That Salty, Angry, and Churning Expanse
A sticks and twigs bonfire on the subject of the sea
Photo: 30ft waves from the 14th story of a cruise ship somewhere between Québec and Manhattan - October 2019
Some recommendations of interest for land-locked lubbers yearning for a wet splash, cool mists, and adventure beyond these sweltering dry dog days upon us.
Two Essays | on the cultural strangeness of cruises:
It’s weird to think about a cruise in the COVID era. But to be honest it was weird before, too. I’ve been on three and everything DFW says in this hilarious essay checks out.
Here’s a second look at cruising from another great creative non-fiction writer who dared to broach the same subject as the posthumously deified and then cancelled DFW.
Photo: MSC Meraviglia docked at Corner Brook, Newfoundland; October 2019
Nonfiction Book | Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky
Kurlansky has mastered the microhistory format. This one (he also wrote Salt, but not Banana :) places codfish as something foundational to the expansion of civilization in the Americas, a keystone entity in the creation of law of the sea and international jurisdiction, as well as a lynchpin for massive economic policy changes in the early 1990’s that still smart in the Canadian Atlantic provinces. And he’s able to make this all pretty interesting. It’s a great compliment to the next two pieces: The Perfect Storm and Leviathan (2012).
Nonfiction Book | The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger
This book is a page-turner. Junger will go down as one of the greatest nonfiction adventure writers and this book will make you a believer. This is meticulously researched and written in a way that makes it unfold in front of your eyes like a movie. It was destined to become a Hollywood popcorn action/adventure flick from the start. But it’s also loaded with interesting information:
the combined nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and former Soviet Union don’t contain enough energy to keep a hurricane going for one day
a typical hurricane contains a million cubic miles of atmosphere
a typical hurricane could provide all the electrical power needed by the U.S. for 3 to 4 years
in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 winds surpassed 200mph and people caught outside were sandblasted to death- only their shoes and belt buckles were recovered
birds drown in flight because they can’t shield their upward facing nostrils
how a wave breaks only when it’s height is over 1/7th the distance between the crests
the Air National Guard is considered a state militia and its pararescue jumpers are arguably more elite than Navy SEALs or Army Berets because they’re the ones who have to extract and save SEALs and Berets
HALO jumping has them in a three-minute free-fall from above the layer of atmosphere where weather happens and they can’t pull their chute until below 1000ft. to avoid enemy detection
how to find a needle in a haystack (expanding-square search)
and on and on…
Photo: Prince Edward Island near Charlottetown, home of Anne of Green Gables, October 2019
Documentary | Leviathan (2012)
See where you can JustWatch it.
This is boring. It’s like the most literal example of documentary ever. The film being made by the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard should’ve been my first clue at what type of dryness a film on the water could possess. It will definitely paint a picture for you though. I honestly think the only way I was able to finish it is because I’d read The Perfect Storm. If that book tells the dramatic and technical side of fishing for a living, this film tells of the tedious and gory space in between. I think the film is important as an anthropological piece, or for a more tangible understanding of Cod and The Perfect Storm’s context. But skip it if you’re looking for entertainment.
Movie | All Is Lost (2013)
See where you can JustWatch it.
Robert Redford is amazing in this. It will keep you rapt, heart pounding until the end. I really loved this film and the culmination snuck up on me. My eye squeezed forth its own salty sea in miniature form. Get ready for sweaty palms when you queue this one up.
Grocery Shopping Alternative Country | Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (2016)
This concept album by Sturgill was written as he was having his first child. As a former Navy sailor, “he’s got sea stories and they’re all true.” Seems that Sturgill learned a lot of life’s big lessons on the sea or at the least considers it a hugely influential experience particularly as it related to a transition from boy to manhood. This record has Sturgill working beyond the traditionalist country instrumentation that has been his hallmark. It could’ve gone real bad for him, but he nails it. It has a much more of a Neo-soul quality that veers into honky-tonk country and bluegrass as subtle seasoning, less so the meaty main course. “Breakers Roar,” “In Bloom,” and “Oh Sarah”, are my favorites here. There’s a lot of wisdom in this record, and it goes down so so easy with its spoonful of sugary sweet soul.
Workout or Mowing Metal | Mastadon - Leviathan (2004)
Sludge metal classic album here loosely based on Melville’s Moby Dick. Mastadon has long been known for being a rather eclectic kind of metal band. Some say they’re an easy entry point to the genre because they draw on so many influences and you can hear it in the music. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this album is accessible, but it’s a perfect soundtrack to blast if you watch the Leviathan (2012) doc. It’s arguably their best record to date and it’s critically acclaimed as a genre standout if you’re wanting some exposure to one of the era’s seminal works. Check out “Megalodon” for a very noticeable classic southern-rock inspired riff. Listen to “Hearts Alive”, maybe my favorite track, for a sense of what makes sludge metal… Well, sludgey. It’s 13 minutes of cinema for the mind. Building and crashing as it plods along. Then it marches onward thick like molasses until the end.
Poolside Electronic | The Avalanches - Since I Left You (2000)
One of my top five favorite albums of all time. It’s a masterpiece. It’s just a nice eclectic mix of instrumentals all cut from various record samples and arranged into the quirky, electronic, retro yet timeless triumph that it remains to this day. The loose concept for the album is based around a protagonist who’s chasing a love interest from port to port, continent to continent, always one ocean liner blow horn blast away from catching that true love. You can hear the seagulls and the waves crash and the rhythms of some foreign city all woven throughout this dense tapestry. Queue it up to read, clean, run, or do just about anything else to.
Photo: Playa Del Carmen 2017