I learned of Caroline Davidson through my son Ezra, who has been a close friend of her boys for some 30 years. I decided to interview about her first trip to the United States because she arrived in the ship that is anchored on the Delaware River, facing IKEA. My son told me about her trip, which I thought was incredible.
Caroline and I met on January 6, 2012, at my Galettes des Rois party to which I had invited her. That night, we decided that, on January 23, we would go to the site of her ship’s anchoring with French champagne, beautiful crystal glasses and nuts to record and celebrate her story.
First, we went to the quay where the ship is. We could not get very close, but John, the gatekeeper, was very nice. We took pictures and then we tried to work the digital recorder, so I could capture her story. But I am no good with electronic instruments! So, our next stop was Best Buy, where Kristen, one of their employees, saved my life! He showed us how to use the recorder. Then we parked in front of Longhorn Restaurant in full view of the ship. We toasted with our glasses and Caroline told me her story. Afterwards, we had lunch at Trattoria Nina, where I added my own twist to the gnocchi, pulling out a small package from my bag and sprinkling on Stilton cheese from DiBruno’s.
You’ll read all about our adventure—the ship, our trip to Best Buy, our lunch, and Caroline’s story—in the transcript below.
Our voices are marked as follows:
M = Michèle Haines
K = Kristen from Best Buy
C = Caroline Davidson
PART 1: AT BEST BUY
M: And then…what does it do now?
K: Now it’s recording.
M: It’s recording what I’m saying.
M: Then I can see how clear it is for someone to listen to…so, then I press “stop…”
K: This little square in the middle.
K: And now it’s recording. Test, test, test. When you’re done recording what you want to record—
PART 2: AT THE DOCKS
M: Bonjour! I am on Delaware Avenue facing the United States, and that’s a beautiful Ocean Liner. And I have next to me Caroline, and Caroline is going to tell you her story of how she came, and why she came, on this ship to Philadelphia. Here she is!
C: Good morning. I’m thinking back to 1966, August—the last half of August, when I stepped onto the United States in South Hampton. And I had a few friends who, in those days, were allowed to see me off. They came to my cabin, and we had drinks, champagne, goodbyes. It was exciting. My purpose was to come to the University of Pennsylvania, to do a Master’s degree in musicology. I had spent all my college years living at home, in London, because when you’re a music student who needs to practice the piano, the only sense is to live where there is a free piano to practice. And students, even these days, don’t live away from home if they go to London University. So I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, and I finally came through to my Recital diploma and my teaching diploma, and I was ready to move far away from home. And that spring, I had seen in the newspaper that there was a scholarship called the Thouron Fellowship, which was offered at the University of Pennsylvania. It was an exchange fellowship, for graduate students mostly. Anybody in Britain could apply to go to Penn, to any department. And anybody at Penn could apply to go to anywhere in Britain, to study anything. And it was certainly funded for at least two years, if not more, and I had friends who came over to study an MBA, Dentistry, Moore College of Engineering, Vet school, architecture, and the music school, which was for me. I didn’t know much about the music school at that time; I was more of a practicing musician, and it was more of a “theoretical” department—a very good composition department, but very little performing at all. Anyway, back to the United States. The committee wanted to award these fellowships to people who were not married, who would be ambassadors for Britain and the United States, to make friends and open doors. When we were called to interview, we were interviewed for pretty well a full day. We had the morning meeting the committee, and lunch with them and all that kind of stuff. And among the twenty-five or thirty people who were being interviewed, there were four of us young women. One person on the interview board was a woman member of Parliament, who we bumped into in the ladies room before lunch. She said, “We’ll make sure to get you women there!” So, anyway, fifteen of us were named fellows. Our complete tuition was paid at Penn. And we had a living allowance of $350 a month, which was, in those days, extremely generous. The one thing that they didn’t have for graduate women was any University housing. Such as there was reserved only for men. So, the very first job we had to do was to find ourselves somewhere to live. But anyway, the ship was very exciting; it was huge, absolutely huge. The fellowship people had booked all of us onto the ship together, so that we would get to know each other before we came to Philadelphia. That way we would have kind of a support group. And it had everything…I can’t remember how many restaurants, and a swimming pool of course, a casino, deck games, goodness knows what. It was absolutely amazing. Beautiful food. Just a stunning building, where you could take the elevator nine floors up and down the ship.
M: Like the Titanic.
C: (laughs) Exactly. Though we weren’t, fortunately.
M: Well, I mean, the positive side.
C: So it took, I guess, four days, three nights…? It was a long trip. I think one of the most memorable things was coming in under the Verazzano Narrows Bridge into the harbor in New York. And once we were disembarked, then my job was to find my way from New York to Philadelphia. And you know how people traveled when they were graduate students: I took the Greyhound bus. I went down the New Jersey turnpike, which I thought was probably the ugliest road I had ever met. But I was happily met in Philadelphia by some people who I’d been in touch with since before I left. I had a letter from International House asking me if I would like an International Host Family. And I said, “Yes please!” And my host family, Esther and Harry Cooperman by name, had written to me beforehand to ask if I would like to come and stay with them. So, Esther had worked at the University of Pennsylvania, and she was the person who took me around West Philly, helped me to find my apartment, which was at 4411 Pine Street. I shared it with two young women who had come over with me. We hadn’t planned to look for a place together, but, as it turned out, it was much easier for the three of us to just move in with each other than to look for roommates as well as looking for a place to live.
M: Yeah, plus you knew each other a little bit more already.
C: So, it was one of those classic West Philly houses. We had the ground floor, the first floor. I had the sitting room to sleep in, somebody had the dining room to sleep in, and one of us had the bedroom. (laughs) My bed was a pull-out couch with gold plastic upholstery. And the dining room person shared the dining room with the table and the refrigerator. It was very hand-to-mouth, but very fun. And the sum total of my rent for a month, sharing with two other people, was thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents a month.
M: Oh, wow. Marvelous.
C: So, that was my story. I got into the music department and met wonderful people. In fact, I just saw two weeks ago that the music librarian Kostas Ostrauskas just recently died. He was a wonderful Latvian writer and poet. And the other music librarian was Bee Blackwell. But my teachers who I met, I had fun with. I am still in touch with a couple of the students who were there with me. There is my story.
M: It’s a beautiful story. Thank you so much. Now we do what?
C: You press the “recording”…
PART 3: LATER ON
M: It recorded when we were in the store…
PART 4: IN THE RESTAURANT
M: It was the end? Oh…
K: I think you said, “Thank you very much.” I think that was it.
M: So now, I should have brought the…but maybe I have it. I wanted to put it in the computer, so I can send it to my teachers.
C: Yes, and have them transcribe it.
M: I should have bought it because it can’t have been that expensive.
C: No, that’s right. Maybe you’ll find it at home.
M: So, you want some champagne?
C: No, I don’t think I do. Thank you.
M: Just to be safe driving?
M: Yeah, that’s right, and I have to go uptown. Oh, but I’ll take the bus if I do that…And I’ll go and get that…what did you say?
C: A USB cable.
M: Ah, USB. I have a USB, but I don’t have that little cable for that size.
(our meals come)
C: Thank you.
M: Thank you. Thank you very much. Bon appétit.
C: Yes! Bon appétit.
(sounds of a package)
C: Oh, you pack your own Stilton? (laughs)
M: I find my source of protein. See?
C: That will be good.
M: Do you want a little Stilton?
C: No, thank you, I’m fine. I’m going to try this first.
M: Makes this much tastier. I wanted to try to do something, because I hate when it’s covered in oil when the oil’s not good. If it’s good—
C: …that’s different, yes.
M: So, I do it like this…that’s when my husband would say, “I think I’m going to go home.” (laughs)
C: (laughs) You’re embarrassing him at the restaurant.
M: That’s right. But, you know, if I had the proper olive oil I would not do any of that.
C: Right, indeed. Where did you meet Arthur, Michele?
M: At Brown University. (adds Stilton) Voilà. Mmm. Now I feel much better. And then I can go…voilà! An Italian, English gnocchi. Well, it replaces the sauce. My mother loves Stilton. She can’t pronounce it; to this day, she says, “Sillon…sill…” I keep saying, “Maman, S-T. Stuh.”
M: She can’t do it. But she loves it. But it’s not that easy to find in France. Well, in Paris, yes. But in Tours…no. Ah, well. All right, so we’ll go Story Number 2.
C: Bless you!
M: Must be the Stilton or the cracked pepper. (laughs) All right, so what do we do now…we push on…what do we do?
C: Push “record.”
M: The red? You push this…right?
M: And then we go…I think we are mastering the art of that machine. Oh, it went back on.
C: Hold it for—
Picture 1: the United States in all her glory
Picture 2: Caroline stands with the United States in the background
Picture 3: Caroline and Michele dining at Trattoria Nina
Picture 4: Caroline talks with Herta from the Spice Shop on 9th Street.