Golden Wedding Anniversaries — The End of an Era?

BLOG #46, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
GOLDEN WEDDING ANNIVERSARIES
THE END OF AN ERA?
November 13, 2013

It happened on board Celebrity Cruise Line’s ship Summit, as it was serenely sailing down that great Canadian seaway, the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was September 28, a very special day in the lives of two cherished friends of ours, Ed and Jo Riffle of Glasgow, Kentucky. Bob and Lucy Earp of Murphreesboro, Tennessee and Connie and I were there to complete our traveling six-pack.

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We had ordered a small cake in order to celebrate the fact that half-a-century before, on September 28, 1963, a young bride and groom were married. Back then, that was what we all did. As Doris Day would sing it, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage–you can’t have one without the other.”

Not so today. Marriage is no longer the norm in America. About half of all couples merely cohabit a dwelling-place, living together without any commitment to be there for each other for the rest of their lives. As one of my aunts put it, “It’s like an automobile is parked in the driveway with the engine running–first bump, and “I’m out of here!” Once there were two, and now there is only one. Welcome to our age’s throw-away society. Everything is transitory: nothing lasts–not even relationships.

But you just don’t realize the long-term effects. Not until you sing “Happy Anniversary” to a couple who have been married to each other for fifty years. After we had done so, and the ship’s Blu Room had erupted in applause, our maitre ‘d, an effervescent young Lothario of about forty, came over to congratulate Ed and Jo. But it was what he said next that gave birth to this blog. There was a regretful poignancy in his voice as he said, “I’m not married – so there will never be a golden wedding anniversary in my life.

259The Happy Couple!

A society with fewer and fewer couples who have shared the ups and downs of life with each other for half a century is bound to be very different from the one that was born in what we call “The Normal Rockwell Era,” graced by picket fences and marriages and children born to couples committed to being there for each other, and for the children who would grow up safe and secure in a home where their parents continued to love and cherish each other. And when the children grew up, married, and had children of their own, there would always be a “home” to go home to.”

Today, more often than not in America, there is no longer such a place.

And that is a national tragedy.

Great civilizations do not collapse because of armies and destructive weapons. They collapse from within.

Just like ours. Are Golden Anniversaries a vanishing species today?

ST. LUCIA

ITS HISTORY

Well, that flippant Celebrity spokesman couldn’t have been more wrong: no two of these islands could possibly be confused with each other!  Each has its distinctive charm, beauty, and uniqueness.

Arawak Indians came here over 2500 years ago; the Caribs replaced them around 800 A.D.  Apparently, in none of Columbus’s four voyages to the New World did he even come close to St. Lucia.  Some say Juan de las Casas discovered it around 1502, but no one is sure.  The French settled the island first in 1660.  After 150 years of being victorious and being defeated, the British, in 1814 gained ultimate possession, but not until 1842 did English become the official language.  Consequently, with most towns French in origin, today’s language and culture is a synthesis of both.  The language is a French-based Patois.

 Another claim to fame St. Lucia has, is that France’s Empress Josephine (Napoleon’s first wife) was born here.

Castries Harbor

How special it was to wake up to the sight of the most mountainous island yet.  The tear-shaped—others say “Mango-shaped”—island is 238 square miles of land mass; in size, 27 miles by 14 miles.  160,000 people (85% of African ancestry) live here; 50,000 in Castries, the capital.

Since it changed hands language and culture-wise fourteen times by the British and French, the island has been dubbed “Helen of the West Indies.”  And indeed it is beautiful!  No small thanks to islanders’ determination to preserve what rain forest they still have (19,000 acres of mountains, valleys, and luxurious greenery), the island receives, depending on locale, 60 to 150 inches of rain a year.  Travel writers, when describing the island’s magnificent and dense scenery, exhaust superlatives.  No other island we’ve seen can lay claim to two side-by-side iconic half-mile-high volcanic peaks: 2620′ Gros Piton and 2460′ Petit Piton, soaring skyward straight out of the sea, that are known around the world.  Its lovely beaches are both of gold sand and black sand.  Not surprisingly, it has long been a favorite site for movie producers—such as Dr. Dolittle, starring Rex Harrison; Water, starring Michael Caine; Firepower, starring Sophia Loren, and Superman II.

No small thanks to the environmentally concerned islanders, the last remaining species of indigenous parrot in the Eastern Caribbean, the Jacquot, that had been reduced to fewer than a hundred by hunting, was saved just in time from extinction.  Today their numbers have swelled to over 400.

We have learned that some islands in the Caribbean are today populated by up to 80% who weren’t born there; that state of affairs can’t help but have a major impact on the culture, traditions, achievements, and way of life.  Not so on St. Lucia.  Case in point: St. Lucia is the only country of its size to have produced two Nobel price winners: Derek Walcott – Nobel Prize for Literature; and William Arthur Lewis – Nobel Prize for Economics.  It also fields one of the world’s most successful jazz festivals and one of the most famous carnivals in the West Indies.

The island is blessed by a number of ports; most cruise ships, however, moor at Castries.   Rodney Bay is the island’s leading leisure community.  Two international airports provide other tourist entry points.

View of Castries Harbor

 

OUR IMPRESSIONS

 Well, our first impressions, coming into the Castries Harbor, were extremely positive; but our second brought no discredit to the St. Lucians, but rather to a certain self-annointed tour “director” who persuaded Celebrity land trip coordinators to let her group of friends gather much later than the other tour groups did, yet hold back all the other cruisers patiently waiting to board their buses, and leapfrog ahead of them all.  Almost, there was a riot!  Even after we’d finally boarded our bus, and our affable guide had introduced herself to us, suddenly she was rudely interrupted.  Apparently, that same individual, not content with the havoc she’d already wreaked, now all but demanded that six of us trade places with some who were determined to ride in our bus.  When no one moved, the same “authority” returned again and again until finally some grudgingly agreed to move!  In all my years of traveling, I’ve never before experienced the like of it—perhaps best described by one of my father’s favorite expressions:

No one is ever completely useless:

You can always serve as a horrible example.

Flowery Overlook

It is to the credit of our guide that she finally managed to calm us down, and by her smiles, humor, and insights into what made St. Lucia into such a romantic paradise (reinforced by the obvious crush she had on our driver), she won over us all.  Thanks to her, we learned much about her people.  We reveled in the canopied rain forest; all too soon, however, our lecture was over and it was time to shop for curios and post cards in Castries, then board the ship.

One of the frustrations travelers face has to do with choices—especially those having to do with day-trips to area sites of interest.  The reason being that cruise ships company bean-counters have figured out that they, at best, break even with state room income; they make money in other ways—one of which is day trips.  So their itinerary descriptions appear to be directed to making each one look equally attractive.  Result: the average cruiser more often than not blindly chooses one, and hopes it will turn out to be the best option.  Only later on, after debriefing with cruisemates who chose other itineraries, and reading up on travel literature (especially travel magazines), does s/he find out if the choices were wise or not.  In my case, I did not.  Not that we failed to learn much from our highland tour—for we did—but later on I discovered that it was unthinkable to have visited St. Lucia yet failed to view the world-famous Pitons.  Every time I see them on another calendar, I sigh.  Just as I do when I see pictures of the Minoan Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete; instead we opted for the general island tour—and may, as a result, never get back to rectify my omission.  But that’s life.

Rainbow over the Constellation

Nevertheless, when our ship sailed out of the harbor into another Caribbean sunset, of one thing I was certain: It is not mere coincidence that St. Lucia is called the “Helen of the West Indies.”  As was true with Helen of Troy—said to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived”—there was a valid reason why the French and British fought a century and a half to win St. Lucia.

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Next Wednesday, we’ll move on to Barbados.

SEEN ONE, YOU’VE SEEN THEM ALL?

What a joy it is to wake up with no schedule for a change!  Indeed, there is something about waking up at sea that trumps any other awakening that I know.  So much of what each of us does, where each of us goes, is repetitive: the radius of our living consisting of intersecting ever-deeper grooves of habit.  This is one reason why travel can be so energizing, especially when it encompasses places where you’ve never been before.

The sea, unlike paved roads, is never repetitive.  Not without reason is it referred to as the “trackless sea.”  And 71% of our planet is water.

On cruises, however, most travelers—surprisingly—experience very little of the sea.  In most cases, the ship leaves a harbor near sunset and by the time the passengers awaken next morning, the ship is either docking or already moored in another locale.  Only during “sea days” are passengers able to revel in the sea itself.

The Caribbean is sometimes referred to as “The Mediterranean of the Americas” a quadrangle enclosed on three sides by land (South America, Central America, and North America).  I had already experienced Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and Dominican Republic, but other than Aruba, I’d never explored the rest of the Caribbean.  Nor would we on this cruise: only part of it.  That is one of the most frustrating aspects of this thing called “life”: so many places to see—and so little time!

I wondered how much variety there would be in our various ports of call.  Especially did I wonder after listening to a day-trip coordinator lecture to us on board Celebrity’s Constellation about the places we would be “seeing”— I use “seeing” advisedly, almost tongue in cheek, because I have ruefully discovered that all too many cruisers don’t really “see” much of anything but the ship itself and port city curio shops.  Some never get off the ship at all—except at the end.  Well, this particular lecturer, in an effort to seem “with it,” after describing many of the islands we’d be visiting, sabotaged the entire cruise by quipping, with a laugh, “Really, though, they’re all the same—beaches and palm trees; once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”  A summation about as profound as Ronald Reagan’s classic put-down of one of nature’s greatest wonders: “Once you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.”  In retrospect, I wonder how many of those who listened to that particular lecture ended up not booking any day-trips at all!  I strongly suspect that there were many.  As for me, even though I’d spent several of my growing-up years in the Caribbean, I couldn’t help but wonder, Could it be that he’s really right?  Oh, I hope not!

Well, we’d soon find out.

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Next Wednesday, we’ll stop at the island of St. Martin/San Maarten.