notes from the field

No. 8 - GET UP

Each morning an announcement comes blasting out of the ship's speakers in the deep voice of the first mate. He says several phrases in Russian that resonant with authority and confidence. I don't know what the words mean but the effect is that of a commanding presence. At the end of this daily mini-speech comes a short version in English pronounced in the same style: IT IS 7 O'CLOCK. GET UP.

At first it was like waking up with a foot in your face. But now that we're in a sort of weird space-time continuum, it is a dependable way to note the passage of a significant unit of time. The ship sets its watches and serves meals on local time; some groups index their observations by Universal (or Greenwich) time so that there is no confusion when trying to reconstruct a cruise months later; the biologists want to be in mental sync with the diel cycles of the sea' s plants and animals and opt for a variant of local time. And then there's this strange mix of watch schedules with people getting up and going to bed at the oddest times relative to each other. I like the daily call.

The Russian language lends itself to endless variation in tone, cadence and style of delivery. I never tire of listening to the chatter over the load speaker between the winch operator, the men on deck and the navigator as they position the ship to deploy our gear. Some phrases are melodious, some clipped, and some are stretched out in a deep resonance -- it seems as if the intonation invokes more meaning than the words themselves. Sometimes opinions over seemingly small things are expressed with great conviction and emotion; I can't say much for the content, but the delivery is often superb. Vladimir, one of the deck bosses, and Alafina, the chief steward, are convinced that if they talk to me slow enough and loud enough that I will somehow understand them -- they actually do get through occasionally and this only serves to sustain the status quo.


next episode: Iceburgs.