the floating librarian

the floating librarian

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Almost six months since we debarked, and although the memories aren't as crisp and sharp, I sure do miss the voyage, the sea, and my new friends. It was a whirlwind coming back, sharing brief summaries with various constituencies---colleagues, friends, family---while mindfully watching for the eye-glazing that signaled they'd had enough. I did a presentation at Duke Libraries that resulted in requests for two articles, an online interview with the webzine of the Korean National Library, and a panel discussion at ALA's annual conference. Not a bad return on the investment!

SAS Fall14 voyagers continue to post to Facebook, email, and get together for reunions, eagerly seeking the company of those who truly understand and bonded over the experience. I have been able to see some of my friends twice in Charlottesville, and feel so jealous when I read of bigger gatherings in other cities.

fond memories of whale-watching across the Atlantic

Faculty singers gathered and talked so much we ran out of time to sing

Max bar mitzvahed

met up with my student asst Stephen and his family

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I have six million words saved on my hard drive at home. I have tried to severely edit them into a highlights reel that I hope will give you a feel for the experience. 
I used open-access music for posting here, but to really get the feel imagine it starting with the Talking Heads--"You may ask yourself, how did I get here?! And the days go by, water flowing underground..." and finishing with Emmylou Harris's "When I Go Sailing 'Round the Room..."
SAS Fall 2014 highlights reel

Monday, February 2, 2015


The Malecón

When we debarked in Cuba, we were met by the media at the bottom of the gangplank. We soon saw that this visit of 700 Americans (mostly Americans) was a very big deal to the Cubans.  Our 17 buses were paraded through Havana by a police escort, with people watching and sometimes waving from the sidewalks and windows.

and from El Pais in Spain

We arrived at the foot of some wide steps leading to the University of Havana campus, and after a speech were told to go up and meet our student hosts waiting at the top. As we surged forward, we heard John Lennon singing ‘Imagine’ through the loudspeakers. Although I knew it was a carefully orchestrated moment, I also saw that the Havana students were young people with a genuine hunger to meet their American peers. I was moved by their eager faces and by the song to mount the steps singing with hundreds of my shipmates, tears on our faces. “Imagine all the people living life in peace...”

Poster for Free the Cuban Five in background
Later on campus

There is so much to say about our visit to Cuba, that you might have to ask me about it and set aside an hour to listen. There were  many contrasts and contradictions. The people were warm and welcoming, but many are forbidden to speak to foreigners, and the University faculty and students had obviously been prepped with certain messages to convey to us. At least one of our students was stopped by the police because she had inadvertently taken a photo of a government building. Another of our passengers witnessed the police harassing a citizen on the street for speaking to him.
Everywhere there were banners and leaflets shouting “Free the Cuban Five!” and most of the ‘graffiti’ I saw repeated government slogans. As it turns out, the Cuban Five had only three left in US jails, and two weeks after we left President Obama announced their release in exchange for USAID worker Alan Gross and an intelligence agent. One of our professors remarked that much of what we saw and heard was probably directed at the Cuban media in preparation for this change in US-Cuban relations.

In spite of the high literacy rate, universal health care, and communist/socialist ideals of the government, Cuba does have classes and a lot of poverty. There are two currencies, and those not in power get paid with the one that can’t be used in many of the places tourists go. Our guide told us that the government is the only entity that can import cars, and to buy a new one you have to be ‘qualified’—plus have the equivalent of $260,000 in Cuban Convertible Pesos (no pun intended). This helps to explain all the quaint 1950s Chevrolets that are still kept running with ingeniously crafted parts and fixes. Some enterprising car owners sell rides and photos in their cars to tourists.

Cuban peso for the people aka CUP
park statue

Richard considers the options

Beyond the politics and economics, though, I saw a beautiful, interesting place full of music, color, and friendly people. One of the vignettes that stays in my mind is this:
My friend and I are at a sidewalk café enjoying a $12 lobster dinner that includes a mojito and flan, and two wandering musicians are serenading us. They really were quite good at guitar-picking and harmonizing. Two groups of pedestrians are approaching from opposite directions—some locals, and a white European couple. They all notice the music and start swaying as they walk, and when the two groups of strangers come face to face, the Cuban woman and European man share a brief dance before going on their ways.
University of Havana dancers performing a feisty folk dance

This woman crochets and sells garments in this small space
under the stairs, open to the street.

Catedral San Francisco, Havana

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sea Olympics

Sweet kids' faces poked through the holes for the seahorses in our banner
Once the Atlantic crossing activities were over, we also had the Sea Olympics to look forward to while traveling from Brazil to Barbados. The Sea Olympics events were intensely competitive, challenging our physical, mental, and emotional strength. As you can see below*

water balloon toss

slippery Twister, on a moving ship

Seahorses synchronized swimming. We tanked.

Faculty, staff, dependents and lifelong learners formed the SAS Seahorses team. I was proud to contribute 100 points to our historic win by acing the Backwards Spelling Bee (final word: baccalaureate). Kudos to my worthy runner-up, Kayla Simon of Nebraska.

As an elder member of the adult cohort, I also led off our lipsync medley, Evolution of Dance in Glazer Lounge (the faculty lounge, where the students were immensely curious about nighttime activities) by demanding some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The World Religions professor astounded students with his dance to 'Beat It'

SAS Seahorses won the whole thing, marking the first time in SAS history that faculty had won. The prize: first group to debark when we reached the US. Plus an evening in Glazer Lounge, which we donated to the 2nd place team.

*I borrowed some photos from John Dahl's blog as I can't find mine. I suspect they're on the flash drive I left at work, which is not nearly as close as Glazer Lounge or the ship computer lab were : (

Atlantic Crossing

view from my cabin

I've been home and suffering from reentry for three weeks now, but want to fill in the gaps in my blog so that I'll have a somewhat concise view of the entire voyage to share with those who ask.

So, dear readers, you might recall that we were looking ahead to a daunting 14-day transatlantic experience between Barcelona and Rio. Our faculty, staff, and students were so organized (anxious?) about preparing for it, though, that we amply filled the time with events:
  • evening seminars 
  • a hilarious reduced production of Hamlet with the backwards version as an encore 
  • non-documentary movies (and catch-up on assigned documentaries) 
  • ice cream with our library student assistants 
  • talent shows by students and crew 
Neptune and Court
  • halfway party for faculty and staff 
  • star-gazing with the ship's outside lights off 
  • Halloween dance 
  • singing with the faculty and staff music club (we flash-mobbed the dining hall at lunch on a rocky day with "Wade in the Water" 
  • speed-friendship-dating 
  • African drumming and dancing 
  • a serial reading of the entire Odyssey 
  • and the highlight as we crossed the Equator--NEPTUNE DAY!

Yes, I kissed the fish. Yuck, bleah, icky-poo!

Royal Barber

and a lot of people shaved their heads

It was not all fun and music, though. Our thoughtful group created some learning opportunities to assuage the loss of Ghana and Senegal from our itinerary. We had seminars about Africa, faculty discussions about how and why the decision was made, and a very moving reading of slave narratives by students, faculty and staff as we traveled part of the very route they had endured, the Middle Passage.

photo courtesy of Marissiko Wheaton aka Koko

whale-watching from Deck 7

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On heading home and Things

Things I haven't done in 3 months

  • Cooked
  • Washed dishes
  • Cleaned, vacuumed, scrubbed
  • Made my bed
  • Washed laundry
  • Driven a car
  • Mowed the lawn
  • Kept an electronic calendar
  • Watched TV
  • Attended library meetings

Things I haven't missed in 3 months

  • All of the above

Things I will miss after Semester at Sea

  • Waking up in a new place every day
  • The ocean. Every day.
  • Colleagues working quietly in Glazer Lounge
  • Colleagues dancing riotously in Glazer Lounge
  • The happy sounds of college students in the halls (until 11 pm)

Things I look forward to at home

  • Waking up in my own bed every day
  • Walking in the woods
  • Alone time
  • Hugging my own son and daughter
  • My cat padding down the hall


Although I didn't write full posts about Rome and Brazil, I used some Rome photos to accompany other musings, and summed up a few thoughts about Brazil. While I have internet on this early morning before arrival in Cuba, I am uploading all the photos I can. We may be incommunicado from Nov. 29 through Dec. 3 due to Cuba's lack of infrastructure. (Well, it is now the next day, and the photos didn't upload so fast, so here's my post on Barbados instead.)

In Barbados FOMO (fear of missing out) got me again, but briefly. We arrived on the 2nd full day of rain, an unusual but much needed event for the island. As we gathered under the port terminal's tin roof amplifying the sound of a downpour, we were told that our trip to the botanical gardens was canceled. Even if our bus could get through flooded roads, we would not be able to walk the muddy and washed-out paths of the gardens. So I spent the afternoon with several friends, walking around Bridgeport in somewhat lighter rain.

The next day I had an afternoon trip to Harrison's Cave scheduled, so didn't get in on people's morning plans. It turns out a group hired a van and driver to take them for a day tour of the island, including the gardens we'd missed and scenic Atlantic-side beaches. That was one trip I really regretted not getting in on, in spite of my self-reassurances that you can never do it all. 

But after the cave, I went for a brief swim at the nearest beach, and caught perhaps my best photo of the voyage while ambling back to the ship with friends. I also got in some very relaxing beach time at the more touristy beach on our final day in port. Yes I did go to the tourist beach, where the fine white sand and  clear aquamarine water are nirvana akin to Hawaii. The disconnect is that it's named Accra, for the point of departure in Ghana of many slaves bound for Barbados. Given the educational theme of our Atlantic voyage, that was in my mind, but I'm told it's also named for a present-day connection to a vibrant city in Africa.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Preport reflection

Tomorrow we arrive in Salvador, Brazil and commence the frenetic rush to do and see as much as we can in port! I have learned to prioritize and pace myself, somewhat. Today is a nice, rare rainy day in transit with about one third of the passengers on board. The rest are traveling overland between Rio and Salvador, many via an Amazon adventure. 

So quiet! On the ship we usually have preport lectures to prepare ourselves, and postport reflections. Today is the right atmosphere for a preport reflection.

Suddenly, it seems, we have less than a month left, and people are starting to envision for the first time during the voyage what life back home will be like after SAS. I am dreading how boring work will be in comparison, but also looking forward to the comforts of home, and dancing and singing with my friends again. And now I have two more singing friends to get together with while in Charlottesville--Michelle Kisliuk and Allison Pugh.


I hate to approach a new place with trepidation, but the diplomats and the local student ambassadors tell us that Salvador, Brazil is more dangerous than Rio. They have all been robbed. In Rio I spent only a little time in the city, and never felt scared, but the surroundings were sketchy enough for me to be wary. Two of our crew members were robbed at gunpoint one evening. I took the safe daytime experience in Ipanema and the biggest risk I took was getting a hamburger whose meat was "freshly diced at knifepoint." This is not to make light of our crew's experience. It is a sad situation when the expectation of violence is routine.

Brazil is in the middle of preparing to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, on the heels of their incomplete preparations for the World Cup earlier this year. Even the ambassadors and tour guides who put a positive spin on it have an underlying uncertainty. Some say the bay water in Rio will not be clean enough for the water sports no matter what they do, and some countries who have inspected it will not participate in those sports. Brazil promised that the Olympic athletes' village would become low-income housing but reneged, saying now that they will sell the apartments as luxury condos. You can understand why many citizens are angry at the government for spending all this money on infrastructure that will not benefit them or make a dent in the poverty of favelas dominated by drug lords and/or police.

Four days after starting this post (four days with absolutely no internet, a curiously nice respite) I am back on the ship having visited Salvador. I actually liked it better than Rio, and found the Bahia culture very interesting. I hear there were some incidences of theft from our passengers, but I am either lucky or don't present as a target. Stay tuned for stories of candomble, bale folklorico, fish stew, and more, with a more positive attitude than I began with :-)