Lookin' Good at 58

Monday, March 30, 2009

To Renaissance Cruises and Back to Renaissance Cruises , Say What?

January 5th 1992 I flew to join the Regina Renaissance that was being built in Marina di Carrara Italy. It was exactly a year after I arrived in Jasper Alberta on that day when I took off from Edmonton to London via Toronto , then on to Pisa Italy.

As waiters we didn't do a whole lot but go around and do garbage runs while all the workers were building the ship. It was about 17 days before the ship was ready for it's sea trials and was on it's way to Monte Carlo for 10 days of loading. We had a great time in Monte Carlo and even for the end of January it felt like Spring was already in the air. I remember going to the Karaoke bar where if you got up and sang you would get a free beer. One night I sang 5 times and got free beer until the owner said that was enough. You see I was a bit short on cash by this time.

We had a couple of dinner functions to get a grip on how it was all working in the dining room and it gave the kitchen some practice as well. There were 4 front waiters and 4 back waiters in the dining room with a sommelier. The section you were responsible for varied from 28-32 covers and it was an open sitting so people could arrive anywhere from 7 to 9Pm.

Once our stay in Monte Carlo was over we headed for the Suez Canal to begin 10 day cruises in the Red Sea with stops in places like Sharm el Sheik Egypt and Aquaba Jordan.

Our first cruise for passengers began on February 8th a day after my 33rd birthday. The day before on my birthday I was in Cairo Egypt seeing the pyramids and riding a camel. How neat that was! This was definitely going to be a fun 6 month contract I thought and I wasn't disappointed.

After a couple of months in the Red Sea it was back through the Suez Canal again to do some Mediterranean cruises that would last for 7 days throughout the Greek islands. In all during that 6 month contract I visited 23 countries and even joined another ship to help it open. In July I disembarked in Stockholm and spent a week there touring around staying with a friend before flying back to Edmonton.

It was certainly an experience I will never forget and during the time I spent with Renaissance Cruises things happened that changed my life forever. That will come in future posts.

In the meantime though after that first contract I had an idea I wanted to open up my own business , that of a bakery - patisserie type. So one contract only I was going to work. I enrolled myself in a Cordon Bleu Pastry Basic Level course in Ottawa Ontario in the Fall of 1992. This school is not cheap but I was loaded with cash after my contract so thought it would be no problem financing myself through it.

I lived at the YMCA and worked at the Chateau Laurier during the time I was there until December. I did very well so I enrolled in the Advanced Pastry Course in London England beginning January. I thought things would go very well as they had in Ottawa because I had the Grandparent visa to work and with all the jobs available in London and I staying at the YMCA things would be go smoothly and I would not go through the money so quickly.

However , someone who had worked with my Mother had moved to England to a place in Hertfordshire and was working at a hotel there. As I understood from her I was a shoo-in for a job and between getting some practical experience in a kitchen and doing some waitering as well it seemed like a good fit for me. Although accomodation I would have to find eventually , the cost of living on your own was far less there than it would have been living in London.

So when is a sure thing a sure thing. Never! I fully understood that all I would have to do is sit down with the GM of this hotel and he knew that I was coming and my mother's friend was like his right hand man so voila , I would have some job waiting or so I thought.

I go to this interview and there was nothing at all. Here I gave up the YMCA in downtown London close to school for a rejection at some far out of the way place 75 minutes by train to London and a tube ride to school. All I got was a " oh I didn't know and too bad " from this woman and well I should have known better than to bail out of London without something more concrete than an promise from someone whom my mother knew and worked with.

Things like a promising change of career into pastry was now becoming economically impossible for me cause of this blind trust so I ended up getting a room with board , getting some work in banquets which at one place meant I was the pot washer. Finally I had to get a job in a parts factory on an assembly line and they liked me so much they even wanted me to become a machine operator! Wow so promising.

Now living on my credit card at 2.5 dollars to the British pound and earning a measly income while going to school all the same time was difficult to stomach. I passed the course in March when I made a dazzling Sacher Torte. But I was back to being broke again and had to head somewhere to save some money again to pay off the debt accumulated.

I went to an interview in Ipswich for the Island Hotel as a head waiter on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly off the coast of Penzance. It was a 20 minute helicopter ride to the islands. I worked there the summer and Fall until I could get off there again. It certainly was different there as there were no cars and the people looked like they were trolls for the most part. They live a pretty isolated life there to be sure. All I remember doing is eating and drinking.

In October I called back Renaissance Cruises to get back on the ship and they said sure. What about Antigua in November doing some Caribbean cruises? I was chomping at the bit to get back and make some money and do some more traveling.

So at the end of 1993 I bade farewell to England for the last time as far as working there and to a career attempt at becoming a baker and pastry maker. Maybe if I hadn't packed up and moved from London's Y for this job interview things might have been different. At least if I stayed in London I might have landed something good or got to work with someone who could give me chance to gain some experience. But alas , when you are running around looking for anything to do to survive and get some cash you end up frittering away time you could be spending getting good at what you are learning.

At the end of the day things did turn out pretty good for me but the only proof I have of being able to bake a cake is the " Diplome De Patisserie De L'Ecole Le Cordon Bleu " from March 1993 hanging on my wall in the office. Since then my wife kids me all the time about baking a genoise for her but since 1993 I have left the desserts behind and the recipes are in my bookcase.

So in 1992 it was two ships with Renaissance as I helped open a second one later on during the same 6 month contract , working at the Chateau Laurier Hotel and oh yes the Ottawa Congress Center where I served the prime minister of the day all while going to school.

Then in 1993 on to England where I went to school to finish the advanced pastry course and at the same time was on call to do banqueting and also worked in a parts plant. Then off to the Isles of Scilly and Tresco where I was a head waiter then back on Renaissance cruises in November of that year to join my third ship in Antigua.

So it is now November 1993 and after all the running around I was happy to be back on the ships again. In fact I was ecstatic!


SkippyMom said...

I LOVE these posts...more,more!

What a varied and exciting life [to me at least] you have led. I can honestly say I have no complaints with my life, but I do, in a way, envy your ability to pick up, go and land on your feet no matter what.

Can't wait to hear all about the cruise ship life.

Waiter Extraordinaire said...

SkippyMom...thanks and the next couple of posts will be about the cruiseship work. I have done about 14 years now of working in the industry every Monday for the last few months. Can't believe how time flies. There was some interesting times....

James Mortimer said...

Man, you have had a great life WE. You should be a celebrity. How come there are wankers out there who have millions of dollars when good people like us appear to know alot more?

Waiter Extraordinaire said...

James..it has been a good one so far.You know I think the main thing is to be remembered in a good way by those close to you.Celebrity status is fleeting while those around you are the foundation.You and I can make a difference to those we love and care about by our actions and philosophy on life. If we accomplish that then we will have had an extraordinary life. You are doing the same James.