Destination: An Ocean Liner on the Atlantic Ocean (1921)
Book: Crossing on the Paris (New Novemer 2012) by Dana Gynther
A working class French woman from Marseilles, a wealthy American expat who lived in Paris, and a middle class woman from America returning from a solo journey to Paris meet on a luxurious ocean liner, the Paris.
Author Dana Gynther weaves the stories of these three women together in a historical romance of sorts. From a book of philosophy (Monday) we now turn to ‘chick lit.’ We’re nothing if not flexible here at A Traveler’s Library. But the history part is particularly interesting to me because I recently visited a museum to the similar ship, the Titanic, and 2012 is the 100th anniversary of its fateful voyage.
In Crossing on the Paris, the ship and the details about passage in steerage, 2nd class and 1st class are all true to life although the women are fictional. One thread, the story of Vera, the first class passenger who is dying of breast cancer, gently loops this book to the philosophy of aging book, Travels With Epicurus that we talked about two days ago.
I’ll have to admit it is rather eerie reading a book about an old woman reflecting on her life when her name is the same as mine. The details of her life, however could not be more different. Vera had a brief unsuccessful marriage before moving to Paris where her best friend and almost constant companion was a gay man. She had a string of affairs, which she is recording along with other facets of her life in a set of journals which she re-reads as she considers her life and the wisdom of returning to New York to die.
Constance Stone, somewhat a prisoner of the expectations for women, uncharacteristically leaves her husband and two daughters at home as she goes to Paris in search of her more liberated younger sister. On board, she finds herself attracted to the ship’s doctor and questioning the life of propriety she has been leading.
Julie, the young woman who grew up watching the ships move in and out of the harbor at Marseilles and dreaming of voyaging, has signed on as a maid. Because her looks are marred by a birthmark above her lip, she is assigned to work in third class. Julie, inexperienced with men, falls for the line of a rough Russian worker from the engine room.
From this short description of the three women, it becomes clear that they are prototypes, bearing the burden of representing three social and economic classes, the life aboard ship on three different levels, social mores as they change from the early nineteenth century into the twenties. Sometimes the weight of all this symbolizing comes dangerously close to stereotyping. The author has chosen a difficult and ambitious path.
I breezed through the book, not feeling deep sympathy for any one of the characters but intrigued by the depiction of life on the real ocean liner. I once took a brief tour of the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach, and of course I’ve seen movies galore set on luxurious ocean liners. My most direct experience of the opulence of the age of great liners came in an unexpected place–Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. My first reaction on hearing that a museum to the Titanic stood on the main drag of the town in the Smokey Mountains, was “Why there?”
Our group of writers was welcomed by the wife of the man whose dives recovered artifacts from the Titanic in 1986 , John Joslyn. Mrs. Joslyn explained that after touring the artifacts for a few years, they wanted a permanent home, and decided that it would be best to stay away from big cities where they would be competing with huge museums. They opened a museum in Branson, Missouri, and later the one in Pigeon Forge.
Each museum holds 400 artifacts brought up from the sea or found in various places around the world. Those artifacts are set in beautifully constructed display areas to achieve the Joslyns’ goal of honoring the passengers and crew of the Titanic. To futher personalize the tourists experience, when you enter you are presented with a card bearing the name of a man woman or child who was traveling on the Titanic. You may find references to them, pictures or letters, as you go through the museum, and at the end, you will learn whether they survived.
I particularly liked the room of black and white photographs of all phases of life aboard the Titanic, taken during the voyage by a priest. He survived the sinking and lectured on the ship, showing his photos, until the owners of the Titanic, the White Star Lines asked him tostop because they “did not wish the memory of the calamity to be perpetuated.” Fat chance. Today, everyone knows about the Titanic to one degree or another and it’s name is synonymous with calamity.
On the website of Titanic Museum you can read the diary of Jaynee, a first class maid, and compare her experiences to the maids detailed in Crossing on the Paris.
The museum tickets are pricey–nearly $25 for adults and $15 for children from 5-12, although there is a bargain family package and combo deals with other area attractions. I enjoyed the museum and thought children would get a lot out of it.
One member of our group felt that rather than honoring the passengers and crew, the museum cashed in on lives of unfortunate people. He made the point that although it was discussed briefly, the human errors that caused the accident were downplayed, and the museum could do more to underline the hubris that leads man to believe they can best nature by doing such a thing as creating an “unsinkable” ship.
Obviously, you have to decide for yourself if this is an attraction that would be worthwhile for your family, but personally, I got much more out of it than many of the family fun parks I have experienced.
Notes: The book Crossing on the Paris was provided for review by the publisher. My opinions, however, are always my own. The photos and video here are from the Titanic Museum website. I visited the museum as part of a press tour sponsored by various tourist entities, including the museum. The links to Amazon are affiliate links, meaning if you use them, you will be benefiting A Traveler’s Library–even though it costs you no more to enter Amazon through this portal. THANKS!