sea raven

January 4, 2002

Today's Reading
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Last Year's Reading
2001 Book List
(Haven't started this year's list yet.)


Artist's Impression of Moby Dick in a Gallery Window

Barney Frank Reading With Blue Whale Skeleton

I woke up in Massachusetts this morning, and it's one heck of a cold place to be.

When I checked into the motel yesterday afternoon, I made sure to turn up the thermostat so the room would be nice and cozy for when we finally decided to sleep. So we get to the motel room just before midnight and it is stone cold. I fiddle with the thermostat and look for other ways to turn on heat without finding same. The motel staff is asleep - this is not one of those hotels with staff at the desk to help you at all hours. As far as I can tell, the staff is one woman. And she's asleep somewhere. We put on our flannel pajamas and try to sleep. This proves difficult. We try to figure out what a sea raven might be, but are stumped. I'll spare you the details of our late night ravings about the lack of heat. Anyway, at some point we fall asleep.

At some other point we wake up, get dressed - it was too cold to shower - and head for Angelo's Orchid Diner. With all the one way streets, it's a challenge to actually get the to the diner and somehow I end up on a side street with geese on a frozen pond at the end of it. Since Nancy loves geese, we stop to watch them and eat the last of the gummy orcas and reverse direction to the diner.

Today is overcast and gray, totally unlike yesterday. The Portuguese sweet bread French toast and strong coffee at Angelo's fortify us for the chapters ahead. After all, we want to be wide awake for the chase sequence. One of the things I like best about the diners of New Bedford, home to three vintage O'Mahoneys, is the strong flavorful coffee. Not for these folk the pencil-shaving flavored pale lowest common denominator coffee. Nosirree. They manage to brew good dark strong coffee and still not have to charge $3.00 a cup for it. Go figure.

Crews of workmen are undecorating the theme Christmas trees that line the cobblestone streets. Already? Don't they leave them up 'til Epiphany? Does anybody do that anymore?

Today's New Bedford Standard Times features the Moby Dick Marathon, and a new federal edict reducing fishing quotas on the front page above the fold. We must be in New Bedford, that real place with rusty boats and nets covered in blue tarps. Y'know... it ain't easy...

Back at the museum the chapters roll by. Malasadas and coffee fuel the readers. Dignitaries have all the best passages to read. Mister Kendall Institute and Mister Melville Society (he who woke up in Texas yesterday) read this morning, as does Congressman Barney Frank, a regular at this event since the first one. The best readers by far are a group of students from Bishop Stang High School, who have clearly prepared the parts they read. It's encouraging to hear high school kids read aloud fluently these days. Makes me feel like books still matter. Well, of course, books still matter... they always will.

Nancy insists that we try to find out what a sea raven is. So like a complete social ignoramus, I attempt to ask the head of the Melville Society. I interrupt him while he's talking to Mister Kendall Institute and he takes off leaving Mister Kendall Institute to answer my question. He claims scholars are still debating the identity of the sea raven. I tell him I think it's a cormorant and Nancy thinks it's a skua. He suggests maybe I could write a paper on it. Duh? I ask a volunteer in the gift shop, who looks it up in a bird book - Peterson's - with no luck and then calls the librarian.

The final scenes unfold. Everyone is riveted right down to the last words. Ishmael alone survives. Hope that's not a spoiler for anybody :-)

In the gift shop to follow up with that volunteer who called the librarian, I find a comfy sweatshirt on sale for 40% off and Nancy buys some more of those gummy orcas to take to work with her on Monday. And the answer is... drum roll... the sea raven is a fish! At least according to the librarian's dictionary.

I drop Nancy off at home in Providence and head on home to collapse in exhaustion. By the time I get home I have a message on my voice mail from Nancy. She looked in her unabridged dictionary and ... the sea raven is a cormorant!


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Copyright © 2002, Janet I. Egan