Yes, a few mocking readers will take this the wrong way and think travel has gone to my head and that I've developed a hopeless fantasy that I was stolen as a baby from a royal crib.
But, that strong possibility aside, I have of late been indulging in a glorious butler experience and, having kept the truth from you since Dubai, it’s about time I confessed.
Nautica, that slice of Paradise illuminating the intersection of Heaven and Earth and from which Ingrid and I are dragged this morning bleeding at the fingernails, provides a butler service for passengers lucky enough to travel on Deck 8, where sportsmen meet (you can tell them by their Achilles injuries).
As I write this in our room at the elegant Hotel Antiche Mura in Sorrento, I’m missing my butler. But it is not the buttling I miss as much as the man himself.
It’s reminiscent of the post-parturition feelings I had when I farewelled Di Siune, my Simbu mankimasta of six years, in Port Moresby in 1969. Many old colonial readers of these notes will have had similar experiences.
Di Siune who taught me more than anyone about Papua New Guinea, who nurtured my lacerated Pidgin, who looked out for me (not always successfully) when I might have gone astray, and who, when the time came, travelled with me without complaint to a remote highlands school and then to Moresby and new career and marriage and the arrival of a first child.
Eventually Di Siune needed to go home to his own family. I never saw him again, something I regret a great deal. I hope his lain is intact and his children and grand-children have prospered. Perhaps Francis Nii knows something of this.
Ivan, a butler we share with other passengers on Deck 8, is a slightly-built Croatian with dark, sympathetic eyes and a pleasant smile. He’s a fit man of medium height; hard to tell his age, probably in his late thirties or early forties. He’s been with the Oceania Line since it started 10 years ago and is serving on his third ship.
The beginnings of his life were tough, very tough. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the former Yugoslavia split apart with profound malice and the Serbs and Croats set to it. He’d come from a well-off family who were left with nothing after the shells fell and the snipers’ bullets did their work.
Ivan, despite all this and a life that, in some important ways, has been constrained, remains an optimist who refuses to acknowledge that his lot isn’t as good as it ought to be. Perhaps early hardship and hazard steel a person against the petty irritations and setbacks that many of us often take too seriously.
As a lad, Ivan taught himself English, very good English, by reading Croatian language subtitles of English language movies on TV.
He’s a composed and straightforward man, as well organised, discreet and forbearing as you’d expect of a person who often has to cater to Americans in his line of work.
Ivan has occasionally left a bottle of chardonnay in our cabin fridge (doctor’s orders) or brought a plate of sandwiches for afternoon tea (nutritionist’s recommendation), and each morning he’s dropped off The Guardian (of London, of course) so I can appropriately reinforce my left wing views of the world in the privacy of my stateroom.
At 10 this morning, Ingrid and I disembark Nautica at Sorrento a day before the end of the cruise to begin an overland tour of Italy. There’s no dock in Sorrento so we have developed a grand plan to take the tender (on this occasion, one of the ship’s lifeboats) to the small harbour, have a look around, return to Nautica for lunch and then make a second and final departure to shore and our hotel.
But we haven’t figured on a fiendishly choppy two-metre swell that makes transfer from ship to tender like leaping onto a wet doormat careering randomly in three dimensions. Fifty people of average age 70 and in various states of physical decline are attempting to board the tender. It looks, and probably is, dangerous and is taking an inordinately long time. Sea sickness threatens, and no brown paper bags.
So Ingrid and I, already on the tender, decide to get back on board Nautica, to ready our suitcases and make one transit instead of the three we’d planned. As we get off, others follow; thinking we know something about sea conditions and maritime safety that they don’t.
On Nautica, Ivan is waiting, cool as always, to organise affairs. He accompanies us and our luggage to the next bucking tender, stays with us while we go ashore and, once there, sees us safely into a cab.
I detect the faintest glint of relief in his eyes as we say goodbye on the waterfront at Sorrento, an elegant and pretty town and the perfect place to decamp to as a voyage finally comes to an end.
Footnote: In tribute to Ivan, Di Siune and all those other fine people who make lives easier and more pleasant for the rest of us.