A Queen, A Prince and His Beautiful Pharaoh

blog by Robyn Wyman-dill

With the calendar now inching deeper into fall season, I would like to bid adieu to my favorite month of the year in the western hemisphere – September.  Which I remember ended on a good note.  Thank you.

In California, Governor Brown signed the plastic bag ban, making us the first state in the nation to curb plastic bag usage in grocery stores.  Another first for the US – a law that allows private citizens to ask a court to seize guns from family members who they believe pose a threat to themselves or the public – goes to California too. Meanwhile, an amendment for the legalization of recreational marijuana is favored to make it on the 2016 ballot here.  If passed, it would bring in much-needed state revenue for the decaying state – whose economy was hit hard by the recession. (In the first six months, Colorado added $13.9 million to the state coffers from pot sales tax and fees. ) Unofficially, marijuana is ranked as the number one agricultural crop in California – and has been for more than 50 years.

As you may know I marvel at beauty because it is a many splendored pleaser. With its natural abilities to attract, inspire and spark desire, it simply makes the living of life so much more gratifying. When beauty is arresting, it holds the power to influence others. So, when a handsome, Hollywood Prince decided to commit his love to his beautiful bride publicly, the whole human race felt their powerful love resonating inside them. It ushers in a restored sense of beauty that we’ve lost. With a more hopeful future  (Ok. For those of you who missed the moments leading up to George’s big day, the celebrations were magnificent. A cotillion of beautiful people in water taxis were seen cruising the Grand Canal between activities over the four day extravaganza.  There were glimpses of the groom acknowledging members of the press and waving to spectators. Many captured moments of the bride looking ravishing and elegant and so very much in love. Lucky for us, the handsome, American Christian George Clooney from Kentucky and the beautiful British-Lebanese Muslim Amal Amaluddin based in London( who I coined is the most beautiful ‘pharaoh’ of them all since Cleopatra – the last Pharaoh to rule Egypt.) chose to share this most memorable occasion in Venice, Italy.  A city with beauty and depth.

Now I thought September’s swan song had been sung and it was time to move on – until I read that the RMS Queen Mary celebrated her 80th birthday with a 600 pound birthday cake. The 15 foot, replica of the Queen Mary, took three weeks to plan, four days to assemble and would use 100 pounds each of flour and sugar.

Made of white chocolate butter cream, vanilla cake and seedless raspberry filling, the birthday cake sounds just like the little cakes we were served as kids.

I was only two and traveling with my Mother and sister for the first time when the Queen Mary set sail from Southampton, crossing the English Channel to board passengers in Cherbourg. Our journey often took us along the coast of Spain – turning west at Gilbraltar before navigating across the Atlantic Ocean. Transatlantic crossings took about five days.

Queen Mary, wife of George V, christened the liner on September 26, 1934. After the maiden voyage launched successfully, the liner became publicly heralded for ending the Great Depression in Britain. In the first year of service, the liner carried a total of 56,895 passengers to their destinations.

To a kid, five days onboard a boat was an eternity.  Nevertheless, the management provided us with a fun environment with a playroom, sovereign shop stocked with toys, a gymnasium and an indoor pool.  They also hosted a children’s tea party or two on every voyage.

I was five when my family took our second round-trip transatlantic voyage.

I do not recall the details of New York or Southampton’s arrival and departure ports. I just remember watching some tiny tug boats pulling us out to sea from the deck and seeing the Statue of Liberty grow smaller and smaller as our massive, moving ship sailed bravely into the dark abyss.

Although we traveled by lowly ‘tourist’ class, it was nothing like the steerage quarters depicted in the movie Titanic that Leo DiCaprio resided in.  I remember sitting down to seven course meals served on silver platters. The classically trained British service staff. Tasting consommé for the first time – served by stewards and waiters, wearing white gloves and black jackets. With new menus printed daily. Placed at our dining table, number 8.

Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, the Queen Mother, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were among the many famous passengers traveling in first and business class.

I remember being surrounded by lots of honey-colored veneer and rosewood burl wood. The Art Deco design incorporates different types of wood from all over Britain. As an adult, I’ve always favored blonde wood finishes but, until now, never questioned why.

I remember shuffle board and deck chairs with blankets. Motion sickness and a feeling of well-being just being on deck in the fresh air.

Besides, operating as a passenger vessel, the Cunard Lines – who owned the Queen Mary and other passenger liners – The QM was put it into wartime service. The Queen Mary transported troops from New Zealand and Australia to the United Kingdom.  All in all, traveling more than 600,000 miles and transporting 800,000 people.

Some sea days were better than others.  I remember being strapped into bed while the ship battled with an angry ocean and stormy weather. All night long.  That ocean wanted to knock us out in the worst way.

I remember warm, salt water baths and a salt water pool. The liner featured two indoor swimming pools, beauty salons, libraries, children’s nurseries, a music studio, lecture hall, telephone connectivity to anywhere in the world, outdoor paddle, tennis courts and dog kennels.  It was also the first ocean liner to be equipped with her own Jewish prayer room and serve a kosher menu.

                                              Like me, Winston Churchill was a passenger on the Queen Mary three times. While my childhood voyages were filled with fun and games, Churchill considered the same space his headquarters at sea. During World War II, he even signed the D-Day Declaration here.

The RMS Queen Mary along with the other luxury liners of 80 years ago, would also make its mark ushering in the concept of luxury cruise lines, after transatlantic travel was usurped by air travel.  Today, travel by cruise ship, is booming.

Now the Queen Mary has seen and survived many changes.

When the ship officially retired from active service in 1967, it had to re-invent itself as a tourist attraction, hotel, museum, and events producer, and spends its senior years in Long Beach.  It has not set sail since. But, some traditionals from when it set sail still remain.  Their five-star restaurant, Sir Winston’s, serves traditional favorites like Beef Wellington and Chateaubriand.  While authentic British tea is available – by reservation only – in the Queen Mary Room daily.

Meanwhile, the ship’s history for conjuring up paranormal activity has turned the haunted liner into a popular attraction.  Just in time for Halloween.

Stay tuned.

NOTABLE FILMS SHOT ABOARD THE QUEEN MARY

He’s Just Not That Into You (2009)
The Aviator (2004)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Pearl Harbor (2001)
What Women Want (2000)
Being John Malkovich (1999)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
LA Confidential (1997)
The Cable Guy (1996)
Chaplin (1992)
The Natural (1984)
Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Assault on a Queen (1966)

 

American Idol held its auditions aboard the Queen Mary during season 12.

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