(Archive - Week of August 1, 2004)

Pull up another chair at the captain's table

This is not a political story, it's a story that took place in history - during the roaring ‘20s. I am running this piece because most of us are fed-up hearing political candidates telling us what they would do if elected or reelected and after they con the voters into believing them, they lose their memory after we give them the political power.

I have chosen this story because we now have a new restaurant in Pensacola Beach, Fla. bearing a very famous name, and I will celebrate my birthday there in the near future.

I was born in the roaring ‘20s while Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States. You will know the name of the restaurant after you read this exciting story.

During the 1920s and ‘30s people traveling between the United States and Europe went mostly by ship, and it was during that era that many of the luxury liners were built and put into service.

Perhaps the most luxurious of those ships was the Ile de France. It was neither the largest nor swiftest of the ships plying the Atlantic, but when it came to lavish decor, superb cuisine and faultless service, the France was second to none. Anybody who was anybody sailed on that glorious French vessel.

Once, during the early ‘20s a young, unknown American writer was aboard the France on an eastward journey. The famous Capt. Joseph Blancart was the master of the ship at that time.

The aspiring author was poor and was traveling to Paris cabin class. However, in spite of the fact that he had not yet published anything that anybody had heard about, he was already developing a bravado that, later, would become his trademark.

Anyway, the young novelist met a friend on board who had a spare tuxedo and who invited him to have dinner, that night, in the first class dining room. The writer accepted without hesitation.

After most of the passengers, including the novelist, were seated at their tables, a late comer caused every head in the room to turn as one. The focus of their attention was a vision in flowing white descending the magnificent stairway that led from the upper deck. It was the famous German film star, Marlene Dietrich.

Miss Dietrich glided into the dining room, and then headed to the captain's table where she had, of course, been invited to dine. But, alas, there was a problem. The statuesque blonde quickly and imperceptibly counted heads at the table then declined to sit down. She would have made the 13th person and being extremely superstitious, would not run the risk.

However, a gentleman at a nearby table quickly solved the dilemma by joining the table himself, thus when the German star sat down she made the 14 th person. The man was, of course, the person who didn't even belong in the first class dining saloon.

Everybody had watched the drama intently and when the well-known actress and singer had balked at joining the captain's table, a hush fell over the big room. Now when the handsome American joined the table and graciously seated the beautiful star beside him, applause and laughter broke out everywhere.

The other guests at the captain's table were charmed by it all. It was such a privilege to have Miss Dietrich there that when it appeared she would not join them, disappointment threatened. Then, when the American so easily solved the problem, everyone was delighted.

Ernest Miller Hemingway

It might have been a different story, of course, if Captain Blancart and the guests dining at his table had been aware that this brash young man was traveling cabin class and wearing a borrowed tuxedo. On the other hand, they probably would have been awed if they could have guessed what a mark their unexpected table companion, whose name was Ernest Hemingway, would soon make on the literary world.

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

–––– ERNEST HEMINGWAY, The Old Man and the Sea. (1952)

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