Melodie – passenger on board HS Bach

Melodie

In May 2013, I joined HS Bach for a five month contract which proved to be one of the most amazing voyages of my life so far. Apart from taking me to some unknown territories – like Mexico – this vessel offered me the chance of meeting many interesting people and I am very happy to see that most of them became very good friends of mine. Being chartered by one of the biggest shipping company in the world, CMA CGM, our ship received – during our contract – eight passengers on board, all of them signing on for the Atlantic crossing. Melodie was the first of them. She had come on board few days prior to our arrival and we met on the bridge upon vessel’s departure from Bremerhaven. She came to me, shook my hand and presented herself in a nice and soft voice, with a very little touch of French accent over her mastered English. I was quite amazed to find a French woman speaking English so well, but I understood the reason right away. She had been living in Los Angeles for more than five years, where she had first arrived for a Master Degree in Art and where she finally had decided to settle down. ‘To settle down’ is quite a big word for an artist like her because she enjoys travelling and moving from one place to another in search of new challenges to inspire her work. She is a free spirit and the most open-minded person I have ever met. I suppose all the artists are like her, but she is the first real artist I have ever met and during her one month trip on board HS Bach we had plenty of time to know each other better. She told me that she needed a trip like this – away from all kinds of distractions – as a way of transportation towards Mexico (where she had to arrive), but mostly as a time to rediscover herself and an inspiration tool for a next art project. The whole month voyage was meant to be a time for a lot of research reading, long hours of solitude and lot of working. I do not know how she managed to do all these and much much more, just sleeping only 5-6 hours every night might have been her way of dealing with the huge amount of activities she hadn’t expected to find on a vessel, but she actually did.

During her time on board we spent few hours together every day – on deck, on the bridge, in the Recreation Room, in the Messroom – but I couldn’t keep up with her. She was everywhere, always ready to notice everything, to ask all the questions, to understand all the technical terms connected with the vessel, to speak with everybody. She was eager to learn everything about the ship and about many other subjects and everything looked much more different and much more interesting to her than to any other person around.

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I really like people who are curious, alert and always interested in learning new things – regardless their age – but Melodie was even more than that. A very calm person, although apparently agitated, she could spend one hour outside recording the sound of wind or the noise made by the moving containers, she could stay still for half an hour to film the sun setting down or one guy working in the Engine. One day she even spent two hours working on remodeling some regular round candles in order to transform them in two number figure candles for a birthday cake.

She received her baptism ceremony with lot of joy and courage and made the best of it, inspiring everybody around her to enjoy the event as much as she did.

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She spent a lot of time learning new skills and games – like playing ping pong and backgammon – and she enjoyed speaking with everybody on the vessel, trying her best to learn as many things as possible from as many sources as possible. I know her effort was really paid off and her voyage was one of the greatest experiences of her life. For this reason, she chose to repeat it after one year and we had the pleasure of seeing her on our next vessel as well, for a two week trip around the Mediterranean Sea.

When HS Bach arrived in Veracruz – her port of disembarkation – we had the chance of spending few hours ashore together and we had a great time – while trying to choose the right blouse to buy from the Artisan Market, riding the green tourist bus around the city or watching the local girls dancing in the street.

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We said our goodbyes with sadness in our eyes, but with the promise to meet again. And so we did after only six weeks when the vessel came to Veracruz again and she had travelled few hours in a bus, coming from Mexico City, especially to see us. We spent a whole afternoon together, having again a lot of fun – on the beach, in the market and around the city centre, where groups of mariachi were playing and locals were dancing.

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I am very happy I had the privilege of meeting her and very grateful for all the thinks she taught me about art – an area I didn’t know much about – and life, in general. I am very glad to have a French- American artist among my friends and I hope she will get everything she wishes for – in her artist life, but in her personal, too.

Thank you, Melodie, for sharing your story with us.

– Why did you choose this way of travelling?

“I am an artist, and this crossing of the ocean I did between Le Havre (France) to Veracruz (Mexico) was part of a larger art project I was working on. It was a sort of identity quest, and because it was a quest, I wanted to share a little bit the feeling of what could have been to go conquest the new world. That new world, in that case was myself, but I thought anyway, being in the middle of the ocean, was a good place to get to know that territory, too.

It was my first experience on a ship, and, although I grew up near the ocean for a long period of time, I had never been sailing or anything like that before. I just had taken the ferry to go to England twice and I was each time very sick.

I joined the vessel in Le Havre on the 12th of May 2013. We went up north, to Antwerp, Rotterdam, Bremerhaven, before crossing the Atlantic. I remember our route was slightly changed to avoid a storm – we had to pass North of Great Britain, instead of passing through the English Channel, still we had fairly bad weather until we reached Newfoundland. We stopped in the United States – in Charleston and Miami – then we arrived to where I was landing: Veracruz.”

– When did you start making your preparation for the trip (papers, visas,booking)?

“This happened quite fast. I was looking for a way to arrive to Mexico by boat and I had to leave as soon as possible, I first looked into sailing boats options, and then contacted directly a shipping company that never replied to me, by word of mouth I heard of an agency in Paris that worked with CMA CGM to carry passengers on board container vessels. Once I got in touch with the lady, it went very fast, luckily there was one empty cabin on the ship that was going to Mexico and I usually live in Los Angeles so I already had my visa for the States.”

– How was the weather during the trip?

We had a pretty rough weather at the beginning of the journey, which I personally enjoyed, there was an epic feeling to it, the impression of danger, but the seamen weren’t impressed by the conditions, I supposed they were used to way worse! The sun showed up when approaching the Caribbean Sea. I was lucky to be baptized on a beautiful sunny day. They even had settled a swimming pool in the front of the vessel, and we had a barbecue outside.

– How would you describe life on board?

“The life on the ship is incredibly regular and repetitive, at the same time I didn’t have two similar days in the whole trip, neither had I found the time for boredom. Life on board really depends on what brought you there, as a passenger, you are making your day. I spent my time observing the life and work on board, for me it was fascinating, and I didn’t want to miss any of it. I guess, it also depends on which area you are in, of course, if you are going from harbor to harbor, like we did in Europe for instance, it is very intense, between the maneuverings, the activity around the containers, the charging and discharging. Those are moments where time is counted, anywhere the seamen are very busy. As a passenger you can admire the machinery and highly organized system behind globalization. If you are interested in understanding the system in which we live, this will give you a pretty good « aperçu » . Then it is other story when you are at sea, the seascape takes over you, and the rhythm of sunrises and sunsets flows very fast, too fast! The routinely meals are important moments where you can share discussions and anecdotes with the officers and members of the crew.”

– How was the relation with the officers and crew?

“I was very lucky to be surrounded by really nice and sweet people. Some of them I am still in touch with and I really hope to meet them again in my life. The crew and the officers have different common areas – for meals, and for recreation. They also have different food, so I alternated between the different areas, I had a really good time singing Karaoke with the crew, as well as playing backgammon and ping pong with officers, or drinking a beer and watching sexy Eastern-European music videos in their recreation room.”

– Did you take part in any celebration on board?

“We had a few birthday parties and a baptism ceremony for me and a cadet. This was a very special day, I was scared they would throw me over board, attached by the feet over a shark area, but none of that scary things happened. All the crew had fabricated amazing pirate costumes out of very surprising material such as toilet brush, mops and cardboard… I was sincerely impressed! Poseidon was there baptizing me, I was renamed « Marseillesa ».”

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IMG_8006– Baptism Party on board HS Bach

– Would you like to do it again?

“I already did it again. And, honestly, if it was cheaper, I would never take the plane again.”

IMG_8772– together again, on HS Bruckner, in June 2014 –

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