For nearly two decades, Mario had been living out of his suitcase, traveling extensively for his corporate job as the director of international finance at a multinational corporation. He spent more time in and out of hotel rooms scattered across Latin America than he did at his home in Miami. After working nonstop for nearly 21 years, Mario — burned out — decided it was time to pursue a lifelong goal: to travel around the world, without leaving home. In 1997, he quit his job, packed an even bigger suitcase and quietly disappeared from the lives of his friends and family to pursue a new life on the open water (via).
Lance Oppenheim had heard of Mario Salcedo, or “Super Mario” for years, so he decide to make a video about him, to explore "the transformation of nontraditional places and spaces into homes." What he found was not what he expected.
"The Mario we followed," Oppenheim writes, "was not living the fantastical dream life of a 'cruising king,' as I’d seen him described. The Mario we found lives a life full of paradoxes: while he proclaims his independence from others, he surrounds himself with throngs of anonymous tourists, shaking hands and selling his lifestyle" (emphasis mine).
Even in the short film, you see it, a constant need and desire to tell everyone, "I'm the happiest man on earth." Like he's trying to convince himself that he is happy, and that he's proud of what he's become.
Even in this short six-minute snap shot, it all seems like a facade, a mask, or at best, a distraction. With over 7,300 nights at sea, Mario's home is a revolving door of new faces, occasional friends who stay for a short while, and simple stories. There is no depth, no purpose, and very little thought to anything outside of himself, his life, and what makes him happy. Which also seems completely shallow.
Oppenheim concludes his article with, "as I floated dreamily across a sea of professional smiles with Mario, I realized that his facade had taken on a reality of its own, that his ongoing voyages to nowhere — and everywhere — provided an overwhelming sense of freedom perhaps not found on land. It is in that freedom that Mario has finally found his home."
But I don't buy it. I don't think Oppenheim does either. I think he's just being polite.
Consider the scene at the 3:45 mark, where Mario attempts to convince us that he is "the happiest person in the world. Being alone." Oppenheim chose that scene, of Mario sitting at the long table, sipping his wine, with nothing but the quiet. It's a powerful scene of dichotomy because he isn't alone - ever - because he lives on a cruise ship that is constantly filled with people. And yet, he is completely alone.
Even in death.
"I have already planned my death," Mario says, "If I really get sick, I may decide to do one final scuba dive and just go down four-hundred feet, instead of having to live my last years on land, in a land hospital. To me, that would be pure hell."
There may not be a more appropriate yet depressing ending for Mario. Alone, in the dark, with nothing but memories of heading nowhere, arriving nowhere, with no one by his side and nothing to show for life but false luxury, simple stories, and shallow reminders.
Everyone can easily fantasize of having a fews days and even weeks where very little is expected of them, no cleaning is required, and at any give time they can escape into isolated silence. But for twenty-plus years? How many sunsets can you watch alone before wanting to wrap your arms around a loved one? How many meals can you eat before wanting to hear of someone's day or the sweet giggles of simple conversation? How many faces can you greet or hands can you shake before wanting someone to know you by name, understand your joys and struggles, or challenge you thoughts and dreams?
How many days can you wake up and think and live only for yourself?
Because to me, discovering much too late that life is more than fancy cruises and daily room service, would be pure hell. While I kick and pull and scream towards the depths of the deep and cold ocean floor.
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