sometimes the most mundane aspects of a travel experience make the biggest impression, so i’d like to dedicate today’s entry to food, preceded by a brief weather report.  neptune has continued to smile upon us, with very gentle swells accompanied by light zephyrs, or sometimes more refreshingly stiff gusts, as we move further into the tropics.  it is now decidedly muggy and the air conditioning is on in most parts of the ship, although in our cabin we prefer to leave the porthole open instead.  conditions have been fairly good (in theory) for whale-spotting, although the whales are not playing along.  instead we’ve had flocks of flying fish and visits from several birds, including – of all bizarre candidates – an owl.  before today i would almost certainly have scorned the idea of a sea owl, but short of a mass hallucination and some very weird camera tricks, i can’t explain it away. this should-be nocturnal land-dweller  flew with us for several hours this morning, in fact, and may return tomorrow, if it decided to roost somewhere on the ship.
and it was far and away today’s most exciting wildlife event.  apart from the whale-spotting efforts, the days until we reach our first biological sampling stations are mostly revolving around meals.  we are fed four times a day, every four hours starting from 7.30, and all other scheduled activities (plus naps, owl-spotting, and cards) are meticulously slotted in between.
my biggest reservation about joining this cruise, after the inconvenience of its timing and the nearly six-week absence from home and the pebbles, was actually the food.  i freely admit that i am a picky eater, and i’m pretty sure the relief i felt when i started cooking for myself was surpassed only by my mother’s relief at the same development.  my usual list of don’t-eat foods includes (but is not limited to) onions, seafood (including fish), green peppers, ketchup, and mayonnaise, plus a few more things usually too obscure to bother including (but hey, what the heck: veal, duck, any kind of organ meat or amorphous meat product including most sausages, and beer if that counts as a food).  the list of foods that don’t appear on my home menu but may be eaten as politeness requires is much longer; a small sampling would include pretty much any bread other than white bread (especially ‘chunky’ bread with any kind of seeds, or sweet bread products like cinnamon bagels), peas, red and yellow peppers, things with nuts or raisins in them (although i like both on their own), anything with banana or banana-flavoring other than actual bananas, and most savory-sweet combo dishes.  you can see that the probability of finding an entirely tintenfisch-approved meal anywhere outside my own home is near zero.
luckily i married a saint who is both an excellent and accommodating cook, and whose own don’t-eat list is short and very compatible, consisting of seafood and the easily omittable parsley and pineapple.
unluckily, my saint was not coming along on this voyage, and i would be at the mercy of an entirely unknown russian kitchen crew for over a month, who would be cooking on a scale capable of sustaining sixty people four times a day (enough to give the strongest of constitutions pause, i suspect) .  i packed a few chocolate bars, and a bag of cookies, resigned myself to probably suspending a few of the don’t-eats (fish, for example), and envisioned either making illicit friends with some kitchen staff (a working knowledge of russian would have helped here), and/or returning home in a nearly translucent state.
to no one’s astonishment more than my own, i have eaten almost everything put in front of me; i blame the constant motion of the ship (it takes a lot of effort to stand ‘still’), and the invigorating salt air.  the top-ranking meals so far would have to be the daily soups, a delicious creamy rice pudding, and a couple of pasta dishes.  the ‘surprisingly palatable’ list contains borscht; a bizarre salad of peas and chopped pickles, beets, cucumber and carrots; and several kinds of fish.  the ‘consumption ban temporarily lifted by necessity’ litany (so far) reads: fish, shrimp, duck, and some kind of salami that was probably mostly made of blood.  and until today i wouldn’t have been able to list anything i actually avoided/refused. but the honeymoon period couldn’t last, of course, and when we sat down to ‘tea’ (the 3.30 meal) and were faced with bowls of cold chopped chicken buried under a 2-inch layer of cold chicken-broth flavored gelatine, i drew the line.  i did flop the gelatine layer aside and at least try the chicken, but i really couldn’t get over the resemblance to jelly-meat-style cat food and had to give up pretty quickly.
it was then that the unlikeliest event of the day, and perhaps of my lifetime, transpired.  the other four biologists in my team watched my chicken jell-o investigations closely (which i would like to say stopped short of turning the bowl upside down just to see if it would hold… but i can’t; it did).  when i put my fork down, perhaps a little visibly green around the gills, they pushed away their untouched bowls as one and shook their heads.  and one of them said, in complete seriousness, ‘we know by now that if you won’t eat it, we shouldn’t even try.’
well.  anyone who knows me will realize how utterly ridiculous that statement is.  i chuckled to myself for the whole rest of today.  and i am considering calling for a helicopter to take me to shore right now, because i can just tell – no matter how the sampling goes, and what cool squid we find, i’m pretty sure that at the end of the cruise i will look back at that statement as my single proudest moment.

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