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TRIPOLI’S BARBARY PIRATE FORT

Tripoli’s Bashaw Castle also known as Barbary Pirate Fort

 

 

 

The past can be very nebulous – one day it will seem like centuries ago, other days it was only yesterday in my mind. I looked for perceptive quotes about the past and found two intriguing ones. The first is a Chinese proverb: Consider the past and you shall know the future. The other comes from American author William Faulker: The past is not dead, in fact it’s not even past. I think both quotes apply to current life.

The Internet can easily make sure you don’t forget the past. I’ve been blessed by the adventures I had as an Army brat growing up, and the current continual growth of my connections with other military brats and citizens from around the world because of my Words on My Mind blog. Many of these connections have come from my three years living in Tripoli, Libya, in the mid 1950s.

Starting to thrive after the bloody North African fighting during WWII, in 1951 Libya was granted by the United Nations the status of Arab Kingdom, an independent state to be ruled by King Sayed Mohamed Idris el Senussi. I was there to witness the early blossoming, and so were a lot of Americans. Several of them, including me, have written about their experiences and had them published. I’ve read and will report on some of these books concerning Libya.

Tripoli has a tumultuous past that goes back to the Phoenicians and the Romans, and it was part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. Libyan Fadel Eswedi sent his friend Giuseppe Scalora (an Italian born in Libya) a fascinating book about Tripoli in the 18th century when the Turks still ruled Libya. Tully’s Letters was written by a Miss Tully, a young British woman who was part of the British consulate and wrote about her life experiences in Tripoli.

Reading the introduction page tells a great deal. The story comes from “letters written during a ten years’ residence at the Court of Tripoli, published from the originals in the possession of the family of the late Richard Tully, Esq., the British Consul, and it contains authentic memoirs and anecdotes of the reigning Bashaw (a high official in countries ruled by Turkey, as in the Ottoman Empire, which existed from 1299-1923).” It is also an account of the domestic manners of the Moors, Arabs and Turks.

According to this book, “Tripoli’s importance was derived from its link with Egypt and its geographical position on the great Hajj route from the west to Mecca, and the trade routes between Africa and Europe.” Miss Tully’s life in Tripoli began in 1783 during the time of the pirates, a famine and then a plague. As the book introduction quotes the reigning Bashaw’s words to the British, Dutch and French consuls who protested a Venetian ship that had been seized: “The Barbary Corsairs are born pirates, and not able to subsist by any other means; it is therefore the Christian’s business to be always on their guard, even in times of peace.” It doesn’t seem that much has changed in the world!

The famous old castle those of us who lived in Tripoli easily recognize was a dominant feature in the 18th century city. There were courtyards, and passages on different levels separated by heavy iron doors. The Bashaw lived there with his staff, his guards, his wives and his concubines, who lived in a harem in the depths of the castle. He had two sons with their families who also lived in separate guarded quarters within the castle.

Tripoli in those days had a slave market that sold off Christian slaves, and primarily Neopolitans, Spaniards, and Blacks from Fezzan and Bornu. A city of 25,000 population, 5,000 of them Sephardic Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, it was a rough and rowdy. According to the intro, the city was “a rabbit-warren of narrow lanes, arched bazaars and overhanging buildings.” Very few windows faced the street. Despite about 20 mosques, Tripoli wasn’t peaceful; those wealthy enough hired guards for their protection from the brutality.

On a positive note, east of the castle and extending along the bay for 10 miles was Menschia, a narrow green oasis full of palms, vegetables and peppers and gardens of apricot, orange and pomegranate trees. This area was the location for the summer homes of Tripoli notables. In modern times, and in the years I lived there, I will always remember the lovely bougainvillea vines that seemed to grow from every flat rooftop.

My thanks to Fadel Eswedi of Tripoli and Giuseppe Scalora, once a Tripoli resident and now a citizen of Los Angeles, for the use of this fascinating book. It was first published in 1846 and then again in 2002 in London. For those interested, the ISBN number is: 1850779279. Darf Publishers in London published the current edition.

MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE & OTHER BOOKS ON AMAZON

Mel book cover #1
What’s a girl going to do when she wants adventure in her life, and men have all the fun? Melaynie Morgan is an independent-minded young woman in Plymouth, England, but it’s the 16th century, and women are expected to dress elaborately and attend to womanly duties. Forget about doublets, swords and sailing ships.Melaynie refuses to let her conventional background deter her. She disguises herself as a captain’s boy and signs on with privateer Francis Drake to plunder Spanish treasure in the exotic Caribbean. In the chess game of Renaissance politics it’s an undeclared war of opposing religions, but Queen Elizabeth’s Protestant England and King Philip’s Catholic Spain are maintaining a guarded peace. Into that mix comes Plymouth’s Drake, waging his own private war with Spain.

Melaynie finds more than she bargained for during her year in the tropics serving Drake – from disease, death and danger to a romance with a Spaniard and a friendship with an ex-slave. She returns to England wiser but secretly pregnant.  Melaynie’s daughter Joan grows up unaware of her true parentage until the Spanish Armada brings a bittersweet and surprising reunion. To order these books, go to Amazon — the link is in red on the top right of this page – Amazon Publications by Victoria Giraud.

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

An Army Brat in Libya is a memoir chronicling the adventures of living in Tripoli in the 1950s. World War II was over and the world could breathe again for a while. Libya was ruled by King Idris, and the US Military held sway at strategic Wheelus Air Force Base. Attending high school amidst sand and palm trees, camels and donkeys, in a small cosmopolitan city along the Mediterranean was about as unique and full of contrasts as an American teen could get in the mild 1950s.

American teenagers sported jeans while Libyan women were covered from head to foot. Americans brought their cars; most Libyans rode bicycles. Despite the differences, East and West cohabited peacefully for the most part. It’s a new century today, but the American military still has a presence in these exotic areas of the world.

Weird Dates and Strange Fates#1

Weird Dates and Strange Fates features two unusual but true short stories. Sandy’s blind date serves her brunch while wearing a French maid’s costume, a blond wig and 4-inch heels in A Single Girl’s Guide to Cross-Dressing. She’s even more puzzled when he changes to a G-string and a lacy negligee. In The Dark Side, Barbara meets her perfect man, but one day he disappears from his apartment, leaving a downloaded computer and all his business attire behind. She could hardly believe the secret he was hiding.

Pink Glasses

The divorcees in the chic Los Angeles bar/restaurant were attracted to Will’s spirited zaniness, which mixed well with his gentle nature. They had no idea what mental turmoil it masked. He was a Viet Nam vet, a Navy pilot, and far from rich. Will had to rent a room from one of his new friends, yet he bought a brand new Porsche and kept his old one. What was he concealing?

MYSTICAL SYNCHRONICITY

The Eye Searching for Truth by Heidi Giraud

I believe the creative process is mystical synchronicity and magical. I often wonder where ideas come from. Common advice for writers: Write about what you know. But you don’t always know what you know until you sit in front of a computer or a pad of paper. Or take a walk, go for a swim or perhaps even clean your home to stir up ideas and inspirations.

I’ve noticed when I’m in the process of editing books, or writing blog posts, I’m open to connections/coincidences/synchronicity, call it what you want. While I was editing the book, The Religion of Money—a light-hearted history of economics by Frederick (a pen name)—I experienced a momentary synchronicity as I was reading over the story of the De Medici family of Florence, Italy. Giovanni De Medici was mentioned in the book; not two seconds later my favorite classical music station announced the opera “Don Giovanni” was scheduled in L.A.

If I’m casually watching TV while browsing through a magazine or newspaper, the same kind of thing happens. I’ll read about a certain subject and have it verbalized in some manner on a TV show immediately after, or vice versa. My daughter Heidi and I keep in close touch by phone and Email. If I’m thinking about her, there’s a good chance the phone will ring. I know it’s her before I even check the number. From what I’ve heard from friends, that’s quite ordinary for many of us. When Heidi and I get together, we’ll often wear the same color top.

My mother passed on 43 years ago. That morning I was reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson (coincidentally an alum of my alma mater, William & Mary), and had just read about the death of Jefferson’s wife, Martha, Sally Hemings’ older half-sister. I was absorbing that sad historical news when my dad called to say my mother had died during a kidney dialysis treatment. I’ve always felt my reading gave me a sort of preview and helped me deal with my mother’s devastating death just a little better. Jefferson, my mother and I are all Virginia natives, ironically enough.

Books dealing with metaphysical subjects are a definite attraction for me, and I’m lucky to have edited several of them. High Holy Adventure by R. Alan Fuller is a true story about his mystical experiences with shamans, spirits and mediums, especially in the Andes. Euphoria Zone by Alan Lee Breslow weaves innovative healing techniques into his spiritual adventure. Pat Sendejas wrote Letting Go to Create a Magical Life, which discusses life’s synchronicities and invisible messages. Working with all three authors was enlightening and exciting.
Was my book, Melaynie’s Masquerade, predicted?
In the mid 1980s I had a psychic reading with a woman named Terry, who was supposed to be quite intuitive and knowledgeable in her field. I asked her if I were going to write a book, figuring it might be an emotional story about my divorce, which had recently happened. Terry said her spiritual “guides” had told her I would write something about voyages. She didn’t know what that meant, she told me; perhaps it had to do with my “voyage” through life.

I forgot about the reading until the late 90s when I was finishing up my novel. It was, indeed, about a voyage. My fictional heroine, Melaynie, masquerades as a captain’s boy, and sails with English hero Francis Drake to the Caribbean!

And then there’s Karen, my intuitively psychic friend with lots of talents. She’s predicted some incredible things for me, some I’ve lived or am living through. Where does the information come from? That’s another long story.

To check out my books on Amazon, follow the link  http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

ANCESTRY – Motleys & Moreheads

Ancestry is a popular subject these days. You don’t get to choose your ancestors, so it’s fun when they turn out to be interesting or successful or even both. Depending on fate perhaps, we may be related to a horse thief, a governor or even a president. I once interviewed a geneaology expert who told me most US citizens are related to a US President!

I’m from old Virginia/North Carolina stock: Motley, Seago, Morehead and Hobson essentially. The most famous relative I’ve discovered was North Carolina Governor John Motley Morehead, who ran the state from 1841-1845. He had an accomplished life, (he’s been named the Father of Modern North Carolina) but his mother, Obedience Motley, was even more fascinating. Her positive influence on him made a great difference from what I’ve read.

Obedience Motley in old age

Before ancestry became such a popular hobby, thanks to the Internet, a lot of women were interested in researching their history so they could join the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). A Motley family cousin was curious enough about our prolific family that she discovered many of the relevant facts and put together a family history with names, dates, and some true stories from the past. She mailed these 20+ page documents to family members in the 1970s. Luckily, I’m a saver and still have mine in the original, now well-worn brown envelope, which only cost 50 cents to mail then from Danville, Virginia to Agoura, California.

The John Motley Morehead and Obedience Motley Morehead information apparently came primarily from a biography of the governor, but my document isn’t clear about the source. Too bad I didn’t ask more questions before so many relatives from my mother and grandfather’s generation died. Some of the pages tell where the information was located: family bibles that listed births, marriages and deaths, the state of Virginia archives, and the DAR library. These days, enthusiasts can join Ancestry.com, Archives.com, or one called Find A Grave!

The Motleys must have had good genes: living past 90 wasn’t that unusual, at least for some of the women. Obedience Motley Morehead was born in 1768 and died in 1863, having lived 95 years—from before the Revolutionary War to the middle of the Civil War! In the photo of her, there’s a curious circle above her head. It looks a bit like a halo! I would suppose she might have been an “angel” to many who knew her from the little I’ve discovered about her. Her grandmother, Elizabeth, was also a hearty soul; she had been born in 1700 and died in 1792 (also living through two wars). Obedience’s father, Joseph Motley, served with George Washington (only a colonel then) during the French and Indian War and then the Revolutionary War.

Nicknamed “Biddy,” Obedience had six brothers who all fought in the Revolutionary War. Obedience’s gravestone is in a cemetery connected to a Presbyterian church in Greensboro, N.C. Her son, the North Carolina governor, is buried in the same cemetery.

Gov. John Motley Morehead

The man who started the Motley family journey in America was born in Wales, and reportedly, this first James Motley arrived by ship from Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1696. Obedience’s grandfather settled in Gloucester County, (home of historical Jamestown) Virginia by 1720 and married Elizabeth Forrest. The family moved west near Richmond and settled in Amelia Court House in 1737—another historical area. Its claim to fame hadn’t happened yet: it was a few wars later when General Robert E. Lee ended the Civil War by surrendering in 1865 to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in that area. Virginia is full of old history! There’s more to tell about these 18th century Americans, but I’ll save it for future blogs. A little history can go a long way…

SYNCHRONICITY & CHRISTMAS FILMS

I’ve always noticed the synchronicity in life. Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer. But I believe if you observe and have a good memory, you’ll notice how lives and incidents connect, especially because of the Internet. Isn’t that really what Life is all about?

I enjoy several sitcoms on TV, especially a fairly new one — “Fresh Off the Boat” about a Taiwanese family that relocates from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. to Orlando, FLA. in the mid 1990s.  A very recent episode was about the Huang family being excited about going to the Christmas movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger — JINGLE ALL THE WAY. It brought back memories of being behind the scenes while that movie was being filmed.

At that time I was writing a weekly column for the Los Angeles Daily News called “People and Places,” and I’d been asked to the 20th Century Fox set to interview Jake Lloyd, the then seven-year-old actor who was playing Schwarzenegger’s son in the movie.  Schwarzenegger was still an actor but was soon to become Governor of California. I was not introduced to Schwarzenegger but got to watch him filming the first scene of the movie. Ironically, that scene was filmed last.

Original movie poster

Jake Lloyd’s story is a mystical one of premonitions. He knew he wanted to make a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was two years old and living in Colorado. Here’s what the precocious youngster told me about seeing a drive-in movie: “When I was two my parents went to see Terminator. I was asleep in the back seat so they decided to stay for Terminator II. All of a sudden they looked back, and my eyes were an inch wide.”

From then on, his mother Lisa related, Jake was entranced with Schwarzenegger. Although he couldn’t properly pronounce the superstar’s formidable surname, Jake would walk around their Colorado home declaring he would be in a movie with his hero. He would make up stories and try to imitate Schwarzenegger.

When the Lloyds planned to move to California so that Lisa could finish her college education, Jake asked his mother, “Isn’t Hollywood in California?”

Despite their skepticism, the Lloyds decided to give in to young Jake’s ambitions regarding moviemaking. They had photos taken and sent them to agents. An agent with her own talent agency near the Lloyd’s new home liked what she saw and took Jake on. In no time she’d booked him for three commercials.

It didn’t take long to acquire experience. Jake appeared in a Ford and a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial and starred in Unhook The Stars, a movie with Marisa Tomei and Gena Rowlands; he also got a reoccurring role in TV’s E.R.

Jake Lloyd grown up

Jake’s dream became a reality in 1996 when he auditioned and won the part of Schwarzenegger’s son. Jake said that he was speechless when he first met his hero. He remembered Schwarzenegger asking, “How you doing, Jake?” After working with the star for three months, Jake said, “Now we’re really good friends.”

It’s been years since I did that interview but little Jake was hard to forget. He was an unspoiled kid interested in everything about the movie business. While I was there, he took me into the living room set and up some stairs to the catwalk to look down on the set. It was the last day of filming. Since movies are seldom put together sequentially, they were just then filming the very first scene.

After his first film, Jake went on to play the role of Anakin Skywalker in George Lucas’ famous film, The Phantom Menace. Apparently, Jake became discouraged with his film career (he’s now twenty-seven), and he’s since moved to the Midwest. I wonder if he had any visions about what career he would pursue when he got older. I followed up on his current career and found conflicting reports: he’d had trouble with drugs, and even one that claimed he’d died. He was a delightful little boy with great parents — that’s what I’ll always remember.

A HOLLYWOOD JOB

Back in the 1960s, my first job in LA was as a typist in the secretarial pool for the Los Angeles Times. When it failed to lead to something more demanding and interesting, I began looking for another job. I didn’t get a college degree to go nowhere in the working world. I was hired as a service representative for AT&T, known then as “Ma Bell.” Life goes in circles. AT&T was a very powerful company in the 1950s and 60s: it was THE phone company. To insure it wouldn’t become a monopoly with too much power, it was split up. Didn’t take many years before the company regained its strength. It’s probably stronger than ever now with the word monopoly being used again.

Service Reps, as we were called, were always female then because of the nature of the job. Women are still known as the gender more talented at multi-tasking, although the current reps are also men. It was fast-paced telephone work—taking orders for new telephones, transferring service, handling complaints about bills, and collecting bills. As we reps prepared for our Denial Prevention Calls, the DPC, we joked that we would inform the delinquent customer: “This is the last voice you will hear on your telephone.”

Capitol Records building on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1960s

Being located on Gower Street between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards in Hollywood was one of the best parts of the job. It was a different world, especially to me, the newbie. Although the area was primarily residential with small Spanish style homes and a few apartment buildings, the famous Studio Club, essentially a dormitory where aspiring actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, and Sharon Tate had stayed while looking for movie work, was a couple of blocks away. Up the street was Columbia Studios with its giant warehouse-size buildings. Most of us spotted various stars from time to time. I saw Dean Martin ride coolly down Gower on a motorcycle, and on another day I caught sight of the Monkees singing group coming out of an exclusive boutique.

Hollywood Studio Club for Women

When we weren’t brown-bagging it, we “girls” went to lunch at places where a star might eat. I liked French food and a few friends introduced me to Le Petit Café on Vine Street. It was a tiny hideaway run by a charming, handsome Frenchman, and the food was scrumptious. One day, Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show), who was seated with his friend Carol Burnett, treated everyone in the restaurant to a few operatic bars of a song. He had a beautiful operatic voice. Years later, I was introduced to him at the Beverly Hills Country Club where I was the editor of their magazine. Nabors, a very congenial Southerner who’d suffered a bout of poor health at that time, was wearing a bright lemon-colored sports coat. I think I told him about my first personal “concert.”

At Knight’s, a local coffee shop on Vine Street, I spotted the handsome Latin actor, Fernando Lamas, husband of Esther Williams, surrounded by his entourage. Feeling flush financially, a few of us had lunch once at the famous Brown Derby Hollywood (not the LA original in the shape of a derby hat). We were seated in a booth next to Cornel Wilde and the effervescent Mitzi Gaynor.

The phone company business office was on the second floor of a large two-story building–I believe it’s now a film company. We serviced most of the residential and business phone service in Hollywood, including the Sunset Strip, homes in the Hollywood Hills, and renowned restaurants on La Cienega’s Restaurant Row. We also took care of Fairfax Avenue, home to lots of retired folks pinching their pennies. They had a reputation for calling to quibble over a few cents for the “message units” charged on their bills. We often heard, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle.” Most of the time, we just adjusted the bill, and the adjustment could be less than ten cents. We never knew who’d be on the phone when we picked up: the son of Peter Lorre (“The Maltese Falcon”) who sounded like his father, or Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., the dapper detective on TV’s “77 Sunset Strip.”

On the first floor was the public office, and the reps who worked downstairs always had amusing tales. People came in for phone service or to pay delinquent bills dressed in all sorts of outrageous outfits: men or women in trench coats, naked underneath; or women dressed in tight one-piece outfits that laced up the side, revealing bare skin from armpit to ankle. One of my friends came back from lunch one day to report she had seen an entire family (parents and two kids) walking down Hollywood Boulevard totally naked!

Hollywood (about 20 minutes from where I currently live) is still a zany town but more beautiful and expensive. Jimmy Kimmel does his night show on Hollywood Boulevard, not far from Capitol Records.

EDITING BOOKS — MY PASSION

Edited books of recent years

Edited books of recent years

For a time I called myself a Forest Guide; it was a way of explaining my passion for editing to new, usually first-time, authors. I would guide them through their forest of words, especially when they had gotten to that place where they couldn’t see the forest for the trees, as the old saying goes. Lately, I’m conceiving of myself as a midwife, who helps in the sometimes torturous process of giving birth. The birthing pains involved in creating a book and then sending it out into the world is a lot like having and raising a child. You’ll always feel attached, much like the author does. But you inevitably must let go of your book (child) to make its way in the world.

Before I started editing books, I spent years editing newspapers and magazines. Working with words—twisting them around, rearranging, deleting, finding a more concise, more understandable way of saying something was a wonderful challenge. I’ve always loved editing and the more I’ve done it, the faster and more accurate I’ve gotten. I was an early and avid reader, from Nancy Drew stories to fairy tales and then on to the gods and goddesses of ancient Athens and Rome. I remember accompanying my mother to libraries wherever our military family was stationed. I became an early enthusiast of historical fiction.

In high school and college, English (an outdated word for the subject) was my favorite subject. I majored in English in college but managed to take a variety of history courses, a never-ending passion that would lead me to writing Melaynie’s Masquerade when I got older. As a high school freshman, I became serious about writing and I wrote for the school newspaper. In college I continued my reporting for William and Mary’s Flat Hat newspaper and was delighted at one of the school reunions years later when I saw a couple of my articles in a scrapbook on display.

Journalism has been a great teacher. It requires precise, easily understood truthful writing to explain: who, what, when, where, how and why to a reader. And the information is provided in a descending order—the most important facts are given in the beginning. Books are usually not written that way, but a foundation in journalism has stood me in good stead for many years.

I’ve edited over 100 books in the past 15 years and each one has been a special journey. No matter how much I’d read of each book in advance, there were always surprises. A book develops a life of its own, which proves the baby analogy I mentioned in the beginning. Because many of my clients were “newbies” to the world of writing, I became a co-writer in many instances.

I have edited almost every genre of book from how to save for retirement to what a young man experiencing the singles scene learns about sexual success and failure. Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal in the process since my clients have experienced amazing things in all areas of the world.

A few recent books include: Once Upon a Man by Debra Pauli (dating tips for the single woman), Beyond Time by Carey Jones (simplifying some of the ideas in A Course in Miracles), The Gods Who Fell from African Skies by Dick Mawson (memoir of growing up and living in Rhodesia and South Africa), Parents Take Charge by Dr. Sandy Gluckman (alternative solutions for children with ADHD and the like), and eight books so far for Tim Gurung (a Nepalese native who lives in Hong Kong), which includes Dignity and A Nation of Refugees (fictional story of a couple passionate about finding solutions for the worldwide problem of refugees). I’m currently editing a biography about character actor Strother Martin by Madelyn Roberts and another book by Tim Gurung.

If you need an editor or co-writer, check out my website: www.victoria4edit.com.

 

MEDITERRANEAN MOONLIGHT MADNESS – PART 2

A Mediterranean boat trip takes guts and imagination, especially on a winter night in a makeshift boat never tested before: just ask Art Arrowsmith and Eric Norby, who tried this escapade in the 1950s. These students of Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya, were determined to complete their proposed 15-mile boating adventure from Wheelus to Georgimpopoli—despite the cold February night, the howling wind and icy water, their lack of experience, and Eric’s very limited swimming skills.

A Libyan Dhow would have been a reasonable choice.

A Libyan Dhow would have been a reasonable choice.

This photo above depicts some fellow Wheelus High students on a Libyan Dhow at a beach party I gave about 1957.
Nevertheless, Art and Eric had managed to push their makeshift catamaran, crafted partially from an F-86 airplane fuel tank by Air Force airmen, into the ocean. They were headed toward a reef and then planned to sail west. Here’s the rest of the story in Art’s words:

As we approached the reef we came out of the shelter provided by the cove we were in. The wind increased, screaming in our ears and whipping up the crashing white water. Stinging foam sprayed our faces, burning our eyes. Crosscurrents caused by the swirling waters hurled from the breakers as they crashed over the reef and made it nearly impossible to steer. The closer we got to the reef, the higher the waves grew. Soon they were high enough to breach the gunwale of the boat. We were desperate to keep the craft pointed into the frothing waves, which worked for a few minutes with both of us paddling, but when we began taking on water, with no bailing tools, our fate was sealed. We had to turn back.

As the bow of the boat turned away from the breakers and we became broadside to their foaming fury, icy water streamed into the boat, rapidly filling it. We had barely completed our turn and headed to the beach, 70 yards away, when the boat sank. Eric clung to one of the 50 gallon barrels. As soon as the boat sank, my dad’s flight jacket filled with very cold water. My arms moved like I was swimming in a vat of syrup as I treaded water and worked on taking off my jacket.

I shouted over the wind to Eric that I would come to get him and felt confident that I could get us back to the beach. Over the years my dad had insisted all the children in our family take swimming lessons at the YMCA or at the base pool. Life-saving lessons were always a part of these courses. My real concern, however, was whether I had the stamina to rescue us both. Fortunately, I was very familiar with the cove we were in, and was able to estimate the depth of the water. I yelled at Eric to hold his breath and dog paddle, which he knew how to do, while I tried to touch the bottom. My plan was to drop feet first to the sandy bottom and push off in the direction of the beach, snagging Eric as I went. I trusted the moon would give enough light under water for me to see his form above me. Meanwhile, he would be dog paddling. And it worked!

It was past midnight when the shivering teens snuck into Art’s house. Luckily for the adventurers, Art’s mother had a good sense of humor when she discovered what they’d done the next morning. She was grateful the boys were safe, and Art’s father, who was on a trip at the time, never asked what had happened to his flight jacket. Art concluded that he and Eric had learned some serious lessons about the fragility of life, the weight of responsibility and the strength of teamwork.

MOONLIGHT MADNESS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

Boys will be boys is an old saying, but it holds true with teenagers like Art Arrowsmith, a fellow student who also attended Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya in the 1950s. Art sent me this true humorous adventure of his a few years ago. Since it’s a long story for my blog, I’m going to present it in two segments.

Art A
Art Arrowsmith
Art and good friend and classmate Eric Norby, also Class of ’57, had discovered a pontoon boat on the beach near Art’s house at Wheelus Air Force Base. As Art writes, “It was constructed from a modified F-86 fuel drop tank. The top half of the tank had been cut away, leaving a boat that resembled a bathtub with pointy ends. Attached to the boat by several rope-lashed two by four’s were two 50-gallon drums that provided an outrigger arrangement to balance the catamaran-type craft. Our plan was to wait until dark, launch the boat and paddle it parallel to the shore all the way from Wheelus to Giorgimpopoli, a distance of some 15 miles.”

Their respective parents had been told the teenagers would be spending Friday night together since Eric lived in Tripoli and Art lived on the base. The parents didn’t ask for specifics: Eric’s folks thought he’d be at Art’s home; Art’s parents thought he’d be at Eric’s.

Eric Norby

Eric Norby

February in Tripoli isn’t toasty. The Mediterranean water is no longer warm and the evening breezes can be very cold. Had we considered such things as wind and tides, water temperature and coastal currents, reefs and time of day, perhaps we…

Eric was wearing his ever-present light tan leather jacket, imported from Germany: his trademark in those days. I wore my dad’s flight jacket that he’d had for many years, the only warm jacket in our house. It goes without saying that we both wore jeans; that’s all we ever wore. We were wise enough to have a couple of bottles of water for the long voyage, a loaf of bread along with peanut butter and jelly: all stashed in the boat over the last couple of days.

Launching the boat proved to be an incredibly arduous task. We tugged and pulled and lifted and rearranged and sweated and struggled and stumbled our way to the edge of the water. The fuel-tank hull of the boat was smooth and slid easily along the sand and over the seaweed. The 50-gallon drums dug into the seaweed, even though it was like walking over wet noodles. Our feet slid over the slippery sea weed but the drums parted the wet strands and clawed their way into the underlying sand. Eric proved to be the heavyweight lifter as we inched our way to the roaring waves. He lifted the forward drum and side-stepped toward the water, pivoting around the boat hull, as I pushed the hull forward from the opposite side, attempting to match his progress. After a couple of these maneuvers we would trade places and repeat the process. Eventually, we reached the water. We rested about 15 minutes, caught our breath and discussed our next move. We looked at each other with doubt etched across our faces, but wouldn’t admit to the doubt. Neither wanted to be the one to call it off. It was then I found out Eric couldn’t swim!

Art and Eric brazened it out and pushed the homemade craft into the cold water, despite incoming tide and a strong wind. The moon was nearly full, which equates to high tide they discovered much later, but they weren’t trained seamen. They had to clear the offshore reef and then head west to their destination. The moon gave them light to see and there were lights along the shore. How difficult could it be?

Look for the ending of this sea adventure on Sunday, November 20.

1959 Wheelus Beach

Summer 1959 Wheelus Beach – definitely not the weather the teens experienced.

THE GREAT WALL OF LOS ANGELES

McCarthyism and the Red Scare

McCarthyism and the Red Scare

Since we’re on the verge of making political history on Tuesday as we vote to complete this year’s very divisive political process, I decided to write about how we remember some local and national history in Southern California. Less than a mile from my San Fernando Valley apartment is a unique historical mural along the southeastern border of Valley College. Not long ago, the paint was refreshed by the school. I drive by the mural fairly often and took the time not too long ago to walk slowly and admire its details.

Valley College students (about 400 artists over the years) in the 1970s began creating a dramatic and colorful half-mile long mural depicting California history. They had the perfect surface—one side of the concrete Tujunga Wash that borders the college along Coldwater Canyon Avenue. Sections of it depict the Spanish history of California, the Japanese internment, civil rights actions, the Red Scare and McCarthyism, the movie industry, the Olympics, Jewish refugees during World War II, etc. It’s been called the Great Wall of LA.

I’m in a Sherman Oaks neighborhood that’s a mixture of businesses and residential housing from the swanky to apartment buildings. Coldwater Canyon, my street, winds through the hills of Beverly in the west down to Sherman Oaks and all across the Valley. The Little Brown Church, on Coldwater, is about a mile south of me and has the distinction of being the location of future President Ronald Reagan’s marriage to Nancy.  My street is a main artery that runs perpendicular to the 101 Freeway. Depending on the traffic, I could drive from my apartment to the freeway entrance in five minutes and either head north and west to Ventura and Santa Barbara or south and east to downtown Los Angeles or Pasadena (the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade). Since I’m in a huge valley, I can see mountains, both near and far, surrounding me, depending on the weather. I can even watch a “river” flow, especially if it’s rained in the winter. The river or channel,  called the Tujunga Wash, is encased in concrete: no more floods like the early 1900s.

We Southern Californians live in a desert, but you’d never know it from the millions of trees and blooming plants, courtesy of imported water. Someday soon we’ll most likely get on the “green” bandwagon of desert plants only. We’ve already got recycled sewage water for irrigation and have experienced a drought in the past few years.

My neighborhood is handy for day-to-day life. Grocery stores, a Whole Foods two blocks away and a Ralphs, a five-minute walk, are close. I could buy a car or have my car serviced a half-block up the street. The young man of Armenian culture who owns that business is not only congenial, but quite handsome.

Across the street from the car place is a tiny shopping mall chock full of conveniences: a donut shop, a beauty salon, a dry cleaners, and several restaurants: Chinese, Mexican, Italian pizza, and yogurt. Judo lessons are available and even a manicure/pedicure business. We’ve got a Walgreens on one corner along with one of those fake trees that are disguised cell phone towers. A chiropractor operates from a small office building a few steps from the Walgreens, and in the Ralphs center across the street there’s a recycling business and a gas station where we can agonize over gas prices, always more expensive in California because of gas taxes.

Public transportation has made great strides: there’s a bus line a half block from me and a Valley-wide bus line a little more than a block up the street, which will connect commuters to our subway system, which wasn’t here when I arrived in LA. Now Hollywood and downtown are easily accessible.

I don’t want to forget education facilities. Besides an elementary school and middle school within walking distance, there’s the junior college with the colorful mural. Los Angeles Valley College with its a large campus and an extensive adult education program, is a few blocks north.

If I’m not in the mood to drive to any of our many art galleries, I just have a short walk to gaze at lively historic interpretations done with passion and enthusiasm.

California History on the Great Wall Mural

California History on the Great Wall Mural. Water is flowing in the Tujunga Wash.

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