Film review: “Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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Difficult to make what amounts to a docudrama about a subject so very much larger than life. Reviews have reflected this fact for the production, but lead player Rami Malik (from Mr. Robot on cable) is getting serious Oscar buzz, and deservedly so. He has Freddy’s moves nailed.

The actual production is getting OK reviews, especially from the Oracle, Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad or even mediocre but “good”. Maybe damned by faint praise. The production is clearly a celebration of the inimitable music of Queen, trying hard to avoid the stigma of just another rocker, felled by various forms of tragic disease.

I’m pretty familiar with the history, having read several books on the subject, and I can assure you that the film does a pretty good job of relating it. But the film belongs to Malik who really brings Freddy to life; the rest of the cast in various supporting roles. There are a lot of flaws in the history that the film glosses over, but like “Catch-22” (1970) it’s far too complex to squeeze into a two-hour movie.

One of the centerpieces of the film is Live Aid, constructed by Bob Geldolf of the Irish group the Boomtown Rats, said at the time to be the largest group of paying customers to a rock concert in history. ~ 100,000. This concert said to be televised to 40% of the world’s population, estimated incoming revenue of eventually 150 million Pounds. Everyone who’s anyone in Rock was there but also some noteable absences (Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel…..)

Rami Malek watched Liza Minelli’s performance in “Cabaret” (1972) as inspiration for Freddy’s moves but a British choreographer actually coached him for many hours. All the music in the film was backing tracks except “Another one bites the dust” is which the movie band actually played their own instruments and sang. Malik’s voice was mixed with the real Freddy and Canadian singer Marc Mertel.

Through his entire life, Freddy proclaimed Mary Austin as the “love of his life” even after she married elsewhere and had a child by another man. She stayed close to him for his entire life. When Freddy died in 1991, he is said to have bequeathed her half his entire fortune. She is said to live in his home in London today.

As of 2005, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Queen albums have spent a total of twenty-six years on the UK Album Charts, more time than any other musical act. In 2006, Queen’s “greatest Hits” album was the all-time best-selling album in UK Chart history, more copies than its nearest competitor, the Beatles’ “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”  album. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, the band is the only group in which every member has composed more than one chart-topping single, and all four members were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003

Bassest John Decacon left queen immediately after Freddy’s death and never played with the band again. He remained friends with all. Best of my recollection, Brian May is named number 5 by Rolling Stone of the top ten guitarists in the world. Queen went on to play with two lead singers, Paul Rodgers of “Bad Company” for a while and finally ending up in the past few years with Adam Lambert of “American Idol”. They’re considered a nostalgia band now.

The film portrays several songs from Live Aid in 1985, but there is a glaring omission. They missed Freddy singing “Love of my life”, he originally wrote for Mary Austin.  Brian May appears on stage sitting in a chair playing an acoustic guitar and Freddy sings with nothing else but that simple accompaniment. At some point, he finishes a stanza, then stops, looks out into the vast audience and quietly proclaim: “I still love you”, then turns and walks off the stage. The audience want completely nuts.

Watch for the real Freddy and the real band performing during the closing credits.

I think the production is stellar, well photographed and well edited. There are glosses and mistakes in the history, but that’s OK. It isn’t a “real” documentary. The real star of this film is Rami Malek who I think absolutely nailed Freddy as much as is humanly possible.

Recommended by me.

I give it four of five overbites.

 

 

The unfortunate death of Sears & Co

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Sad to chronicle the demise of Sears. Many of you aren’t old enough to remember the Sears glory days, that peaked in the late 1800s leading into the 50s and early 60s. Sears was the 50s equivalent of Amazon.com. They sold absolutely everything except it was through a mail order catalog as thick as the (former) New York City phone book. You just filled out the coupon, sent it in with a check and your purchase arrived later by mail. There were no credit card

Amazon.com also sells absolutely everything but through it’s connections to other companies. Sears had everything in its warehouses. Sears sold kids baseball gloves signed by Ted Williams. Ultimately cars made by the Lincoln car company of Chicago in the early 1900s (No relation to the Ford line). But my current point is that Sears produced a line of motor scooters, branded as “Allstate” in the 50s and my dad had one.

They were a knockoff of the Vespa line made by Piaggio In Italy (Photo 1). They had a two-cycle engine and produced ~ 4.9 horsepower as I recall.  So, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 13-year-old adolescents could get licensed to own and ride motor scooters powered by less than 5 horsepower. I lived in Albuquerque at the time and I was barely 13 but my father refused to even discuss my acquiring one. However, he decided that his personal use of one was downright practical.

He was the Chief Resident in surgical training at what was technically an off campus site of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Two hospitals in Albuquerque involved, the VA and the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital. This was a very early training program. The County Indian Hospital was a “residents Hospital”, much like Bellevue, Charity and Cook County. None of the surrounding Indians, mostly Navaho and Pueblo, had any monetary resources and much health care at the time was financed by cash. Those unfortunates were relegated to tax based indigent care and the taxpayers weren’t much interested in financing it so they opted for as cheap a care as could be had. Resident physicians were cheap and they got a lot of experience there.

It was 1957. Our family had only one car and my mother mostly needed use of it. So my dad decided that a motor scooter would be a cheap, practical vehicle to get back and forth to the two hospitals, both near where we lived. The big VA hospital was right next to the Randy Lovelace Clinic where the Mercury astronauts were examined for the first flight into space. This freed up the car for my mother to shop and do housekeeping chores. She also traded with the local Indians for just about everything, which doesn’t happen anymore, especially since the tribes discovered gambling dens.

When my father rounded at the County Indian Hospital on Saturday mornings, I begged and wheedled until he agreed to take me, perched on the tiny rear seating area. So off we went, powered by 4.9 horsepower and a three-speed transmission. Seemed at the time plenty of power. I sat on the scooter for a couple of hours while he rounded, then when he finally came out, he let me ride the scooter by myself around the back parking lot of the hospital, an experience burned into my memory.

The County Indian Hospital was an incredible training experience for housestaff. Indians at the time had lousy living conditions on reservations managed by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) on a federal shoestring and they had lots of health problems. Many had COPD from inhaling smoke from their teepees or mud dwellings. Indians at the time had very little resistance to ethanol and many had severe liver disease and were the victims of vehicular trauma on Saturday nights when the bars closed. To this day, a car trip out north of Albuquerque will show you billboard after billboard of personal injury lawyers specializing in defending ethanol abuse and drunk driving.

But the really big cultural deal for me was licensure for 4.9 hp scooters, ideal for home to middle school commuting (but not for me- I got the school bus which made me a third-class citizen). The across-the-street mesa from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School was literally filled with scooters owned by kids that could afford them and whose parents acceded. Each cost about US$200 and there were three classifications:

1. Vespas (and Allstates). The working class scooter. Not fancy, no amenities, rather plain in appearance. No class. Riders were pretty much ignored. They wore plain clothes (Photo 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Cushman Eagle (Photo 3). The roughneck’s ride. These were these guys that beat you up and took your lunch money. 4 cycle, suicide clutch putt-putts that sounded as mean as their owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The Lambretta (Photo 4). The Italian scooter equivalent of a Ferrari. Lots of curves and a back seat where your girlfriend could sit side saddle and cross her legs. Riders wore striped shirts and scarves. As you might imagine, I was a Lambretta guy. They were all a strong enough influence that I rode two wheels the rest of my adult life.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
Department of Critical Care
UPMC

“A Star is Born” (2018)

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“A star is born” (2018)

Loosely the fourth version of the same drama that began in 1937 with Janet Gaynor (her only color film) and Adolph Menjou. Followed by a second version with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954 (Judy Garland was the same age as Lady GaGa), followed by a third version in 1976 starring Kris Krisopherson and Barbara Streisand, for which Streisand received an Oscar for best original song (Evergreen).

The fourth version stars Bradley Cooper and Lady GaGa (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) and it has been upgraded an amazing amount of detail. Bradley Cooper decided to play and sing live, necessitating extensive vocal training for him. For his role, Bradley was extensively trained in guitar and how to present himself like a musician for a year in his basement by Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson. For Bradley’s stage performances, he’s backed by Lukas Nelson and his band “Promise of the real”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T17dAHtMB_s

Now comes the real blast- Bradley Cooper learned his extensive lessons well.  He emerges with world class lead singer chops and…….Lord have mercy……the “moves” of an incredible country rock singer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdjNm9UzjoY

Lady GaGa noted on some talk show that she didn’t know who the character with plain hair and no makeup was. She had to work to find that character as she considers her life as bleach blond, a ton of makeup and lots of outrageous clothes. But in the end, the two come together to make an amazing connection.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSbzyEJ8X9E

The story line takes the same form as the other iterations; the girl goes on to emerge as a Britney Spears clone with fairly predictable outcome.

The film is magnificent. Very watchable. Highly recommended by me.

I give it five fresh faced Allys

Pittsburgh Regatta this weekend

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Pittsburgh Regatta this weekend

Every year, we host the Formula One Powerboat racing series on the intersection of where the three rivers meet to form the Ohio River, a direct conduit to the Mississippi. The highest class of inshore powerboat racing in the world, similar to Formula Onecar racing. Each race lasts approximately 45 minutes following a circuit marked out in a selected stretch of water, usually a lake, river, dock, or sheltered bay.

The boats are actually shallow catamarans weighing about 860 pounds. They’re 20 feet long and 7 feet wide. The boats are all powered by Mercury V6 two-stroke engines generating over 400 horsepower.  Zero to 60 miles-per-hour in less than two seconds and a maximum speed of 155 miles-per-hour. Sanctioned races occur all over the world with multi-national drivers.

 

 

These boats remind me of my youth when similar powerboats raced on the lake in the center of my town. This would have been about 1960. The light wooden boats were of two varieties, longer “Runabouts” and flat “Hydroplanes”.  They were all powered by smaller 10 or 15 horsepower Mercury engines, modified for more RPM with “Quicksilver Lower Units) and racing propellers. There were probably other modifications. They were pretty fast for the time. The throttle controlled by a “dead man” lever that must be held together by the driver. If he was flipped out of the boat, the lever relaxed and the engine stopped.

Pre-race warm-up was accomplished by two guys holding the back of the boat up out of the water just high enough that the spinning prop would get some water into the cooling vanes. When warm, the boat was simply dropped with the driver leaning forward to maintain balance as the boat took off. The boats were loud and fast and flipped often; rarely an injury. It was “real” racing. If Satan had dropped by with a bargain to put me into one of those boats, I’d have to think about it.

 

Film review: Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

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Tom Cruise is truly a guilty pleasure and a paradox. He should have at least been nominated for an Academy Award for “Risky Business” in 1983.  It was his landmark film. Since then he’s been in some very good films
and some stinkers too (The Mummy” (2017). Otherwise he’s never got an award bigger than being nominated for a Golden Globe.Nominated for an Oscar three times, won zero. His “Mission Impossible” franchise is good enough to be entertaining but he’s really now known for doing incredible stunts and getting away with most of them at his age, including breaking his ankle on an impossible building-to-building jump.

Accordingly, in this latest edition, he does some really wild and
dangerous stunts, including the aforementioned jump that shattered his
ankle; he ran on it to get past the camera. Wildly riding a motorcycle
weaving through the streets of Paris (yes, that’s him) then hitting the
fender of a car head-on with a motorcycle, sailing over the hood and
bouncing/rolling on-camera. I knew that hurt. Free climbing a
straight-up cliff wall. High altitude-low opening aircraft jump for
which Cruise trained for a year. Climbing a rope to a helicopter belly
at thousands of feet.

It’s a guilty pleasure because the stunts, action and beautiful locales
are worth the price of a 3 D ticket. Each of these stunts you can
instantly recognize Tom. It’s pretty amazing at age 56. The action
scenes are really incredible, difficult to imagine how they did them
(computers, of course) especially the helicopter scenes which are just
insane. The locations where these stunts take place are amazingly
picturesque and shot on real locations. While the movie’s final portion
is set in the Kashmir region in India, which is primarily situated in
the Himalayas, its on-location filming took place entirely in New
Zealand and Norway, both of which feature more dramatic mountainous
backdrops. mThe cars are BMW M-series, I think the M5 (F90) which had
not been seen on public roads. Cruise’s ride in a fabulous BMW R nineT,
a custom machine with everything, and great looks too.

So, in the end, this is not only a serious thriller with massive effects
and beautiful locale, it’s a Tom Cruise masterpiece. It’s a little long
and some of the ploy raveling and unraveling very quickly is hard to
follow but it’s definitely a delight. See it in 3 D. 22 years of Mission
Impossible.

I give it four and a half classic BMW scramblers. Must see

On this day in 1968

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1966 – Robert F. Kennedy, (Robert Francis {Bobby} Kennedy) [1925-1968] Legislator and public official, was Attorney General of United States. – Photo By Jim McNamara/TWP

RFKs assassination on June 5,1968 was a terrible blow to a very lot of people, including myself. RFK had emerged to be the fair haired boy of the presidential election what would have taken place in November, 1968. He was the heir apparent who seemed to have a viable shot at changing the country and the world. He displayed a sense of fairness and a clear understanding of what needed to be done and a viable plan on getting it so. Had RFK won the nomination, it was highly likely he would have negotiated a quick end to the Vietnam Conflict , saving thousands of lives, and would have worked to fix racial discrimination and narrowing income gaps in the economy. Kennedy was serious about tackling poverty and racism. He would have taken the country in a radically different direction that what transpired with Richard Nixon. Nixon had a crook as Vice president (Agnew), a “secret” plan to end the never-ending war (ended in 1975) and the Watergate debacle during which little or nothing constructive was done in government. The country and the world would have been a different place, I think.

Shortly after his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on June 8, it’s thought that as many as a million bystanders interrupted their day to stand near the tracks to pay silent tribute to the man in the train’s last car for the 225 mile ride from New York City to Arlington Cemetery where he was buried near his brother. Many in tears. What you will see in the following youtube video is as sad a commentary as you will ever witness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvxH3utA1kg

I don’t know if the photographs by Paul Fusco from Look Magazine will come over as it’s a piece from The Atlantic but I’ll include them here in case they’re released to the public. They’re heartbreaking.

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2018/06/rfks-funeral-train-in-photos/562238/?utm_source=&silverid-ref=MzEwMTU3MjQyMjUxS0

“For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these,
‘It might have been’.

“The Americans” finale (FX): A masterpiece

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An expertly matched young Soviet couple extensively trained in espionage, martial arts and whatever else it takes to “pass as Americans”.  Six (season) years of plotting, manipulating, ferreting out political and military secrets to benefit the Soviet Union (in the Cold War 80s), disguises and always one-step ahead of the FBI. Complex issues of loyalty, principle and betrayal- ultimately leading to an inevitable crisis climax.

But those years unexpectedly assimilated them into American life more than either thought, concurrently running a business and creating a family. A male bonding between two lonely men playing cat and mouse, neither understanding the inevitable consequence.

And then, following the inevitable betrayal from a peer, it was over, leading to one of the most emotional, heart breaking hours in television history.

The season ender (Season 6, Episode 10- May 31, 2018) cascaded into 11 minutes of confrontation and emotional chaos between the Jennings and Stan. The painful decision to abandon innocents forever and a shocking scene literally as far as a border, literally and metaphorically, accompanied by the U2 song “With or Without You” (which was perfect.)

There is no killing, no guns, and no violence. There is only the stage set for whatever might come next. Henry tearfully stares off into the distance as hears the truth sitting on a hockey bleacher. Paige knocks back a shot of cold Vodka in a “safe house”, quietly awaiting what comes next.  But we don’t know what will come next, only that there will be a next we’ll never see.

Philip and Elizabeth stand by the side of a road in front of the Moscow State University, glancing out over the city. They made it home, but where is home? They willbe forever haunted by their choice to leave the children behind.The life they grew into is gone and they no longer recognize their new home. Last words spoken (in Russian): “We’ll get used to it”. We see the end of all their stories but we have no idea of their future and we probably never will.

The Americans is one of the top five valued TV series ever created. The finale is steeped in quiet but wrenching emotional turmoil.  Not a dry eye in the house. I seriously doubt if we’ll ever see anything like it again.

Parenthetically, the Director was very astute in picking parts of the soundtrack. I have created a brief youtube of two clips from the finale, each with a sound track that worked actually perfectly. First is from the hauntingly beautiful “Brothers in Arms” (Dire Straits- 1985). The second with “With or without you” (U2- 1987), perfection for that particular portion of the film.  You really don’t need to know much about what’s progressing in the film clip, just watch and listen to how the music clip infiltrates and adds texture to the clip. I’m using these clips and some others in my music class at Pitt in July.

https://youtu.be/G6tQinDddjM

If you can find the episode (S6E10) I highly recommend watching it. You really don’t know much more about what came before to enjoy the mastery of it.

 

A Passing: Tom Wolfe

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Tom Wolfe, clad in an impeccable three-piece white suit, created a quantum leap in descriptive writing, changing the entire landscape for the use of descriptive language. Prior to Wolfe, descriptive articles were very staid and correct. Wolfe’s hybrid departures into fanciful and colorful language began the “New Journalism”, pointing out Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese, Hunter Thompson, Joan Didion and others.

I think he began the art of observing phenomena not seen in the same light by others, describing what he saw in polychromatic language, probably more accurate and definitely more harlequin than what came before.

“The Kandy-Colored, Tangerine Flake, Streamlined Baby” (1965). An expanded look at automobile customizing in the 60s. “The Pump House Gang” (1968) An anthology exploring various aspects of the counterculture of the 1960s. The most famous story about Jack Macpherson and his gang of surfers that hung out in a sewage pump house at Windansea Beach in La Jolla, California.

“The Electric Kool-Aid Test” (1968) an “I was there” anthology of late 60s Hippies, most notably Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, who traveled across the country promoting LSD in a colorfully painted school bus named “Further”. “The Right Stuff” (1979) told the “real” story of the antics of the (first) Mercury astronauts that made Chuck Yeager (sound barrier 1947) a household name.

But I think Wolf’s crowning glory was “Bonfire of the Vanities” (1987) followed by the film of the same name in 1990 starring Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, directed by Brian DePalma. Bonfires is one of the deepest, blackest, most brutal comedies ever written, mercilessly trashing virtually all of our (90s) social mores including, marriage, mistresses, Wall Street, trust and compassion, political envy and manipulation, racial politics and most especially the judicial system.

“Bonfires” does not blink and has no peer in its viciousness. The film is a must-see and can usually be found on many of the TV streaming sites and always on the Torrents.

I think Wolfe can be directly compared to Hunter Thompson in his use of “enhanced description”. Thompson took it a step further by interjecting his own life into the lives of his subjects, usually in a bizarre way, usually termed “Gonzo Journalism”. At any rate, Tom died at age 88 at the end of a very fruitful and satisfying life. It was a good deal. God rest his soul.

See the film.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

Film Review: “Ready Player One” (2018)

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Stephen Spielberg is an interesting director. Over the years he’s terrified us (Jaws), invoked science as reality (Close Encounters…), made Harrison Ford a superstar (Indiana Jones X 2), viewed the love of a child for a space creature (ET), had dinosaurs chasing the park visitors (Jurassic Park), depicted war as it really was (Saving Private Ryan) and brought viewers to sober reflection (Schindler’s List). The list goes on. He is the highest grossing director in history. Two Oscars and five nominations.

“Ready Player One” would not seem like a typical Spielberg effort, but he’s proven to be extremely imaginative over the years. I think Spielberg looked into the future and saw that CGI (Computer Graphic Interface) is going to be a permanent vision of film. I think he figured that this being the case, why not make a film that combines typical Spielberg story line quality with totally state-of-the-art computer graphics as a point toward the future. Spielberg is successful in “Ready Player One”. He hits both nails on the head, presenting a high quality story line with truly amazing graphics, especially in the 3D version.

The storyline, set far in the future involves an adolescent boy who escapes the desolation of the real world by a virtual reality game called “Oasis” in which any player can be anyone he wants, anywhere he wants in a fantasy world that’s as real as the player wants it to be. The original creator of this game (played by Mark Rylance) dies, but before his death understood that the game and the world needed to be protected from corporate suits that would do what Comcast is currently doing to the Internet. He established a game where only the smartest of potential players could possibly get to the end and inherent the ownership of the virtual world, saving it from the suits.

The interface between real humans and their virtual reality counterparts is fascinating. The graphics of the virtual world is spellbinding. The characters are well played, the production is immaculate and, of course, the direction is pure Spielberg. There are tips of the hat to many 1980s zeitgeists and I loved the 80s soundtrack.

Parenthetically, I waited to the end to see the cast and I recognized exactly one name. The wonderful actor (my age) Mark Rylance in a throw away role in which he did well anyway. I recognized none of the other actors that reminded me that am approaching three generations removed from them. I picked up a “People” magazine in my dentist’s waiting room and I knew exactly none of those people focused in it.

The professor in my Pitt class asked the youngsters if they had ever seen “Dr. Strangelove”. Not one hand went up. Even Rolling Stone, a magazine I have had a subscription to since it was a tabloid in the 60s (I wrote an article for them once), is now filled with musicians I never heard of or have not the slightest interest in. I only have two channels on my satellite car radio. 60s and 70s. I’m slowly but most assuredly drifting off into the sunset, filled with irrelevancy.

It’s a really good film. Recommended by me.

 

Antarctica, February 2018. Crippens.

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They made it clear from the beginning; “This is not your father’s cruise”. This was an exploration, not a cruise. The plan was to traverse the usual peri-Antarctica islands and peninsulas to make our way through the Antarctic Circle to actually set foot on the continent. A rare event due to quirky weather and shifting ice masses.

The good ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov is a high tech wonder, outfitted with two fully functional engines, each with all redundant outfitting. Powered by a high efficiency fuel that if spilled, would float on top of the sea to be broken down by ultraviolet rays. 117 meters long, top speed 14.5 knots and strengthened for dealing with ice. She holds 97 souls and ten “Zodiacs” (outboard powered rubber boats each seating up to ten people and all their camera gear). The ship can go where most ships can’t and the Zodiacs can and do go anywhere.

Getting to the jump-off point, Punta Arenas, Chile was a very long and stressful series of airplanes and airports. For the trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, we flew in what appears to be the standard for crossing the infamous Drake Passage (more about that later). A curved wing, four engine plane built in England I suspect set up for short take-off and landing. We landed at the Chilean Air force Base on one of the peri-Antarctic peninsulas, basically a strip carved into the rock covered with permafrost.

We were really not prepared for the shock of our introduction to Antarctica. The aircraft landed on it’s left wheels down, right wheels up to assuage against the 30 knot 90 degree cross wind. It took three hops to get on all the wheels. The landing strip was build of rock and sand. On departing the plane we were greeted by intense cold, wind and snow. A barren landscape that could have been the moon. Then a one-mile walk from the landing strip the moored ship about a mile offshore, all the participants transported by Zodiac. Once on board the ship we were made very comfortable. Bunks and a shared bathroom.

The ship is of Russian registry and staffed by an all Russian crew and staff. When not touring in season, it goes back with Russian scientists to study the Antarctic area. The exploration was exceptionally well organized and operated by a Canadian group, “One Ocean”. They were magnificent and we felt very well cared for along this highly stressful trip. The food was excellent.

https://www.oneoceanexpeditions.com/antarctica

60% of the participants signed up through Cheeseman Ecology Tours but those guys were pretty much passive observers, having little if anything to do with running the ship and tour. They were available to discuss the ecology of the area and they did an excellent job. Ted Cheeseman is doing a PhD in Whale studies through an Australian university.

On the first day into the trip it all began. Up for breakfast at 7 am, donning heavy layers of dress and boots for cold conditions, out exploring in the Zodiacs till noon-ish, back for lunch, then out again in the afternoon till supper around 7 pm. Three or four layers of clothing takes about 30 minutes to get on, including heavy clunky rubber boots. Waterproof backpack to hold camera gear adds weight. Walking with all this stuff was like walking in a spacesuit.

Then climbing down a gangway from the ship deck to the Zodiac, gauging the bounce from waves to step in, hopefully not falling. Seats are along the sides of the rubber boat, I think a real risk for falling in the 2 degrees C water if the boat zigs and you zag. There were near misses. The Zodiac, armed with an experienced pilot and a 60 horsepower outboard, went on its way to search for things of interest and no-where was off limits. All of us on board were experienced photographers. Weather variable. Sometimes bright, sometimes wind, snow and freezing rain. Camera gear protected by waterproof sleeves. It got cold and miserable out there. Trying to get out of the Zodiac by swinging legs over to slippery rocks, then climbing varying distances was extremely difficult for me. Many times no place to sit.

At this point the best way to show you the trip is to show you the photos. I will introduce you to the Youtube videos I made from this trip.

The Youtube presentation photos were all taken with my Sony and high resolution. Watch it in full screen. I sorted through about 1000 photos to get what’s in these presentations, so they might be a little long but I could have easily put 500 photos into a collection.

https://youtu.be/gCWJ6uN51-I

This was a ten-day, high-energy expenditure, high stress endeavor, not counting getting to the ship from Pittsburgh. My aging physiology hit the wall about day 6. I learned that my physiology’s response to high-energy expenditure and high stress was to set limits on what it was prepared to mount to meet it. My body simply de-tuned and refused to meet any challenges. So I began to function at a de-tuned level. My appetite went completely, and the food aboard was great. I developed increasing weakness in my left leg, then all over and required assistance on the rolling decks. Urinary incontinence at night. My thinking processes slowed down. I became listless and apathetic, having to force myself to move.

So I learned I had to lower my energy expenditure, beginning day 6 limiting myself to one Zodiac excursion a day instead of two, sleeping in- skipping breakfast and taking my time dressing. I thought clinically about what I really needed to do to get through the day and worked to cut out any excess for the last four days. I may have missed some things but I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss much.

Then the coup-de-grace, crossing the brutal Drake Crossing from Antarctica to Ushuaia, Argentina (considered a necessary part of the Antarctic experience). The Passage divides the cool, sub-polar conditions of southernmost South America from the frigid, Polar Regions of Antarctica. 600 miles and two days of reliably bad weather, high waves and rolling, bouncing decks. Passengers were lined up in front of the ship’s doctor’s door. Mercifully, I did not get seasick but it was pretty uncomfortable trying to eat and sleep when you’re chasing food across the table and holding on to avoid being tossed out of my bunk.

It was a hard trip from stem to stern and when I finally got home after two days in airports and airplanes, I just collapsed for a day. But it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event not many get to experience.

Addendum: a word about Whales.

99.9% of the entire whale population was decimated before the year 2000. It became obvious that something had to be done so an International consortium was formed to regulate the issue and harass scofflaws (Japan). Most of the blubber rendered in Norway is used to make margarine. Today, the hunting and killing of whales is no longer the main cause of their population decline. It’s now them getting snagged in lobster and shrimp traps and getting hit by fast moving ships in shipping lanes. Strategy for “saving whales” is ongoing by very hard working scientists and populations are increasing.

Whales have to “think-to-breathe” because they must coordinate a deep breath every time they dive. They can dive to very deep regions and stay down a long time. They collapse their lungs when they dive. They can regulate their heart rate (slow it) so blood flow to blubber is minimized and flow maximized to internal organs. Their hemoglobin is specialized to allow a much longer period of time for absorption of oxygen to the tissues.

Besides humans, their only natural enemy is the Orca, (Killer Whale- not a whale, a dolphin). Orcas are the “wolves of the sea”. An Orca will place itself on top of a whale not allowing it to surface to breathe. They can tag team a whale, another team Orca taking over when one gets tired. The whale eventually drowns and is made a hearty meal for every Orca in the vicinity.

Interested in such a trio? Be sure you’re ready for a LOT of stress and energy expenditure. There is nowhere to go if you get sick or hurt. Contact me if you are considering such a trip.