There are moments of great luxury in the life of a secret agent. There are assignments on which he is required to act the part of a very rich man; occasions when he takes refuge in good living to efface the memory of danger and the shadow of death; and times when, as was now the case, he is a guest in the territory of an allied Secret Service.
From the moment the BOAC Stratocruiser taxied up to the International Air Terminal at Idlewild, James Bond was treated like royalty.
And so the second James Bond adventure by Ian Fleming begins.
Bond flies to New York via the famed BOAC Stratocruiser – when flying was about comfort and luxury, as opposed to the SouthWest Airlines and independence Air flights that operate and flourish today on the principle that cheap and fast is always better. I saw one of the few remaining Stratocrusiers last summer when it was on a publicity tour around the country. Quite an impressive plane.
Bond gets the red carpet in that he is escorted directly through to the curb without having to stand in line for Customs screening. A man named Halloran escorts Bond through all the red tape, and they hop into a car to go to Bond’s hotel. After receiving $1000 spending money taken from a busted communist operation, Bond sits back and observes the American landscape. Was it so different 50 years ago?
It was no waste of time to pick up the American idiom again: the advertisements, the new car models and the prices of secondhand ones in the used-car lots; the exotic pungency of the road signs: SOFT SHOULDERS — SHARP CURVES — SQUEEZE AHEAD — SLIPPER WHEN WET; the standard of driving; the number of women at the wheel, the menfolk dociley beside them; the men’s clothes; the way the women were doing their hair; the Civil Defense warnings: IN CASE OF ENEMY ATTACK — KEEP MOVING — GET OFF BRIDGE; the thick rash of television aerials and the impact of TV on hoardings and shop windows; the occasional helicopter; the public appeals for cancer and polio funds: THE MARCH OF DIMES — all the small fleeting impressions that were as important to his trade as are broken bark and bent twigs to a trapper in the jungle.
This book was published in 1954, likely written in 1953. Most things sound very much as you would see today. The comment about women drivers is a little amusing, but the rest of the descriptions would fit today as well.
Bond gets to the hotel – the St Regis and is greeted by Captain Dexter, as Bond is introduced a traffic incident catches his eye…a smart, decisive bit of driving by a black sedan pulling in front of a cab. Bond is startled that a “negress” was at the wheel serving as chauffeur. The passenger also catches Bond’s eye “a huge grey-black face which had turned slowly towards him and looked directly at him.” Bond knows who the car belongs to…Fleming doesn’t tell us how…yet…but he wonders if the person in the back was “Mr Big”. Bond is taken up to his room where Captain Dexter has a surprise for him…Felix Leiter is waiting in his room for him.
Apparently Bond and Leiter are to team up once again in this operation on American soil. Captain Dexter also informs Bond that “Mr Hoover instructs me to say that he’s very pleased to have you along. As our guest.”, a reference to legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. They then get some food brought into the room.
‘Soft-shell crabs with tartare sauce, flat beef Hamburgers, medium-rare, from the charcoal grill, french-fried potatoes, broccoli, mixed salad with thousand-island dressing, ice-cream with melted butterscotch and as good a Liebfraumilch as you can get in America.’
They sit down and eat this “delicious course of American cooking at its rare best” as described by Fleming. That’s the best they could get? Or was it Fleming taking a little shot at American cuisine? After eating, they settle in to talk about the case that has brought them together. Bond reflects back to the bitter January day when he was called into M’s office.
A fellow Red Sox fan, I see. and 4d…as in most cases, the books are far superior to the movies. Ian Fleming was a fascinating man who didn\’t start writing books until his 40\’s.
It was Fleming taking a little shot at American cuisine. I love those little digs at the USA. Fleming does it with such style, he makes me, as an American, feel like a little-leaguer sitting on the bench beside the Red Sox.
I must confess I have never read one of the Bond novels. I am of the generation that Bond equals high action movies of middling quality, but I can quite believe that the books are something else alltogether.
Personally I don’t think Fleming was taking a poke at American cooking when he described the meal ordered through room service. Fleming appreciated both complex and simple cooking of quality. Just as he appreciated high quality scrambled eggs, he appreciated high quality soft-shell crabs and hamburgers, etc.
I think he liked to identify high quality pleasures that happen to be unique to a certain place, country or culture, and described the pleasure that one could have from them.
In Goldfinger he described the simple but delicious Miami specialty of stone crabs with lots of melted butter and a big tankard of cold, high quality beer…. I’m making myself hungry here, so I’m going to stop now and go out to get some good food…..