The author’s experience with the ultimate in decadent dining, wining and entertainment.
ENTERTAINMENT A COURSE BETWEEN COURSES
In the late 1960s I learned the word “Acroama” at a private party for sixty invited guests, held at a wealthy carpet dealer’s home in Hamburg-Blankenese. By then I had been working in the restaurant business for more than five years. Speeches between courses had been common for most dinner events, so were musicians or a band.
The setting was a private villa, built into the hillside, overlooking the Elbe river. Banquet-tables were arranged facing a heavy wooden platform atop the indoor pool. The parquet was mahogany wood, so were all the hand carved figurines at the corners and along the edges. Sporadically escaping puffs of steam suggested the presence of the heated pool beneath. One could not see the water, but one could surely smell the chlorine flavored vapors at the edge of the wooden stage.
Two huge fire places, fit for any castle, illuminated part of the indoor pool area turned into a banquet room. Flames danced in red, every shade of yellow, blue, violet and green on the logs. The warm colors of these flickering lights, reflected from the cold polished white and red Italian marble floors and walls.
A generous layer or two, of soft Persian rugs cushioned the walk to and among the six tables. Each banquet-table, seating ten, faced the pool area and the stage and dance-floor atop.
While doing the necessary set-up-work, the host’s wife informed us waiters that the eight-course-dinner would go well over seven hours. Between each of the courses there would be a three quarter hour break for a variety of entertainment. One musician translated it to, “They hired our people to do forty-five minute stunts, followed by a twenty minute break, that’s for you guys and your food!” I realized then that it would be a long night, naturally I was curious as to the meaning of Acroama, the title of the event.
Guests arrived, some by taxi, others in chauffeur driven limousines. The host and his wife greeted them at the door. The women displayed precious materials in form of elegant evening dresses. Women were sniffing each others perfume. Here and there I heard compliments about a fragrance used.
Each individual female succeeded with wearing a one of a kind dress and high heels, with using a distinct upper class dialect-free vocabulary, with having her hair done in the latest style, with wearing expensive eau de cologne, and with being seen in the right company.
The males however looked uniformed in their patent leather shoes, the dress shirts and the “smokings”. The only freedom of individuality in these men’s clothing were the bow-ties. Some men wore silver, others red, but most men preferred the black silken neck-decoration. Not much of any after shave or eau de cologne was to be noticed around the males. Yet without doubt the strong smell of money was attached to each of them.
We, the wait staff, in spit-shined black shoes, mine were hiding the holes in my socks, offered cocktails to the guests as they entered the door. We, the waiters looked sharp in our pressed black pants. I had put mine between mattress and bed sheet the previous night.
I wore a nearly new white shirt. It was one of these shirts with detachable cuffs and collars. This shirt with its heavy starched breast insert could easily be worn a few days in a row, three or four, five at the most. The collar I replaced daily, such effortless attached with the collar buttons to the shirt’s neck. And it was the same with the cuffs. I wore fresh starched cuffs, buttoned with silver and mother of pearl cufflinks, at every shift.
Back then all uniform-shirts were of good quality. Waiters’ shirts sold in specialty shops. Mine were extra long in the back and shorter in the front, but long enough that I did not get uncomfortable by not wearing anything beneath. The laughing sales clerk in the store had explained the difference in length to me. His saying, “It takes more material to wrap up bacon than it takes to wrap a sausage!” was still in my ears. Now it came in handy. Once again I had simply run out of clean underwear. My black tie had a certain shine to it, but one had to look close to see all the many sauce, coffee and wine spots on it. The white linen steward-jacket with the two rows of gold buttons was heavily starched. It was hiding the sweat stains on my shirts, not only the ones under the armpits. I had not taken a break since arrival at the villa, four hours earlier. Aperitifs had to be served. Dutifully I made my rounds with a tray filled with short longstem-glasses and a Port wine bottle.
Every lady to whom I offered an aperitif, took a glass of the dark red sweet Porto, except for one. This one classy woman undecided said she preferred Campari with soda. When I brought her drink she changed her mind and asked for orange juice and vodka instead. She was pretty. However, she looked right through me. Ordering her drink, she talked down at me, with her nose high up in the air. As I walked away, I felt her eyes taking in my measurements. I got her the requested screwdriver and tried to catch her eye. Snobbishly, she looked past me. This woman was not taller than I, but her tone, and gestures used, made me feel small. “She did not look aristocratic to me, she was not tall enough,” were my thoughts when I heard someone titling her “Frau von . . . ”
Serious, with stern business-looks on their faces, the men, sipped on their drinks, most had dry Sherry. A few thirsty bodies requested Holsten Pilsner, a local beer. The atmosphere was ultra conservative, stiff and cold. They titled us waiters “Herr Ober.” And a great distance was noticeable between the guests and us the wait people. I knew then that I was merely a waiter and oceans apart from being socially acceptable to any of these wealthy men.
These men were influentual rich and blessed with the company of gorgeous creatures, next to them. Few only were the men’s wives, many were secretaries and lady friends invited for this spectacular night at the carpet importer’s home.
To me, some of these women looked misplaced, beautiful to look at. They resembled flower bouquets used as garnish on a silver tip plate in the company of empty money-wrappers. Looking around I felt insignificant. But I overcame the momentary I-am-nobody-syndrome by concentrating on my job. I knew my job well and that was all what counted then and there. Soon they sat down.
The first course served consisted of blinis with Russian Caviar. We poured red Krimsekt for the ladies and vodka for the men. It was noticeable how the guests’ stiffness began to melt according to their consumption of alcohol. Soft notes from a harp escorted our efforts to provide the best service possible to these elite businessmen and their table partners. We cleared the plates and looked forward to the upcoming entertainment.
A Russian folk dance group showed their talent. About twenty minutes into the show, we served a round of dry Champagne and offered fresh fruit as palate cleansers. The Russian music which had started out slow reached its peak with a Cossack-dance. There was much applause.
The soup course was “a la Lady Curzon”, a turtle soup. Again the talented lady on her harp provided the background music. As the soup cups were cleared, boxes and trunks and mirrors were rolled onto the stage. These became the setting for a magician show. He let rabbits appear from his pants’ pockets, had a woman floating in midair and found white doves in several women’s purses. His final act was his own disappearance behind a curtain of smoke. While his helpers were clearing the stage, we served the next course.
Honeydew melon-balls with Buendener meat, were next. The harpist was tickling her instrument. We poured Meursault. Polka music followed this course. Barely finishing their melon and paper-thin meat, many guests got up and danced. The host wanted his guests to work up an appetite. He also wanted them to get in the mood. He succeeded. The dance was loosening the joints including the ones on which the mouths are hinged. Soon even the stiffest of the stiffs were singing tunes with the band. The men and women returned to their tables when we started to serve the next course.
Some perspiring men took their jackets off. We brought out river-eel, in a delicate dill sauce with potato flower dumplings. The harpist set there, by herself, in the spotlight and nobody seemed to take notice of her. People now were engulfed in talking across the tables, stuffing their faces with the delicate fish-course, and sipping Bernkasteler Doctor and Graben Auslese from the Mosel.
We cleared the plates and all the empty glasses from the previous courses, except the ones for champagne. Barely done clearing the tables, a group of dancers mingled between the tables before assembling on the dance floor. The female dancers were dressed in nothing but clouds of chiffon. The men wore Roman tunics. They show-danced. I recognized some music as a potpourri of international dance music. I even knew some dance steps; The polka and waltz, the samba and the twist, and also fox-trot and mambo. Then there were a slow tango and something that looked much like modern day’s salsa. The group of twelve dancers, six men and six women got much applause. My eyes were glued at the women. Out of the corners of my eyes, I compared the dancers’ bare breasts in shape and size. I did not get the meaning of the dance, another waiter filled me in, “These dances represent the evolution of dance from the dark ages to today’s modern dance!”
We waiters poured bottles and bottles of Champagne and kept the glasses filled. We served Aubergines next, with these a wine from the Rheingau, Koenigin Victoriaberg, was offered. The next entertainment were two men on stilts, joggling eight dangerous looking sword-like knifes between the two of them.
The main course included roasted lamb-chops, tournedos and venison. We served the food on large silver platters. Thus allowed each guest to choose what and how much they liked to eat. Platters with vegetables followed the meat platters. I felt my arm getting longer and longer the longer I held the silver platter in my left hand. I was bent forward onto the table between guests. From the left of each customer, with a fork and spoon in my right hand, I served the selected food onto each guest’s dinner plate. I had only ten customers to take care of and I was glad. Cote d’Or wines from the Domain de la Romanee-Conti complimented this course. Coming back from the kitchen three times, we recommended seconds and thirds on meat and vegetables but found only few takers. Most diners were full from the many previous courses. The lonely, forgotten harpist on stage was moving her hands over the strings, ignoring being ignored. As we cleared the plates, the harpist left, pretty much unnoticed.
When an accordion player joined the band, the diners got up and back onto the dance floor. He played his instrument well and led the crowd singing sailors’ shanties. Soon the room was filled with the sound of many voices. Humming and singing, “My Bonny is over the ocean… my Bonny is… back my Bonny to me…” the people formed a line and followed the accordion player on a journey around the room. This polonaise led to a guided grand-tour throughout the spacious home. Chanting guests could soon be heard in the distance from the other two floors above. The accordion player’s tour ended on the dance floor where he had started. Here the band took over and played another set of dance music. Then they asked that the guests return to their tables. None of the men wore his dinner jacket now.
We offered a variety of cheese and fruits next and with it served Tokayer wines, including Essencia. The harpist did not return. However, three members of the band played music fit for any Moroccan dance club. A woman in a caftan, with bells on her wrists and ankles floated into the room. A second followed, then a third. They helped each other out of the heavy looking gold embroidered Arabic tunics. Then they began to shake their agile bodies. The attached little bells added to the band’s exotic foreign music. These three well-proportioned women showed much flesh, wearing little clothing, but lots of glitter. With great talent and an even greater ability to rotate their lively bodies these women worked not only their fronts and behinds but showed a total control of their stomach muscles to the delight of their audiences.
Years of practice reflected in their vigorous wiggle, roll, waggle, swing, twitter, dodder, jolt, wag and bounce movements. They kept their bodies’ curvatures in a constant motion. These women provided not just some entertainment, but a stunning performance. The three beauties tirelessly accomplished what they had set out to do between and around the tables. Doing as they did, butts, tits and bellies were jumping to the musicians notes. Wearing little material, but lots of costume jewelry, these entertainers showed all they had to show. They delighted the onlookers by revealing much flesh without overexposing themselves. To this day I still wonder how they made the glittery stones stick in their navels and other spots. I also have not yet figured out how the silver-coins were fastened to their breasts’ nipples without ever becoming airborne.
While the belly dancers presented their assets in front of the guests, as close as only inches away from their admirers’ faces, many men removed their bow-ties and opened a button or two, letting cool air into their shirts.
These women backed up fast and sure-footed wherever an attempt was made to touch and feel their naked skin. They teased men and women alike. A great show was put on by these performers with Rubensian figures in their late twenties. They twisted and rotated their rounded bellies, buttocks and boobs. The bells around their wrists and ankles never stopped as these ladies kept their bodies in constant motion. This dancing was highly erotic without ever becoming outright vulgar. These dancers deserved all the applause they got.
More fruit was offered. Next were two clowns, who had soon every eye filled with tears from laughing. Jokes, many of them being of a political nature, where raining down on the guests’ fast, so fast, there was no time to recover between bursts of laughter.
Flames from large copper skillets got the guests attention as two of the cooks prepared Crepes Suzette. These were served with French vanilla ice cream.
Here the formal part of the feast ended. The band moved upstairs. The guests followed the band to the upper floors. We waiters got busy clearing and breaking down the banquet tables. The two cooks and three of us six waiters packed plates and utensils in preparation to leave.
Three waiters stayed were on the floor, to serve drinks and be available to attend to the guests’ needs. I was one of them. By now the whole house had turned into one vibrant party. Hydraulics raised the wooden floor, it became a canopy type ceiling above the swimming pool. Now I could see the underside of the mahogany platform. Carved wood panels showed scenes of the daily life in the orient. The heated pool was now also available to be enjoyed.
I overheard guests talking about their intentions to sweat in the Scandinavian sauna; as we, waiters, drew straws and divided the house into three stations, one waiter for each floor. I lost and got the downstairs.
The band played all night long. The folks danced in the library, and people were spread out all over the place. On and off there were guests in and around the pool. People were having fun. Some used the sauna. Empty glasses had to be picked up always. Ashtrays needed to be cleaned, drinks made and served, not to forget the many errand-boy-tasks. The “Herr Ober! Please get me HB cigarettes,” had long changed to a first name basis. Now it was, “Helmut can you find me a robe,” or “Helmut would get us some towels.” I got requests beyond my waiter’s duties, like the “There is no toilette paper in the lavatory!” from a frantic fellow in one of the bathrooms. And there was the “I need a shower cap, Helmut please find one!” As well as the “I lost my contact lenses please Helmut help me look for it.” I did not have much luck with this last one but certainly tried. Tuxedo pants, shirts and underwear littered the marble floor where a few brave men went for a swim in the pool and soon others followed, nude.
I washed and restocked glassware in the downstairs bar. I had to search all over the house to find four sets of dice for two couples. Knowing where the games were kept, I had no problems to find playing cards for three men a little later.
One of the upstairs waiters needed some help on the second floor. Downstairs had become the place for the hot minds and bodies to cool off in the pool, or to gather in the adjoining gym, or to use the all marble bathrooms. Some decided to use the sauna pretending that sweating out calories would get them back into shape for the band and dance areas upstairs.
My people downstairs had long forgotten about dresscodes, while upstairs the guests were still fully dressed, the men sans tie and jacket. But upstairs was the action. The first floor was throbbing with the sound of the music. Several couples were shaking their bodies to the beat. Open glass-sliding-doors were leading from the library out onto the deck. Fresh night air circulated and mingled with the hot bodies on the dance floor.
The second floor was filled with erotic tension. The lights were dimmed to a very low setting. Red candle light suggested sin and lust. I helped to serve glasses filled with Roederer Champagne. At a sign of the host, we made sure everybody simultaneously had a glass of the expensive bubbly in the hand. A toast followed. We had filled eighty glasses, enough for all the entertainers and guests in the house, but got only thirty takers. The waiter up here told me that he had watched at least six dancers and strippers performing so far. These professionals had come by after their nightly act at their workplaces, to do one or two gigs, for this strictly private showing. We poured the unused fifty glasses of the bubbly down the drain. I listened to this waiter who said: “It’s not the professional actors whom you have to watch, but these other women, the amateurs?” From the same waiter I found out, that many invited locals were bar and nightclub owners. He told me about one woman who earlier had attempted to copy a stripper on a table right in front of him. Expectations were high, everyone waited for the next show to get underway. The star of this act was supposed to be the host’s wife’s sister. I left, not without hesitation, to check-up on my people downstairs, after waiting nearly forty minutes for the announced show to begin. I thought about returning within minutes.
In my station I got caught up in emergency duties around the pool. Starting out, broken glass needed to be picked up from the floor next to the swimming pool. A slightly tipsy woman playing barefoot cocktail server had lost her balance on the wet and slippery marble floor.
I removed a tiny glass fragment from another lady’s heel first. This one was cussing enthusiastically using non lady like expressions fit for any dock-side-worker. As a precaution I also put a Band-Aid onto her foot, to cover the Lilliputian cut. All the while she urged me to hurry for everybody was clearing out. Everybody was heading upstairs to watch the – much talked about, much waited for – cabaret show. I wanted to see it too. However, next I had to render first aid to the fallen cocktail server.
This woman was quite sure she had been stepping on the broken glass, after losing the tray. So I checked her feet. When I said “I cannot find a thing, you had been lucky!” She asked me to get her another “Screwdriver.” Which I did. Only to be asked to take another look. Now she insisted, sipping away on her drink, that I better checked again and more thoroughly. While I did so, she remembered falling onto the broken glass and sitting in it. With a most charming voice to check her tender skin for any glass she begged me to be meticulous. She explained her fear of a glass-piece entering her bloodstream and being carried to her heart. I agreed nobody wants to cut her life span short due to a tiny, tiny glass-sliver.
Her better-be-careful-than-dead-attitude put a smirk on my face. I discovered no glass. This lady was absolutely sure there had to be glass imbedded in her skin. She showed me where to look for invisible slivers. I saw nothing but the back of her legs and her lower back as she laying face down, raised her dress up to her waistline. I used a gentle, careful touch at the different locations as pointed out by her to feel for anything buried in her skin. She did not stop telling where to search. Looking over every square inch of pale waxed skin, I counted her freckles. Following her requests, doing exactly as asked to do, she soon started to titter. Listening to her giggling I knew she was having fun toying with me.
Her praises of my strong hands sounded first intimate, her demanding more and not to stop was bossy. Then again her orders to keep up my fingers’ touch, showing me how to and where to massage her legs, back and thighs, came from a purring kitten. I knew she was getting her kicks out of me being submissive to all her suggestions. Yet I wondered how far she was really willing to go. I was scared and turned on, having nothing else to do, I played the dumb waiter role.
There came the time, when I had however to excuse myself and went to check on the few remaining guests in my downstairs section. Everybody was upstairs. Left were only the fellows who played cards for high stakes, an attorney, a coffee importer and a bordello owner. They shared a bottle of Cognac. With it they drank mineral water by the liter. I replaced overflowing ashtrays with clean ones and brought the card players another case of water. The woman with the imaginary glass splinters had come with one of these three fellows. I was not sure which one, but they did not miss her one bit. Another group of men, whose female friends were roaming around the house, was seated in a niche next to one of the fireplaces. Here I had a machinery and tools exporter, who bragged about the number of cannons and tanks he had sold to third world countries. An expert in condominiums was trying to get commitments from potential buyers in a foreign project. A drunk politician was making promises which even I knew he would not keep. They needed more beer and more Champagne. I got them what they asked for.
The amateur cocktail waitress was, waiting in the gym, laying in waiting, for me to come back to her. I was unsure how far I could go, yet I knew how far I would have wanted to go. The biggest rewards in life I could think off were cold cash and hot sex, and it did not have to be in this order.
I did not have to make a decision. Returning to her she was wearing a towel only and grabbing my arm she dragged me away into the privacy of the gym’s shower. She was and was not the same woman who ten hours earlier had sized me down to a nothing when I was serving the before dinner drinks. She was Frau von . . . alright. She was passionate for the moment, wild and crazy during her own climax. After successfully exhausting me twice, she turned her back on me. Cold as a rock she wiped herself clean with a towel. Frau von . . . gave me no good-bye-kiss. She did not even acknowledge my question “Are you leaving?” Frau von . . . walked out of my life without looking back at me, and I was not sure how to feel. I got dressed and hurried back to work.
Nobody had missed me. I looked for her. She was sitting on the lap of the attorney at the card table trying to convince him that it was time to go home. She looked through me, just like she did the first time I saw her.
As the party ended, the musicians, half-dressed and half undressed got to use of the pool too. Guests were leaving through the downstairs to the street. I shook many hands. Some dignitaries, who arriving had been one hundred percent proper dressed, now left without socks or shoes, unsure whose shirt they were wearing, without bow-tie.
One man hanging on to his lady was carelessly dragging his jacket behind him. The ladies were in less of a predicament. They wore their long dresses. They had their little handbags clutched; short an earring or two, the hair somewhat de-styled, they left toward the waiting cabs or limousines. There was an exception. I saw one daring woman making her exit in a bathrobe, promising the host to bring it back the next day. As far as I know, each woman left with the same man with whom she had arrived.
It was past seven in the morning when I got to leave too. My pockets were filled with side tips. I thanked the host when he gave me an envelope with my pay for the night’s work. We stood at the pool. For a moment I worried that he might notice the scent of Frau von . . . perfume lingering around me. He did not and if he did he hid it well. The host joked jovially with and about the fellows in the water. There, the band and my two coworkers were taking turns challenging two most frivolous and peppery talking women.
The women were not bashful at all. They were analyzing the value of male company. One talked about the flat, depleted, passed-out company upstairs, calling him Schlappschwanz. She made comparisons of her drunk date and the bubbling, babbling, nonsense talking fellows within reach. The other woman teased the men in front of them not by questioning their motives but asking can you still follow through with your intentions once we get to the point.
I asked the host, “This was most impressive! Why Acroama?” He smiled at me and answered, “Acroama that’s what the Romans called the entertainment during their feasts.” Then he explained further that the Romans made full use of the available gladiators and beasts. They did not exclude much. There used to be the wide variety of talented healthy male and female slaves which the Romans included into their creativity to arrange unforgettable moments. The Romans, they were masters in using dancers, musicians and performers from any corner of their vast Empire for their entertainment. They were even creating plays, solely to maximize the usefulness of certain prisoners’ life spans, as entertainment during feasts. Many of these people were sentenced to death and their ability to please someone of rank could easy replace the sure execution with a few additional days, weeks, months or even years to live. Acroama was big show business and each party’s host was eager to outdo his neighbor.
The carpet dealer ended his five minute lecture on Acroama with: “This, our feast, was nothing, but a minute attempt to feed and amuse my guests.” I thanked him, when he asked me if I wanted to stay and make use of pool. The host took another small envelope from his pocket ” . . . before I forget it! That’s from Frau von . . . ”
It was only a block to the bus station. Waiting for the bus to take my tired body home, I opened the small envelope. Neatly folded, into a perfumed card, was a banknote, 100 Deutsche Mark. The card read “Helmut So dass Sie sich neue Strümpfe und Unterwäsche leisten können. Hochachtungsvoll Elfriede”(Helmut so you may buy yourself new socks and underwear).