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As a boy, Irwin Shaw stared out across Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay and dreamed of owning a boat and sailing the oceans wide. Decades later, he determined that chartering a yacht was better than having no boat at all. With his wife and son, Shaw then set out to mosey about the Mediterranean, guided by a Scottish captain, his wife and daughter, and a Greek cabin boy.
From St. Tropez to Naples, and across the Adriatic to Dubrovnik and up to Venice, it was the trip of a lifetime, its only fault being that, eventually, it would have to end.
Written in 1964, this travel memoir is a portrait of a bygone age, when the sun-soaked Mediterranean was still emerging from the shadow of World War II and “vacation” truly meant detaching oneself from the world. Featuring cameos by legendary authors such as Françoise Sagan and James Jones, this endearing memoir is the next best thing to a Mediterranean cruise.
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About the Author
Irwin Shaw (1913–1984) was an acclaimed, award-winning author who grew up in New York City and graduated from Brooklyn College in 1934. His first play, Bury the Dead (1936), has become an anti-war classic. He went on to write several more plays, more than a dozen screenplays, two works of nonfiction, dozens of short stories (for which he won two O. Henry awards), and twelve novels, including The Young Lions (1948) and Rich Man, Poor Man (1970). William Goldman, author of Temple of Gold and Marathon Man, says of Shaw: “He is one of the great storytellers and a pleasure to read.” For more about Shaw’s life and work, visit www.irwinshaw.org.
Read an Excerpt
In the Company of Dolpins
By Irwin Shaw
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1964 Irwin Shaw
All rights reserved.
When I was a boy I lived near Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. At that time, there were a good many private boats moored in the secure, narrow harbor. There was also a training stable for the horses of the New York City mounted police nearby, and my childhood dream was twofold — to own my own horse and to cruise the seas on my own yacht. The horse was to be a thoroughbred, more or less on the lines of Man O'War, the yacht was to be long, trim, nautically palatial. Decades later, when I lived for awhile on the edge of the Pacific in California, I owned a horse for eight months or so. He was wind-broken and after fifty yards his breath sounded like an express train in a tunnel; he shied at flying bits of paper and stumbled on even ground and trampled my feet when I put the bridle on him, but he was a horse and he was my own and I experienced a childish delight galloping him along the hard sand on the water's edge. He cost me fifty dollars, but he was worth every cent of it. Recently, with Sheepshead Bay many years behind me, I cruised four seas on a yacht that, for six weeks at least, was more or less my own. It was no palace, and it was rented, or chartered, as they say in yachting circles, and it cost a good deal more than fifty dollars, but the pleasure I had in it at certain moments lived up to the dreams of the boy wandering along the wooden docks of distant Brooklyn.
It is one of the quirks of our age to believe that when desires like these are fulfilled, they finish by leaving a taste of ashes in the mouth. That is, the young man who has his heart set on having a movie star as his mistress is supposed after awhile to discover that it was not worth the trouble, that he is stuck with an annoying and unpleasant female who makes his life miserable. The man who slaves to accumulate a great fortune and high political power is supposed to be left disgusted and unhappy as he contemplates the evidence of wealth and potency he has accumulated. The young writer or scientist who dreams of gaining the Nobel Prize, in this view of things, is cynically disdainful of it when he gets it. The truth very often, I have found, is simpler than that. The young man is enchanted with his movie star. The rich man revels in his wealth and uses his power with ever-renewed delight. I am not on good terms with many winners of the Nobel Prize, but from what I have seen, they would rather have won it than not.
So with my dreams of fair boats, warm waters and foreign coasts. The envy I nursed in my heart for the salt water plutocrats of Sheepshead Bay proved, after four decades, to have been justified, and the pleasures I imagined them enjoying on their graceful craft turned out to be real. In this age of massed holidays, congested roads, transistor-noise, jet-speed, fumes and telephones, one feels a timeless exaltation on the deck of a boat chugging through blue water at eight knots, swept by the tonic wind, the small white ship splendid and solitary in the clean shining circle of the Mediterranean horizon.
Looking at maps is one of the most satisfactory of occupations. Some of the purest joys of the voyage came months before I set foot on board the ship, when, on winter evenings, I studied a large map of Italy which generously included the coast of France from Toulon east and threw in the entire coast of Yugoslavia for good measure. The trip was to take us from St. Tropez to Venice, a voyage calculated to satisfy, for one summer, at least, the pent-up passion for distant harbors of even the most ardent of Sheepshead Bay mariners. It was to last six weeks, and I meant it to be a long, rejuvenating escape from private cares and public insanities. The schedule of arrivals and departures was so crowded that I felt I was assured of being places just long enough to enjoy their beauties without having the time to be oppressed by their problems.
While I was unpracticed in the art of cruising, I was not completely uninformed about the dangers that might arise. I had many friends who had sailed and steamed for pleasure and from their experiences I had been warned about certain hazards. The chief hazard, it appeared, was The Other Couple, or The Other Couples. Wind and tide had done in comparatively few of my friends, but Other Couples had brought disaster almost every time. The Other Couple might be composed of your lifelong buddy and his best wife, or the most amusing woman in Europe and her charming husband — but, somehow, after two or three weeks of visiting some of the gayest and prettiest places in the world, in the most perfect summer weather, I was assured that the ship would put into port with its passengers brimming with mutual hatred, or, even worse, congealed in polite but awful boredom.
The reason for inviting The Other Couple or The Two Other Couples on board is usually a simple one — Money. Chartering a boat is expensive, and unless you are ready to go without tobacco and other luxuries for the rest of the year, dividing the cost seems like the most sensible plan to follow. But a vacation that ends in gloom and recrimination is expensive at any price, and I resolved to keep the passenger list down to myself, my wife, and my son, since, in an approximate way, we have proved over the years that we could live with each other under a great variety of circumstances, and we agreed that we most probably could survive a further six weeks in each other's company. Holiday Magazine obligingly offered to play, at least financially, the role of The Other Couple, without actually having any of its officers filling any of the cabins or trying to tell the Captain what port to put into next.
Still, it is not as easy as one might think to stick to a resolution to stay alone, with one's family, on a yacht. Once it is known that you have rented a boat, there is a general feeling among your friends that you will invite them to share your joy for long periods at a time. In the circles in which we move, at least, it is almost inconceivable that any family would choose, out of its own free will, to remain locked almost exclusively in each other's company for six weeks at a time. Not wanting to appear hopelessly eccentric in the eyes of my friends, I invited quite a few of them to join us for different legs of the voyage, but cunningly asked them to meet us at times when I knew they would not be free and at places which I knew they could not reach. The only exception was a lady whom we have known so long and so well that we could treat her, without offense, as badly as any other member of the family, and who, besides, plays excellent tennis and could be depended upon to hold her end up staunchly in any game we managed to rustle up in our travels. And even she was not to meet us until Dubrovnik, two weeks before the end of the voyage.CHAPTER 2
GARE DE LYON
We started from the Gare de Lyon in Paris. This was several years ago and Paris was still rumbling with the uneasy repercussions of the unsuccessful putsch of the Generals, but the platform of Le Train Bleu, against all the dictates of geography, somehow was removed from all that. As you passed the gate you had a foot already in the blissful South and had entered a season in which people did not think of uprisings or wars. Startlingly shaped girls in slacks and sandals boarded the train with self-satisfied looking gentlemen who were obviously not their husbands, young men hurried past carrying water masks and flippers and spearguns, tennis rackets were tossed through windows, and many of the passengers were already bronzed, as though they had prepared conscientiously for the sun of the Midi which was to greet them in the morning.
The French are peculiar in their attitudes toward revolutions, wars, and the overthrow of regimes, parliamentary or otherwise. They are logical and violent and engrossed in politics, but rarely to the point of allowing disturbances in the streets and garrisons to interfere with their holidays. A Parisian newspaper, published at the time of the expected arrival of a fleet of paratroopers from Algeria to take over the government, bitterly pointed out that while some hundred thousand or so Parisians had applied for arms to defend the capital, more than a million had left, as usual, for their vacations. Americans are not really in a position to criticise this habit too severely. After all, it could hardly have been out of ignorance that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor early on a Sunday morning, a time consecrated to that long-standing American institution — the Great Saturday Night Hangover. Just what holiday the Russians were celebrating or recovering from when the German army rolled through a million border troops on the way to Moscow has not as yet been made public by the Soviet historians. So Le Train Bleu was full, with everything in place. For that evening the king was in the counting house, counting all his money, and the queen was in the kitchen, eating milk and honey.
The dining car was bright with cut flowers and with bottles of champagne in silver icebuckets on the tables, and the waiter who brought the first course was a handsome young man with a curious haircut and a nouvelle vague look on his face, obviously waiting to be signed up, if not on this trip then on the next, by a movie producer to play opposite Brigitte Bardot before the summer was over. The entire atmosphere of the Blue Train is fussy, luxurious, unhurried, and pleasantly old-fashioned. Traveling thus, the threats and alarms of the modern world seem remote and unreal. In a Caravelle, flying down to Nice at five hundred miles an hour, it is all too easy to think of bombardments, rockets and all the ugly, streamlined disasters we are promised by our politicians. The whistle of a jet reminds one inevitably that death comes quickly these days and that everybody's nerves are frayed and that we are at the mercy of impatient men who cannot wait to get us to the moon or to Venus or to the nearest cemetery. But sitting in a mahogany dining car, watching the waiter open a bottle of Bordeaux and carefully pour it, with the green, well-tended fields of the Île de France sliding past the windows and the wheels making their old comfortable music on the tracks, disaster seems improbable and you are freed for an evening from your own drastic times and delivered, with the connivance of the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer, into a happier and more substantial past.CHAPTER 3
We woke to vineyards and olive groves and the sunlight which is the blessing and presiding power of the Mediterranean coast. At the station of St. Raphaël, the Captain was waiting for us, twinkling and welcoming. He was a Scotsman, a hale sixty years of age, with whom we had sailed on a short test voyage the summer before. He actually used the words wee and lassie and scorned such gadgets as radio and radar. When he wanted to know what the weather was going to be like he would climb to the highest point of land near the harbor and take a look around and put up a wave-gnarled finger to test the wind and come back with a report that turned out to be just about one hundred per cent accurate on each occasion. He had been a lieutenant-commander in the Royal Navy during the war, and skipper of a deep water tug off places like Iceland and Java. He handled his ship like Y. A. Tittle handling a football, and we all became vicariously salty as we watched less gifted sailors trying to bring their ships, with much shouting and reversing of engines, into narrow berths alongside us.
The crew we had sailed with previously had consisted of a young English deckhand who was also a born sailor and a round, sad-faced, multi-lingual Spaniard who served equally well as cook, steward, shopper, deckhand, and historian, especially for my son, on the subject of the Spanish Civil War, in which most of his family had been shot by Franco's troops. When we asked about the health of last summer's useful gentlemen, we received the first of many shocks. Both of them were gone — the Spaniard to rejoin a ship he had served on earlier and the English boy back to England. The English boy had become homesick while the ship had been laid up for the winter in the harbor of Piraeus, in Greece. The walk from the ship's berth to the trolley lines into Athens had been too long for him, so he rarely went to the flics. He also had missed his winter Ping-Pong, the Captain reported. He had turned melancholy because of these deprivations and gone off, preferring Liverpool to Athens, a peculiarly British choice.
In place of the sad Spaniard and the unamused Englishman, the Captain said, we had a young Greek boy, who unfortunately only understood his native tongue. To fill out the crew, we had the Captain's wife as cook and the Captain's daughter, a ballet dancer between tours, as stewardess. We didn't realize it at the time, but the Other Couple was aboard, with a vengeance.
As we packed our bags into a taxi (we had about twenty valises and could have made do with two) the Captain told us that the refrigerator was failing, but that we were having the first good weather in weeks. Ignoring, in our ignorance, the dire news about the refrigerator — we later realized that this should have had the same prophetic quality as the first distant throb of the tom-tom in Emperor Jones — and approving of the sunshine as an omen of a prosperous voyage, we boarded the ship and shook hands gaily all round, first with the Captain's wife, a motherly, gentle-looking, rather shy lady, then with the Captain's daughter, trim, pretty and light on her feet, and finally with the Greek deckhand, a handsome slender boy, tanned and barefoot, who moved with the quick assurance of someone who came in a direct, wine-dark line from the men who had sailed with Ulysses.
Just as we were about to cast off, the palm of my hand was burned by a book of French matches which exploded spontaneously as I was unpacking a bag. Quick first aid on the Captain's part kept the damage down to a minimum, but the omens now called for further interpretation. With my hand bandaged, I went on shore again to look for a pair of rubber gloves, so that I could keep the hand dry as I swam.
The town was waking up now. On a yellow-painted boat moored near ours, which advertised itself as a school for skin-divers, the professor, tanned a chocolate brown, was checking his aqualungs, and in the shore-side cafés, the waiters were putting down the tables and washing the pavements. Opposite a church whose bells were praising the occasion in the high tower, some thirty girls, in white dresses, were being fussed over by their mothers in preparation for First Communion. The mothers were smartly dressed and anxious looking, as though, one and all, they were fearful that they had somehow forgotten to tell their daughters some crucial point of information about the ceremony of the morning. A car drove up and discharged another family, a dark child in a white dress, a mother in a Paris hat and white gloves, and a captain in the French Army, grave, marvelously shaved and turned out, with three impressive rows of ribbons on his immaculate chest, and no hint on his military face that he had ever heard of Algeria. A small monkey, who seemed to belong to no one in particular, played against the iron grill of the fence from beyond which came the soprano overture of the communicants. The bells rang louder and the girls muslined into billowing, floating lines of grace. The monkey regarded them interestedly, getting a sunnier notion of religion than he would have acquired farther North.CHAPTER 4
We set sail for St. Tropez, on the theory that if you are within a hundred miles of St. Tropez, you at least have to look at it. St. Tropez is a rich mixture of diverse elements. There is a whiff of Sodom and Gomorrah to it, and a little of a superb detention home for delinquent girls. With this, there is a kind of three-month-long Easter Parade for semi-nudists, mixed with the livelier aspects of an international congress. Thrown in for good measure is some of the color of an artists' colony, plus the bustle and trading of an Oriental bazaar, all against a bleached background of an old fishing port which gives shape and supplies a frame of beauty for the confused goings-on of this nerve-wracking playground, where you are in constant danger of being run over by a Ferrari as you stroll along in front of the cafés that face the harbor, or of being greeted effusively by the one person you have spent all spring avoiding in Paris.
Some French friends, among them Françoise Sagan, came on board for drinks. Since we had stocked our vessel from Ships' Stores, a glorious institution which carries all kinds of liquor, tax-free, and at a price to make drunkards long for the sea, we had an impressive cellar and made a host of friends over a thousand miles of Mediterranean coastline with comparatively painless generosity.
Excerpted from In the Company of Dolpins by Irwin Shaw. Copyright © 1964 Irwin Shaw. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
- Cover Page
- Title Page
- Ports of call
- Part I
- Sheepshead Bay
- Gare de Lyon
- St. Raphaël
- Part II
- St. Tropez
- Part III
- Porto Ercole
- Part IV
- Part V
- Part VI
- Part VII
- Part VIII
- Sheepshead Bay
- A Biography of Irwin Shaw
- Copyright Page