On a recent trip to southern Italy, I was reminded of the years I worked for a certain cruise line as a Port Lecturer and Destination Specialist. In many ways a dream job, I was responsible for providing the historical, cultural and practical information as it pertained to the ship’s itinerary. The added bonus of the job was that I was required to explore the ports of call independently and share my adventures with the guests, enhancing my presentations with first hand accounts of my experiences.
Theoretically, the company supplies the Port Lecturers with their “approved” port and enrichment presentations. These are PowerPoint slides with presenter’s notes, in which, if you run your mouse across the text, you might find a link to Wikipedia. Needless to say I took it upon myself create compelling, cohesive and entertaining written and visual content for dozens of presentations for the company, either because no ‘approved’ talk existed on the subject at hand, or because the provided presentation was not to my liking. All of the presentations had to conform to the allotted 45 – 50 minute time slot. Brevity and clarity were paramount.
The service I provided encompassed presenting two types of lectures: Port presentations and enrichment presentations. The port presentations include a bit of historical background and geography but for the most part are intended to be “nuts and bolts” lectures, highlights destination’s attractions and transportation options. These lectures lend themselves to a formula of sorts. You learn to anticipate the guest’s questions and build your presentation around those answers. It’s a little different when it comes to the enrichment presentations, the ones discussing the history, geography and geology of a destination. The European programming provided by the company included a presentation on the history of Spain and Portugal, which was penned by guest entertainer and historian, Dave Levesque. Dave is a bright and multi-talented guy – a singer, comedian and violinist who also has a Master’s degree in History (of something from somewhere). I don’t doubt the credibility of his work, but his presentations are always brimming with innuendo: a slide showing a pile of rocks will have the accompanying text, “Cave paintings suggest a sophisticated self-awareness – here, a hand in Grote de Henry Cosquer may have been the artist’s signature…” This raises the question: when Dave presents this lecture himself does he expound on his own intimations, or does he presume the audience is smart enough to know what he’s talking about? Since I don’t know what he’s talking about, I’ll assume the answer is ‘no.’ I don’t doubt Dave’s ability deliver his own presentations with authority and panache, but I decided this time around I needed to tackle the subject matter myself from scratch.
View of the Castello, or Old Town in Cagliari, Sardegna
Writing historical overviews for cruise ship passengers is actually a little bit tricky. When you try to disassemble the wellspring that is Mediterranean history in order to create a cohesive snippet that will conform to a 45-minute timeslot, you quickly find yourself muddling through a morass of tribes, dates and battles that appear to be inextricably linked. Also keep in mind that at least a few of your audience members are going to be retired professors, hobbyists or other some type of ‘expert’ on the topic at hand. Many guests will simply fall asleep no matter what you say. Where to begin? Let me preface my choice of research material by saying that textbooks are relegated to a last resort, due to the fact that they take up space and precious weight in your luggage. I rely as much as possible on eBooks, educational software and reputable online resources. In my search for reference material I found a free book on my iBooks app, entitled, “A Short History of Spain.” A short history – 164 pages short to be exact. Relieved, I downloaded the book immediately. No wonder it was free – it was written in 1898 by a racist woman named Mary Platt Parmele (the Mahommedan…remains to-day, a scourge and blight in the territory upon which its cruel grasp still linger). Please Mary, just the facts…
At least Mary’s hate book gave me an accurate timeline from which to work. Still, with a wee 45-minute timeslot you have to pick and choose what elements will be the most prominent. Growing up American, I was only taught the history of other nations as it pertained to the United States. Whatever else I’ve learned I’ve picked it up in he course of my travels. For the purposes of this presentation I decided on a very quick overview of the aboriginal peoples: the Libyans, Iberians, Celts and Celtiberians, Tartessians and Lusitanians – anyone with cave paintings was included in the first 2 slides. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians got quite a bit of airtime – they did, after all, give us an alphabet and a navy. Next came the Romans and onto the invasion of the Moors, the fall of the Romans (I skipped the Visigoths) Aragon, Castile and León, Ferdinand and Isabella (the stuff we remember from the 4th grade), the Reconquista and subsequent expulsion of the Muslims and the Jews (the stuff they left out in the 4th grade), Columbus the Squatter, Henry the Navigator, the rise of the Bourbons and the Hapsbourg dynasties…basically the 2,000-year evolution of a nation to be delivered in ¾ of an hour.
In addition to it’s fortresses, amphitheater and aquaduct, Cagliari boasts two 13th century white limestone towers. Pictured here- Elephant Tower detail
The thing is, I seem to be really good at weeding through and extracting the most compelling aspects of any topic without making it sound like a 4th grade book report. I filled in the more recent historical details at Britannica.com, some high-resolution images courtesy of Google University Library, and Basta! “A Brief History of Iberia” was ready for debut!
The premiere went well; at the end of the presentation one gentleman sought me out to inform that me he had a Master’s degree in Latin American studies (oh here we go…). He was of the opinion that in the future I should include in my presentation the thesis that the Spanish New World explorations were, in many ways, an extension of the Reconquista…(Sure, why not? Maybe racist Mary wrote a sequel) I thanked him for his input and told him I would consider it. A really nice lady said to me, “That was WON-der-ful! Do you have a PhD???” “Ummm…no,” I replied. “Well you should get one – you’re very intelligent!!!” From 4th grade to PhD – apparently using the adult version of Encyclopedia Britannica really paid off.
The next day while strolling the backstreets of Cagliari, in Sardinia, I stopped by an epicurean shop to pilfer their luscious bread and cheese samples. The owner started chatting me up, asked where I was from, etc. I nearly spewed my bruscetta when he declared,
“You-a are a DOCTOR, yes!”
“Ummm…no.” I replied.
“Well…sort of” I relented.
“A HA! I can-a tell by your-a body LAN-guage!!!”
I’m starting to have more confidence in my acting ability than I ever had while performing for a living…but then again, I’m still performing for a living, only the context has changed. Or perhaps people will believe anything you say if you say it with good posture.