By Don Merlot
|Bahamian National Dish|
Nassau, The Bahamas
I had a thought about my introduction in my last blog regarding Don Merlot’s experience in Europe and Latin America. What readers mostly don't know is that after leaving Whirlpool I spend the next 20 years in Asia, and in the Middle East, selling plumbing and food service equipment. In a sense that is when I became Marco Polo. Before Don Merlot, that is.
I went to China right after Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger got Zhou Enlai to engage relations by convincing Mao Tse Dung to open up the PRC (China and the Forbidden City) to the West.
In a sense I became the Renaissance Marco Polo travelling over to China selling vitreous china to the Chinese. I have many stories for 'Fly on the Wall' of experiences and conversations in China, Japan, and Asia or the Orient to some of just the Far East to those of us from the West. As I travelled, I knew enough of Europe that I could speak to the Chinese, Japanese, and East Indians not as just an American but as a European-American.
My mentor, Ralph J. Carreno, to whom The Philadelphia Junto is dedicated, started with me in my first step of my career, and some of his “rules” were applied to my entire career. Most notably to get focused when you have a new experience....
He said Aloncito:
If I send you on a trip to Paris for two weeks, you could come back and write a book,
If I send you on a trip to Paris for two months, you could come back and write 10 pages.
If I send you on a trip to Paris for two years, you could write nothing because you would come back confused
Trust me, after 43 years of global travel, I realize the implication of his rules.
It is a very important concept when you start a journey into the unknown. There were other equally key ideas.
He said to me:
Every time you start a conversation, talk about ideas; do not talk about people or things. Learn how to differentiate. Restrain from looking for the similarities and focus on the dissimilarities. Learn the expectations of the new people you are meeting.
Essential when you are new to the group, let those before you give your first thoughts or opinions; listen and ask questions. Make sure you separate fact from opinion. Never get into a discussion until you know the answer. The USA is viewed as a young upstart country (in China and Japan) with no national culture or history.
The concept I had after graduate school was that:
'The USA exports
Rock and Roll
And blue jeans.'
Now on to Nassau.
I'm on a cruise, a three-day Zumba Dance cruise. Not for me, but for my wife, Denise. She is the proverbial fountain of youth.
My reason for going ashore was, not surprisingly, food. Based on my travels in the Florida keys and on my conversations with my Whirlpool bosses, the most fabulous Bahamian dish is conch fritters and conch soup. Every country I have visited has a national dish.
There was secondary reason. I wanted to find Peter Sweeting, a prep school classmate who I had 'lost' since graduating in 1961. Fifty whole years ago.
So the first thing we asked as we walked through immigration was where do I find Peter Sweeting? The adjacent police station took about 15 minutes on a telephone to Bahamians who were sincerely helpful and most polite. We found a relative who located Peter running a resort on an Out Island. When we called, we learned he was out that day.
Next we asked for the best and nearest place that served the famous conch soup and conch fritters, and like clock work we were pointed in the right direction. We walked about 10 blocks from the point of entry from the cruise line to a restaurant across the street from the famous Hilton Hotel.
The streets were filled with a great Caribbean atmosphere. It reminded me of the old movie, Our Man in Havana with Alec Guinness: drinks of rum and peddlers selling all kind of wares. We found the Conch Restaurant, and we found a table with great server. The conch was sublime.
Fully satiated, we ambled back to the ship, seeing the shops that offered bargain-priced alcohol, tobacco, even fashion. Everybody had the same wares both on the side streets and on the ships.
Fifty years have passed since seeing Peter, and 43 years have passed since Ralph and Marion were dining on conch soup and fritters for themselves here. For a brief moment, it seemed like yesterday; life had sped by so fast.
(Ron Alonzo writes as Don Merlot).