The Doc and I are just back from visiting Tucson. Ostensibly, we went to see half of our grandchildren. Now that I’m back, my bathroom scale thinks we were just visiting a town with real restaurants.
Good restaurants are not something we do well in Southern New Mexico. For most of this half of the state, a seven course meal would be a six-pack of Mexican beer and a burrito.
We have the usual fast-food places, the usual large chain restaurants—including one with “Texas” in the name (despite the fact that the corporation is based out of Kentucky) and it's filled with waitresses who constantly yell “Yeehaaa” for no apparent reason. I don’t eat there, because the one time I went, I was the only thing remotely Texan in that large dirty barn. If you eat there, you probably believe Taco Bell is Mexican food, too.
We do have a few very nice restaurants. Too few, in my opinion. The reason seems to be that, while this border state seems to be awash in drugs, it is damn near impossible to obtain a liquor license. Our state legislature seems to believe that if you deny a man a single drink in a bar, it would never occur to him to buy a whole bottle on the way home. Every third store in town sells alcohol, but a restaurant with a full bar is fairly rare.
There is a good Italian restaurant that I like, owned and managed by Vince. On a regular basis, I go to his restaurant, admire the pesto pasta, the calamari, the beautiful pizzas—and then I order the half order of the salmon salad. Unfortunately, what was once love handles has, over time, turned into a death grip.
Vince runs a great restaurant where the bread is fresh and the service friendly. His establishment is definitely one of the exceptions in Southern New Mexico.
The restaurant is directly across the street from Enema U, and I’ve lost track of the times I have eaten there. Yesterday, I noticed something new. Vince evidently had the restaurant custom decorated: along the walls are murals depicting life in Northern Italy. For the first time, I noticed that a fisherman was loading a net into his boat, whose name was clearly visible: ‘AMB’.
I used to teach military and naval history, and one of the fundamentals students had to learn was the international naming conventions for ships. I remembered part of a lecture I had once given my students.
“When we read about the USS Constitution,” I said in my best professorial voice. “What does the prefix USS stand for?”
“United States Ship,” would be the prompt answer. (I had great students, since my course was required by neither the College of Education nor the Sociology Department).
“Correct. President Theodore Roosevelt established this in an executive order in 1907. The prefixes started as abbreviations to save time and there are a few exceptions. Privately owned ships used by the Navy have USNS affixed to their name. During the Civil War, what did CSS stand for?”
“Confederate States Ship.”
“Correct again,” I said. “When you read about other countries, it gets a little more complicated. HMS on British ships can stand for either Her Majesty’s Ship or His Majesty’s Ship. If you are reading about a ship from a century ago, you might see HBMS for His Britannic Majesty’s Ship. The Titanic carried the prefix RMS for Royal Mail Ship. And to add to the confusion, lately, the navy of Saudi Arabia has started using HMS as well.”
“Sometimes, those prefixes are important. During the War of 1812, the British captures the USS President. Since sailors are superstitious and it is considered bad luck to rename a ship, the frigate became the HMS President.”
“British Commonwealth nations use a variety of this. Canada uses HMCS, New Zealand uses HMNZCS, while Australia uses HMAS. What kind of ships does the Transylvanian navy use?” I asked.
“Blood Vessels, of course. C’mon guys, wake up. Transylvania is a landlocked version of Romania. Actually, Romania is one of the many nations that never adopted prefixes in front of their ships' names or stopped using them in the last fifty years. If you are reading about World War II, neither Imperial Japan nor Nazi Germany ever adopted a standardized naval prefix.”
“Sometimes,” I continued, “the prefix just tells you the type of ship. RV is for research vessel, PS is paddle steamer, and SV means sailing vessel. Let’s go back to countries. Mexico uses ARM, for Armada de Mexico. While the old Soviet Union did not have an official prefix, some historians for clarity sake used USSRS.”
“Okay,” I said. “One last one. Why does Italy use AMB?”
Silence. Every student stopped taking notes. They just knew this was going to be on the test. Finally, convinced no one knew the answer, I let them in on the joke.
“Atsa My Boat,” I said.
Vince was never in my class, so I have no idea where he heard that old joke. If you are near Enema U, stop at his restaurant and see for yourself. I recommend the calamari, even though I've never had any.