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.