Although artist and lecturer in residence on the two early circumnavigations in the '70s, we were given full passenger status and mingled with the passengers. In a previous post I told you about a "merry widow" from Brooklyn.
There was another widow aboard this sailing. She reminded me of an “Annie Get Your Gun” character. Every day without fail she’d be the first person in the bar. There she would sit, covered in diamonds and other precious gems, imbibing vodka. Sometimes she’d ask Natasha (who was the youngest passenger, at 24) and me to join her for cocktails. One day Natasha complimented her on her remarkable jewelry (diamonds, rubies and emeralds). She quickly smiled and said, “Why don’t you take one or two? They’re covered by insurance.” We pretended we didn’t hear her.
Soon after this she was worrying about what to give her son for his thirtieth birthday. Earlier on she’d told us that she owned one of the major American football teams, but hated the board meetings and whoopla involved. So, I said half-jokingly, “Why not give your son the football team?” To our surprise she winked and said, “What a great idea, Henry, I’ll do that.” She strode off to see the radio officer (this was long before email) and sent a wire with news of the birthday gift.
Another passenger we’d gotten to know and become fond of was “The Major”, as we called him. He could have walked straight out of a story by W. Somerset Maugham. The Major travelled with a valet, and would often invite us to his suite along with a few other guests before dinner. We exchanged stories; he was interested to hear my father was a diamond-facetter and that Natasha and I were knowledgeable about precious stones.
The Major was a corpulent fellow well into his ‘80s, but loved to eye the pretty Norwegian stewardesses and flirted with Natasha. (We were delighted to meet him again the following year on a second circumnavigation, by which time he was in a wheelchair and had a new valet). He lived in Switzerland and also owned race horses in Bahamas. On the last day of the voyage The Major invited us to visit him next time we were in Europe.
Two years later we happened to be on a Eurail train odyssey, and made arrangements to visit The Major. At the Swiss train station, his chauffeur picked us up in a Silver Cloud Rolls Royce and took us directly to The Major’s home for ‘luncheon’. During this delightful meal, The Major turned to Natasha with a twinkle in his eye and told her, “I own a jewelry store here. I’d like you to run it, and I may end up giving it to you. Henri seems to know alot about precious stones, so it would work out perfectly; you'd never wind up in a poor house.” Here again, we were tempted about jewelry, this time a whole jewelry store. We said to him, “A kind offer, we’ll think about it.” (We learned a year later that he went ‘over the horizon’.)