Miss Sadie Thompson, and Others

by wjw on November 10, 2012

Greetings from the southernmost town in the United States of America. Which is to say, Pago Pago in American Samoa. Which is in a whole other hemisphere from the rest of the USA, but there you go.

I have had a day ashore, into which I flung myself like one of those starving mariners washed up on an inhabited island.

Do you all remember the Sixties TV show, The Prisoner? Being on a cruise ship is sort of like being a guest in the Village. It’s pleasant and all, but you just . . . can’t . . . leave.

We had five days of ocean crossing, with nothing to view but horizon and mist and squalls. I’m hoping all the weather will be done with three days from now, the morning of the eclipse.

Not that there isn’t stuff to do. There is a wide selection of restaurants, from a burger bar to a place so select that I’m not allowed into it. (Which only shows their good taste, I imagine.) There are pools and hot tubs and something called a “thalassotherapy pool,” which is basically a spa with salt water. There is a casino. There are quite a number of bars and lounges and nightclub. There is a theater with what claim to be Vegas-style shows. (I’ve never seen a show in Vegas, so I wouldn’t know.)

There are daily AA meetings, which makes sense considering the number of bars in the place.

There are a whole series of Improving Lectures. Thus far I’ve listened to lectures on Captain Cook, Magellan, C. Columbus, the flora of Australia, and numerous astronomical topics, including the strange history of the planet Pluto, which is odder (I’m guessing) than you ever knew.

There are also daily lectures about art, jewelry, Tag Heuer watches, wine, and anything else the ship wants to sell you.

I am only reminded about three minutes out of every five that I can’t actually leave. Millennium is bigger than an aircraft carrier, and much taller. It’s eleven decks tall— at least eleven that the passengers can visit— and long enough so that it seems like the Hyatt Regency Chicago laid on its side. You can burn a fair amount of calories simply walking from one place to another— which is lucky considering the amount of food and drink available.

Which brings me to the gym, which faces forward over the bow, so that as you run on your elliptical machine or treadmill or whatever, you have the illusion that you are actually powering the ship. I’ve been using the gym every sea day, burning over 700 calories in the same workout that, at home, I use to burn 368 calories. Either the altitude makes a lot of difference, or the algorithms used by the machines are about as useless as I always suspected they were.

We are fighting an outbreak of norovirus, which I hope I am spelling correctly because I can’t afford the bandwidth to look it up. Hand-washing stations are set up everywhere, and sugar bowls and salt and pepper shakers have been removed from the tables in the restaurants. The serving staff will salt your food for you, but you’re not supposed to touch anything that someone else may have touched.

Not that this helped. I spent a very unpleasant 24 hours, but am now fit as the fiddle section of the Philadelphia Orchestra. At least I was sick on one of the sea days.

Acquainted with the elaborate stabilizer systems on board, I was surprised by the amount of pitching and rolling even on calm seas. Nothing alarming, but people do sway as they wander down the corridors, and occasionally I wake at night with the uneasy sensation that I may be about to slide out of bed feet-first. It was fun watching the passengers sloshing around in the thalassotherapy pool, heaving from one side of the ship to another.

There is a lot of free food— I’m told the average weight gain (per week) is 7-14 pounds. The food quality in the ordinary restaurants is quite good, if not stunning. There are premium restaurants, though, for which proles like us pay extra.

And speaking of paying, the cost of internet is awful, and the quality of the connection a disgrace— it reminds me of the jolly old days of dial-up, only worse. Since the company charges by the minute, there is no incentive to actually make the connections more efficient. It’s not as if there is competition out here, after all. The other day I paid $7 to send three email. Today I spent god-knows-what to download 250 email, of which 80% was spam, and the rest requires no reply.

Today I carried my laptop all the way to the Pago Pago McDonald’s, where I heard there was free internet. It turns out there wasn’t.

“You have to buy a card,” I was told.

“How much is the card?” asked I.

“You can’t buy one.”

“Why can’t I buy one?”

“We don’t have any.”

“So you don’t have free internet, I have to have a card, but you don’t have any to sell me?”


Being an old hand with the Third World, or the 21st Century United States, I had no rejoinder, so I went across the road and had lunch at the Sadie Thompson Hotel, which is alleged to be in the same building as the hotel/brothel owned by the real-life Miss Thompson 80-odd years back. Being both a fan of Somerset Maugham and his story “Rain,” and of Rita Hayworth, who played Miss Thompson in the movie, I took an interest.

Speaking of rain, it has been raining more or less continually ever since we arrived. A continuous light drizzle, hardly distinguishable from the normal humidity. I was hoping it would make my photographs more romantic, but instead it just darkened them and made them less interesting.

As for Pago Pago, it happens that the USA has no Colonial Office. Because we don’t have colonies, you know, just places like Pago Pago, which are not colonies, because we’re not a colonial power. As we all know.

Which is a pity, because if we had a Colonial Office, they would consider that Pago Pago reflected on the mother country, and at least make an effort to make it look pretty. There would be white picket fences and colorful bungalows and quaint colonial architecture and such. As it is, Pago Pago looks a bit haphazard, and it’s hard to take a photograph without something ugly or unattractive in it.

Still, the place is in a setting of outstanding natural beauty. There are no snakes or other animals that will kill or poison you, which gives it an advantage over Australia. But any thoughts of acquiring a retirement home here faded when I heard that at six o’clock a curfew bell rings, and after that you’re expected either to be at home or in church.

For the missionaries have colonized this area much more thoroughly than has the USA. Catholics and Mormons predominantly, but I saw churches belonging to practically every other denomination as well, particularly the Congregationals, because New England puritans got everywhere, pretty much. I have never seen more churches per hectare in any other part of the world. There is even a Presbyterian seminary, which is in a storefront in a strip mall out in the country.

Female visitors are asked not to wear shorts, for fear of offense.

When I am reminded of the six o’clock curfew, I think of Miss Sadie Thompson and smile.

I am back aboard the ship as I write this, hurling money into the coffers of Celebrity Cruise Lines in hopes they will provide me with internet service, which so far they have failed to do. Even though I have what they presume to call a “connection,” I am unable to upload or download anything— other than downloading the cash into their accounts, of course.

By the way, I had a really nice picture to upload with all of this, but this motherfucking slow connection won’t permit it, even after half an hour of trying, SO FUCK THOSE STUPID INCOMPETENT GREEDY MOTHERFUCKERS!


Erich Schneider November 10, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Samoa was apparently easy pickings for the missionaries because the Samoans believed the war goddess Nafanua had prophesied that one day a new, more powerful religion would come along to replace their existing one. So when Europeans showed up and started talking about Jesus, they said “Awesome! Sign us up!”


d brown November 11, 2012 at 7:48 am

The free market is so great. For the internet owners. I read the missionaries stopped everyone from standing in the out going tides and taking a dump. So it stayed on land a everybody got sick. Remember all those old pics with all the locals standing in water. I bet that’s why they looked they wished the camera was not there.

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