Monday, March 10, 2014


I’ve been feeling a little off over the last few days, and by last night it had gotten noticeably worse. So first thing this morning I went down to the medical centre on deck 4, the lowest deck on the ship accessible by the passengers.

I was obviously the first patient for the day, because the staff were all gathered around the reception desk, having a chat. It was like walking onto the set of a cheap Eastern European porn shoot. They were three tall, statuesque Russian women in short, white, vaguely nurse-like uniforms, all wearing more makeup than would be considered normal in an Australian medical clinic. Or, indeed, at the cosmetics counter at David Jones.

In the consulting room, I explained my symptoms to the doctor while she regarded me with a tolerant aloofness, as if mentally comparing my insignificant illness with the more invigorating ones she’d seen in medical school, or in the foxholes of Chechnya, or both.

She prescribed me a short course of antibiotics, which came in a box with only Italian instructions, the details of which she explained in fractured English, leaving me not entirely certain about taking them. I also suspected that, lacking a suite of testing equipment to make a proper diagnosis, she was not so much interested in curing me as intent on keeping me stable until the cruise finishes and I become someone else’s problem. She declined to state what, exactly, was wrong with me, although in her brisk chat in Russian with her nurse I recognised enough medical words to be able to consult Dr Google later.

I was in an out of there in five minutes. At a cost of 85 euros, which is just shy of $150. And while I don’t feel much better I definitely don’t feel worse, so there’s that.

Meanwhile, the ship had arrived in Tenerife on a Sunday morning, the night after one of the year’s two big Carnivals.

City workers were diligently sweeping up and down the streets with palm fronds, collecting up huge piles of broken streamers, empty bottles, food containers and random bits of tulle and feather that had become detached from some costume.

Meanwhile small tanker trucks were spraying the quaint cobbled streets with a mixture of water, detergent and I think bleach, since every part of every street stank, almost overpoweringly, of urine. Many shops had even taped cardboard or plastic sheets across their frontages to keep the piss off anything permanent, like their plate glass display windows or century old wooden doors.

Apparently the Tenerife Carnvial crowd is a feral one.

I found a bakery with free wi-fi and spent an hour checking my emails, googling the medical terms I’d overheard from my Russian doctor, and checking details for blog posts. Then I went for a walk and discovered that Tenerife has an H&M, so that was pretty much that.

When I was in Switzerland in the late 90s I bought a black ribbed sweater at the Geneva H&M, which I still have and wear often – it’s flattering and sufficiently well-made to have lasted for nearly twenty years, and it was almost obscenely cheap. So now on the cruise, whenever I see an H&M, I go in. I’ve been to three now – Bologna, Genoa and Tenerife – and I’ve bought at least two items at each one: the current tally is two belts, two hats, a scarf, two pairs of pants and a sweater, all for just a little over a hundred euros.

As for the rest of Tenerife... well, the Sunday morning of the day after Carnival is not the best time to be visiting it. Sure, there were some leftover drag queens terrorising the streets and a huge gang of shouty mariachi musicians dressed as clowns, but it just wasn't the same.


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