“Nothing Wrong with My Father!”

One winter while Walter Damrosch was conducting at the Metropolitan Opera, he and his family stayed at the Cambridge Hotel on Fifth Avenue, where their waiter, Roberto, taught Mr. Damrosch’s young daughters about hospitality and wine. For example, he criticized a host who had ordered only one bottle of wine. Roberto said, “There are five of them, and he orders the dinner. Then I show him the wine card. He orders one bottle—one bottle for five! I fool him. I open another bottle. I shame him into behaving like a gentleman!” Later, after a performance in which Lillian Nordica had sung a fine performance of Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin, Mr. Damrosch gave a late supper party. His daughter Gretchen was supposed to be asleep in bed, but she stayed awake and counted the popping of corks. She remembered, “There were eight people, and so far only one cork had popped. Bing, a second one. Good. Was two for eight better than one for five? Bang, and a third bottle was opened. I lay back greatly relieved, and relaxed. I must tell Roberto at breakfast. Nothing wrong with my father!”

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