Reviews of my favorite books written by expatriates, journalists, and diplomats on what it's really like to live abroad

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book Review: Ninety Dozen Glasses by Marguerite Cullman

Back in 1958, near the peak of America's golden years, President Eisenhower appointed Marguerite Cullman's husband to be the US Commissioner General to the Brussels World Exhibition. Her charming memoir, published January 1960, has long been one of my favorites -- the sort of old, beloved book you dig out to read on a rainy day every few years.

I suppose it's partly because this is the sort of book you expect when you imagine diplomatic wife memoirs. Lots and lots of cocktail parties, much being made over who sits precisely where at all official functions, dealing with the servants (should one find a drunken butler amusing, or fire him?), house hunting with a fat budget and perfect taste in a European capital city, and unexpected friendships with one's diplomatic peers from all sorts of exotic countries.

One of the most memorable parts of the book is Cullman's description of what each nation chose to display to symbolize the power and might of their culture. The Russians put a giant piece of agricultural equipment on display. The US put a big fat copy of that week's Sunday New York Times.

BTW: The ninety dozen glasses of the title refer to the massive cabinet of cocktail glasses of every size and description that were a requirement for the job. Too bad I never had a job like that!

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