Monday, January 01, 2007

18 May 1956

Dear Folks

Last night’s movie offering was the 1932 classic "Rasputin & the Empress" starring Ethel & Lionel Barrymore. Despite the fact that you couldn’t see Lionel’s face for the beard, his voice was the same, & his hands foretold the arthritic he later became. Ethel was twenty-four years younger & very pretty, in a singular way.

The story of the movie was fascinating, & all the more so because it was true. It begins with "Father" Rasputin curing the hemophiliac young heir to the Russian throne, follows through his schemes & plots to become more powerful that the Czar, & ends in a cold damp basement in 1917, where the entire Russian royal family is mercilessly shot to death.

Perhaps it was through the Barrymores’ acting, but more than likely it was the story itself, but I sat through the whole picture in a sort of horrified sick helplessness; you know what’s going to happen, & yet you hope something will come along & save the day.

Mail call today, & the fact that it was a small one didn’t make me any less disturbed at not getting any. Accomplished absolutely nothing all day; GQ this afternoon gave me a chance to read.

Nothing at all new; even the rumors are weakly revised echoes of what we’ve heard before. We continue to bob around the sea like little boats in a gigantic bathtub, playing secret little games, with no one knowing the rules.

The trip to Istanbul ought to be very interesting—we must go through the Dardenelles—that long, river-like corridor which joins the Mediterranean with the Black Sea. You may recall reading about the Dardenelles during the last war—they’re a combination Suez & Panama Canal. Andy has been here before & says it’s fun, especially if your ship is the last one in the column, to watch the heavy grey snouts of the Turkish guns follow you as you pass. The width of the Dardenelles varies, from the large, semi sea of the Sea of Marmara, to a place where you can throw things at the shore on either side of the ship, & hit it. Istanbul lies at the end of the Sea of Marmara, at the bottom of a hump of land which creates a narrow almost-canal into the Black Sea. And almost every inch of the distance is covered by Turkish heavy artillery. Andy told me that on one occasion, his ship was forced to turn around & go back out four times after entering the Dardenelles for failure to give the right code.

Just returned from the head (bathroom), & noticed the guy beside me was reading a pocket novel called "Gunfighter’s Return." You would be amazed at how much of that trash there is on board. Millions & millions of words, & none of them saying a thing; but over half the crew gobble them up avidly, exchange them among themselves until they are ragged & fallen apart. We call all westerns "shit-kickers." It’s not profanity—it’s just a word we apply to practically every movie or novel with the location west of the Mississippi. Perhaps it was swearing at one time—I know I thought so at first—but it has become so common through usage that no one thinks anything about it.. The Navy has a language all its own—the ceiling is the "overhead," stairs are "ladders," going outside is going "topside," starboard is right & port is left—though I occasionally confuse these two.

As for profanity, it is conspicuous only in its absence. Personally, I feel that with 600,000 words in the English language to choose from, you could do without it. But that involves thinking of what you want to say. Sailors don’t think in words—they think in ideas, & fill in the vocal communication of these ideas with a vast store of profanity.

The Chief spent the morning singing Irish Ballads, of which he has an unlimited supply. He has an odd, not quite nasal tenor that is not unpleasant. He has inherited a lot more than ballads from the Irish members of his family.

I hope, when we get home, that I can remember all the customs of the country. It will seem odd to walk into a store & not be expected to haggle over the price, or to speak to an average girl.

One of those little trade magazines mom sent had a quotation on its back page—"Nothing is impossible to one who doesn’t have to do it himself." Our commander, Cdr. Custer, lives by this motto. He is tall, dark, & quite young for a Commander, & has a fascinating way of saying "pound." He is also a scribbler—to him, no job is done, no work complete, until he has made adjustments, even if it’s only the addition or deletion of an "a" or "an." Little does he care that you’ve spent three hours typing a letter—he has to add something, or switch a word around. This sort of thing loses its charm in an amazingly short time.

Latest scoop, hot off the press—we’ll be home the 22nd. HAH!



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