July, 2011:

SEX IN THE 50s – TRIPOLI STYLE

Sex makes the world go round and can make fools of us all.  Styles, preferences and scandals fill novels, newspapers, movies and TV, especially in this new century.

In the 1950s, when I lived with my family in Tripoli, Americans were more prudish. Females wore longer skirts, showed a more modest amount of cleavage, and bathing suits were mostly one-piece affairs. Fuck was considered a filthy word—I was in fourth grade before I saw it written with chalk on a sidewalk. If it hadn’t lost its power with me, I never would have used it here for “effect.”

In the city of Tripoli, American teenage girls were advised not to wear jeans. We were given handouts filled with advice of what to do and not do in this ancient city where the lifestyle in some areas hadn’t gotten past the 12th century, or so it said. Libyan women were dressed, literally covered, in white wool barracans: an idea similar to burkas except one eye could be shown. Even though jeans weren’t revealing to us, it was an exciting idea to Libyan men who didn’t see many women in form-fitting outfits that hinted at sexuality.

The Egyptian Ambassador, across the street from me, was served by a few Libyan policemen who patrolled the walled perimeter of his compound. If my girlfriends and I walked the unpaved path outside the compound, and a policeman were nearby, he’d try to walk beside us and brush against us with his body. I don’t think the phrase “cop a feel” was invented yet, but we learned to avoid these uniformed watchdogs.

Me in Jeans. Egyptian compound and Libyan police in background.

One day, a girlfriend and I had an unpleasant encounter while walking to her house, a few blocks from mine. We were in jeans, of course, and since there was almost no traffic in this residential area, we sauntered along in the middle of the street. We weren’t paying attention to a young male bicyclist trailing us. Most male Libyans had bicycles; they were relatively cheap and reliable. We were prime bait, and he saw his opportunity as he swooped in front of us and made a grab for my crotch. He succeeded and then rode on a little ways. Before I could tell my friend to be wary, he came back and managed to do the same to her.  We were incensed and fruitlessly followed him a few blocks as he sped away. It was a good lesson to be more aware.

One of the most outrageous episodes, however, was an exhibitionist, also on a bicycle, who put on a brief show for my friend Gail and I. Looking back, I find it hilarious, but at that time it was mildly disgusting. We had been playing a game of tennis on the street and talking/flirting with British servicemen who worked for the General who lived on the corner.

A Libyan working man in overalls splattered with paint was sitting on his bike about 10 feet away. He was leering at us as he pulled out his penis and started waving it. My knowledge of the penis at that time was limited to my baby brother, so this man’s organ looked huge.

The Brits, who were behind a gated wall, probably sensed something was going on, but they couldn’t see the man. The two of us struggled with our composure as we stepped closer to the gate and hung on without a comment. The crazed cyclist, having gotten his thrill, soon pedaled away.  We never saw him again.

 

 

 

 

 

UP, UP AND AWAY IN A BALLOON FULL OF HOT AIR!

Life is enhanced when there are risks involved. A little fear is good for the soul—like going up in the sky ensconced in a very small basket attached to a huge hot air balloon.  I didn’t go around the world in 80 days, just into the Southern California sky early in the morning. The experience was thrilling and great fun, and I didn’t have to pay for it.

Penny, an adventurous single friend who owned a beauty salon, had a momentous birthday the summer of 1982. I’ll guess she turned 40. I attended her party, and one of her most exciting gifts was a balloon ride for two. Since she didn’t have a significant other in her life at that point, and she was promotion oriented, she decided I would be the ideal companion for this unique venture. I would write about it in the Acorn, the local paper I edited.

We planned to make it a special event by drinking a champagne toast before we took off, even though it was only 7 a.m. To further enhance the experience, we found a local businessman who sold fur coats; he agreed to lend two of them in exchange for some free publicity. Fur was the ideal covering for two babes on an adventure, after all!

Witnesses and a photographer were needed, so we enlisted the aid of our kids, dragging them out of bed on a Saturday morning, long before they were ready. Sunrize Balloons used an empty field for their launching site in Moorpark, which was an area of rolling hills and low mountains. Aware of weather patterns, the experienced balloonists scheduled flights early since  mornings usually had mild winds.

We arrived at our outdoor rendezvous ready for anything, and it didn’t disappoint. We were going up with a male pilot, and two other passengers, captains in the local fire department, who were hilarious, we soon discovered. Except for the pilot, we were all novices.

Champagne Toast -- Me, Penny & the Balloon Basket

There were five of us in the balloon basket as it gently lifted up. Right away, the jokes began between us. The subjects of going up, hot air, and balloons offer plenty of material, naughty and silly. Humor also helps to ease any anxiety as you realize you’re in a small basket and could fall out! No parachutes available.

Overcast as we lifted up, we soon saw the sun in a very blue sky dotted with clouds. The view below us encompassed the burgeoning cities of Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and Westlake Village surrounded by the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills. Except for the occasional joke and the sounds of gas blowing hot air into the balloon as we rose higher, all was serene and mystical. I felt fragile and powerful at the same time.

When we descended, the pilot decided to show us a few balloon tricks. I believe he called it “bunny hopping” as he guided the basket up and down again in a brushy area surrounded by hills. The fun was short-lived; a prickly bush caught the basket. Rather than risk his passengers, even though we were only about ten feet off the ground, the cautious pilot radioed for help. His team drove a pickup truck over the small hill, anchored the basket and helped us disembark—ladies first, of course! We’d had a fantastic ride and being “rescued” at the end made it even more memorable.

 

 

 

ARRIVING IN TRIPOLI IN THE 1950s

As Libyans struggle to rid themselves of their heartless dictator, I often think of the three years I lived in Tripoli—that ancient city on the shores of the Mediterranean. The unique  smells, sounds, and landscape of the area has never lost the magic it held in my heart. I still wear the silver bangle with Libya written in Arabic that I bought there.

As a young American teenager in the 1950s, I was fortunate to spend some formative years in a wondrous Middle Eastern world. It was an extraordinary time made more so by my awakening to the world and to the mysteries of blossoming womanhood, a rite of passage from age twelve to age fifteen, though looking backward often adds its own sentimental patina to events. My parents had come through a difficult time in their marriage and were enjoying each other again, and my strict and demanding father left me alone, within reason, to have a splendid time socially.

What changes were wrought in my life during that impressionable time, an ideal time to be living in such a unique world! My long wavy hair, which I wore in a ponytail, was cut by an Italian hairdresser and fashioned into a short, curly do, and I discovered I had naturally curly hair. My flat chest experienced its first budding of breasts and along with it came an active interest in boys – American boys, English boys, Italian boys. I heard my first really dirty joke, learned swear words and explicit gestures in Arabic and Italian, got embarrassed by my own farts, and had my first make-out session with a boy who truly knew how to kiss.

In the middle 1950s Tripoli was a bustling, fairly cosmopolitan city inhabited by Arab (we were taught to call them Libyans), Italian, British, American and an assortment of other European and Middle Eastern nationalities. Both the British and the Americans had military bases, and international oil companies were drilling for the oil that would eventually make the country rich beginning in 1959. Libya, for the first half of the twentieth century under Italian rule, had only gained its independence in 1951, an auspicious occasion marked by the renaming their main thoroughfare: 24 December Street.

Like many major events in the life of an Army brat, I wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot and travel to such a strange land. I was amazed and a little dismayed when my father received orders to report to North Africa. We were stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, at the time, and Africa couldn’t have been more distant from civilization as far as my twelve-year-old mind was concerned. Morocco was our first assigned destination, specifically the peculiarly named Nouasseur. Then, since Morocco was having violent political problems, the orders were changed to Tripoli – Wheelus Air Force Base. My Army Corps of Engineers father would command a military group that had something to do with maintaining that strategic airfield, the closest, large American location to Russia, an important fact in those Cold War days.  He would also be traveling to mysterious places such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia.

Our little family, which included Darby, my two-year-old brother and  Tupper, my six-year-old sister, boarded a military prop plane at Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey the week before Thanksgiving 1955. We left a snowy landscape and headed southeast over the Atlantic, our circuitous flight path leading us first to the tiny Azores Islands. Propeller-driven planes, not as efficient as jets, required refueling stops. We landed on the islands about 3 a.m. Azores time, were roused from sleep, and dependents and military personnel were herded off the plane and onto waiting buses for a trip up a windy mountain road for breakfast in a non-commissioned officers club. A couple of hours later we were jammed back aboard, but mechanical difficulties kept us on the ground several more hours. Then it was on to Nouasseur Air Force Base in Morocco for another stop before landing at Wheelus Air Force Base, east of Tripoli. Military planes, whether carrying troops or dependents, weren’t on fixed schedules. You landed when you landed.

What seemed like days but was more than likely some thirty hours later, we reached our new home. It was 9 p.m. in Tripoli, but after so much time and so many time zones, who could tell. No snow on the ground here: the weather was temperate and probably no colder than 55 degrees. Only after a good night’s sleep would we regain our land legs and clarity of hearing – the noise and vibration of prop planes had a habit of disorienting the body, which included sight and hearing, for hours.

An officer from my father’s new command met us at Wheelus Air Base and drove us the eight miles into town to our temporary quarters – the Albergo Del Mahari, a hotel that definitely marked our passage into an Arab country.

The flat roof of the white stucco hotel was highlighted in front with a dome situated upon two pentagon-shaped, windowed bays. Just under the dome was a high bay accented with a multi-paned, oval window on each of its five sides; under it was a flatter and wider bay with opaque, rectangular glass-block windows on each section. Its unusual design, to which I would soon become accustomed, reminded me of a tiered wedding cake.

Tired and disheveled, we were led under a portico and through the hotel’s glass double doors into a spacious marble-tiled lobby. Each side of the five-sided lobby faced a different courtyard; the center of each courtyard contained either a fountain or a small, rectangular pool. Vines covered the courtyard walls; small trees, many of them poinsettias, dotted the space and surrounded several benches.

Our tiny suite of rooms was reached across a courtyard with a fountain, and our suite faced the courtyard garden. It was like an enchanting scene from Arabian Nights — the mosaic designs, the unfamiliar, musky fragrance of the air.

My excitement turned to apprehension as I surveyed the tiny bedroom my sister and I would share: two narrow single beds covered by dark red-striped bedspreads. The strange surroundings almost overwhelmed me. I felt disoriented and fearful – gone were the familiar touchstones of stateside life. And it all smelled so odd. I couldn’t wait until we had our own place and were surrounded by our own furniture.

Our private bathroom changed my mood.  The very deep rectangular tub was unusual, even ludicrous to American eyes. The tub was designed as a seat; when the bather was seated, the tub would hold enough water to reach our armpits. There was no stretching out in this oddity. Prominently hung on the wall was a urinal, with no sign of a regular toilet. Obviously, a man’s convenience was more important in this Middle Eastern palace. Giggling at the incongruity, the two of us found we couldn’t even improvise; it was too high to fit our private plumbing. We’d have to find a normal toilet to use.

 

 

WHAT IF MY MOTHER HAD REACHED 90?

“What if” is a writer’s territory. If we didn’t have an active imagination, there would be no fantasy, no fiction, no Harry Potter, Holden Caulfield, Bridget Jones, or Hamlet.

It’s my mother’s 90th birthday on July 22, a significant occasion, especially if she’d lived. I was reminded of that “what if” when I helped to celebrate Marion Taggert’s 90th birthday in May. Marion and Garnette, my mom, were friends from childhood and related by marriage: Marion’s older sister Dorothy married my Uncle Penn, Mom’s older brother.  They all started life in Danville, Virginia, where I was also born.

If I want to hear stories about Danville in the 1930s and 1940s, Marion is the  best and most interesting source. Likewise for tales of the San Fernando Valley as it grew; Marion knows the scoop since she was in real estate for years.

Marion, who is an unstoppable force of nature and a very classy intelligent lady, has created a village of offspring since the 1940s. All but one of her 10 children were born in Southern California, and they created: 32 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren, and the numbers keep increasing. My daughter Heidi and I joined about 130 happy people to mark Marion’s milestone.

My mother stopped at three children and only lived long enough (age 52) to briefly get to know my two children. She missed out on my sister Tupper’s brood of five. Coming from a family of eight and being a friendly Southerner (Is there any other kind?), Mom had always enjoyed people in general, a valuable trait as the wife of an Army colonel. I know she would have embraced the opportunity of nurturing grandchildren. I remember her visit to Los Angeles when I was a young bride. She told me she was checking up to make sure I had children in mind and wanted to breed! Heidi wasn’t even a thought in my mind yet.

The picture below is my mother, Garnette Williams, age 44, at my wedding. She made her dress, my dress, and my sister’s dress for that momentous day.

Mom and Dad retired in San Antonio, Texas, built their dream house and then her kidney disease took over. Besides the lack of advanced knowledge of this disease in the 1970s, there were too many complications and my mother passed on within a couple of years.

Rewind…I’m going to indulge my flights of fancy here and create a different life for her. She and Dad (they had a contentious relationship after two decades of marriage) would have gotten amicably divorced after trying the supposed idyllic retired life in Texas, and Mom wouldn’t have developed kidney disease.

In my imagination, since I was married and settled in Southern California, Mom would have packed up and come to live nearby. Only in her early 50s, with lots of creative energy, she might have turned to her seamstress skills to keep herself busy. With her looks, personality and sense of humor, I can picture her meeting a handsome man in costume design for the studios. It would lead to lucrative work on several Oscar-winning movies, independent films, etc. Having spent years as an Army “gypsy,” the crazy life in Hollywood would appeal to her, and she would’ve make plenty of friends while enjoying all the social events. She would never have been too busy for her children and grandchildren, of course. Her life would’ve been so full and blessed that she wouldn’t have been ready to leave the planet until she was 100.

Although she didn’t get to live the script in my mind, she would have laughed at my ideas. And that’s the best part—it didn’t take much for her to laugh.

As the song goes, “I can dream, can’t I?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIRTH OF MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE

On a summer visit at age 10, I sat down in front of a portable typewriter at my grandparents’ home in Jacksonville Beach, Florida and wrote (hunt and peck version of typing) a short story about a dog. I’d already been an avid reader, so the action was probably inevitable. In high school I began writing for the newspaper and continued in journalism for years afterward—news, interviews, play reviews, etc.

Our paths in life have many detours and branches. I think I always knew I’d end up writing a book of some sort. The inspiration for Melaynie and her adventure came rather indirectly, as things do. History was always fascinating to me, and I got to combine my interests when I wrote stories for the local newspaper about the yearly Renaissance Faire in Southern California. Faire visitors and vendors alike wore wonderful colorful costumes, and there were actors who played the important roles of Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Drake.

After reading James Michener’s huge tome Caribbean, which was a collection of stories about history-makers in that area, I became even more intrigued by Sir Francis Drake, England’s famous 16th century adventurer, pirate, and second man to sail around the world. Drake had bedeviled the Spanish time after time in the Carib Sea, as they called it then, and carried home to England various Spanish ships, jewelry and gold to share with Queen Elizabeth. He was also a major player in defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Sir Francis Drake -- my hero!

In the 1990s, I wrote a screenplay about Drake’s forays against the Spanish and went through some of the machinations necessary to get it made into a movie. Considering how difficult it is to get a film produced, not to mention how many years it might take, I began thinking about using Drake as the basis of an historical fiction novel. I’m no longer sure where Melaynie came from or even the reason I spelled her name so differently.

I’d been intrigued by gender roles and exchanges, a theme explored many times throughout history in the arts of ancient Greece and Rome, and, of course, by Shakespeare. I always liked the final musical number from “A Chorus Line:” all the male and female dancers had on a variety of top hat and tails, and I had made that a Halloween costume for myself over the years.

Coincidentally, a knick-knack I’ve kept and displayed in my home since the late 1960s is a 16th century ship made of tin, similar to one Drake would have commanded. Little did I know I would be writing about life onboard such a ship. In the 1980s I asked a psychic if I would ever write a book. She told me I would write a novel and the subject would be something about voyages.

In the opening pages of Melaynie’s Masquerade, my 16th century heroine is having a dream that she’s a Viking warrior. Melaynie is sixteen and not looking forward to a female role in life, especially when she hears her brother David is going to sign on to Francis Drake’s upcoming voyage to the Caribbean.

My book about her adventures (including a romance), Melaynie’s Masquerade is available on Amazon. I’ve recently made some minor revisions and plan to create an E-book to sell on the Internet.

 

More about Melaynie in upcoming blogs.

 

 

ON THE MEND IN 2005 — BLESSINGS GAINED

In a letter I wrote to friends in July 2005, I summed up my experiences and what I’d learned from my encounter with the sidewalk:

I’m in the home stretch but there are more humps to overcome. My creativity and determination have been challenged. I had to learn new ways of getting up and down from chairs, couches, etc. I pushed off with my left hand, which still worked, and my right elbow (a great pivot without a cast), and my left leg has proven to be incredibly strong. To seat myself, I’ve become practiced in a semi-graceful pirouette with the right foot as my casted leg slides out and my butt lands.

My body has adjusted somewhat. Thank God for stomach muscles because the strain has been on the left lower back. My left hand has been good for all sorts of things (some of them you will just have to imagine). But the right hand, in a shorter cast, is able to perform some duties—even cutting, if I do it carefully. Ordinary bathing is out of the question—bless Baby Wipes. Bless electric toothbrushes, slip-on sandals, bras that slip over your head, knit tops and pants with elastic that have large legs to accommodate the cast. Bless my limber body—I can easily reach my toes, although baby-wiping the right foot takes extra oomph. I can lasso my right foot with my undies or pants and then worry about the left leg. Thank you, Modern Science, for TV dinners and convenience foods, even ice cream that comes in little packages—all those things your right hand normally accomplishes.

It’s all taking longer than I figured, but I’ll be out and about by mid-August.

On the positive side, I’ve got a shorter, lighter cast on my leg, which doesn’t ride down and give me heel blisters. I’m getting quite handy maneuvering around and have figured out how to use the crutch as a footrest in a restaurant or waiting at the hospital. I got a sexy new cast for my wrist – it’s dark blue with white trim (the latest fashion!) and goes from below the knuckles to about halfway up the arm (stopping well short of the elbow). I’m typing this letter quite well—even using capitals!

Bless morning TV shows, interesting books, Oprah or Ellen de Generes, movies on TV, good classical music and CDs, and of course, my computer. Not to mention the telephone with handy earplugs to save holding the phone. Sometimes it’s a challenge to keep from getting bored. Luckily there are some precious toddlers in my building and I enjoy watching them.

I miss driving a car, having an interesting editing project to do, swimming and walking easily, but am thankful for all the support and encouraging good wishes from friends. In conclusion:  THIS TOO SHALL PASS!

It did pass, even though I had another operation, another short stay in the hospital and follow-up visits with another cast. In August, six years ago, the orthopedic challenges were over, and I drove myself for a visit to physical therapy. It was wonderful to be finished with it all. Today my wrist works fine although it wouldn’t win any beauty prizes. I also notice that my hands aren’t as strong and sometimes forget when I’m holding something, and it drops. It’s almost as if I have to say, “Hand, pay attention…hold on.”

My legs work but they aren’t as strong as I’d like. One could say that I’m still a “work in progress.” But aren’t we all!  

Who I am, in spirit at least!

 

 

MY HOSPITAL SAGA – COMPLICATIONS & A NEW ARM AND LEG CAST

When I returned to Harbor Hospital a couple of weeks later, they took off the two casts to make X-rays of both areas. By leaving about 6:30 a.m., Heidi and I had showed up at 8, but it was still an all-day process going from one department to another. At X-ray, they forgot about me until Heidi went to check and discovered the order hadn’t even been received.

One of the perks was meeting a French clerk in X-ray registration. She came looking for Victoria Giraud and asked how I had a French name—was I French Canadian or what? I told her my ex husband had been adopted by his stepfather whose family originated in Alsace-Lorraine. She showed me her name was similar—Gerault. I spoke a bit of French to her and we enjoyed our brief chat. With her flaming red hair and small, pointed chin, she looked very French. I told her I loved the French even if I wasn’t technically one (at least in this lifetime!).

Making friends with the X-ray machine!

When they looked at my X-rays, the wrist hadn’t healed properly and there was a bit of a problem with my kneecap. They had me demonstrate my leg strength and were impressed that I could raise my leg so high. The doctor who saw me wanted me to come back Monday to see the hand specialist to determine the next step. Then I had to get new casts. The leg cast was lighter and shorter and didn’t come down to bite my heel. The arm cast was larger, which was very irritating since I felt claustrophobic in it. At least it would be removed again in a few days.

Over the weekend my friend Sally took me to a summer concert featuring a tribute band for Fleetwood Mac and a fireworks show.  It was marvelous sitting outside in the early evening sunshine, eating pizza and enjoying chocolate/strawberry crepes for dessert. I was getting quite adept at eating with my left hand, and I was able to negotiate the bumpy grass area with my crutch and cast. Sally brought regular size chairs and an ice chest, which doubled as my footrest.

On Monday Heidi and I spent over 5 hours at Harbor Hospital—home away from home! The hand specialist was apparently swamped with hand consultations, and it was 4 p.m. before he saw me.

No, this isn't my right hand, but it adds interest!

In the end it was a fairly simple case of another operation to remove the metal plate from my wrist area. Because the metal  had apparently moved and was too close to the tendon, if they didn’t take it out, wrist movement would’ve been inhibited. I needed a great deal of humor and patience for that operation. I waited over 6 hours to be admitted to a room the night before, (time enough to read an entire book) and a “newbie” assistant gave me a big bruise in her attempt to find a good vein for a blood withdrawal. On the positive side, the next morning my anesthesiologist from the first operation recognized me on the gurney waiting for the OR and came over to chat. What a way to get popular!

I could probably call this adventure: My Summer at Harbor Hospital! Or: How Many Casts Does One Need for a Summer Wardrobe?

UNDER THE CAST, MY SKIN LOOKS LIKE A MUMMY!

I had to go back to the hospital to have my orthopedist check my wrist a week after my operation. It was a long drive, and I couldn’t expect my daughter to continue taking time off work, especially since a hospital visit was unpredictable.  A friend, who had errands to do in the Torrance area, agreed to take me.

For the next few weeks, I would get quite used to the procedures and the waiting room’s hard chairs in the Orthopedics area. It was literally every man/woman for himself. After checking in, as best I could considering the cast on my arm and leg, I hobbled to the most ideal available chair that would allow me to stretch out my unbendable leg. I was grateful I have a cheerful, patient nature and enjoy talking to people.

Typical hospital waiting room--Orthopedics was larger!

It’s no wonder hospitals provide so much drama for TV shows. From the workers, technicians, doctors and nurses to the wide variety of patients, it’s a kaleidoscope of characters. During one visit, I happily met up with the former hospital roommate who’d had the same wrist operation. I’ll always remember the large fellow (about the size of Hoss from the old “Bonanza” TV show) who’d worn his most comfortable pants—bright yellow patterned pajama bottoms. He told me all about motorcycles and was never at a loss for words, despite his wife or girlfriend sitting right beside him.

My orthopedist, Dr. Lin, and his colleague, both attractive and friendly, checked my wrist. The same suave cast tech removed the splint and put a shorter cast on my wrist, which left my fingers free and only came halfway up my arm, which enabled me to get back to the computer and an easy editing job. He put some padding under the leg cast, which helped in front, but not on the heel.

I was told I’d have this shorter arm cast for two weeks and then I’d have to come back to have the pin taken out. When they took off the splint, my hand looked wizened and yellow, which reminded me of the King Tut exhibit and Egyptian mummies! The pin stuck out of my wrist beneath my thumb. With its yellow tab, it reminded me of something used to sew up a turkey! This impression was reinforced by the 2 inch-long scar from my palm up the arm, where they’d made the incision. The stitches were removed, which wasn’t totally pleasant, but the doctor was so handsome and pleasant, who cared?

Sometimes I felt like a Mummy!

Tired of being mostly house bound, over the next weeks I managed to go out to lunch with my daughter and various friends. I would use my crutch as a leg rest, or if it was a big enough booth, I could extend the casted leg to the other side of the booth. Despite the leg cast being difficult to lug around, I could tag along to the car wash and the grocery store.  I was exhausted by the end of the day but pleased that I’d gotten out.   I was getting tired from boredom as well as lugging my casts around. It was especially frustrating looking over my balcony into the pool area. It was summer and the turquoise water beckoned the swimmer I have always been.

 

 

July 4th – Celebrating with Camels & Donkeys in Libya

Americans living in Libya in the 1950s didn’t forget their normal holiday celebrations. For the Christmas pageant, there was the added novelty of local animals. The three wise men could ride real camels and Joseph could lead his Mary seated on a live donkey.

The Fourth of July celebration had its own unique touch. Not only were we celebrating Independence Day because of the U.S. Revolutionary  War, but also the fact that four American Marines serving on the ships sent by President Thomas Jefferson had died in 1805 fighting the infamous Barbary pirates. The Barbary Pirate fort still stands facing Tripoli Harbor and the four long-dead Marines are buried in Tripoli. Americans familiar with the Marine Corps Hymn remember the well-known words, “From the Hall of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”

Now that Libyans are fighting their own war of independence from Ghadaffi’s dictatorship, what could be more appropriate than to remember those halcyon days before Ghadaffi appeared on the scene.

I fondly remember a huge Fourth of July celebration in 1956 or 1957 held west of Tripoli at Thirteen Kilometer Beach, named appropriately for its distance from the city. As I recall, the beach was wide enough for lots of activities and  for the many American attendees from Wheelus Air Force Base, and from various residences throughout Tripoli. My Libyan friend Mahmud tells me the area is now a resort city named Janzour. I doubt there’s much relaxation going on during the current war, however.

How exotic it was to celebrate an American tradition with camels and donkeys and on land once occupied by Phoenicians and Romans. Besides American food like hot dogs, we had fireworks and three-legged races.

I looked forward to my first camel ride and eagerly climbed onto a makeshift seat that rested upon the camel’s sole hump. I was grateful that the irritable, growling camel was muzzled. The camel’s legs were folded under him, but at his Arab handler’s insistence, the back legs unfolded first and I swayed, rump first, into the air. The front legs swung up and suddenly I was sitting above everyone with a view of the beach and the 1,000 or so celebrants. The handler led his camel slowly around a circle, and I enjoyed the swaying back as the animal crunched along on the heavy beach sand. It was a brief thrill and remembered again last summer when I saw the second Sex and the City movie, filmed in Morocco, which featured the four heroines riding camels. Since I have no photographic evidence of my camel ride, I borrowed a snapshot of a Tripoli friend. I hope I seemed as insouciant as she did riding my camel!

My friend Karen shows off her camel-riding skills!

Not wanting to miss out on new experiences, I decided to try a donkey ride. The donkey I chose proved too much for my limited bareback equestrian talents. After meekly walking around a circle for a few minutes, the animal decided I was a pushover, and off he went up a small adjacent hill in search of grass. I shouted for help, concerned partially for my bare feet, but my friends thought I was having fun and waved at me happily. When the beast found his grass, he stopped and I gratefully jumped off, feeling foolish that I hadn’t done it sooner. Animal training was not among my talents.

I’ve celebrated many July 4th holidays on California beaches, but the times in Tripoli will always have a special place in my heart.

My mother & little brother Darby on a Tripoli beach

 

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