En route home from the Peace Corps in Asmara my Peace Corps romantic interest and I circled the Mediterranean starting in Alexandria, Egypt (we had all read the “Alexandria Quartet) then Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, from where we went by train across Turkey stopping in Ankara and Istanbul. From Istanbul to Athens by boat then train through what is now Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia to Vienna where we broke our Mediterranean journey for a side trip to the rest of Europe. Back to Venice, the most romantic city in the world, then Florence, Rome, Portofino, San Remo, Monte Carlo, Nice, and Barcelona. We almost circumnavigated the entire Mediterranean and it solidified my desire to have a home there.
Back in the USA I joined the Foreign Serivce at State where on entry they tested my Italian which proved to be basic. They assumed I would choose to study it before heading off to a post in Italy. But it was the mid-1960s and I was infected with the James Bond mystique, you know, racing about a lush, tropical island in your sports car in pursuit of larger than life villains. So when asked where I wanted to go, I replied, “The Caribbean.”
I got my wish, Panama, the Caribbean with Latin America thrown in. And there I was racing around in my bright red Alfa Romeo chasing money launderers, international arms smugglers, mafia bankers, and such from the Pacific to the Atlantic since only about 60 miles separates the world’s greatest oceans in Panama. I also had to do more humdrum work such as issuing visas, picking up the remains of Americans killed in accidents, writing economic reports and, my main interest, promoting American exports and investment. The Mediterranean became a distant memory.
Next to Vietnam where I was one of State’s cadre loaned to the Agency for International Development to work in the Civil Operations Revolutionary Development Service known popularly as the “Pacification Program.” I was lucky, my first year I was assigned to Saigon where the worse calamity that happened was the night the Vietcong dropped a mortar shell on the center court at the Circe Sportif where I played and exercised in the gym and read the latest news papers in its library. There is was, an ad in the London Times, “Buy your shares in Malta’s first publicly traded company.” It seems the UK’s giant gambling corporation, Laadbrookes, had built a hotel-casino complex in the island country. I was fascinated, the casino was built in an old ducal palace that jutted out into the Mediterranean. I had visions of spending my retirement years dressed in a tux, sitting at “my” Mediterranean casino with martini in hand and inviting visitors to enjoy themselves and spend lots of money.
En route home from Vietnam I visited “my casino” which was truly elegant. A casino right out of the movies, literally since it was used in several films. I looked into buying a home near the casino so that I would be in walking distance of my night time haunt. I didn’t buy but took lots of info with me.
I was posted to Washington DC where one day while reading the paper I saw still another siren call, “Buy your home in Mallorca.” Well Mallorca was not Malta but I knew it was the easiest island in the Mediterranean to get to since there are flights from almost every European city. I went to the sales office in DC where they showed me a map of the island, an artist’s painting of the village being built, the floor plan of the house I picked and the price. I said, “Sold.” Yes, I bought the house sight unseen, in fact the house had not yet been built.
The following year I went with my then love to take possession of my house which was now completed. As we drove across the island she asked if the house had hot water. I looked at her and said, “Hot water, I don’t even know if it has water.” All concerns and worries were resolved when we crested the hill on the tiny road and descended into what is one of the most scenic places in the world. I exclaimed, “If it is a tent pitched in an open field, I am ahead in this game.”
As it was the house sat at the foot of the tallest mountain, 1700 ft, of the Eastern Range of Mountains in Mallorca, 50 meters to the Mediterranean. It had hot water, as well as floor to ceiling bathroom and kitchen tiles, marble staircase, tile floors and a small terrace overlooking the Mediterranean.
My luck did not run out. Back in Washington I soon found that I was being posted to our embassy in Madrid the next year. I sent four years there frequently visiting my little house on the sea.
More to come