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Sunday, June 04, 2006

 

"The Shadow of the Wind" * The Ramblas * And A Man for All Seasons



Bill Lichtman * Barcelona * The Ramblas


I had the good fortune to work for some years under a man named Gabriel "Bill" Lichtman. He was the quintessential shipping man. He had began his career as a reporter and got into ocean transportation almost by accident and became an authority. For more than 30 years he managed the the activities of a large American steamship company from an office in Calcutta, India. The cargo ships plied from the east coast of the United States to Persian Gulf and through the Suez to Rangoon, Burma. Enroute they stopped at Karachi and Bombay. On the return leg the ships called at Chittagong (Bangla Desh), then Calcutta, Madras, Cochin, Colombo and headed for the U.S. Atlantic Coast via the Suez Canal. But he was more than a shipping man. Widely read, he radiated warmth and made friends no matter where went. He was a raconteur, a bon vivant. Short and bald but sought after by women of all ages.

In those days the cargo containers were just beginning to make their presence felt. Shipments were loaded and unloaded in breakbulk form. One could see bales of jute, coir, human hair and snake skins (yes, there was trade in human hair), crates of machinery, chests of tea, and bags of mail.

Strange, how the mind works. Reading about the Ramblas in Barcelona in Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind took me back to Bill Lichtman and times long past. He had spent some years in Barcelona and talked fondly about the city although he detested General Franco and his regime. I remembered that years later, when he was living in Livorno, Italy, and I was in California, he wrote about the Ramblas. I dug up the letter. "I am going to Rostock on the 28th but I am not looking forward to it very much. It has an interesting maritime history but on these trips it is bam to the meeting! And bam to the airport! It is a pity to to miss the local color or even see if the people are always laughing and smiling as they always do in the pictures in the DSR magazine which we receive. In early December I will do better, with Leo, I will be attending a meeting in Barcelona. I can smell the flowers on the Ramblas already for I am sure that the market there hasn't changed at all even though it is 40 years since I last walked through it. "


Bill Lichtman used to type or handwrite letters. He died before the quantum leap to instantaneous electronic communication. I wonder if he would have used e-mail. Would the messages have had the same impact of opening envelopes bearing stamps of different countries, extracting the pages and savouring them time and time again as I did today ? No, for me they wouldn't.
*
Listening to Regret (based on Bach choral prelude for organ "The old year has now passed away").

Modern Jazz Quartet: Blues on Bach.
John Lewis, piano and harpsichord
Milt Jackson, vibraharp
Percy Heath, bass
Connie Kay, drums and percussion
*****


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