Last year, right as the entire Carnival season was swingin’ into action, I was “relaxing” at the the Touro following the surgical amputation of my right leg.
Article by Clint Bolton for a Vieux Carre paper, from Mardi Gras, 1979.
Through the windows I could hear the music, the sounds of a couple of uptown Carnival parades. Herself was sitting bedside and I grinned at her and said, “Well, darlin’, I guess we can kinda ace ourselves on the whole Carnival bit from here on. After all, the days do dwindle down to a precious few and even if I didn’t have my right gam sawed off, I think we could do the Joan and Darby bit, stay at home snug and comfy and catch the Carnival action on the tube.”
That ole Carnival caper fever hits us all . . . regardless of age. Physically I may not get much personal action this Mardi Gras season. But I don’t have to. Y’see, I can reach into my memory bank Movieola and run all that fine stuff through and frame freeze this or that shot. Then I’m back in the Sixties, the Fifties again. Don’t remember the exact year.
Embed from Getty Images
I’m at Pat O’Brien’s. Time: about 9 p.m., the Sunday night before Mardi Gras. The block of St. Peter between Royal and Bourbon is solid with people. Some of the local constabulary are mounted and doin’ a fair job of crowd control. Everything is goin’ fine . . . when all of a sudden all hell breaks loose. To this day you’ll get a debate among us survivors of that era. Did the brawl break out on the street? The entrance of the carriageway? Take yer cherce. Any version will do.
Whatever may have triggered the donneybrook, it soon spread. The Mounties gallop into the mob; plain-clothes fuzz and blue coats on foot take a vigorous piece of the action.
Clubs swing, fists fly, there’s some nifty footwork as one and all, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief (and a fair majority of the latter two were on hand) get scufflin’. Things were tight, hairy dicey, you call it. Things were gettin’ a might out of control when . . . BLAM! Some lawman lets loose with the tear gas. Not a bad idea. Couple more tear gas rounds. Quite a bit on the street. Most in the carriageway of O’Brien’s and adjacent bars. Crowd cools down in a hurry. Some arrests were made. Enough air motion on the block to dissipate most of the street tear gas. Lots of it lingered on within the excellent pub. Enough to make for some swimmy eyes and very sniffy noses. But the commotion was over and the beat went on.
Just about this point, a now deceased but then very well-know Quarter tosspot, who shall remain nameless because of his wife and kids, awoke. He’d gotten himself a fair load and had been somewhere on the nod in the corner of the main bar. The whole rowdy-dow had breezed right by him. But now he comes to blearily, sniffily awake, with that somewhat annoyed, almost paranoid mood of the lush who has nodded off only to come to knowing something has happened . . . but not exactly what. He gazes about the all but deserted bar, sees the bartenders comin’ up for air and business as usual, takes one big sniff, and says . . . “Goddam! That’s the biggest fart I ever smelled in my life!”
Certainly more genteel is the joyous memory of parade nights spent on Bob Greenwood’s gallery over the A&P at St. Pete and Royal. Back then Bob used to invite a bunch of friends to each of the parades that came down Royal. It was one of the best vantage points in the whole Quarter . . . and you sure as hell got your share of beads, trinkets, and doubloons tossed from the floats. But there always hadda be the usual street bumpkins who’d try to shinny up the iron supports and crash the happy scene. For a couple of years, Bob and various other stalwarts in the entourage had a fair amount of fun leanin’ over and boppin’ tatterdemalion hobbledehoys on the noggin as they pulled level with the gallery.
Then, one year, ole Bob ended all that. He greased all those shinny-poles from halfway up to the gallery level. When one of us yelled, “prepare to repel boarders” he grinned and said, “Not to worry. Watch.” When the would-be gate-crashers hit the grease line, it was whoosh, and mucho fun. We would man the rails, beam down like cruise passengers tossin’ coins and, chant, “Slide, Slide, Slide!” It saved us a fair amount of hooch, too, I reckon, for as Jack Cooley so sagely remarked, “Why’n hell should we pour perfectly good booze on a bunch of greaseballs?”
Yes, we all go some kind of wacky on Mardi Gras, it truly is “anything goes” time. But mostly I’ve been ready to find some hole to sack out in just about the time the bells of old St. Louis toll out midnight . . . . And almost always I’ve recited to myself a
few lines from Kipling’s Recessional: “The tumult and the shouting dies, The Captains and the Kings depart. Still stands thine ancient sacrifice . . . An humble and a contrite heart.”
This is the third of three posts concerning Clint Bolton. He was a journalist who lived in New Orleans from the early 1950’s until his death in April of 1980. He was born James Clinton Bolton in New Jersey in 1908. He lived a full and interesting life: acting in summerstock plays with Humphrey Bogart, running away from Princeton to work on a tramp steamer to India, cutting his journalism chops in India to become an writer for the Associated Press, interviewing Gandhi during one of his early hunger strikes, working in New York as a journalist, serving in the Coast Guard in World War II. And finally, taking me under his wing in his last year.
I have kept this article of Clint’s, along with two letters, for 37 years now. As I fight cancer, and wonder sometimes that it may not be that long before I see him again, I feel honor bound to write about him. Since his writing is not on the internet, and there are precious few links to it in print . . . it is important to me that he not disappear.
In such a time, and in such a place, there was this man. He was witness to significant events in the 20th century. His name was Clint Bolton. He lived hard. He wrote on a manual typewriter with two fingers at a speed that awed. Black musicians loved him. Mafia capos treated him with deference. And I was fortunate to meet and spend long hours with him listening to jazz and to his stories.
Clint Bolton’s letter to Ann Fisher, August, 1979.
(Clint Bolton’s author’s note: This may or may not be fiction. There are those who live in the City Beside the Big River who will say of this or that character . . . “That is Soando.” And there are men . . . and women . . . with long memories who may say, “Yes, there is such a man and in a certain time and place he did thus and so. And there was that time down on the Malabar Coast . . .”
And another may say, “we were in Manila and that was possibly forty years ago and he said, very casually, over a drink, ‘In the end it will be the Russian Bear and the Chinese Dragon in the real death fight. Japan may start a war. They will not finish it because they can’t. There is that vast land mass, gents, the huge area of Europe and Asia. Alexander could not do it. Genghis Khan could not do it and Napoleon failed, utterly. A nightcap, old man? Good . . . and with that it’s goodbye. My gear’s on a freighter, mixed cargo to Singapore. Just care of Raffles Hotel for the next few months.'” There are men and women who will recall things like that should they read this.
The very fine actress who is now like the man we will read about. There are no more parts for her to play . . . “My dear, they keep sending me scripts. I read very few of them. Yes, he is right. I knew him when we and the world were a lot younger. Lovers? . . . . How odd you should think that important for either of us now. We could meet and perhaps we would play the scene with some small grace . . . a slight touch of love among the ruins. There was that . . . we played the scene with grace notes . . . and if he built me a sand castle in Spain on the beach at Malibu, what difference that the next tide took it away? . . . Was that important, really?”
“No, if we were to meet again we would greet each other with outstretched hands and silly people would say, ‘Were they?’ . . . ‘Did they?’ and make all sorts of guesses and speculations. And what would he say to them? My dears, I think he would smile. We’d touch the rims of our glasses just one more time and he would say, ‘That was once-upon-a-time . . . and once-upon-a-time never comes again . . .'”
So, in what is most certainly an autumnal summer for a certain story teller, it is time for him to remember some times that were Once-Upon-A-Time for someone who is very lovely, very young and whose own once-upon-a-times are still ahead of her. Promissory notes on a bright and happy future.
It is not immodesty of the writer on an ego trip, but the modesty of a man who, on occasions, writes something sheerly as a small gift for a friend. The writer of this bit of midsummer fancy needs no more “glory times.” The bylines on the big stories, the moments of the awards . . . They are, in the end, as Kipling once wrote . . . “as one with Nineveh and Tyre” . . . . He has sailed Homer’s wine dark sea and he has written of the offshore, dawn breezes from Columbo heavy laden with the scent of cinnamon. So, at this time and place he writes what may or may not be fact or fable. But it will be a remembrance thing and like all rememberances it begins . . . . “Once Upon a Time” . . . cb).
After they had gone, Brandon’s wife said, “I’m so glad her mother joined us. And she really is a darling!”
“Let’s make it the plural they. But you are very right. I regretted after the phone call I did not make sure young Jan’s mother would do more than drop her off. I could have called the club for their phone number. I wanted to but . . . another good intention down the tube . . . Well, it worked out fine. Yet, ever since we made the date for Jan to wheel me around the Quarter, I had one of those half feelings it would be good to tell her mother or her father not to worry too much. Until they gave us their address, which, incidentally, I am delighted to have, I didn’t know where they lived. Except I knew it was not the Quarter. Any parents have the right to need some reassurance that their daughter is not gonna get into some messy situation here in the Quarter.
“Yes, dear, I know, the Quarter is much maligned and very few non-Quarterites and, for that matter, a ton or two of actual Quarterites don’t know the clout I carry down here. It is not something to tell about. To boast about. I told Jan when we were out a little bit. Not a lot because there is no need for that and she is young and could, possibly, make it something larger than life . . . a little bit over dramatic. That young lady is perceptive as hell. I’ve known women three times her age who are four times as foolish.”
“But I really didn’t think you needed to reassure her parents. After all, her father and you belong to the same club . . . ”
“And that is like getting commisioned in the armed forces. We are automatically gentlemen. My very dear, I have known a helluva lot of non-gentlemen by the classic definition who I could tell, “This is Jan. She is under my protection” . . . and she’d be a damn sight safer in their care or custody than if surrounded by a squad of National Guardsmen. In all truth, I’ll take my riffs and raffs over the young Guardsmen. My guys would know what to do and do it. A young Guardsman might think, “Well, next week I’m home in Alex. Who’s to know?” . . . and I remind you that until they began taking that house apart up in Illinois, a guy named Gayce was a so-called good citizen.
Despite the fact I never sired any children and ours is a late marriage, I am almost feudalistic in terms of my relationship toward my own kin and those souls who come under my own umbrella. I am a clansman, and I don’t spell that with a “K.” The heritage is Scottish, Irish, Norman and French. Yeah, some so-called “English” down the line but the roots, to use a word lately made popular, are Celtic and the Celts know the feud, the vendetta as thoroughly as they know it in Sicily or the Balkans. You have in me a one-legged cardiac cripple who is still, in the ancient way, “The Head of the House of Brandon.”
The major point is Jan’s parents have every right to know what kind of people we are. U-S, darling . . . W-E, darling. You and me, dear, with a nod to Cole Porter, are the ones with whom that delightful young female will spend some time. Fine. We are all dressed up and very good with the manners department at Pendennis. But at home, and in the suspect French Quarter . . . well, how are things in the Glocca Mora this fine day? So it is all to the good. In the near future, Jan and BOTH parents ought to spend a little time with us. Nothing elaborate. Some decent cold cuts, your own very good potato salad, a little wine and some good talk . . .
“Boy . . . I can’t wait until Jan starts back to school.”
“Well, she has a mild high on Shakespeare. Saw Olivier in Hamlet on the tube and liked it. I can make the whole Elizabethan period come alive for her . . . and given the chance . . . her classmates.”
“Darling, I can’t help laughing. I know you can. I’ve seen much older people than Jan enthralled by you and Shakespeare. You could teach a course in it.”
“Yeah, and I can hear the ivy rustling, very scandalized, in the Groves of Academe when I point out that Lady Macbeth was too smart to hire a hit man. I can hear myself sayin’ . . . ‘In the end, you’re better off doin’ the job yourself.’ Shakespeare knew that. You hire a hit man and then maybe you have to knock off the hit man to prevent blackmail. Then you have to get the man who hit the hit man bounced. Lady Macbeth would have had to have all hands at court knocking off each other.”
“The same holds true of the murder of Julius Caesar. This update is strictly high class Mafia. The capos, the dons all agree Julie has gotta go. But the smart way to do that is to have all of them, the top hands, knock off the head honcho. And they do it right out loud. They cop a beautiful plea. They tell all the people, “We done it for yer own good. Julie was a helluva general, yessir. But he really took the Big Job like he thought he was an ackshul god.”
You can see me making Shakespeare as hot as any script in Hollywood. His plays are classics, and deservedly so. But take away Elizabethan speech and costumes and you’d have all the PTAs in the whole country screaming, “Foul.” Take Hamlet and that darling 14 year old Jan. Of course that’s only chronological age. Some people are 64 and remain not much over 14. Jan IS 14, but she is, thanks to any and all Deities, a little older . . . and a little wiser. But take this very Hamlet she saw and liked. It is a tale of fratricide, incest, murder, poor Ophelia has gone daft and there isn’t a shrink around. Not even Shakespeare was smart enough to invent Freud, Adler, and Jung. But do I tell Jan and her classmates, “this stuff is not for you?” I do not. Earlier this week a brother-sister are in a jam according to the Times-Picayune. They live up in Pennsylvania. They want to get married. That, Sweetie, is incest. Two brothers in Tulsa quarrel. One is jealous. His sibling gets more parental attention, he thinks. So he shoots and kills his brother and both parents. Patricide, fratricide. Shakespeare deals with these subjects.”
“It’s strange. You talk about Shakespeare as if you were contemporaries. You know him, his London and the people, the street people, the aristocracy. I’ve heard you on the subject with people who teach Shakespeare and they never contradict you, but you seem to go at Shakespeare in different ways.”
“They will be better able to quote this line or that. And they would be able to prattle to a classroom about some goop like the structural implication of Good Will’s use of iambic pentameter or whatever the hell it is. But what they don’t seem to understand is that this was not an engineering exercise in English. Shakespeare wrote with a certain rhythm. It was the rhythm, the sound of his times. Who writes waltzes these days? Can you waltz to the take-off scream of a jet? Times, man’s inventions change cadences. We live faster. A kid growing up in the Newark ghetto and spending a night on our couch might wake up and hear the clop-clop of the surrey horse going by. That’s cadence, a beat he doesn’t know. He knows the disco beat. The slowest is about 120 to the minute . . . which will probably produce a lot of very youthful cardiac cases in the next few years.”
‘Well, I won’t bother to Jan about disco. Maybe some afternoon we’ll play some Ellington and she will feel good about it. Or I may put on that record of Viennese waltzes. Before the gods and goddesses of disco take it all away from her.”
“I think her parents will feel good about you.”
“I hope so . . . .” Brandon started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“You know, I always like to browse around the Mariner’s shop. So that was one of our stops. Frank Sellers, the owner, was there. He went to the Coast Guard Academy but I don’t think he graduated. Anyway, he’s not local — but from coastal New England. We get along fine. That’s why I got that bit of scrimshaw for Jan. He doesn’t deal in phonies, like a couple of trick plastics that are almost bone, but ain’t. In Hawaii and up in whale hunting Eskimo country there are still some people who know old scrimshaw art. Jan’s piece is modern, but it’s legit.
“That’s another part of you. Your passion, almost obsession . . . that anything BE REAL.”
“I guess so. Well, anyone Jan’s age may still believe in Camelot or that lovely misty place called Avalon. Nothing wrong with that. But also nothing wrong with the realization that the road to Camelot is very long.”
“We rest here the night, here and there, and in the cold reality of the moonlight, that is just one more silly coyote howlin’ my darling, and this is not Transylvania, and if Count Dracula comes messing around, I take this tent peg and wave it at him. The wooden stake through the heart? No. An old Yiddish adage says it is better to run away than get poked in the eye with a sharp stick. So both Count Dracula and the coyote have one thing in common. They are cowards. The moonlight is very real, Jan, my darling. And for now we have some champagne, the good glasses, and some pleasant music.”
“That is very real, dear . . . but once upon a time on a tropic beach there was moonlight and very damn little romance . . . ”
“Two Japanese snipers. I moved in and out of the shadows and, Sweetheart, my rhythm was not waltz time. I made it an uneven pattern. I held these two Japanese on me, m’dear. No romance in that. Moonlight and shadows, but it was very damn real, the grey fear in me. Just stay still a fraction too long. Just let those dummies figure your pattern, and the tune is Death March from Saul, if anyone should ask you. But with some luck those two will be hooked on me. The bleating of the sheep attracts the tiger. And our guys will nail them. Quietly, efficiently with knives. No noise. And our guys will come back, not only with enemy IDs and other useful stuff, but with two heads in a gunny sack. Before dawn the heads will be on long poles on the fringe of the beach.”
“It is their fate this should happen this way and my fate I should be part of this. I do not like it, but their Emperor has surrendered. They will not. So we must teach them and the other hold-outs on this crumby little island that it is over. The killing time is over. And the only way we can do that is to kill a few more of them. And put their heads on bamboo poles. Seabirds will pluck at them . . . the heads . . . their naked, unburied, headless bodies . . . spiders, insects, rodents. And that is a great shame. Tell me not about the Geneva Convention. Did they observe the Geneva Convention? And now, as I said, the time for killing is over.”
“But it is not over and we will kill these two snipers and degrade them. I don’t like it. But it is something I decree and we will not tell our officers about it because mostly they would tell us not to do this thing. But it is something that must be done and two days after those heads are up on the long, bending poles, the other hold-outs will come in. This they will understand. It is a very primitive thing but ancient. To defile the enemy’s body. To dishonor it. That is terrible and the great curse.”
“For when it is done, it is as if I say, ‘I killed you. But I did not kill you in honor. Because you have no honor. Therefore the seabirds . . . and the wasting headless body in the jungle. No burial at home. You are nothing. Not a warrior. Lost . . . forever.'”
“So I may tell you such things because there was this lovely tropic isle, moonlight, shadows, and the scent of exotic flowers in the air . . . and no coyote howled. Nor did Count Dracula prowl. Yes, real and unreal . . . I did the Shadow Waltz . . . an airy arabesque with a smiling partner who was Death. But I will also say to that darling girl . . . it was a very long time ago . . . . Once upon a time. And once upon a time never comes again.”
Clint Bolton, New Orleans, August, 1979
Ann’s thoughts: Clint Bolton was larger than life. He was my Hemingway. I’ve kept this letter for thirty-seven years, and I don’t keep many things.
I carry Clint close. Had he been younger, and I older, we would have been lovers. He was elemental. He was REAL, and not afraid of much. My first husband was jealous of the place this one-legged-72-year-old-cardiac-cripple had in my life, and at one point he told me that he never wanted me to mention Bolton again. I thought about that for two years. And when I moved out into my own apartment, I had a scotch and toasted Clint and thought of my soon to be ex, “To hell with you and the horse you rode in on — I will live my life my way.”
Another thing I would say is this. Asking me to forget Clint would be much the same as saying I could never talk of my grandmother or grandfather. And what I mean is this. Without Clint, I would not be Ann.
When I finally met the love of my life, my Drew, he got Clint. We enjoyed each other’s stories. We amused one another with tales of former lovers and our lives — it was what made me, me and him, him. Never any jealousy. One trip to New Orleans we went to 1231 Decatur and then over to the Richelieu Hotel bar. It was one of Clint’s favorite watering holes. We sat under Clint’s poem at the bar and drank to him and to having story-worthy lives. The Richelieu Hotel has taken down Clint’s poem. That’s what happens when there are no longer people who understand and know . . .
The city winds in and out of my consciousness, a strong part of who I am.
I know the map of the French Quarter like the palm of my hand. I should. A master taught me.
Clint Bolton seduced me when I was fourteen. No, not in that way. But I did fall in love with him, and along with him, his New Orleans.
I met Clint Bolton at the Pendennis Club in New Orleans in August of 1979. My father belonged to Pendennis, and my parents had dragged me to a cocktail party there.
Yes, I said cocktail party. I was fourteen, it was New Orleans, and yes, I was drinking. Not a whole lot, mind you, but yes. Bored out of my mind, I expressed my desire to leave to my mother, and I said, “There is only one interesting man in the whole place — and he’s sitting over there.” I pointed to an old man sitting in a wheelchair having a dramatic conversation with the people gathered around him.
She said, “Fine. Since we are so dull, please, — GO talk to him.”
My eyes narrowed. At this point in my life, I was exceedingly shy around people I didn’t know. Going up to a group of strange people, well, I’d rather die. But I knew a dare when I heard one.
I was shaking like a leaf when I approached the group of men. Clint saw me, held up his hand to stop the conversation. I think I stammered something about not wanting to interrupt.
“My dear, there is nothing more important than listening to a beautiful young woman.”
I got myself together, and simply said what I had to my mother — that I thought he was the most interesting man in the room. And then I introduced myself.
Clint took my hand, drew me to the seat next to him — shooing away the other old gentleman who had been there.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
When my parents were ready to leave, I was with Clint and his group deep in conversation. His wife Pat had joined us, and we had concocted plans. Pat and Clint lived on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, and they invited me to their home the next day. Clint and I were going to go for a walk in the Quarter. Pat had miserably bad arthritis, and since Clint had lost his leg a couple of years earlier, he couldn’t make the rounds very easily.
The following day, my mother took me down to 1231 Decatur Street. Pat invited her to come up for a drink some hours later, when she was due to come back for me.
I followed Pat up the stairs, got the “tour,” and met several of the half-dozen cats. The Bolton’s apartment consisted of three large, high ceilinged rooms.
The pocket doors between the rooms were never closed, so it was this wonderful, airy space. The living room had two floor-to-ceiling windows that one could walk through out onto the balcony over Decatur. Clint and Pat’s bedroom was in the middle, and the kitchen and dining space were at the very back. The door into the kitchen led out of the apartment to the stair landing. Clint did also have an office in the servant’s quarters in the back.
After a quick consultation, Clint decided we should make a sortie down Royal Street, stopping along the way to see a photographer friend of his.
Clint rolled towards the stair landing, locked the wheels, stood on his one leg and lowered himself onto the first step.
“Some fine lady friends of Pat’s met us out for lunch not too long after my amputation. One of them inquired about how I was getting up and down the stairs, since they knew the apartment was on the second floor.”
“On my ass, ladies, on my ass.”
In a high pitched voice, he squealed, “Oh! Oh! Mr. Bolton!”
He gave me a wickedly happy smile.
That first day was more about me learning to maneuver that damned wheel chair about and down curbs all over. I weighed 105 pounds dripping wet. So did Clint. Add the weight of the wheelchair — I am telling you, this was challenging. Not the flat rolling, but the dang-blasted curbs and often low, uneven pavement right before them. So we got it figured out that afternoon. Every now and again, we would hit a particularly bad curb, so Clint would grab onto a light post, stand on his one leg, and I’d get the wheelchair up, and he would whump down in the seat again, and off we would go.
We made it back to 1231 Decatur just as my Mom rounded the corner, so we got the gate to the building opened and all went back to the steps.
Clint and I retold the “on my ass” bit, but this time, I did the high squeal,“Oh! Oh! Mr. Bolton!” And we laughed our way up the stairs, one back-ass-ward step at a time.
Pat opened the door, Clint rolled in, and said, “Pat, my darling, I do believe it is time to open that bottle of champagne.”
While Pat darling was fetching glasses and champagne, Clint took me into the living room and began digging in his album collection while I looked around. Black and white photographs of jazz musicians, a faded watercolor of what looked like Thailand, picture of Clint in New York City circa the 1930’s, African masks and statues. He handed an album to me.
“Like Ella Fitzgerald?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know Ella Fitzgerald??!!”
“What about Cole Porter?”
“Cole Porter . . . ?”
“You’ve heard of Miles Davis? NO?”
“Well, we have to fix this RIGHT NOW, I say. RIGHT NOW.”
When Mom and Pat came into the room with the champagne, glasses and little nibblies, Ella was singing. My mother and Pat both took off their shoes — both of them had arthritis — and they were discussing issues with that.
I suppose I am lucky that Clint didn’t give my mother a “what the hell are you teaching her” lecture about my abysmal knowledge of jazz, Gershwin, Porter, and all things holy in the American canon according to Clint Bolton.
She was probably only saved by the fact that she and my father had taken me to Al Hirt’s club.
Clint popped the champagne, and as he poured the glasses, some spilled into my mother’s shoe.
Clint immediately raised her shoe, drank the sip of champagne from it, and proclaimed, “it is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
And so my relationship with the Boltons was launched.
A few days later, the mail brought me a letter that Clint had written for me. And I began spending full weekends in the quarter.
My intuition that day at the Pendennis Club was dead on . . . Clint was fascinating. As a high school student in New Jersey, he’d done summer stock acting, where he got to know Humphrey Bogart fairly well. His path crossed Bogie’s several times later in New York before Bogart made the transition to film. Clint was orphaned when he was in high school, and his aunt and uncle sent him to Princeton for college. It was not to Clint’s liking, so he ran away from college, got a job on a tramp steamer and went to India.
In India, he turned to journalism, because with his prep school background, writing was something he did well. He learned fast and managed to get on with the Associated Press. While he was there, he interviewed Gandhi on one of his hunger strikes in the 1920’s. During World War II, he served with the Coast Guard in the Pacific.
Clint took me all over the quarter. He knew everyone. I met Al Hirt and his clarinetist Pee Wee Spitelera several times. And then there was the evening Clint took me to meet the mafia capo. I learned life lessons from Clint, two favorites being “how to drink any man under the table” and “how to break a glass on the edge of a bar.”
So much of my musical taste comes from long evenings on Decatur. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald. Tony Bennett. Gershwin.
And mostly, I learned . . . be sure to grab life up in your arms, hold it close. Don’t be afraid to meet new people.LIVE. See the world. Have adventures. Make love. Watch the sun creep down the wall in a piazza, while you sit in the shade and sip a cocktail. Listen to good music. Then write about all of it.
He was with me such a short time. On New Year’s Eve of 1979, Clint Bolton had a massive coronary. He lived. I saw him several times at Touro hospital. In April when he returned home, I was at 1231 Decatur as soon as I could get there. Pat unlocked the gate and I dashed up the stairs, too impatient to wait for her arthritic feet and knees.
Clint was sitting on the sofa, and when I came up to him, my heart nearly stopped. He was almost not there, he was so emaciated. I picked him up in my arms, and sat down with him on my lap. And we both wept. We said our I love yous and our goodbyes.
Three days later, he was gone. Waldren “Frog” Joseph volunteered to do a jazz funeral for Clint — doesn’t happen very often for white folks. I can remember sitting with the jazz musicians in the Bolton living room and eating after the funeral. I thought I was going to be sick. His absence in the room that was so much his was more than I could handle.
To you, Clint Bolton, my undying love. You have been one of the most important people in my life. Until we meet again as shades when I pass over.
On my last trip to New Orleans, just a few days ago now, the Mississippi River cloaked the French Quarter in fog.
Just after dawn, I wandered. Clint was with me, working, looking.
Down Decatur I could almost hear Ella’s silken voice.
I sailed for two weeks on the Royal Clipper to the Windward and the Grenadine Islands.
I boarded the ship in Barbados, only scheduled for a single week. Then I fell in love with this tall ship. Four days into the trip, I placed a call to my travel agent and arranged to stay.
I’m not sure I can pay a higher compliment to a vacation.
I’ve been on half a dozen cruises in the last five years, all on larger cruise lines. Why did I choose Star Clippers for this trip? I’ve spent time sailing on 45 to 60 foot Hunter and Beneteau yachts on vacations and really enjoyed the experience.
The Royal Clipper caught my eye several years ago. How could she not? As the largest fully-rigged true sailing ship in the world, well — yes, I’ve wanted to sail on her. Secondly, I love the Southern Caribbean, so the chance to visit some of the smaller islands I had not seen was intriguing. Third, I was planning to do this trip solo, and I had a feeling it would be a good fit. I was correct.
Why is the Royal Clipper so Special?
Trying to answer this question almost puts me at a loss for words. The ship is so very beautiful.
Being on her under sail with no engines running . . . well. It’s enough to make a grown woman cry. And I did.
Traveling on a real clipper ship is different from the other cruise or sailing experiences that I’ve had. The big cruise ships are like enormous floating hotels.
This is elemental. This is time travel to another era, at least in the calmest way possible — I have to grin thinking about how 21st century people would actually handle being on a clipper ship from 1905 . . .
Each week, weather permitting, passengers will take tenders out to motor around the ship as she sets sail. Both weeks it was a beautiful experience. The first week, we were in St. Kitts, and the second, our ship sailed past the Pitons in St. Lucia as we were out photographing her.
Cruising on any of the Star Clipper ships will present you with opportunities to do things like climb the rigging up to first crow’s nest, or my favorite, hang out in the netting under the bowsprit. Sailing on a tall ship in the Caribbean is a wonderful experience.
Here is a full review of my January 2016 cruise on the flagship of the Star Clipper line.
Ports and Excursions
What’s it like traveling on a tall ship? One of the most wonderful parts of cruising with Star Clippers is dropping anchor in small bays. Often, there were only sailboats and motor yachts.
If you are accustomed to large ships, this is going to be different. This clipper ship is typically not in port for as long as larger cruise ships are. Additionally, you will not know what the mooring times will be before you board the ship, which means you can’t make private excursion arrangements before your vacation.
Before I got onboard, the inability to make excursion plans ahead of time bothered me.
Then once I was there I realized, with this kind of cruise, it really wasn’t necessary. Many of the stops you have a choice of taking a tender to the marina or to a beach. The ship has snorkeling equipment I borrowed and kept with me, and there was often great snorkeling just off the beaches.
I did take two ship sponsored excursions each week, and they were well done. Swimming with the rays in Antigua was fun. A benefit of the small ship is that it was a small group that went on the excursion — no feeling of being crowded, and we all have plenty of time with the rays.
I particularly liked the Shadowfax sailing excursion in Grenada which included snorkeling and a grilled lobster lunch on the beach. Ever seen the hugely over-crowded catamaran trips go out of port? — and they look justawful, don’t they. I have to compliment the excursion planner with Star Clippers — the group from our ship was well-sized. We all had good space on the cat, and it was a highly enjoyable day.
Balata Gardens in Martinique was very special. Fort de France in Martinique is the only place the Royal Clipper actually docked during the two weeks I was on the ship, and it is docked only for the morning. Having a port where the ship docks is important for potential re-provisioning. The first week, I simply wandered into Fort de France. I didn’t care for the city at all. I would strongly recommend a shore excursion here because the island of Martinique is very beautiful and getting away from town is the only way to appreciate it. Since the ship is in port for so few hours, doing something independently is not feasible.
My favorite island the first week was Terre de Haut in Les Saintes. Charming village, perfect for wandering and a little shopping. We had a great lunch at Ti Kaz La, lovely bistro on the waterfront that I would highly recommend. If you would like to have lunch, make a reservation by contacting them on their website, or simply go directly there when you get off the tender and have them add your reservation. Once you get off the tender at the marina, Ti Kaz La will be to your right several blocks down the street that is closest to the water.
On the second week, I really enjoyed Union Island in the Grenadines. We dropped anchor in a quiet bay, the tender landed directly on a perfect beach. The water was quiet, and there were schools of silvery fish and nice snorkeling. Lovely beach bar with live reggae. It doesn’t get much better.
Docking in Soufriere on St. Lucia is great because you are a fifteen minute water taxi ride from one of the most picturesque beaches in the Caribbean — Jalousie Beach, the white sand beach that lies between the two Pitons. Two hotels share the beach, and there is a great restaurant — very happy to serve you just drinks, if you so desire. Good snorkeling along the right side, as you are on the beach and face the sea.
Advice for Booking Excursions
After you book your trip, you will get a .pdf document describing all of the excursions. The best shore excursions will depend on you and your preferences. Take the time to read through it, and decide which ones suit you. You will not be able to sign up for the excursions until you are on the ship. Once you have checked in onboard proceed directly to the excursion area to sign up for the ones that interest you – particularly if there are a small number of people who can go. Many of the most popular ones that have limited spots will fill very quickly.
General advice about your ports, regardless of itinerary
Read about your ports of call before your trip. The satellite internet service on the ship is slow, so doing homework once your are on the ship is not so easy. (Tip: the internet is the fastest early in the morning. I had to do some work on the ship, and I had no problem early before breakfast started). If you have some knowledge of your ports, then you will easily be able to choose whether it’s best to do an excursion, wander the town, or simply head to the beach on the tender.
Will I be seasick on the Royal Clipper?
How does it feel to be on a tall ship compared to a large cruise ship? You may be asking, “will I feel sick?” This is a valid concern. The Royal Clipper does have the stabilizers she still moves MUCH more than bigger ships. You will feel the ocean. It’s what she is meant to do; it is part of sailing. I have had some seasickness on smaller vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. I brought plenty of Dramamine, and I took it proactively. I had no problems.
I found the motion of the ship and the water exhilarating.
I loved the feeling of rocking in my bed at night. I loved that I could hear the water. On the nights that the clipper had to cross open ocean, coming and going back to Barbados, there is more motion at night. It did wake me up several times, simply because the motion of the ship would change. It did not worry me in any way, I would snuggle back into my pillow and think of the ship and the waves.
Accessibility: Please be aware that there are multiple staircases in the ship and there are no elevators. Additionally, the ship moves with the water. You need to be able to climb stairs, and you need to be steady on your feet.
Who were my fellow passengers?
Over my two weeks, I would say that a very large percentage were British and Americans, in nearly equal numbers. There were also many Germans and a few Canadians. Add a few Swiss, a Swede or two, throw in a couple of Irishmen and stir. A recipe for a multi-national experience. I really liked this about the ship. Age, you ask? They were predominantly from their mid-forties to mid-seventies.
The exceptions? A 93 year old lady who was with a yacht club from Connecticut. Let’s call her Rose. I was fortunate enough to sit next to her one evening. She’d been married three times, had a wicked sense of humor, and had sailed her own sailboat up to perhaps ten years ago. Then the second week there were some thirty-something newly weds. Most seemed to be fifty to sixty-five, in varying degrees of fitness, and very interested in the ship.
There were no children when I was onboard. Could you bring the kids? If you have mature, very well-behaved children, it could work — but only if you are invested in keeping them occupied. There are no children’s programs, and this ship is not designed for them. Noisy children dashing around the decks and the dining room would not endear you to your fellow passengers. My advice? Leave the kids at home and embrace some time with yourself and your significant other.
Compared to staterooms on a large cruise ship, the cabins on the Royal Clipper are small. I had two different cabins since my second week stay was a last minute impulse.
I had two Category 3 staterooms (150 square feet), room 206 the first week, and room 201 the second week. Once I unpacked my luggage, it was easy to store my 26 inch tall rolling suitcase under my bed on Royal Clipper — the standard thing do do in all ships. The bathroom is all white marble, and very nice; it is as large as most bathrooms I’ve had in standard balcony cabins on large cruise lines. We had ports of call every day of both itineraries, and I was only in my room to sleep, shower and change clothes. I was traveling solo, and for one person the cabins were perfect.
For two people, the cabins I had would be small, but workable. One note I would make is that cabin 206 was wider than cabin 201. Have a look at it here in the Royal Clipper Deck Plan, and you can see that as the ship tapers towards the bow, the cabins would have to be smaller.
If you really want more space, then consider the larger cabins. The Category 1 rooms are 205 square feet, and the Deluxe Outside Suites are 215 square feet, plus a verandah. The largest are two Owner’s Suites at 355 square feet, plus verandah. Looking at the virtual tours of the different cabins on the ship will help answer space questions. I met two sets of friends over the two weeks who were in luxury cabins and were very happy with them.
After trips on sailing yachts, I thought the cabins on the Royal Clipper were large for a sailing ship. The experience of being on this tall ship is simply nothing like a standard cruise. And for all of the wonderful things that this means, having a smaller cabin seemed a small trade-off. So when you start thinking about your cabin and the clipper ship, remember, think yacht, not CRUISE SHIP.
Electricity is European 220 volt, which most passengers knew. The warning I would give you is that standard American converters are chunky, boxy by nature — and due to the recessed electrical plugs — those chunky converters would NOT fit. I had a Bestek 200 watt International Travel converter with multiple charging ports which worked fine. In fact, I charged many friends’ iPads and cameras over the two weeks. Hey, maybe that’s how I made so many friends :).
The food was very good on the Royal Clipper. Dinner was full service each evening. There was always a selection of four entrees, one of which was a vegetarian dish, and additionally, there was always a pasta. Each evening you also had a choice of two starters, and there was always a soup, a salad and a sorbet, in addition to a selection of three desserts.
How many stars would I give it?
Well, ask the Michelin people how many times they give three stars . . . what, is it 26 in the entire world? So someone who gives a meal a five star rating, wouldn’t it — shouldn’t it be that rare? I’m pretty picky. I’ve eaten at some of the finest restaurants in the world.
So you ask me how many stars out of a five star rating would I give the food? Three. And that is high praise from me. Chef Devon from Jamaica produced consistently very fine food, out of a very small galley, for 200 or more people at a time. I think he rocks!
So truthfully, the food here is as good as any cruise ship I’ve been on, and some nights it was even better.
Breakfast and lunch were buffets; at breakfast there were omelettes and fresh eggs cooked to order. The buffet offerings were designed to appeal to a broad variety of tastes, and they were well done.
Dinner service begins at 7:30. It is open seating, but be aware, while they say you can come at any point over the two hour period that dinner is being served . . . almost everyone is seated by 8:00.
I liked the open seating. I had dinner with many different couples and groups over the two weeks, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I really like people, so it was perfect. The second week, a British couple adopted me, so I had a steady home.
And I almost forgot . . . there are three extra meals, just in case the regular three aren’t enough :-). There is an early-bird continental breakfast, an afternoon snack, and then a midnight snack. The afternoon “snack” is an incredibly lovely offering served in the Tropical Bar. It’s afternoon tea for the British passengers.
I think very highly of Star Clipper’s crew members.
My cabin steward, Dennis, was efficient and very thoughtful. When I arranged to stay the second week, the entire crew seemed to know it by the next morning. Muslim, who was in charge of the housekeeping staff, came to find me. “Ms. Ann, you do not need to pack your things. Dennis will move everything to your new cabin for you.” All I could think was, oh, poor Dennis. So we compromised. I packed all of my small things, and then he moved my suitcase and the hanging clothes.
The ship’s master was Captain Mariusz Szalek from Poland. The first officer was from Italy, and the engineer from Russia. The bosun was from India. Common language on the ship among the crew was English. Captain Mariusz, while absolutely focused on sailing and taking care of the ship, was also quick to smile and very gracious with the passengers. Allen Littell wrote a fine article about Szalek sailing the Star Clipper in French Polynesia.
One big difference between the two weeks was we had two different Cruise Directors. The second week, our cruise director, Monja did a fine job.
The first week was not so good. Then our Cruise director was a young German woman who frequently came across as overly authoritarian and it was a topic of conversation among both the English and German speaking guests. Significant additional training would be necessary to get this young lady to a place where she could represent the Star Clipper line in this particular position. Being cruise director takes an inordinate amount of patience. One must have the capacity to smile, regardless of how many times one has answered the same question. Other than the captain, the cruise director is the most public face of the company to every passenger on the ship. Based on a training consultant I saw onboard the first week, I am sure this problem will be rectified.
Both the bar staff and the waitstaff did fine jobs. They were highly professional, personable and often funny. They made the time onboard the ship very pleasant.
There was a single entertainer onboard. Gabor played the piano, the guitar, sang, and acted as DJ for dancing evenings. One night each week, a steel band was brought onboard. Each week there was a talent show with a mixture of crew and passenger offerings. I would call it “good fun.” I went one week, and chose to go up with an after dinner drink and wander the deck the second week.
The stars and the ship were the best after-dinner thing going. Who could ask for more?
If any of the things I have said speak to you, then you will love sailing on this ship. I can hardly wait to return.
Update on Cruise Review, Spring 2017
How to find the Best Prices for a Cruise on Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper
I’ve had a dozen people contact me over the last year to ask how to find the best prices for a cruise on Royal Clipper.
We all have our favorite methods for finding good prices on flights and hotels. For cruises, I favor the Vacations to Go site, where I regularly troll for good prices on cruise lines I like — and prices on Star Clippers are no exception.
I search on Vacations to Go two different ways, one — simply searching Star Clippers cruises, and the other — searching for Single Supplement deals (found under Singles Discounts).
As of today (April 27, 2017), I see three Star Clippers cruises with no single supplements charges. Since I often travel solo, this is often a good deal for me. Will these deals be there tomorrow? No way of knowing. They’re deals on cruises launching VERY soon — and obviously, Star Clippers is trying to fill those cabins.
I do know this — following prices does help you know when you are seeing a good deal. Having flexibility about when you are going to take your vacation helps tremendously. Most of my life, I have not had that option — I had to take vacation at certain times of the year. And frankly, I rarely managed to get a bargain.
A great time of the year to shop for good cruise prices is always January – March.
If you work with a particular travel agent, I’d contact that person and have them watch prices on Star Clippers cruises. You could still check Vacations to Go periodically, and call your travel agent if you see a deal — they’ll probably be able to match it.
Additionally, I recommend familiarizing yourself with information on cruises by visiting the Star Clipper site. It’s a great way to do homework on their standard prices and cabin categories.
If you have questions you would like to ask me about my experiences on Star Clipper’s cruises, please feel free to send me a message via my Contact page. I’ve talked with two different couples in the last few months — sometimes it’s nice to chat with someone who has done a trip before deciding whether it’s for you.
Thank you for visiting!
I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.
It is an old feeling. A deep feeling. In it we are connected, even to the ancient Phoenicians daring to explore the Mediterranean. We feel that first voyage into the unknown — the sea surrounding us.
Climbing over the prow of the moving ship into the damp rope of the bowsprit net,
I rock there, rising and falling as the bow cuts through the waves, see the sun fall behind low clouds with one great flash, as she disappears until morning.
The Lightness of Being
I am all the ships that ever went to sea and
The joy of an updraft under a falcon’s wing.
I am as a swell that lifts a ship leaving harbor.
I am the quiet under the hand of my beloved,
The sweetness of my daughter nestled in the crook of my arm.
I am all of these things.
I am none of these things.
In the peace of the setting sun,
I will slip the lines tying me here.
As the captain takes me out for the last time,
I am deeply content in this journey to a new world.
The doctor’s eyes shifted slightly when he looked at me during the meeting following my scan. I knew.
And I knew immediately.
In the scan following my initial surgery, there were tiny, tiny spots in my lungs, as well as one in the T-11 vertebra. Too tiny to biopsy. So tiny the first radiologist said nothing. Possibly just part of my body.
In a scan just before Christmas, the spots on my lungs had grown and changed.
To be or Not to be
The tilt-o-whirl ride started when I was referred to a surgeon. He spoke positively about resecting the lung spots, although we might have to wait since they are so tiny that there is a risk of not getting all of the cancer — don’t want two surgeries on the same lung. My surgeon wanted to get a closer look at the spot on the T-11 vertebra, so I went for a spine MRI.
The surgeon called the next day. “I think the spot on your spine is cancer. That means we will not do surgery, and I’ll be referring you back to your oncologist.”
Basically, if it’s in my spine, I’m screwed. The subtext is this, “Lady, I’m not doing surgery. I mean, why would we put you through it?”
Okay, so that afternoon in my office, I began thinking — endgame. What do I want the last year or so to look like?
At home in the early evening, my oncologist called and we talked as he looked at the new scan. He doesn’t think the spot on the spine is cancer. We have a long talk. A day later, after having multiple radiologists compare scans, they decide that it is not cancer since it has not changed in size or shape. It may be a bone island.
So. Now, I’m not dying. (Okay, we are all dying. But I don’t need to make immediate plans).
It’s the feeling of being handed the Death card. You hold it. You look at it. And this time, someone takes it back.