I find it hard to believe, but it’s apparently true: there are hotels in Las Vegas – several of them, in fact – bigger, way bigger than the Costa Diadema. Some of them so big they could possibly tuck the entire population of Efrat in their rooms, without anybody having to sleep on a love seat in the lobby or a blackjack table in the casino. Nonetheless, I’m going to stick with my preferred description of the ship we were sailing on: a huge Las Vegas hotel turned on its side, floating in the water.
On Wed. Sept, 14, the ship was sailing at its normal steady pace from Palma de Mallorca to Cagliari, the port city of Sardinia. The actual distance is 556 km. (346 miles), which means you could fly from one to the other in less than one hour (plus all the time in the airport!). By boat? Let’s just say that the ship left the one port at 1AM Wednesday morning (when we were all fast asleep) and arrived at the other port at 8AM Thursday morning (when we were having breakfast – with a whole day in between). The moral here is that this is not the way to travel if you’re in a hurry.
As you must have realized by now, the one thing we weren’t was in a hurry. What I really wanted to do while we were sailing the ocean blue was take the time to explore the ship, all fourteen decks of it, if possible. Not quite all of them. One or two are for sole use of the crew, and some of the decks, like the one we were on, are “residential,” a couple hundred yards of hallways with doors all along the way. Nothing much to see except the staff cleaning the cabins.
But that still left a lot of places to walk and things to see, both of which I did, going up and down the three banks of elevators and staircases, (each landing had an original work of art, created by someone who must have studied at the Las Vegas School of Art and Design) inspecting all the restaurants, snack bars, and ice cream parlors, the whiskey bars and cocktail lounges, the swimming pools and hot tubs, the casino, the duty-free shops, the ballrooms and discos, the card players room, the movie theater, the enormous three story theater that seats some fifteen hundred people, the play areas for kids, the private meeting rooms (one of which we commandeered for our minyans), the outdoor decks, on and on. Most of which, I would never use, but then, my needs are modest. Still, I was fascinated my what was available, the something for everyone approach (everyone being over 4,000 passengers) that’s possible in an operation this big. My Barbara and The Levines, for example, made ample use of the spa, which offered a full array of massage treatments. My weary body probably would have benefited from being worked on for an hour or so, but I just never got around to it. Maybe everybody else’s bones were more weary than mine.
I was more interested in the big event of the day. One of the selling points of the cruise was the scholar-in-residence, R. Shlomo Riskin. Up until then, he and his wife, Vicky, had been simply members of our 100+ group, taking in the sites – although personality-wise there is something special about the rabbi; maybe it’s the sense of studied cheerfulness that he embodies. You know you are in good company when you’re around him.
But that day, he was about to begin his series of talks, which he would space out over the next several days in the room we had commandeered all the way past the collections of watches in duty free. For anyone who has not had the opportunity to hear him speak, let me say that R. Riskin is someone, like Binyamin Netanyahu, who has mastered the art of public speaking. He speaks v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, punctuating his remarks with phrases like, “Now listen carefully to what I’m going to say.” (That’s actually a complete sentence.) He spoke from pages of notes, stopping from time to time to remind himself what he was going to say next. It was clear that he was, in a sense, auditioning a new book that he was in the process of writing.
He began by reviewing the first several chapters of Bereishit, from which he derived the concept of tzelem elokim, that we are all created in G-d’s image. There are necessary corollaries that derive from that: basically how we are to respond to the people – all the people, not just some of the people – around us. I’m not going to try to summarize what the good rabbi had to say; you can buy his next book (although I will shortly try to repeat some of the anecdotes he used to illustrate his points). As we were a few weeks before Rosh Hashana, his remarks did serve as appropriate mussar for anyone who cared to pay attention and take heed – although I realize that it’s possible to hear every word someone says and still keep doing exactly what you did before. But for now, all was going well.
This day would be our opportunity to relax; no need to hurry to be on time for bus taking us wherever; well, one would be on time for the next meal in our corner of the restaurant. The service, we felt, was getting better every day – even though the kosher wine they were offering wasn’t. The day would be over, and we would need to rest for the next day’s adventure: an ancient site in Sardinia, to which you are all invited. Get ready for some serious climbing up and down on well-worn stairs many thousands of years old. Plus, some very fine dining – out of the (ocean) blue!