Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Savoir Faire in the Salle a Manger

For a sheer sense of scale and luxe nothing could even beat or even come close to the 1st class salle a manger aboard the French line’s Normandie of the 1930’s. Mind you we will never see the likes of such a room again in the future either on land or at sea. This was a temple of gastronomy where the elite of the day took their meals, which by the amount of items offered on the menu, could have seen them dining for hours on end.

Normandie was a showcase of the very best that France had to offer, naturally done completely in fantastic Art Deco-style. Thanks to the split funnel uptakes, the Normandie’s interiors were matched by no other ship. The interiors of the liner with filled with grand perspectives, spectacular entryways, and long, wide staircases.

Entering through the embarkation hall prospective diners entered through 20-foot tall doors adorned with bronze medallions by artist Raymond Subes. I am sure that when one found one’s self at the top of the staircase leading into the First Class salle a manger for the first time your heart would have skipped a beat. After being announced by a bellboy attired in traditional French Line red livery you would have descended this grand staircase hoping that all were watching.

Ensconced by giant bas reliefs on each side of the entrance, you had to run the gauntlet under close scrutiny past the most sought after tables in the whole room into the main salle a manger.

Just on 200 tables and chairs were set in a shimmering, glittering temple of Savoir Faire. Illuminated by master glass craftsman Lalique, 12 tall pillars of Lalique glass were flanked by 38 matching columns along the walls of hammered glass panels. When illuminated from within the room took on an unparrelld glow. These with chandeliers hung at each end of the room gave the room a sparkling atmosphere which earned the Normandie the nickname "Ship of Light”.

Continually touted as being longer than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles the room rose 28 feet above the diner’s heads to cumulate in a coffered ceiling covered in gold leaf. Presiding over the far end of the room was “La Paix” a gilded bronze statue by Dejean, of a toga clad woman.

Combined with lighting, the shimmer of the ceilings and walls and the dazzling jewelry and haute couture of the day, this must have been a sight, which makes dining on Cunard’s latest incarnation of the Queen Mary seem like MacDonald’s.

On Ruhlman inspired furniture diners then spent several hours dining on menus that were continually noted for being some of the finest examples of French cuisine on the Atlantic.

No matter what class you were travelling in whether it be first or third, Lalique, Christofle and Sevres was the dinnerware of choice by the French line.

Just because you were travelling in 2nd class or tourist didn’t mean that you were left out. 2nd class diners somehow had to manage in the below room, with meals austerely limited to 6 or seven courses.

Now the Holy Grail of ship buffs (my self included) the Normandie and especially the salle a manger was such stuff as dreams are made on. Tragically after several years of service while being fitted out as a troop transport in New York during World War II she caught fire and was a total wreck, only to be sold for scrap metal.

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