Amusing truthteller proves Twain principle, that comics rule in travel reporting
She’s beautiful as well, but that isn’t relevant-is it?
You can’t write a travel tale – or any first person report – better than Patricia Marx’s Tale of a Tub in the New Yorker this week (Jan 25 Sun week, Feb 3rd 2014 edition). But it’s hardly surprising – look for whom she has worked – first woman on Harvard Lampoon, and then a stint on SNL that she loved.
Nothing beats a comic sensibility for adding a sweet layer of icing to the literary cake, the sugar of a writer’s humorous reaction to experience. Not the kind of navel centered narcissism which quickly bores the reader silly but the other-directed, deadpan pointing up of the human comedy that dots life and this story from beginning to end, the kind of fact-as-jest, comment-as-you-go which makes the dullest material come alive.
Patricia Marx does it in the deft modern manner, smarter even than Twain. An ideal mix of writer and subject. We find out what happened and why, and are constantly amused as we go along at the foibles and antics of other people, noted without the least unkindness or superiority.
(Intrusive personal comment:) Who is the lucky man who lives with this ideal partner? Some kind of scientist, it seems. Presumably a paragon of virtue, otherwise she would pick someone else from the horde applying. (End IPC)
Her writing shows moral and social virtues of the highest kind. Above all, it shows understanding, great understanding. And what higher virtue is there in a woman than that?
As the great arbiter Samuel Johnson often remarked, according to Mrs Thrale, “the size of a man’s Understanding might always be known by his Mirth”.
Patricia Marx, Our Far-Flung Correspondents, “A Tale of a Tub,” The New Yorker, February 3, 2014, p. 26
Call him Ishmael. Call me Insane. Some time ago, I had a hankering: wouldn’t it be lovely to take a break from the hurly-burly of landlubber life and the oppressive, never-ending connecting with everybody and everything? What could be more restorative than to voyage across the Atlantic aboard a merchant vessel, and, as Melville said, see the watery part of the world? How great would it be to have the time to read “Moby-Dick” instead of just talking about it? Oh, really? Now that I am about to board the Rickmers Seoul freighter (Chinese-built, German-managed, Marshall Islands-registered), being a passenger on a cargo ship seems a lot like being an inmate in a prison, except that on a ship you can’t tunnel yourself out. Please try to imagine the privations I will brave for three weeks on this six-hundred-and-thirty-two-foot-long, thirty-thousand-ton hunk of steel as it galumphs across the sea from Philadelphia to Hamburg, with brief stops in Norfolk (Virginia) and Antwerp. There will be no Internet, no e-mail, no telephones, no organized entertainments, no Stewart or Colbert, no doctor, no anyone-I-know, and no Diet Coke. There will be twenty-seven crew members, most from the Philippines, including a captain and a handful of officers from Romania, and, piled high on deck and deep in the holds, an assortment of cargo consignments from the world over that might include yachts, submarines, airplane fuselages, generators, turbines—everything, in short, that would elate a boy of five. There are no freighters that haul vats of sushi or Yonah Schimmel knishes, but somewhere out there is a vessel that carries La Mer face cream, and I hope the Rickmers Seoul collides with it.
After checking in at the Philadelphia Tioga Marine Terminal with a stevedore named Rhino, I teetered up a steep gangway to the main deck, where I was greeted by a broad-shouldered, doughy Romanian (age thirty-two) with a handsome face and a clipboard. In his orange jumpsuit, he looked like a giant Teletubby. “I am Paul,” he said. “I am chief man.”…
“What does the chief man do?” I asked.
Rest at http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2014-02-03#folio=026