Postcards from paradise, Part II

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2001

We recently experienced what's called a "failure to communicate" in the Advocate office.

Actually, it was the E-mail that let us down.

I sent in this column and a couple of other pieces-I least, my computer said I did-and apparently, they all ended up in "Computer Never-Never Land."

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So, contrary to popular belief, I am still alive and sort of well and you'll see more of me in person and print from now on . . .

When I left you last time, we were enjoying our first evening meal on board the cruise ship "Century".

Within a couple of days Benny and I and our new acquaintances, Steve and Cara, decided to sit together for our evening meals. (That "long-distance" chatting-'fuhgettaboudit', as the Rodgers' fellow New Yorkers might say.)

It was a week filled with plenty of good food (I shudder to think of the number of calories I consumed during those seven days), lively conversation and lots of laughter.

But it wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable without two special gentlemen: our delightful Romanian waiter, Alex, and his assistant, an affable Jamaican named Clifton.

"The Dynamic Duo"

Dark-eyed Alex had a mischievous grin and a charming accent somewhat, shall we say, Transylvanian in nature.

(As in "My name ees Dra-cu-la-I bid you wel-come . . .)

He loved to joke with his guests ("Oh, yesss, I AM a vampire . . . Vlad the Impaler was my great-great-great-aah, whatever. Didn't you see me flying about the ship last night?" he'd say with a waggle of his brows as he fluttered his fingers beneath his chin.)

Often we'd catch him doing a little two-step to the melodies of the orchestral trio playing right behind us, the twinkle in his brown eyes belying the almost serious expression on his face.

All the same, he took his duties as a waiter very seriously.

Alex made a point early on of memorizing the names of everyone at each of the tables he served.

He didn't call us "Monsieur" or "Madame" (elegant, but somewhat impersonal, titles). Nope, we were "Mister Benny" and "Miss Angie".

Made us feel right at home.

He paid close attention to what we ordered each evening and how we reacted to it.

Soon he was able to make recommendations for each of us according to our particular taste buds.

(He finally started just bringing each couple one of everything on the dessert menu- such a wise young man.)

And if he didn't think a certain menu item was, shall we say, "up to snuff", he would give us subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) hints.

One evening, for example, Cara asked about the pistachio ice cream. Alex paused almost imperceptibly, then said in a deadpan tone, "It's very . . . green."

Cara decided to try it anyway.

She ate a spoonful, made a funny face and declared, "Alex was right. It's-GREEN."

(I guess waiter knows best.)

Alex's able assistant, Clifton, was a tall, pleasant fellow with that easygoing island charm.

(Clifton had taught Alex all the island lingo-"no problem, mon.") These two made a personable pair.

Little Cara dearly loved ketchup and ate it with practically every elegant entre served. Clifton finally starting wrapping it discretely in a napkin and presenting it with a flourish as " your special sauce, Madame."

If we made a crumb-y" mess on the table, there was Clifton on the spot with his little brush and tray to tidily sweep it up.

They took excellent care of us, offering truly great service wrapped up in a smile.

(We all loved being spoiled rotten by them.).

We discovered there's a good reason all the dining room waiters are sturdy, broad-shouldered fellows: the food-laden platters they maneuver from kitchen to table can weigh as much as 60 lbs. (No wander we heard an occasional tremendous crash from the kitchen as two busy waiters collided en route.) Gatos and Perros in the Rich Port"

Raid your memory banks for your high school Spanish and you'll likely recall that "gatos" and "perros" are "cats" and "dogs" in English.

Unfortunately it was raining said felines and canines when we arrived in the harbor of our first port of call, the land of Ricky Martin-San Juan.

Once the heavy shower passed, we were able to set out on foot into San Juan's old city.

Its narrow, twisting cobblestone streets give it a picturesque "Old World "charm.

(These streets aren't for the tender of foot, however-I learned from our European expedition to wear sturdy, thick-soled shoes when navigating such bumpy trails.)

It's an area filled with quaint 16th century restored buildings, 200-year-old houses with elegant balconies, museums, art galleries, cafes, bookstores, shops, monuments, pigeons and traffic jams-all within a small seven-block-square neighborhood.

It's all within easy walking distance of the pier.

Later that evening Benny and I stood on deck as we watched our ship set sail from the harbor.

San Juan's famed fortress "El Morro" Castle rose high above the tranquil seas.

The majestic 16th century structure was bathed in spotlights as the ship glided past.

The stars glowed in a velvet canopy above.

A gentle Caribbean breeze caressed our faces.

I snuggled closer to my husband.

Benny murmured, "Next time, I've GOT to make sure we schedule a cruise when there's a full moon."

Sounds good to me.

Until next time…