February, 2012:

TRIPOLI MEMORIES FROM BLOG READERS by Victoria Giraud

Libyan & his camel

I started the Words on My Mind blog almost two years ago and have posted over 200 stories since then. I’ve had lots of words to put down, apparently! My readers are growing in number — over 80,000 hits a month at this point. What pleases me most is that many readers leave comments (over 1,300 so far) and tell me something about their own personal stories. I love that kind of interaction.

One of my favorite subjects is the time I spent in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. I even wrote an Ebook Single detailing many of my adventures and published it on Amazon: An Army Brat in Libya. Since so many of my blog readers enjoy those adventures and have written to add some details of their own experiences, I decided to do some posts quoting their comments.

Ernie Miller, who usually has something to say, is now retired in Arizona. He recalls a great deal about his time at Wheelus Air Force Base, and I will share some of it here. During the 1954-55 school year, Ernie relates, the high school “had a total population of 52, including all four grades. I left as a very simplistic 15-year-old and have remembered the experiences in Tripoli as some of the best in my life. It was fascinating to see the nomadic tribes continuing their lives as they were doing in the time of Christ. These wonderful nomadic people have remained unchallenged by the space age, the cold war and the exploration of outer space.”  Ernie made these remarks before the recent war in Libya and the ensuing challenges Libyans have to remake their country.

Nancy lived at Wheelus from 1952-54 across from the school in barracks build by Mussolini. She remembers “cement floors, and two bedrooms for a family of seven with two dachshunds.” Backyard fences were made of palm branches, “an olive grove was on the side of us where we played in the trees and among pear cacti, finding lots of empty bullet shells from WWII. My dad was chaplain. The base was just being built up. When we got there we had gravel roads, and airmen were living in tents. We flew over in a C-76, an unpressurized prop plane, for which my ears are paying a price today.”

Noelle wrote to tell me her father was in the Corps of Engineers (as was my dad). “He was part of the team who were responsible for the building of the ‘new’ hospital and a number of airstrips during 1952-56 on Wheelus. We lived on the economy  in an apartment downtown. From the apartment balcony, we could see Tripoli harbor, a huge local park and gharries that traveled up and down the streets. In the summer, I awoke to gharry bells that adorned the horses.”

“I, too, lived in Tripoli in 1953 and have great memories of that time. I was just out of high school and worked as a typist. Our Italian maid ‘made off’ with my many sets of different colored underwear. My mother’s favorite tablecloth disappeared from the clothesline and probably became part of Arab garb,” said Anne.

Paulette spent 5th and 6th grade at Wheelus. When her father lost his deposit on an apartment to be built in Tripoli, he gave up and moved the family into a trailer on base. “I liked it anyway, and it was only a half-mile to the beach, and we had a small zoo practically in our backyard. I could walk to school, the BX (base exchange), church and the movies. Quite an adventure for a 10/11 year old.”

I will include more interesting comments in future blogs.

 

 

WARNER BROS. — ON THE SET By Victoria Giraud

 

The theme of the day:  the Oscars—which are now going on over the hill from me in Hollywood. If I wanted to join the fray on Hollywood Boulevard near Highland, I’d only have to drive a few miles but it would have taken lots of pre-planning. I’ve never even considered it; it’s so much more comfortable watching TV to see all the real-life drama. Besides, I’ve seen my share of stars.

I’m reminiscing about some visits I made over the years to the Warner Bros. Studios. I was on the lot in Burbank several times and now I live only minutes away. I would venture to guess that a large percentage of Southern Californians know someone who is in, as they call it here, The Industry.  Be it an Accountant on a film set, a Grip, a Best Boy, a First Assistant Director, or a Second Assistant Director, a Unit Production Manager, or even one of the television or movie stars.

During the years of “Designing Women” on TV, I became friends with Carolisa, one of the assistant producers. I had written a screenplay about English pirate hero Sir Francis Drake (It was titled El Dragon at that time, after Drake’s Spanish nickname). Carolisa gave the script to Meshack Taylor, one of the stars of the popular series, because there was a possible part for him. I attended one of the show’s tapings at Warner Bros. and got to meet Meshack in person. He told me he loved my script and commented enthusiastically: “It is beautiful.”  Who knows, some day that script may find its way to the screen.

Another friend, Max, worked on many films on that lot, like Barbara Streisand’s “Nuts,” which apparently drove many of the cast and crew nuts. During one of my low cash flow times, she tried to get me a secretarial type job on one of the many projects there, and I remember working at a typewriter for a day. One of the advantages of being on the lot was observing all the permanent sets, the office of Clint Eastwood, some of the filming action and meeting a few people. She introduced me to producer Paul Monash (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”) in the parking garage and William Shatner during a break in his TV series “T.J. Hooker.” (I’ve written about that episode previously). Leading me around the streets and back lots, we sneaked into the very private set of Steven Speilberg’s “Goonies”—the pirate ship in a cove!

A few years later I went to Warner Bros. to do an interview with TV and stage actor Lane Davies  (soaps such as “Santa Barbara,”  “Days of Our Lives” and various series). He asked me to come to the lot so I could watch him play Tempus, a psychopathic time-traveler, on the Superman series “Lois & Clark.” While they were filming a scene, I sat watching it with star Dean Cain’s stunt double. He was a friendly fellow and curious who I was. He asked if I had been in Arnold Swarzenegger’s “Terminator” films!

Warner Bros. Studios

WHAT’S THE TRUTH IN FICTION? by Victoria Giraud

Writers draw inspiration and emotions from their own lives, no matter what genre it is, from horror, adventure and romance to historical fiction.

When I wrote Melaynie’s Masquerade, my 16th century historical fiction novel, I didn’t realize until I’d finished how much I’d culled from my own aspirations, family life and experiences. In “real” life, I’d grown up with a tough sarcastic father, so I gave my heroine (a version of myself, of course) a loving and indulgent father.  I had lots of newspaper experience so Melaynie’s father owned a printing shop. The Renaissance Faire in Southern California had always attracted me, and so had Francis Drake, a prominent English hero in the days of Queen Elizabeth I. I didn’t have to search far for the fictional names: I used the monikers of my brother, sister, and teenage boyfriend.

I’ve always loved history. Was that because I grew up as an Army brat and lived in various parts of the world? With an inquisitive mind that ponders the bigger picture of why the world is the way it is and why certain things happen, it was natural for me to gravitate toward writing something historical. I’d even graduated from William and Mary in Colonial Williamsburg, which was founded in 1693 and is the second oldest college in the U.S.

Disguises and women playing at being men intrigued me from a young age. Perhaps because I grew up among the mostly male military and before women had the power and choices they do now. Melaynie, my heroine, believes men have all the fun and adventure, and she was right, especially in the 16th century. Queen Elizabeth, however, was an early feminist and kept her power by playing countries and courtiers against each other without succumbing to the demands that she marry. Melaynie wanted to see what it was like to play a male before she got too old to make that choice. With guts and imagination (mine, of course), she succeeds in her masquerade but finds an unexpected surprise: a brief but passionate romance.

The adventure of researching and writing an historical novel was one of my most satisfying endeavors, even though it took me five years before I was satisfied with the story. I left the story open-ended in case I wanted to add a sequel. My cousin Penny continues to encourage me to write more and I will begin my conclusion this year. Since I know, more or less, what I want to write, it shouldn’t take too long.

In the meantime, I am publishing a few new stories on Amazon. They are short Ebooks, called Singles, and like Melaynie, they are all based on my life in some way. Unlike Melaynie’s specific story, these are true stories. They are not all from my point of view, I have changed all the names to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.

Stay tuned for my announcement of: Weird Dates and Strange Fates, Angels in Uniform, and The Magic of Pink Glasses.

CARS – A BLESSING OR A CURSE? by Victoria Giraud

Many Americans and Brits brought their cars to Libya in the 1950s. Our 1952 white Ford convertible was shipped over, and my dad took it to the Corps of Engineers office at Wheelus Air Force Base and my mother drove it occasionally. As a young teenager then, cars were not my first concern, besides, I was in a foreign country and too young for a license.

One weekend day, my brother, sister and I had a little adventure when Mom had taken us on some kind of errand.  She parked the car on a sloping street that led down to Tripoli’s harbor while she got out to talk to a friend.  My brother, about four at the time, and my nine-year-old sister were sitting in the back seat; I was in the front passenger seat. No one was paying attention when my little brother climbed over the driver’s seat and decided the handbrake looked enticing. He’d probably seen my mother use it so he pulled at it. It released and we started gliding backward, a little faster each second. I’ll never forget seeing my mother frantically running toward us, as if she could somehow grab hold of the car.

I’d never paid attention to the mechanics of driving, but some instinct kicked in while my brother sat frozen in the driver’s seat, wondering what was happening. I reached for the steering wheel and turned it. Voila, the car backed toward the sidewalk and soon stopped. We hadn’t even hit a person or another car, and my mother was spared any further anguish.

Ron, a Brit who had been a teenager in Tripoli at the same time I lived there, shared an hilarious story of his own regarding his family’s Morris convertible (or as the Brits call it—a softop).  He told me their family villa had a modern sanitation system: flush toilets, sinks and showers that drained into an underground concrete septic tank situated adjacent to their front door.

“The lid of the tank made an excellent place to park the car as the top was flush to the sand. One morning we awoke to the terrible smell of raw sewage. My parents assumed, as had happened before, that the pipes to the septic tank had backed up and required clearing.” The family went about their morning routines anyway, but when Ron’s father went out the front door to go to work (Royal Air Force) he was flabbergasted by the sight and voiced his anger with a variety of curse words as he called to his wife to come and check it out. Ron recalled: “We all rushed out and saw our beloved Morris 1000 buried nose first in excrement. The concrete lid had collapsed overnight, and the car had dropped into the half-full septic tank.”

A car should never “go to waste” (my pun), and local Libyans were happy to extricate the car and clean it. Ron’s mother had other ideas and vowed “she would never again step foot in the car, so it was driven away by the locals, never to be seen again.”

Morris 1000

 

I welcome short contributions about life in Tripoli for this blog. Get in touch with me if anyone is so inclined.

FUN AND GAMES IN THE NEWSPAPER BIZ by Victoria Giraud

I find that newspaper people are generally lively and fun to be around. Their senses of humor can be outrageous since they’ve read or seen so much in life. Steve Lopez is a columnist for the LA Times who wrote the non-fiction book The Soloist about a schizophrenic homeless musician. A few years ago it was made into a movie starring Jamie Foxx. Lopez touches on many subjects, much like my approach on this blog. I’ve even Emailed Lopez with compliments and he replied. Today’s column was a funny one about Justin Bieber’s latest mischief, supposedly throwing eggs at his next door neighbor’s home in a gated Calabasas, CA community. Apparently, 11 sheriff’s cars responded to the complaint!  I know the area since I’ve often eaten at a nearby restaurant, and that area was part of the territory covered by the weekly newspaper I wrote for years ago.

Reading Lopez’s column reminded me of some of the people I worked with in the newspaper/magazine biz, especially a couple of fellows who were in the production side of the business. Jan was a whiz in semi-professional bridge and always seemed to be laughing, telling jokes or sharing the latest gossip. He knew lots about newspaper technology of that time.  Roger was quieter, had a French last name and wore slip-on shoes like the Crocs of today.  These two guys, who made sure the stories were properly typed, cut and pasted onto the pages, had a wicked sense of humor. They knew I would laugh at almost anything, and it quickly became a game to see if I’d catch certain deliberate mistakes. I seem to remember there was one item that involved pickles and the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

The most hilarious incident (not X-rated) that I remember during my years at The Acorn was a brief announcement in the Community Events section. I saw the small headline about an art exhibit featuring a painter who had created several wonderful oils, one in particular titled: “Jesus, Mary and Bill.” A man named Roger something was hosting the event, and my mind made no connections between this exhibit and our production fellow. Since Southern California is filled with zany artists, I figured the item was  legitimate. It wasn’t until the paper was printed that I discovered my mistake. The following week when I was back checking for errors and writing headlines, Jan pointed it out. I had forgotten Roger’s surname, which would have given me the clue. We all had a good laugh, and I learned a lesson about not believing everything I read.

Some stories I wrote were pure entertainment, like the one about the latest craze, a male version of striptease performed for women only. In Los Angeles when the club Chippendale’s was new, it featured sexy young men dancing and stripping. Someone enterprising decided to bring it to the boondocks, which Agoura was sometimes labeled.

Whizin’s Center had a large room that was once an old restaurant. It could accommodate a stage and tables for the ladies to imbibe food and drinks while they watched the salacious entertainment. That included me–after all I had to document the experience. Many have seen the British film or the stage play, “The Full Monty” and can imagine what went on. Our entertainers that night, however, failed to completely disrobe. They wore a G-string to hide their equipment, so we didn’t get to see the “full monty,” just everything but.

This photo of one of the dancing strippers shows just the right attitude and I’m glad I kept it all these years. He was also dressed enough to be displayed in a family newspaper.

 

 

 

NEWSPRINT AND HOT WAX by Victoria Giraud

When I was the Editor of the Acorn, the weekly newspaper’s circulation was about 20,000. We covered all sorts of news from the school district and the water district to the chamber of commerce, local high school sports and local live theater. Since advertising kept us alive, it wasn’t difficult for local businesses to get a “free” story as long as they advertised. A “conflict of interest” wasn’t applicable for the most part—so much for unbiased news. As the area grew, advertising came from large grocery stores, insurance salesmen, restaurants and lots of realtors. Depending upon the advertising, the paper (11 x 17 inches) could be 16 pages or as much as 40 pages long.

My weekly deadline for news, photos, and press releases was 5 p.m. on Fridays. The advertising was handled separately. By that time I had written my stories and edited articles from my few reporters and contributors. I organized the stories on a priority basis with the most important news (what could fit) on the front page. The whole package went to the main office in the San Fernando Valley. By the time I drove down to the production office on Tuesdays, all the stories and photos had been glued with hot wax on large sheets of special paper, which were placed on waist-high slanted tables. I had to double-check on the stories and the layout for any glaring errors and write all the headlines. The paper was distributed on Wednesdays, which meant it was thrown on driveways in local Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, and Calabasas neighborhoods and placed in local businesses.

I took photos of all sorts of happenings and events and got the credit under the picture if published, along with my byline. I don’t think I realized my power or notoriety then; I was too busy enjoying it.

I kept many of those newspapers and although they’re getting more fragile with age, they’re still readable. “Fire Damage $5 Million” was on the front page in October 1982 when a fire roared through 54,000 acres and destroyed 65 homes before it burned out in Malibu. One of the front-page photos showing houses almost hidden by dark smoke was mine; I had nervously taken it from the hill behind my home. I wrote the story, which had extra spice because I interviewed friends who had experienced the fire’s wrath from all over the area.

In June of 1983, there was big news and the opportunity to publish my half-page photo of a ribbon cutting when a brand new section of Thousand Oaks Boulevard, one of the area’s major traffic arteries, opened. It was an important event for a rural area rapidly growing in size and influence. Residents would no longer have to take the freeway to go a couple of miles and it opened up the rolling hills to more residential and business development. Local dignitaries and I, of course, got to ride in an LA County fire truck as the first official vehicle to drive down the paved four-lane road.

 

 

EDITING/MANAGING A LOCAL NEWSPAPER by Victoria Giraud

In the 1980s my domestic life fell apart and my professional writing career really began. I got divorced and became a local journalist; like many journalists, I was not well paid. Nevertheless, I loved it—just like I love writing this blog, which is definitely for Love not Money. So far…

The Acorn began as a weekly shopping throwaway and grew into a viable community newspaper. It’s still being published in the Conejo Valley area of Southern California almost 25 years later, after many changes of leadership. Publishing has changed enormously in just a few decades. Computers do the work that typewriters and hot wax did not too long ago.

I no longer remember the names of the various machines that created the type, graphics and photos for the stories and advertising. As the editor, I was mostly responsible for the words and the headlines, not the specific layout.

I was so proud of being the Editor, as can be seen in this photo taken shortly after I became something more than a reporter. As Editor, I determined what stories had to be covered and what would be on the front page each week. I had a good camera, which wasn’t a Polaroid; digital technology wasn’t an option then. I used film and took my camera to chamber of commerce meetings and other important events. Local weekly newspapers are concerned primarily with community news, soft news that generally didn’t make the daily papers or the LA Times.

Once ranch and farmland for the most part, the Conejo Valley (Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills and Calabasas) was growing rapidly with new residential and business developments nestled into a lovely area surrounded by the Santa Monica Mountains and only 20 minutes or so from the Pacific Ocean.

Our office wasn’t anything fancy: old desks, an ancient couch and a few basic typewriters. The location was unique: the Western style two-story Whizin’s Center had been built by Art Whizin, a longtime resident and businessman.   Under a peaked roof, the ground floor of the wooden building had a large open area with Koi carp ponds surrounded by small businesses—a Mexican restaurant, an Italian eatery, a shoe repair, a Karate studio and a few offices.

Whizin himself, in high top rubber boots, took care of the fish. Probably in his late 60s by then, he liked befriending his tenants and was active in the community. Naturally inquisitive, he wanted to check in with the Acorn, especially since his office was nearby. He would occasionally visit and relax on a beat-up couch near my desk. He knew I was in the midst of a divorce and decided I could use some advice.   “Marijuana is good for sex, you know,” he told me frankly one day. We all knew he indulged because his office walls bordered ours and the smoke with the unmistakeable smell would occasionally drift in our office. I don’t know how true his recommendation was since I was not a smoker and never tried it.

 

RECOLLECTIONS OF GERMANY IN THE 1940s by Victoria Giraud

Most military  brats of my generation probably put in some time living in Germany at some point in their father’s career.

My first vivid memories date back to that time. Memory is an odd thing, as you age, you start to wonder if the memory is truly yours or what you were told by a parent or family member. Does it make any difference?

The 1940s was a tumultuous and tragic time during and after World War II.  After my Infantry officer father had married Mom and shipped off to Italy to fight, we lived with her parents in southern Virginia. At the end of the war, my family dynamics changed: my father had met an Italian woman he wanted to marry in Trieste, and my mother had met another dashing officer, who had lost his first wife to diabetic shock during the war.

The shift in couples was accomplished shortly after the war, and my new dad, who was already in Germany, had us literally shipped and then railroaded to southern Germany.   I don’t remember the voyage, but I do recall the long train trip from Bremerhaven to Munich because a sliver of coal flew into my eye while I sat at the window. I was only four years old but I do remember the bombed-out city of Munich. A still-standing single wall from an apartment building might continue to hold a feather bedspread the occupant had hung out the window to air out before the building was destroyed.

Since the American Army had been victorious, we took over the best housing in Murnau, which had been and still is a vacation town bordering the Bavarian Alps. Physically undamaged by the war, it was a picturesque town; most homes had window boxes filled with red geraniums in the summer, and there were plenty of places to ski in the winter. We were only 18 miles from Garmisch and the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, once the site for a winter Olympics in the 1930s.

Young and in love, my parents started married life in an idyllic situation. Although my dad was only a captain, we lived in an 18-room house on a large piece of property where my dad planted tomatoes in the spring. We even had a maid and a houseboy, an older couple who were kind and hard working. The American major next door had two children and their “borrowed” home had a swimming pool, which we all used in warm weather! Army people keep in touch and my parents reconnected with them years later when both couples had retired in Texas.

Before my sister was born in the Munich Army hospital, my folks had a terrific time: besides photos as evidence, my dad’s German secretary illustrated a picture book diary for them before they left Germany in 1949. They traveled to postwar Paris and saved a booklet from the somewhat scandalous Folies Bergere. Americans weren’t used to seeing total nudity on stage! Skiing at a local hillside and on the nearby Zugspitze was a regular family activity. There were also plenty of parties–we’d won the war, after all!  I remember the Chinese theme party illustrated in the secretary’s book, which I now have. Perhaps it was Chinese New Year.

Perhaps there wasn’t an Army school for me since my mother taught me first grade from the mail order Calvert School in Baltimore, MD. It was so advanced that I skipped second grade when we got back to the States. Another advantage for me was learning German, an easy accomplishment when young and surrounded by Germans. I had made friends with two German youngsters, Seeki and Uti, whose names I remember but not the proper spelling. When my folks needed a translator, it was me they turned to!

I have photos of myself in ski boots and a ski outfit holding my wooden skis. My mother told me later I was a fairly decent skier but I didn’t know how to stop myself after coming down a hill. The prize-wining photo of me, probably at age 5 or 6, was taken by my dad for a photo contest. I was in my mother’s dress, hat and shoes and even stockings. Where was Hollywood?

 

 

MUCH ADO ABOUT THE RENAISSANCE PLEASURE FAIRE by Victoria Giraud

All the world’s a stage said Shakespeare. Couldn’t be truer than at a Renaissance Faire!

Renaissance Faires are held all over the US these days, but the idea originated in Southern California. The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire was created by an LA schoolteacher, Phyllis Patterson, and her husband Ron in 1963. It was first held in her Laurel Canyon backyard as a weekend fundraiser.

Because it attracted so many people, the Patterson’s soon found a larger venue and it eventually became a thriving yearly enterprise. The current operation is located in Irwindale in LA County and apparently attracts as many as 5 million people a season.

I spent many entertaining Spring Saturdays at the Faire when it was set up in the Santa Monica Mountains on the Paramount Ranch,  a popular movie and TV location (lots of Westerns and “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” TV series). Rolling hills, streams and old oak trees provided the perfect country setting; thousands of participants (both hired entertainment and paying customers) in 16th century costume escaped the 20th century for a day or two. Years afterward I would remember the Faire and be inspired to write my historical novel of the 16th century, Melaynie’s Masquerade.

Eat, drink and be merry was never more evident than at the Faire. We would wander the dirt pathways among the hills; it wasn’t difficult to imagine an English village of long ago. Visitors got in a party mood quickly: tents sold hundreds of paper cups filled with wine and beer, and food stands that resembled English shops offered turkey legs, toad-in-the-hole, corn on the cob, sausage and cheese, and some California treats like artichokes, and strawberry crepes. There were a variety of beautifully made crafts to buy, like pottery, jewelry, leather goods and Renaissance costumes. I held onto my purple cotton Renaissance blouse and long full skirt for years (it had been dyed and hung to dry right at the Faire), and I still have a few pieces of artisan-made pottery.

Entertainers, all appropriately dressed in colorful costumes (lots of cleavage displayed in women’s garb), wandered through the crowd performing skits here and there, and a variety of stages were set up for Shakespearean drama and outrageous comedy. Bales of dry hay provided the seating.  I heard many a man say, “There’s plenty of boobs and beer here!” The humor and entertainment was not designed for prudery; it was as bawdy as the Renaissance had been. With easy access to beer and wine, how could anyone stay sober, or polite?

Sir Francis Drake, Ray & Hans

I took this photo at the wine/beer stand of the actor portraying Sir Francis Drake long before I wrote a screenplay and novel about his historic exploits. My friend Ray isn’t interested in history, it seems, he just wants to know how much longer he has to endure the Faire! Or perhaps he’s wondering where his wife was since he’d holding two cups of wine. At least Hans looks like he might be fascinated with English history.

Actors portraying lords and ladies of the era in all their finery would assemble in a special area of the Faire and visitors could listen in on their jokes and clever conversation, all in 16th century jargon. At 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Progress, with musical accompaniment, and the Queen’s lords and ladies, would wind its way through the Faire with the Queen carried in a litter. The actress would wave to her subjects until the entire party would end up in the Royal Court or at the Royal Stage for some kind of appropriate presentation.

I was lucky: for several years I had free admission. I took my camera and covered the Faire for the Acorn, the newspaper for which I was the editor.

 

 

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