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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Towel Art

One of the most creative examples of towel folding I've ever found.                

Copyright, Jim Lane
Hanging monkeys get a little tiresome
after the third or fourth cruise.
Anyone who has ever taken a cruise has, no doubt, encountered this form of art in returning to their stateroom (preferred by cruise lines to the term, "cabin") after an evening of too much food, fun, and frivolity. Anyone who hasn't cruised, won't know what I'm talking about. It's an art form some say was actually invented by Carnival Cruise Line. More likely, the art of folding towels goes back somewhat further than that. Over the years, we've taken about ten cruises going as starting in 1988. My wife loves the little creatures and has taken pictures of the best of them ever since. The first few cruises we took we used to look forward to them. More recently, we've grown a bit jaded. It takes more creativity to impress us. Elephants, monkeys, and various breeds of puppy dogs no longer do much for us. However, I never will forget the time, aboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, when we came back to our room to find an effigy of me, made wholly of towels, and maybe a stray hat, asleep on our bed (similar to the one below). Fortunately, I'd not been drinking.
Towel effigy similar to the one we encountered on the Grandeur of the Seas in 2001.
Copyright, Jim Lane
This little guy cracked me up. He turned
up in our room one night aboard the Oasis
of the Seas. (Probably a stowaway from the
ship's laundry.)
Folding towels into animals is akin to origami. And though there's little doubt as to the Japanese origins of that art, its likely that towel folding actually originated from napkin folding, which originated in the court of the French monarch Louis XIV. (People back then were starting to have way too much time on their hands.) Insofar as towels are concerned, the art likely originated with luxury hotels (probably beach resorts) rather than cruise lines. Today, they're not all that common in hotel rooms, but practically a requirement for any respectable cruise line. I've often wondered if each room steward makes up his or her own creations at night after a fourteen-hour day, or if there's just one guy on each ship who does them all (or perhaps a whole department). The largest cruise ship, The Allure of the Seas, carries up to 5,400 passengers. At double occupancy, that's about 2,600 staterooms. That's a lot of towel folding.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The most extravagant use of towels we've ever encountered.
 I've titled this one, NBC After a Snowstorm.

Copyright, Jim Lane
I'm not sure just what breed of canine
this guy is, but he looks to be a
mighty "shady" character.
Of course, the art of towel folding survives and thrives on cruise ships for only one reason--tips. Other than leftover food from the main dining room and their cramped accommodations, stateroom stewards are paid a shameful pittance by the cruise lines. They live for tips, officially around ten dollars per person per day (often added to your onboard account by the cruise line automatically). However, a twenty on the first day might see you getting a few more little white animals during your cruise. If you do the math, you'll find tipping is no small part of the cost of a cruise, especially when you add in smaller tips for your dining room waiter and his or her assistant (table cleaner-offer). Room stewards (or whoever makes these things) have a major limitation in creating their sculptual works of art. Cruise lines use mostly (or exclusively) white towels. And, as any artist knows, color is one of the most important assets to be had. Sometimes tiny craft eyes are used along with silk flowers, candy, and bits of felt to give colorful accents and personality to their work. But nothing beats the limited use of colorful towls.

There are lots of more elaborate variations on this, but one of the most popular
towel art creations (and really not all that difficult) is the romantic swan pair
augmented with flowers of some kind. Some I've seen take over the whole bed.

Just follow the instructions below.
One of the major drawbacks to this type of art is that cruise lines frown upon your taking it home with you. Of course, packing it away in an overstuffed suitcase would probably cause your cute, cuddly, little creature to lose some of its appeal but... The answer to this disadvantage is, naturally, to learn to do it yourself. Cruise lines are only too happy to help in that regard. They sell overpriced how-to books on the subject. They also keep their passengers happy on sea days (travel dayz s between ports, for those who have never cruised) by offering demonstration seminars. The problem with these gatherings is, the room stewards charged with imparting their art usually know English as their second language. Their instructions tend to lose something in translation. Also, unless you can grab a seat in the front row, the demonstrations may be a little hard to follow. Below is a simple "how to" diagram for one of the most popular cruise mascots, the good, old-fashioned, Republican elephant.

There, wasn't that easy. Love the choice of color.

Even if you really, really like towel art, it's probably not worth the cost of a cruise just to see such creations; but they're a fascinating little "perk" for a vacation that will, quite frankly ruin ever other vacation you ever take unless you become like my wife and I, cruise addicts. We leave on our next one, The Allure of the Seas to Barcelona, April 19th of next year. Come join us, we'll find something to do--trade towels, maybe.

This one is a bit "over the top". It's what happens when you leave
yesterday's clothes lying around your stateroom for the steward to pick up.


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