A Whale Of A Tale

Trip Start Jan 30, 2011
Trip End Nov 16, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Massachusetts
Monday, October 3, 2011

God's ambassador for Missouri may have been right about my not finding peace, as I didn’t exactly have a good night’s sleep, but rather than any inner turmoil about my immortal soul it was more to do with fear of waking up and finding her trying to exorcise my demons, and the fact that she got up three times to use the bathroom. It looks like she hasn’t quite found peace either. 

I was up and at 'em before she even lifted her eye mask this morning, meaning I didn’t have to explain why I’d left her leaflet on ‘What Happens After You Die’ on the bedside table rather than packing it away with my belongings.

I loaded up on some free toast and gruel before ‘following the red brick road,’ as I’d been directed to do to find the ferry to Nantucket Island.  As the Steamship Ferry was cheaper than the Hy-Line it naturally became my first choice, but I was soon performing my usual ritual of wandering around lost whilst struggling to find the ticket kiosk and wondering why all the cars were facing the water.  I slowly realised they were positioned to board the ferry and that all the men with luminous jackets were trying to direct them aboard whilst avoiding the fool walking between the vehicles. 

With the obligatory pictures of Hyannis Harbour taken I was free to head inside and shelter from the cold breeze, but within minutes of plugging in my iPod and getting comfortable I was fast asleep; I like to think of my ability to sleep anywhere as planned narcolepsy.  I woke up just a few moments before we docked at Nantucket, mainly because frequent gusts of wind came towards me when the doors were flung wide open by view-seeking passengers.  Picturesque houses and boats filled the scene as we pulled into port, whilst I was amused to hear a woman commenting on a little blonde girl running around and being chased by her mother; she said ‘we used to have one of those, and she’s still exploring the world, still worrying us.’  Is that not what all little girls are destined to do? 

My first stop was at the ‘must-see’ Whaling Museum, and I must say it is definitely worth a visit; for $17 you can go back and forth as often as you wish until it closes, meaning you can plan your day around the many talks and videos, rather than rushing everything in a few hours.  I started off at the roof walk where you can see the town from a third storey lookout, which may not have been riveting but it did introduce me to the Island’s love of weather-vanes, including the museum’s, which was, of course, a large whale.  I rambled through the many rooms looking at the many artefacts from ships long gone, and even the wall filled with a variety of harpoons, taking note of the ‘Nantucket sleigh ride’ that was the horrendous act of a whale trying to escape the harpoon impaled in its body and pulling along a whaling boat as it did so. 

I know whaling was the main industry on the island, but it was horrible then and is even worse today when there’s no need for spermaceti oil; I’ve seen the Japanese harpoon a whale, and I’ve seen a Japanese sleigh ride where the whale couldn’t contend with a large tanker.  Whilst fascinating, the museum was also horrific.  The sperm whale that is displayed in the main room of the museum died of natural causes, an infected tooth apparently, and washed up on Nantucket’s shores in 1997, and its impressive size still beggars belief as it hangs well-supported metres above your head. 

The story that did fascinate me was that of the Essex, the boat whose fate inspired the end of Moby Dick; the ship was sunk by a sperm whale in 1820, and left just eight survivors.  We were treated to a talk by one of the museum workers who reminded me of Mrs Doubtfire, in voice only as he was the wrong gender, and described the fate of the survivors, how they were driven to cannibalism in their bid to survive; they even drew straws to see who would be sacrificed so that their comrades could survive.  After surviving ninety-five days at sea the captain and one shipmate were rescued, reunited with the six others back on Nantucket.    

As he spoke of the cannibalism it was interesting to hear how the survivors were welcomed home in silence, and were neither condemned nor condoned for their behaviour; I couldn’t help thinking the preacher from my dorm could have done with listening to that snippet. 

With my historical knowledge improved I headed out for some retail therapy in the form of window shopping, as I couldn’t bring myself to buy any scrimshaw, even though it was famous on the Island and often antique.  The signs throughout the stores assured buyers the ivory was from mammoths and antique whale bones, but I still couldn’t buy the material that is so often the reason for poaching in Africa and Asia; I know it’s from a different source, but if I buy it from one then am I fuelling the trade of another?

Conscience aside, I found a little pharmacy that also served lunch and drinks and so grabbed a bagel to fuel my afternoon walk around the town, but whilst in there listened to a local who had been bored one day and decided to teach himself Bulgarian; fortunately a Bulgarian girl was serving at the counter, as was a Kazakhstani girl who he could practise his new language of Russian with

From noticing the Murray name was everywhere, my mother’s maiden name, I was tickled to see the next sight on my list was another family link in the form of the ‘Three Bricks,’ three identical red brick houses that Joseph Starbuck, no relation to the coffee empire, built for his three sons; I wonder if he had a daughter who got a shed.

Whilst walking along the cobbled streets I stopped to let past the cyclist who either couldn’t read or was rebelling against the ‘walk your bikes’ sign on every pavement, only to see him go onto the road just before getting to me; grinning at me didn’t make up for my standing like a fool while he decided where he wanted to ride. What a muppet. 

On my walkabout I found a little bakery called ‘Petticoat Bakery’ and got excited at the prospect of a pumpkin cookie, only to hear it wasn’t and that they’d just used orange sprinkles. I appeased my disappointment with a hermit cookie, a mixture of gingerbread and fruitcake, which fuelled my getting lost on the US’s smallest island.  I thought all the roads were parallel, they aren’t.  I realised I was so lost I wasn’t even on the map anymore, but when the sign for ‘Brant Point’ appeared I figured I may as well follow that and get something out of my excursion.  I found the lighthouse after seeing the national coast guard just prior, but a man was talking on the phone beside it so I could only take pictures from the left perspective. 

On my way back to the mapped area, I finally passed some pumpkins and delighted in taking pictures of the fall decorations that epitomised my imaginings of America in autumn.  Whilst wandering I took a picture of Broad Street, and after thinking how different it was to its namesake in Birmingham,  I slowly cottoned on that it was the road I’d set off in search of when I got lost for an hour.  I know the common phrase is ‘fresh off the boat’ to describe a simpleton, but I’d been off it for three hours and was still none the wiser. 

With an hour to kill before the ferry I headed to a coffee shop to avoid the threatening rain, but the jam-packed sign overwhelmed me, so on spotting a familiar chai latte I quickly ordered that and wondered how many others order the same old thing for fear of standing in front of the sign for hours deciphering it.  I was amused to see that its ‘tiny’ size was a whopping twelve ounces, and whilst drinking my not-so-tiny beverage I watched as the women on their girly trips walked by with their many shopping bags, and wondered why it is that they seem to favour a hairdo reminiscent of their prominence in the sixties; it’s the beehive but a few inches lower, and it looks like it’s trying to escape their heads.  Each to their own. 

When I’d finally decided to walk back to the ferry terminal I was treated to the ramblings of two married couples.  One was talking about why they bought a souvenir mug: the husband said ‘because whenever she’s complaining I send her upstairs to look at all the mugs so she can take note of everywhere she’s been,’ to which she replied, ‘and it works;’ one giant leap for feminism. 

Just as I thought she was a woman kept in her place she began spouting on about how she doesn’t spend much on her hair, makeup or nails, ‘and can you tell?’ I wondered what fool would say yes, but soon realised her husband had learnt it was best not to answer as he’d already wandered off.  Her friend talked about her own hair and how many people had told her they wished they had it whilst she continued on about her low-budget beauty regime; it was an amazing example of parallel conversation as they each talked about their own lives whilst taking no notice of their ‘friend’ and her life.  The mug woman suddenly noticed her husband had wandered off, and said he always does it; I can see why.

It started raining just as I got to the ferry terminal, so after a quick run aboard I was home dry for another sleep; this time I had a table to slump over rather than letting my head roll like the nodding dogs people have in their cars.   Hyannis welcomed us back and I was soon popping the umbrella up to head back to the hostel, although I couldn’t avoid the huge puddles and soon had wet feet, but it was only a five minute walk to the hostel so I wasn’t in danger of gangrene. 

Whilst getting a warm cup of tea I found some s’mores supplies on the free shelf, but the chocolate was that disgusting Hershey’s brand, and the marshmallows were stale. I think they might be heading back to the free shelf for the next person.  At least the bread isn’t mouldy, so that can go with yesterday’s baked beans for a tasty dinner tomorrow.  Little things can really brighten a day.
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Smudger on

A place on my must go down to see list. But i don't want the short straw thank you very much.

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