Monday, April 27, 2015

More False Departures / Encore les Faux Departs

The project continues, and I am getting to know this grandfather who wrote so lovingly of his family, and especially his wife – and in that matter I trust his judgment because she would later become my own beloved Bonne Maman.

Since you last heard, Bon Papa was en route to the Caltex headquarters in NY, planning to go to Cairo. He and his colleagues are traveling aboard the “Challenger” of the Union Pacific RR. He writes in loving detail of the towns and landscapes they pass through, especially the western vistas he so extravagantly admires: “Several ranches as described by Zane Grey”. Or: “Evanston, Utah = it was here I had my troubles with our Dodge car, 7 months ago, but that turned out well.” Or: “This evening we arrived in Omaha, the capital of Nebraska, the state always “dry”, which did not allow us, all evening, to enjoy our whiskeys. Frigid wind and we didn’t leave the station during our half hour stop.” Or: “From Albany, the capital of NY, we passed the Hudson River, whose banks are covered with ice. It is a beautiful spectacle – seen from our well-heated Pullman. The large factories on the riverbanks that I know: Phelps Dodge, Anaconda Copper Co, Fisher Body, De Lavat Steam engines…and many more. We arrived at the formidable Grand Central Station at 9 am.” (I translated formidable, the French, as formidable, the English. I know that is not properly correct, that it means something more on the lines of wonderful. But I like the word.)
While awaiting his Egyptian visa, Bon Papa worked at the office and toured New York, methodically and enthusiastically, and wrote about it for his wife.

On the 6th of February he learned that the Egyptian authorities had refused to grant him an entry visa. This news shocked my grandfather and shocked his boss at Caltex and even shocked the Egyptian consul. He had lived happily in Alexandria from 1931 to 1939, and had many friends and contacts in Egypt, friends who awaited his return.
That same afternoon, the General Manager asked Bon Papa if he spoke Spanish (he did, quite well). The G-M said (This is all written in French; the shabby translations are mine), “You know, perhaps, that the US is investing nearby to Santiago de Cuba about 20 miles from Guantanamo. $18 million for development of nickel and manganese, 2 metals absolutely necessary for war. And we miss a great deal of that. Time is pushing. The development will not be late in starting. This representation (“un chiffre d’affaire”) of the turnover of an oil field from $3 to 4 million per year, and we want it. You need to arrange that we will get this business. …Besides this, you know that the sugar business of Cuba are the largest in the world. Certain mills produce 15,000 tons of sugar cane per day. They are situated in the eastern provinces. Yours. We have to accept we have no clients; it is not acceptable and you need to correct this situation. There is the Cuban RR, but we have never had anything to do with them, and we would like to take our share of the profits. That would be one of your missions.”
About this new posting to Cuba, Bon Papa wrote: Here is the good American method. Precise, quick and broad. This work pleases me at the outset. I saw right away all the possible risks. There is a director and vice- director already in Havana, who would be the obvious ones to fill this spot. But they haven’t succeeded, it seems, and we have more hope in me.
I didn’t wait to study all that can help me in my new functions. I studied for 8 or 9 hours a day to better know the technical side of the exploitation of the mines, of sugar mills and railroads.
Every day I read aloud about 50 pages from a novel, in the Spanish language. I prepare eagerly.

And he went to movies. He went to a movie almost every day. As I translate, I am compiling a list of the movies he went to, imagining that I will see the same movies and know him better. Movies he saw from mid-January to the end of March, 1942 include but are not limited to: Tobacco Road, The Corsican Brothers, Chocolate Soldiers, Hudson Bay, Design for Scandal, Ruggles of Red Gap, Woman of the Year, Louisiana Purchase, The Mutinies of Elsinore, The Last of the Duanes, White Fang, Mister V, Remember the Day, Two Faced Woman, Riders of Sage Brush, Adventures of Martin Eden, Bedtime Story, Reap the Wild Wind, and Sullivan’s Travels.
He loved the moves, but I think he loved the Rockettes more. I have not kept count of his visits to Radio City Music Hall.

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