Thursday, March 16, 2006

My alter ego


Meet my alter ego.
I'm quite comfortable living in the here and now. But if I could visit any point in time and be anything I wanted, I think I would have enjoyed being a sailor back when ships were made of wood and their crews were made of iron.
I would have liked to have sailed out of New Bedford, Mass., in the 1840s, perhaps on a whaling ship, rounding Cape Horn to the Pacific for a two-year adventure.
This has been a daydream of mine ever since reading "Moby Dick," the Great American Novel. Not surprisingly, Herman Melville is one of my heroes.
I recently bought this tintype of a sailor wearing a water-resistant oilcloth cap. It's a compelling photo, but what I found behind it really caught my eye:


I did some research and learned that this photographer worked in the late 1860s through the 1870s. This was more than a decade past the heyday of whaling in America, but whaling was still an important industry.
Here's the view of the New Bedford seaport this sailor would have enjoyed:

And it's also the vista that unfolds in my mind's eye.
I can picture this man visiting the photographer's studio to have his likeness made just minutes after signing the ship's articles as one of the crew, and just a day before he would head out into the vast unknown aboard one of these ships, his mind a roiling cauldron of reluctance and anticipation.
This tintype probably comforted a wife or mother during his absence.
My friends tell me I was born in the wrong century.
I tell them no, I was born at just the right time.
But it's fun to daydream.

6 comments:

Mike Cross said...

You would have been in good company, Michael...

FM Alexander (1869 - 1955)
Kodo Sawaki (1880 - 1965)
Chojun Miyagi (1888 - 1953)

Michael said...

Indeed, Mike.

g said...

As I recall, Moby Dick was not a fun filled adventure. These were hard times. Are you sure you would have liked the food, and the endlessly rolling decks?

Michael said...

Hi g,

No, "Moby Dick" isn't a fun-filled adventure, and of course the rigors and dangers of shipboard life are well-documented.
But remember, these are daydreams of mine, in which the seas are always calm and the opportunities for circumspection while carving a piece of scrimshaw exist in abundance. I never said these daydreams had any of the trappings of real life.

Zenmom, aspiring said...

Hey Mike,
I live about 30 miles away from New Bedford. Some time when you visit Cape Cod, we will visit the whaling museum. Makes me appreciate my EZ life!

Michael said...

Hi Z.M.,A.,

You got a deal!