up!”

Of course, he was speaking of cannibals, but thankfully, Marquesans today have given up such practices in favor of roasting pigs and bestowing fragrant leis to welcome tourists. They are sweet and friendly people who will greet visitors with warmth and sincere smiles.

Though I always plan to sleep late and have breakfast regally in my pajamas on the lovely deck outside my stateroom, I always succumb to attending the lectures instead—I’m afraid I might miss something.

That cruise was no exception. I’d had a fascination for Melville since college, and the lure of Gauguin was too much for an ex-art major. Not only did we make a pilgrimage to Gauguin’s grave on Hiva Oa, I learned through my lecture attendance that an earlier excavation of his well had yielded a pair of Gauguin’s own false teeth.

Rarely does one get such interesting anecdotes from books. Yet it is just such odd anecdotes that make historical figures more human in our eyes.

So, no lazy breakfasts in my stateroom, not even an afternoon nap. I decided I could just as well catch up on my sleep when I got home, and I sure wouldn’t be in such an effortless learning environment then, so, sleep-deprived but better informed, I disembarked after two weeks of nearly nonstop learning, vowing to hoard my pennies until I could afford to do it again.

Besides, who knows when experts will dig up something even more fascinating than Gauguin’s teeth?

– Mary Lynn Archibald



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