Pirate Latitudes
January 14, 2011 4:16 PM   Subscribe

William Langewiesche writes an enthralling account of the hijacking of a French cruise ship in the Gulf of Aden by Somali pirates.
posted by reenum (17 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I love that guy. He did a piece on shipbreaking in the Indian Ocean that was awesome.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:42 PM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was just telling someone how I had canceled my Atlantic subscription. If Langewiesche still wrote for them instead of Vanity Fair, I might not have.
posted by Jahaza at 4:43 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is some big funny in this.

"American passengers were different—individually more accessible than the French, but collectively exhausting. The problem seemed to stem from a lack of skepticism, or of philosophical distance from themselves. Certainly this was not true of all Americans, but it did seem to apply to the types who came to these cruises."

"The company that owns the Ponant is a Marseille-based shipping conglomerate called CMA CGM, which is held by a Franco-Syrian-Lebanese family named Saadé, and does business through 650 agencies and offices worldwide, serving 403 ports in 150 countries, and operating more than 400 container ships, many of them under flags of convenience—cherry-picking the official home ports in a mockery of national chauvinisms. If there were a God looking down from above, he would have to approve, if only on the basis that all are equal in his sight."
posted by mwhybark at 4:48 PM on January 14, 2011

the danger to a vessel about to kidnapped is is the condition of the Pirates who are boarding the vessel, imagine their mental condition, all the cocaine and other drugs they want to take as the supply is unlimited and getting high adds to each of the Pirates courage and non-reasoning. I would'nt look at them wrong!
posted by tustinrick at 4:50 PM on January 14, 2011

This reads like the Baroque Cycle. And the note that the women were able to open the wine in the hold "by birthright" is absurd.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:12 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Obligatory South Park reference.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:52 PM on January 14, 2011

A Terrible Llama: I love that guy. He did a piece on shipbreaking in the Indian Ocean that was awesome.

I loved that article and the cover photography and story photos so much I still have that issue of The Atlantic.

His writing is something special for a journalistic sort of creative non-fiction with miles of depth and beauty. (What would you guys call it?)

Forgive me. I haven't read this article yet as I'm about to keel over from the worst cold I've had in years....
posted by Skygazer at 6:55 PM on January 14, 2011

His writing is something special for a journalistic sort of creative non-fiction with miles of depth and beauty. (What would you guys call it?)

New Journalism?
posted by Jahaza at 7:29 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a piece of non-fiction more. His style and humor are wonderfully refreshing. I, for one, enjoyed all the tongue-in-cheek references to French birthright very much (as well as all the mouthwatering descriptions of the food). I think he captures the gap between the reality of an event and media-constructed narratives of that event very well.
posted by peacheater at 7:33 PM on January 14, 2011

Aye, Hornblower.
posted by clavdivs at 9:11 PM on January 14, 2011

Hmmm, I'm going to the Seychelles. Curieuse, most likely. Love the writing, but on a matter of life-or-death, if I were being held hostage by pirates with Kalashnikovs, I'd choose the nouvelle French cuisine over any other alternatives.
posted by hampanda at 1:23 AM on January 15, 2011

IMO, this easily isn't one of William Langewiesche's better pieces. I've tried to read everything he's published (within reason, I'm not completely obsessed), so here are some articles I feel are far superior:
  • A Sea Story (The Atlantic, May 2004):
    "Survival that night was a very tight race, and savagely simple. People who started early and moved fast had some chance of winning. People who started late or hesitated for any reason had no chance at all. Action paid. Contemplation did not."
  • City of Fear (Vanity Fair, April 2007):
    "He said, “We’ve got to fear what we do not know. They grew up under our noses without us seeing them. And we are still in the dark. We don’t know what’s coming in the future. It is simply unacceptable that a criminal gang can order attacks against security agents, against judges, that it can attack financial institutions, that it can bring the transport system to a halt. What is a state if it cannot keep this from happening?”"
  • The Devil at 37,000 Feet (Vanity Fair, January 2009):
    “But assigning blame can only go so far. Ultimately the accident leaves you to ponder a paradox associated with progress and modern times...The sky is just as big as it ever was, but the margin for error has shrunk. And when the systems fail? That is what happened over the Caiapós’ land. The paradox was precision. Mistakes were made, the Devil played, and two arrows touched nose to nose.”
  • A Face in the Crowd (Vanity Fair, February 2008):
    "The choice is between a repressive society that relies on paper and a free society that can harness databases. His question—where to find liberty?—is also ours."
I'll admit to having an overactive imagination, but sometimes...while waiting for the tube, walking on the street, or in a dream, images and scenes from "A Sea Story" and "The Devil at 37,000 Feet" haunt me. In some ways it's difficult to well whether I'm better off having read them.
posted by asymptotic at 1:38 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

it's difficult to well = it's difficult to tell
posted by asymptotic at 1:39 AM on January 15, 2011

His writing is something special for a journalistic sort of creative non-fiction with miles of depth and beauty. (What would you guys call it?)

That's it exactly. He also wrote a book about taking apart the WTC that was really fascinating. He takes stuff that is quite literally nuts and bolts and makes it really compelling. I saw him read from that book a long time ago. We had to walk through a crowd of police and firemen protesting his presence.

That's an intimidating protest, I'll tell you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:38 AM on January 15, 2011

Hmm, I thought the story was fascinating, but I found a lot of the author's editorializing and projection sort of intrusive.
posted by threeants at 7:52 PM on January 15, 2011

Langeweische is a great writer, and I snap up whatever of his I can find. He left The Atlantic in 2006, and here's a list of all his pieces that they published:

After The ATlantic, he went to Vanity Fair; here are all his pieces published there: http://www.vanityfair.com/contributors/william-langewiesche
posted by wenestvedt at 9:36 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Another new piece in Vanity Fair.
posted by dd42 at 3:22 PM on January 29, 2011

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