THERE WAS A time when romance flourished at sea, when ships traversed the globe under clouds of steam, set free by champagne bottles smashed into glass shards. Men in boater hats and women in fine dresses sailed from one exotic port to another, eyes fixed on new horizons and no doubt on each other. Ships transported people, goods, livestock and even news, before the advent of radio, cross-sea cables and satellites. In the twentieth century, cruise liners accelerated tourism, corrupting the very same ports, but departed harbours festooned with streamers. The TV show The Love Boat based its appeal on the allure of transatlantic journeys, on which wealthy retirees acted like love-struck teens.
When The Love Boat filmed episodes in the 1980s, producers hired the majestic Stella Solaris to tour the Greek Isles. Its decks were named after gems: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald. It had a 500-seat cinema and so many bars that you could drink at one and collapse in another without taking a step. My Uncle Peter served as chief purser on the Stella, and his tales of mixing with the American glitterati was just one aspect of cruise ship splendour. Peter’s sepia-tinted Kodaks depicted romance from an insider’s perspective. Dinner at the captain’s table showed ‘Gopher’ indecorously draped over the captain’s wife while ‘Isaac’ and ‘Doc’ applauded ‘Greek Night’, in which Romanian exiles performed the Zorba. Cocktails by the pool with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant were always served by smiling staff hired on lowly wages from the Philippines.
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