Carnival is Over and Other Sinking Feelings

English: Pieter II Brueghel (the Younger) (156...

English: Pieter II Brueghel (the Younger) (1564-1638). The Fight Between Carnival and Lent. Copy of a painting by Pieter I Brueghel (the Elder). Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium. Detail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday’s Fat Tuesday is today’s Ash Wednesday and a time for sober reflection. It’s been a rough week for ancient traditions. A pope stepped down for the first time since 1294. In Venice, where carnival has been celebrated since even before that time, revelers had to wade through high waters and melting snow in the sinking city. In Brazil, a carnival float caught fire and killed four too soon after that country’s deadly nightclub fire earlier this month. And somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico, a ship by the name of Carnival Triumph continues to drift after an engine room fire left it without power. Its four thousand plus passengers now face conditions remarkably like those of eighteenth and nineteenth century steerage class. The stench and filth below has driven some to sleep in tents on deck. Passengers report scarce food, long lines, and bad behavior. There are fears of disease and worries about the health of the elderly and handicapped. It’s no doubt a blessing for the cruise company that the lack of power has left people largely unable to use their cellphones and other such devices: so far, most of these reports are not accompanied by pictures. With luck, the beleaguered travelers will be towed to port in Alabama by today. They can, at least, be thankful they didn’t meet the fate of the passengers of the Costa Concordia—another ship belonging to the Carnival company. After running it aground, the captain decided to get off before his passengers had been rescued. What’s next? Women and children last? Yes, that too. Not even on our beloved Titanic where the captain did indeed go down with his ship were the male passengers quite as self-sacrificing as they have often been portrayed. While women and children mostly survived from first and second class, in steerage the rates were reversed. At least on the Titanic the captain gave the order to save women and children first. In most maritime disasters, survival rates were highest for the crew, followed by the captains (!), then women, and children dead last. Turns out that the real rule has been every man for himself. It seems unlikely that the Carnival line will re-name itself Lent any time soon, but it’s a thought.