The Sea Did Not Claim Me!

Even on that dreadful night of July 25 of 1956 the sea did not claim me—neither physically nor emotionally. In fact, I am still mesmerized by the sea and all the images that it evokes: sea life, sea breeze, seashells, and sea portraits. Some of the fine art’s most impressive repertoire, is among my collection of “favorite things”: in the strains of Claude Debussy’s “La Mer”, I feel uplifted; in the portraits of Mary Cassat, the joys of families playing recall life’s simple pleasures; in literature, Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, inspires me to transcend obstacles.

Surviving the Andrea Doria—Stockholm collision on the Atlantic Ocean in1956 has not crippled me with thalassophobia, or fear of the sea. In fact, I respect its force and vastness, and I long to revisit the beauty of the ocean spaces that have enthralled me: the yachts in their slips from my family’ home in San Remo, the ever-winding coastline of Cartagena, Colombia, the rugged cliffs of Carmel, California, and the prosperity engulfing Palm Beach, Florida.

Perhaps it was my young age that protected me from wallowing in fear during the collision and rescue. As a nine-year-old, who had been sheltered from life’s perils while living in a small farming village, death by drowning was an unknown concept. On the other hand, my grandparents, Pietro and Domenica Burzio, had a heightened awareness that the sea could imminently claim their life. The catastrophic event left my grandmother crippled by any thoughts, sounds or sights of water. Even walking along Lake St. Clair, Michigan was enough to precipitate a fear and flee instinct.

Other survivors of the Andrea Doria, who I interviewed for my book Alive on the Andrea Doria! The Greatest Sea Rescue in History, had mixed feelings about their relationship to water: some were initially even afraid of bath water, but most of them continued to travel by sea. The most extraordinary survivor of the tragedy, Linda Morgan,* lived on and sailed a boat for two years with her husband. Her only stipulation was to be able to see land at all times.

It’s now fifty years after the Andrea Doria catastrophe. Since the sea has not claimed me, I will stake a claim to explore its unlimited resources of beauty. I long for week-end visits to Michigan lakes and dream of witnessing Darwin’s theory of evolution on the Galapagos Islands, ferrying along the chilly fjords of Scandinavia, swinging in a hammock next to a Tahitian hut, and listening to glorious music in the opera house
of Sidney, Australia.

* The fourteen-year-old was sleeping in a cabin on the Andrea Doria, when the bow of the Stockholm catapulted her from her bed and onto its bow.

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