Monday, June 30, 2014

Tempest on the High Seas

S.S. Liberté, 

The great luxury liners were never more glamorous and exciting than on the day of departure. As passengers arrived and the final provisions were loaded on board, scarlet-jacketed bellboys scurried back and forth to the cabins, delivering flowers, telegrams, and Champagne. And when the tugboats finally began to nudge the leviathan from her berth, brightly-colored streamers rained down on friends and relatives who shouted “bon voyage” from the pier. I witnessed this spectacle firsthand in the spring of 1959 when I sailed to Europe with my parents. At the time, it was not unusual to travel by ship. Half of the people who crossed the Atlantic still did so by sea, and there was perhaps no better way than to book passage on the French Line’s Liberté which was renowned for its palatial Art Deco interiors and fine cuisine.1 My week aboard this steamship provided me with many memories, such as having the meal of my dreams and catching glimpses of one of our fellow passengers, a stripper named Tempest Storm.

Monday, June 23, 2014

War Weary


A hundred years ago this week, Serbian nationalists assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife, setting off a series of events that led Europe into war. Although the United States did not enter the conflict until 1917, Americans living in Paris quickly sprang into action, establishing a military hospital for wounded French soldiers. Recalling this humanitarian effort, three menus from the hospital’s annual observance of Bastille Day unwittingly reflect this exhausting war of attrition.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Robin au Crouton

New York City, 

In October 1857, philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote about a chance encounter with a nearby farmer who was twice his age. “…I saw Brooks Clark, who is now about eighty and bent like a bow, hastening along the road, barefooted, as usual, with an axe in his hand; was in haste perhaps on account of the cold wind on his bare feet. When he got up to me, I saw that besides the axe in one hand, he had his shoes in the other, filled with knurly apples and a dead robin. He stopped and talked with me a few moments; said that we had had a noble autumn and might now expect some cold weather. I asked if he had found the robin dead. No, he said, he found it with its wing broken and killed it. He also added that he had found some apples in the woods, and as he hadn’t anything to carry them in, he put ’em in his shoes. They were queer-looking trays to carry fruit in. How many he got in along toward the toes, I don’t know. I noticed, too, that his pockets were stuffed with them. His old tattered frock coat was hanging in strips about the skirts, as were his pantaloons about his naked feet. He appeared to have been out on a scout this gusty afternoon, to see what he could find, as the youngest boy might. It pleased me to see this cheery old man, with such a feeble hold on life, bent almost double, thus enjoying the evening of his days.”1