November, 2012:

AN ARMY BRAT IN LIBYA AND OTHER STORIES by Victoria Giraud

Tripoli keeps coming up in my life. Last Sunday Khadija Teri, an American who lives in Tripoli and writes a blog, http://khadijateri.blogspot.com/  and I traded blogs about Tripoli. It was a wonderful exercise in sharing memories from different times. A new magazine published in Tripoli and aimed at young Libyans has been in touch with me and wants to do a story based on my Tripoli blogs. They’ve even done a layout of “Memories of Tripoli” for their December issue, which is published online and distributed to colleges and cafes, etc. The story looks terrific and I will post more details as the time draws near.

In the meantime, I am reminding my readers that I wrote an Ebook about my Tripoli adventures in the 1950s in one small book.  It’s available on Amazon in Ebook format. Download it onto a Kindle or download the Kindle format to your Mac or PC and read it there. It’s a simple process and the price can’t be beat.

Look up VICTORIA GIRAUD  on AMAZON and also find my other books: Melaynie’s Masquerade, Weird Dates and Strange Fates,  Pink Glasses, Angels in Uniform, Discovering the Victor in Victoria, and Colonels Don’t Apologize. One of the stories in Weird Dates is unusual, to say the least. I call it: A Single Gal’s Guide to Cross-Dressing.  Stay tuned.

An Army Brat in Libya

AN AMERICAN-LIBYAN MARRIAGE–30+ YEARS IN TRIPOLI by Khadiji Teri

Khadija Teri with old Tripoli in the background

I connected with Khadija Teri through Facebook and my Libyan friend here in Los Angeles, Mahmud Abudaber. It’s been fascinating comparing notes on life in Libya and to read of her experiences during the recent war in Libya. I suggested we swap blogs and she agreed. One of my blogs describing my Tripoli adventures in the 1950s is on her blog site today (the link is at the end)  and her reminiscences are below:

I met my husband on a humid Florida evening when I was sixteen. A friend of mine introduced us. She’d been telling me about him for months and begged me to meet him, but I wasn’t interested. Then one evening when were working together on a school project, she went into the other room to phone him and invite him over without my knowing. We met and it was like magic. I was intrigued by this man from Libya. He was so different from any guy I’d ever met and it wasn’t long before we knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

Two and a half years later we were married. There was never any doubt that someday we’d move to Libya, but we never really made any plans. We held off having a family while my husband studied and I worked. Then, after being married for six years, our lives changed; our first child was on the way and it was time…time to make the move to Libya. I’d never lived outside of the United States, in fact the only time I had ever even left the country was when I was thirteen on a family trip to Niagara Falls. Libya was going to be a whole new adventure.

Sometimes, I take time to stop everything, find a quiet place, relax and think about all the many blessings in my life. Lately I’ve been thinking about how over thirty years of my life has been spent with my husband, and how twenty-three of those years have been spent in Libya. Wow! That ís a long time, nearly half of my life in Libya.

I remember the day I arrived; actually it was nighttime when my flight got in. I was all alone and the security at the airport led me to a waiting area and told me to have a seat. I had arrived without a visa and had to wait for my husband to sort it out. The lighting was poor, and everything was coated in a layer of dust; the floor looked as though it had never been swept, ever. Hanging on a bracket on the wall was a television blaring patriotic songs. A woman wearing traditional dress was singing with her arms outstretched, the camera angle shifting from left to right. Several similar songs later I was still waiting, and waiting and waiting. I’d stepped into a different time zone with an entirely different concept of time than what I was used to.

Finally my husband arrived. He looked really harassed but I somehow knew not to mention it. We headed towards the luggage claim area. By this time all the other passengers had gone. My suitcases were the only ones left, the sides had been slit open with a knife and the contents had spilled out onto the floor. We collected all the bags and tried to shove everything back into the openings and proceeded to customs. The customs officer let us through without looking at anything – probably because they’d already looked.

We made our way to the car, a very, very old Peugeot, where some of my brothers-in-law were waiting. I can’t remember how many there were because by this time I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t really care. I just wanted to go to wherever my new “home” was and rest.

The drive “home” was fast and crazy. It was dark and the roads were a blur. When we finally slowed down, I could see streets full of garbage and old junk cars abandoned on the sides of the roads. I asked my husband “Is this the slums?” He looked at me and replied, “This is our neighborhood.” What a shock! Only later would I find out that all of Tripoli looked that way.

Upon arrival at my new home, I was greeted by the rest of the family. My mother-in-law gave me a warm hug and then held me at arm’s length to have a look at me. My husband had always said that his mother was tall but the top of her head was at the level of my chin. “This can’t be your mother,” I exclaimed. “She ís not tall enough!” I laughed and my mother-in-law looked puzzled. When we explained it to her later she said, “A little boy always looks up to his mother, even when he’s a grown man his mother appears tall in his eyes.”

I lived in a room in my in-law’s house for the first year I was in Libya. Those were difficult days of adjustment and I often look back and think that it was the longest year of my life. But, in reality, spending a year with my in-laws was an important period in my life. It helped me to learn a new language and adjust to new customs, but more importantly, it immersed me into my new family. While I learned to accept them, they learned to accept me.

I’ve been through a lot during my life in Libya: adjusting my entire life, beginning a family, raising my children, building a home, living through a war and now facing the changes that Libya will have to make for a better future. God has given me many challenges along the way and I’m thankful for each and every one of them, because every challenge that I conquer makes me a stronger and better person.

For more of Khadija Teri’s thoughts and adventures in Libya go to her blog:    http://khadijateri.blogspot.com/

 

 

 

FRIED PICKLES FOR THANKSGIVING By Victoria Giraud

Thanksgiving has come around again and it hardly seems it’s been a year. Last year our expanded family of ex-husbands and ex-wives, children of various families, etc. got together in Dallas, Texas, to meet members of what would become our new family because of an important marriage. A few weeks ago, that wonderful wedding between Hans Giraud and Jennifer Jenkins took place in Las Vegas. Jennifer is now a Giraud and who knows what new Girauds may join the family in the future.

 

Hans & Jen Giraud, newly married

Last year  there were 15 of us for a feast the day after Thanksgiving at a wonderful Dallas hotel. The Girauds were there to meet Jennifer’s extended family. No awkward pauses or long silences: Southerners (or shall I say Texans) are hospitable, have great senses of humor, and don’t hesitate to hug one and all. They brought all their good spirits and humor to the recent wedding, of course. I was delighted we all knew each other from last year’s visit.

On Thanksgiving Day last year, my son gave a few of us a driving tour of Fort Worth, a true Texas town with historical cowboy attractions, like the stockyards and Western themed restaurants and souvenir shops, mixed with a modern art museum and a Western museum. We drove around the downtown area looking for a place to eat, not too difficult a search since younger members of the family are always equipped with the most modern cell phones. While headed toward an IHop, we spotted a restaurant with a distinct Texas flavor.

 

Thanksgiving Texas Style

The Ol’ South Pancake House was adjacent to a freeway overpass and a rail line, and dated back to 1962. Nothing fancy, this was a reasonably priced place for just plain folks, especially those who were fans of the nearby Texas Christian University. There were groups of families eating as well as a few tables of male friends. At least a dozen of the men of all ages wore cowboy hats, including a grandfather next to us with his family. He’d come in with the aid of a walker, proudly sporting his chapeau.

The menu was far from gourmet: sandwiches, burgers and fries were popular, typical soft drinks and ice tea; a special Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings was priced at $12.99. I enjoyed the Texas touches—most of the sandwiches could be served on Texas toast (thick slices with butter on both sides and broiled) and an order of this toast as a side dish was offered. The atmosphere took me back to the 1960s.

The South is known for its fried food: I’ve heard about fried butter, fried Snickers, and just about anything else that might be fried. My mother, who grew up in Virginia, had a knack with fried chicken in the days chicken pieces were dumped in a paper bag full of flour, shaken up and then placed in a large frying pan greased with Crisco.

I had never heard of fried pickles, but my daughter had and she ordered it. I had to have a few small slices. It was rather strange but tasty. “Well, I’ll be damned…” as an old Southern saying goes, or as I remember, “I swannee, but that’s good.”

SEXUAL ATTRACTIONS IN 1950s TRIPOLI by Victoria Giraud

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. We’re currently all agog at the General Petraeus scandal. When that dies down, there’ll be another one to speculate about.

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 was 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. Of course Libyan men were not different than men everywhere!

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 flirting with British servicemen who worked for the General who lived on the corner.

A Libyan working man in overalls splattered with paint had parked his bike about 10 feet away from us. He had a lascivious look on his face as he sat there and slowly 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, each of us about 14, struggled with our composure as we stepped closer to the gate and hung on without a comment. The crazed cyclist, having gotten his exhibitionist thrill, soon pedaled away, to our immense relief.  We never saw him again. I don’t recall if either of us shared this incident with our parents–probably not!

 

 

 

 

 

VETERANS DAY FOR DEPENDENTS By Victoria Giraud

I was a draftee in the US Army from the time I was born. The old joke tells it best—I didn’t enlist, I was drafted. Since dependents of military personnel are also a very important part of military service, I am taking the time this Veterans Day to reminisce about Army life from my viewpoint growing up.

My young mother, Garnette, wanted adventure. After high school in Danville, Virginia, she took off for nearby Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and got herself a job as a clerk-typist. She was a beautiful woman and had no problem finding Victor, an eligible Infantry lieutenant and a West Point graduate. It was 1942 and the US was already at war. I was one of the results from the passion of nature,  and my military father did the honorable thing by marrying my mother.

Victor & Victoria, the draftee!

Although the marriage only lasted through the war, I think my mother loved Victor. Being a proper Southern lady, she didn’t tell me I was the result of a romantic dalliance until I was 19. Besides, she’d already found herself another Army lieutenant as the war ended and I was too young to remember my first military father. After a Reno divorce (she had to live there six weeks: see the old movie The Women), they married and then honeymooned in San Francisco.

Mom, new dad and me – Munich train station

My stepdad, Darby, was my new commander-in-chief and he and Mom added two new draftees, Joan Tupper and Darby III, as the years went by. Being Army brats, there were always travel adventures for all of us: Murnau, Mannheim and Frankfurt, Germany; Tripoli, Libya, the Bronx, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri; Ft. Knox, Kentucky; Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and Alexandria, Virginia, essentially. They traveled back to Germany while I was in college, and I joined them when I graduated. Who wanted to miss the opportunity?

Luckily, I loved moving and making new friends, even though I was a little shy in my younger years. One learns to be resourceful and comfortable wherever you end up. Orders are orders. Housing can be spacious or cramped. Before we got officer’s housing in Ft. Knox, we were in a cantonment area, (temporary quarters)—a one-story converted old wooden hospital with closed-off corridors near the famous Gold Vault.

Regular officers’ quarters were usually more than adequate. You’d never mistake them since they look almost identical in any US fort: solid and respectable-looking two-story brick homes with basements and garages and a decent-sized yard. Some of these leftovers remain in the Army’s famous Presidio on the best real estate in San Francisco, now privately owned.

In Germany, right after WWII, as the occupying forces, we lived like rich folks in a two-story 18-room mansion in bucolic Murnau (undamaged by the war) with a separate garage, spacious grounds, a maid and a houseboy. Murnau is now a spa town and quite lovely. The skiing area in winter was about a 10-minute walk. If that wasn’t good enough, a longer excursion would have taken us to Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze in Garmisch. Quarters never got that good again, although our Tripoli villa was top notch. The photo below shows the home with the staked tomato plants in front. And my dad was only a captain!

I don’t think “socialism” has particularly bothered me politically, or universal health care. Those were Army services. Housing and health care was provided, and you took what they gave you. I’ve never hankered after a specific family doctor. If any of us had a health problem, we’d accompany my mom to the dispensary, have our temperature taken and then wait. If it wasn’t serious, it might be many hours. Getting shots was not a choice; my mother hauled us into the dispensary every year as needed for what we needed, depending on where we were going next. As I often heard it said, however, “The Army takes care of its own.”

And it’s still doing so. Happy Veterans Day to veterans of all military service and to all their dependents!

 

A WEDDING AMONG VEGAS LIGHTS By Victoria Giraud

Last Friday, Nov. 2, family and friends gathered for evening nuptials on the 17th floor rooftop terrace of the Platinum Hotel in Las Vegas. Situated just off the Strip and away from the bustling mania of this gambling party town, it was the perfect location. No smoking or gambling allowed in this haven.

My brother Darby, who had gotten an online “preacher” certificate, performed the personal ceremony for the bride and groom. Jennifer and Hans (my son), who met at New York/New York Casino Hotel, had been together for 6 years already when they finally got engaged last year. Some people take longer to make up their minds!

The celebration was wonderfully full of family and friends. Scott, my son’s friend since kindergarten, was best man. I’ve posted the photo of Scott, my #2 son, and me. The bride and groom planned all the details and even created their own program, which listed a little something special about each of the 8 groomsmen and 7 bridesmaids, which included my daughter Heidi. They didn’t forget to pay tribute to relatives who had passed on but were there in spirit.

Scott (#2 Son) & Proud Mother…Me

As couples like my family divorce and remarry, families get larger and there are lots of stepfathers and stepmothers, step-grandfathers and step-grandmothers, stepsisters and stepbrothers. Aren’t we all related in one way or another? I saw relatives I hadn’t seen in years and met up with Bonnie, a college friend who I hadn’t seen since college graduation—too many years ago.

The Rehearsal Dinner the night before the wedding was a memorable occasion. My son’s father read an imaginary letter in German from his deceased mother, who would have been over 100. Oma, who had been born in Frankfurt, “gave” the couple a pair of cut crystal wine goblets she had owned.

I ate my first delicious wedding cupcake—a marvelous and practical way to serve cake—and had enough wine to be very mellow as I did some meandering among the nearly 100 guests. We are friendly people!

A humorous touch for the groomsmen and their formal tuxes—blue Van’s on their feet. After the ceremony the bridesmaids traded in their heels for    comfortable blue “Chuck’s” (Converse).

Jennifer & Hans, the Bride and Groom just wed!

 

 

 

 

 

A HOT AIR BALLOON TRIP — WHEE! By Victoria Giraud

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.

 

 

 

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