Americans on the sea


“On the Water” seeks to remind us how deeply our daily lives are still informed by maritime activity, of the grand international web of ocean commerce that brings cars and televisions and fuel and food to our doorsteps. But as far as most Americans are concerned, these products could have dropped from the sky or grown magically on store shelves. As we turned from sailors to consumers, we desired the means by which we get our goods to be as simple and innocuous as possible, and thus, as divorced as possible from the water. Even those scant five percent of Americans who have been on a cruise ship — vast sideways hotels cruising noiselessly and still — could hardly tell you about the roar of the waves or the smell of the surf, and food poisoning from buffet tables is more likely than sea sickness. Mostly, “On the Water” reminds us that the contemporary American relationship to water is an abstraction. That the waterways we hardly notice these days, that gave America its very soul, are a memory. We no longer see our reflection in the rivers and oceans as did Americans in Melville’s day. We are landlubbers and occasional passengers, and more and more, it seems that the sea finds its reflection in us.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.