June, 2014:

FROM ATHENS TO ISTANBUL — 1958

A Mediterranean Cruise on a luxurious floating city isn’t such a special experience these days when everyone seems so used to world travel. Back in 1958, we military brats were excited by the prospect of visiting exotic ports, buying souvenirs, and enjoying the teenage social activities aboard a Navy ship like the General Rose. When we–my mother, sister and I–embarked in Tripoli along with about 100+ dependents, the Rose headed for Athens (I described this part of the voyage on June 25). A couple of days later, the Rose left Greece and headed east across the Aegean Sea to Istanbul. That night there was a teenage farewell dance since the families we had recently met, who had boarded in New York long before we had gotten on, were getting off in Istanbul to travel inland to their new homes in Ankara, Turkey. We sailed through the famous Dardenelles at 10:30 p.m., but since that famous narrow strait is 38 miles long, I’m sure it took us a while. The ship’s daily report probably informed us that the ancient city of Troy is near the western end of the strait and we would be sailing along the peninsula of Gallipoli (site of a famous WWI battle) until the ship entered the Sea of Marmara and kept going east to the port of Istanbul.

On Monday morning, we woke up in the harbor of Istanbul. Greece and Turkey weren’t on good terms and my mother was concerned we’d be caught up in it somehow. She’d also heard that Turkish cab drivers were erratic and drove too fast. Rumors about driving talents were rampant in the Middle East. The British, for instance, were considered dangerous in Tripoli. Despite being an enterprising and usually fearless Army wife, Mom did worry, probably more so because she was in charge for this trip, not my absent dad.

Beyazit Square

Beyazit Square

Mom, my sister Tupper and I were meeting up with Army friends who lived in Istanbul, and we had to catch a taxi to take us up to the main city from the harbor. Listening to the angry Turkish voices on the cab driver’s radio didn’t assuage Mom’s fears, but we did make it without incident. Our friends made sure we hit the hot spots in that large bustling city: the Sultan’s Palace, the Blue Mosque (we had to remove our shoes), the Topkapi Palace (the home of Ottoman sultans for 400 years), and the exotic Bazaar filled with hundreds of shops.  I bought a Turkish towel at one of the Bazaar shops. There was nothing terrycloth about this so-called towel: the material seemed like linen. Through the mists of memory, I can still see the fancy embroidery depicting a frog highlighted with shiny pieces of metal.

Istanbul was very large and beautiful; it was  a bustling  modern city with all the exotic accents of the Middle East.

The ship left Istanbul that night and by the next morning, we had already sailed back through the Dardenelles and south to dock in Izmir, in ancient times it was called Smyrna. Per usual, military passengers and dependents departed while new ones embarked. Years later I had a next door neighbor, Omar, who had lived in Izmir (another one of those “the world is a small place” examples). Wanting to document everything about this voyage, I kept track of all the teenage passenger names. It’s no wonder I later became a newspaper reporter.

Diana Darling, a friend from Tripoli, and I hung out together during the cruise. I documented my remark that her brief shipboard romance was getting off the ship in Izmir, and that the new kids, who’d gotten on in Istanbul, weren’t very friendly. According to my next scrapbook remark, it didn’t take long for all of us to get acquainted. One of the new fellows, Bill, was the ripe old age of 18, and he and I got very friendly. He didn’t seem to mind that I was only 15.

In Izmir, Diana and I ventured out on our own. We took a tour of the city and saw a Roman fort, a market and Kultur International Park. “We met two cute American sailors who bought us a Coke at the snack bar after the tour,” I wrote in my scrapbook. From the ship, I had taken two blurry photos of the mountains bordering the city and two clearer ones of the harbor area but didn’t take the camera on our excursion. My camera skills in those days were pitiful.

The two of us didn’t understand the Turkish currency, or the language, but managed to figure it out enough to take a gharri ride. The familiar horse-drawn carts had two horses here; in Tripoli they were pulled by a single horse. The ride was quite bumpy over cobblestone streets but we made it back to the ship safe and sound. The ship pulled anchor that night and headed west to Naples, a two-day sail.

 

A MILITARY MED CRUISE 1950’s STYLE

Wandering back in memory gives a different perspective, a look through rose-colored glasses. In this case, I was on a cruise, with my mother and nine-year-old sister, on the US Navy ship General Maurice Rose, through the Mediterranean on our way to New York City. It was a full ship with a contingent of about 160 passengers who had gotten on in Tripoli. Military personnel and military dependents would be embarking and debarking as we sailed to Athens, Istanbul, Izmir, Naples, Livorno and Gibralter before docking at Brooklyn Navy Yard a couple of weeks later.

Williams Family Passport - Tupper, Viki, Darby, Garnette

Williams Family Passport – Tupper, Viki, Darby, Garnette. Little brother flew to Florida with our dad and didn’t join the cruise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a different and insular world aboard ship. Getting one’s “sea legs” is important in case there are any storms. We had a tumultuous one off the coast of Italy about halfway into our trip, but I managed to stay upright with all systems go. My family was lucky our cabin (narrow bunk beds and a private toilet, as I recall) was on boat deck and not subject to as much rocking and rolling as all the lower decks. The smells aboard ship are definitely distinct: a pungent combination of oil, metal and seawater. There’s also the mysterious aroma, to me, of adventure: new vistas, new people, new places.

All the newness was mixed in with old friends from high school at Wheelus Air Force Base who were also coming back to the States. We teenagers had our own teen club in the Aft Lounge, in the back of the ship, with rock and roll music and all sorts of social activities. The ship had a small theater—a room with a portable screen and folding chairs—and was stocked with movies: Missouri Traveler, Wild is the Wind, and The Careless Years, for instance. The only one I still remember, because I’ve seen it again, was Anna Magnani and Tony Franciosa starring in Wild is the Wind.

There were three seatings for meals in the formal dining room. As a reminder, a seaman would walk the ship’s corridors with a small xylophone, using his mallet to hit three or four notes. We had the third seating and joined three American teachers traveling home.

The Rose passed out old-fashioned mimeographed copies of the Rose Report every day. It listed the movie being shown that day, a few tidbits of world news, something inspirational from the Chaplain, and even a little history. According to the Master’s Morning Report for 28-29 June, 1958, we had traveled 167 miles since the previous evening at an average speed of 12.9 knots. This was Voyage 102 for the Rose.

The first day’s sail brought us from Tripoli to Piraeus, the port of Athens, and that evening we were offered a 3-hour tour on a large bus, modern for its day. After being on the continent of Africa for almost three years, it was a bit of an eye-opener to see people wearing Western clothing and to see stoplights for the first time. We walked around the rocks and the ruins of the Acropolis, but I’m sure the fifty years since have produced many changes, and I know a museum has been opened.

USNS Rose Montage

USNS Rose Montage

 

HISTORICAL NORTH CAROLINA RELATIVES

As I mentioned in my last blog, Obedience Motley, my Virginia relative who was born before the Revolutionary War and lived until 1863 in the midst of  the Civil War years, gave birth to a distinguished North Carolina governor, John Motley Morehead. I think she deserves a lot of the credit for ensuring he was broadly educated, became a lawyer and capped his career with the governorship. I couldn’t find a picture of Obedience during her younger years, so I received several comments about her unattractiveness.  Her son is very good looking, so I imagine his mother was probably a pretty woman.

 

Gov. John Motley Morehead

Gov. John Motley Morehead

The painting here of John Motley Morehead  shows he was a handsome man and remained attractive (I found an older painting of him) until he died in 1866, only three years after his beloved mother and after the Civil War. Funny how his hair looks like the latest style, except for the sideburns!

Is there something special in the soil of Pittsylvania County, Virginia? Morehead was born on a farm there on July 4, 1796. Nancy Langhorne Astor was born there in 1879, and I was born there in the 1940s. Morehead became a governor; Nancy married England’s Lord Astor, and when he died became the first woman in British Parliament. Interesting connections, although I’m stretching it to compare myself to these illustrious folks, and I have no desire for public office! I’ll stick with writing, blogs and editing!

Morehead wasn’t the typical farm boy; Obedience used money from the farm produce and farm animals to send John to study Latin and then to attend the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After he graduated in 1817, he studied law, and by age 25 was serving in the North Carolina state assembly.

He and his wife Eliza Lindsay were married in 1821, moved to Greensboro, North Carolina and had eight children. Those Motleys had big families!

Apparently, he made a good impression on the residents of Raleigh since their newspaper, the Raleigh Register said in 1842 when Morehead became Governor that he was, “A fine orator, a good scholar and is justly considered a man of fine talents. There is something noble in his ordinary appearance; his private conversation is always remarkably interesting, and when speaking, his fine appearance, his manner and gestures are well calculated to make an impression on all present that he is no ordinary man.”

Because of his enthusiasm for public works, a railroad system in North Carolina, for instance, he was called the “Architect and Builder of Public Works.” One statesman in North Carolina called him The Father of Modern North Carolina.

In reading about this fascinating relative, there were a couple of factors that stood out for me: As a North Carolina representative in a conference to avoid the Civil War, in 1860, he did what he could to preserve the Union. People considered him to have a sparkling wit, to be a courteous gentleman, and to have the best control of his temper of anyone they knew.

MoreheadSign

This sign marks Morehead’s mansion, Blandwood, now in downtown Greensboro.

Wouldn’t it be fun to go back in time to meet your relatives?

 

 

 

 

 

THE MOTLEY CLAN – 18th CENTURY VIRGINIA

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

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 92 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. I discovered this photo below of her gravestone  on Find a Grave! They misspelled Motley, but perhaps no one proofread the information for the fellow chiseling the names and dates.

Obedience Motley gravestone

Obedience Motley gravestone

 

The man who started the Motley family journey in America was born in Wales and reportedly this first James Motley arrived 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…

HAPPY GRANDFATHER’S DAY

My maternal grandfather, Edwin Pendleton Motley, who was born in North Carolina in 1877, 12 years after the Civil War, descended from old American stock. His ancestor, Joseph Motley, came to the American colonies from Scotland as early as the 1730s.

In 1903 Edwin married Bertha Jackson Seago and they settled in Danville, Virginia. In their happy 44-year marriage, Mama Jake and Daddy Ed (as they were known) had 8 children: 7 of them had fairly long, healthy lives. My mother, Bertha Garnette Motley, was second youngest. Big families were a fact of life years ago. Mama Jake came from a family of eleven and Daddy Ed had seven brothers and I don’t know how many sisters.

Daddy Ed and Mama Jake

Daddy Ed and Mama Jake

From stories I’ve heard and the poems I’ve read, my grandfather was a romantic. He played guitar, wrote poetry and sang to me as a baby. I wish I had more memories of him but he died at age 70, when I was only 4. I was told that I would run to meet him every weekday evening when he came home from the family furniture store. He would bring me some kind of little gift—a piece of ribbon or some kind of trinket to play with. Since he didn’t like sales, my grandfather handled the books for Motley & Sons, the family furniture store in downtown Danville, Virginia, and took the bus home for Mama Jake’s hot lunch every day. “He never came in the house that he didn’t go straight to Mama Jake and kiss her,” my cousin Amy Lee recalled.

Daddy Ed never needed to spank any of his children or grandchildren for misbehavior. He didn’t even need words, Amy Lee told me, since, “He could look a hole right through you.”

Besides being the family poet, Daddy Ed loved to entertain by playing his guitar and mouth harp. He had a good sense of rhythm and would sing little songs for which he had created the words and music.

My mother and I lived with Mama Jake and Daddy Ed in their roomy home on the corner of Berryman Avenue for a few years during World War II and a couple of years afterward. My father Victor, an infantry major, was serving in Italy when Daddy Ed wrote this poem in 1944 to my mother, Garnette. I would imagine the poem was for her birthday on July 22. I like to imagine that he sung it to an appreciative family audience as well.

Another year has rolled around,

To find Bertha Garnette still in town.

She has reached the age of twenty-three,

And started her a family tree.

Her baby girl, Victoria Anne,

The finest young one in this land,

She twines herself around our heart,

And with her we would hate to part.

While daddy Victor, over the sea,

Fights like hell, for you and me.

So we must care for Garnette and Viki,

She’s mighty sweet, but also tricky.

How in the world could sweet Sixteen,

Make herself the Major’s queen,

Secure for herself good things in life,

Without the struggles, stress and strife.

But anyhow, we wish for you,

Long life, good health, your lover true,

Your baby grow to love you most,

And Victor come back home as host.

Daddy Ed signed the poem: Mamma and Daddy

********

The following poem tells something of my grandfather’s loving nature and sense of fun. It describes his first meeting with his future wife, Bertha.

There was a young lady who lived in N.C.,

And this little lady was as busy as could be,

She was here and there waiting on her nieces,

Her nerves gave out and she nearly went to pieces.

Her brother-in-law, the Doctor, sent her to school,

In the State Normal College to learn the golden RULE.

She boarded with Mother Hartsell, whose daughter Grizelle,

Grew to be a fine lady and was considered a belle.

This young lady Bertha, while going to school,

Was forbidden any company by the McIvor rule,

She went with Mother Hartsell on Sunday to dine,

With Mrs. Vuncannon, the weather was fine.

At the table that Sunday, just across from her plate,

Sat a tall, lanky boarder, wasn’t this just her FATE,

She glanced at this soreback from under her lashes,

While he turned scarlet and all colored splashes.

I can just imagine how flattered she must have been to have received this poem. I only wish she had lived long enough for me to ask her questions.

 

IMAGINATION OR EXAGGERATION?

A sucker for imaginative writing, I’ve learned that what you see, hear or read is open to interpretation. Since I’m usually open-minded and not averse to taking a chance, I’ve had a few adventures with the personal ads. Before the Internet, there was the Singles Register newspaper in Southern California, and it was probably easier to stretch the truth then since there were no photos. I answered an ad from a man who called himself a handsome, talented writer of energy and spirit. Poetically, he claimed that trumpets would blare and cymbals would crash when he met the right woman. When we talked on the phone (before the onslaught of Email), he told me he lived in Redondo Beach and had a view of the Pacific Ocean. He was the proud owner of some unusual decorations, like a six-foot hand-carved Polynesian alligator, but his prized possessions were a line drawing by Picasso and a Spanish bullfighter’s cape.

RomanceGrphic

When we met, I discovered he was much older than I’d thought (he hadn’t admitted his age). He had difficulty walking, was hunchbacked and had prostrate problems. He told me he wasn’t expecting Dolly Parton, and I took that as a compliment–I was in shorts and a low-cut blouse. His beach apartment balcony did have an ocean view, but only if you leaned over and squinted through the buildings in front of his. The treasured wooden alligator was a tight squeeze in his little home, but it was one of the few mementoes that had survived five marriages and lots of alimony.

Turned out he was a child psychiatrist, a rival of the famous Dr. Benjamin Spock of Baby and Child Care fame. My blind date had written five books and claimed he’d coined the term “parenting.” I did find a couple of his books in my local library afterward.

He bought lunch after showing me all his treasures, but his conversation was a litany of complaints about all his former wives. He was looking for someone to take care of him and listen to all his misery. I wondered why I’d spent so much time listening to him. Was I too polite or just not savvy enough yet?

The most daring experience I had with the ads was flying to New Orleans to meet an Israeli biochemistry professor at Tulane University. He had read my ad and didn’t care that we were geographically challenged. We had had several interesting phone conversations and after he’d seen my photo, he was convinced I was the one a psychic had said was perfect for him. He made good money, evidently, and wanted to fly me to New Orleans for a weekend. I felt he sounded trustworthy and I’d never been to the “Big Easy.” One of my girlfriends thought I was out of my mind, but agreed to keep an eye on my kids.

The professor was fairly recently divorced and had come to the States to forget his troubles with his former wife, who had custody of their children and had remained in Israel. He was polite for the most part and did show me around New Orleans, but after he’d shared all his anguish with me, he soon realized he’d made a mistake and wasn’t ready for any kind of relationship. I left a day early, unharmed and a bit wiser. I knew I would laugh about these experiences, and I still am amused.

It seems my psychic reading from a few years before was coming true. She had told me I would not leave any stone unturned in life. I hadn’t found the right stone yet, apparently.

THE RENAISSANCE – A PLEASURE FAIRE in CALIF

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 and was created by an LA schoolteacher, Phyllis Patterson, and her husband Ron in 1963. Phyllis Patterson, alas, departed the Earthly Realm on May 18, and traveled to the Spirit Faire in another dimension. There was a lovely obituary in the LA Times today.

The Faire 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.

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 & Faire Guests

Sir Francis Drake, a yearly participant  & Faire Guest

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’s holding two cups of wine.

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.

Fare thee well, Phyllis Patterson, I bid ye a fond adieu.

 

THROUGH THE EYES OF LIBYANS

One of the wonders of the Internet and a plus to the experience of writing a blog, is the pleasure of readers’ responses. During the past few years I’ve heard from several Libyans who have enjoyed my writing. This week I was interviewed about my experiences in Libya by Hasan Karayam, a Libyan-born college student getting his PhD in history from Middle Tennessee State University. I’ll write more about it next time.

Libyan-born Mosbah Kushad, a professor at the University of Illinois in crop sciences, who lives and works in Champaign, Illinois, wrote me last year. When we communicated—after Ghadaffi was deposed—he was on his way to Tripoli for a visit for the first time in years.

Mosbah wrote: Victoria’s blog brings back pleasant memories of my days as a young boy growing up in Suk El Guma outside Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. When I was in 8th grade, my uncle got me a job as a busboy at the Base for a handsome salary of $21 a month. I was on top of the world with my personal pass to ride the bus to and from the Base. That same gate that everyone remembers very fondly.

I remember watching young American kids neatly dressed walking into the school and some riding the buses from the city. I used to daydream of someday being like one of them. Well, with luck I finished college in Libya, came to the US where I got my Ph.D., and I got a job as a professor in a major university, and thirty-six years later, my kids are living like those kids that I used to dream about. This is my life story as a Libyan American. Like everyone else, I cherish those days but I also cherish the time that I have lived in this great country and the many friends I have made here. The smell of fresh bread from those bakery shops in Suk El Guma is still with me…God bless you all.

Old City Tripoli

Old City Tripoli

When I wrote about a few of the unpleasant habits of some Libyan men, I heard from an Egyptian man, Wael M. El Dessouki, who had lived in Tripoli. He wasn’t too happy with my disparaging remarks.

Dear Ms. Victoria,
 I am an Egyptian who lived in Tripoli for 12 years, from 1972 to 1984. I have read your blog about Tripoli and it’s obvious to me that you are deeply connected to that place. I can understand your feelings. Tripoli is a charming city, not only because of its places but more so because of its people.
 However, in your blog, you have included a few remarks and general statements about Libyans that I believe are inappropriate and offensive. For example, you say, “Libyan policemen were not above trying to touch private parts if an American woman or young girl happened to walk too closely to these lusty, over-curious males.” Maybe you encountered an incident of sexual harassment, however, that does not justify making such a general statement about Libyans.
 Also, the issue of peeing in the streets: maybe you have seen that happening, but I have seen it several times in some US cities. Hence, when you list such thing as a cultural issue, that implies that it is very common and happens in Libya only. 
Some other blogs include similar remarks.

I answered this gentleman and explained I didn’t mean to imply that all Libyan men were rude or ill-mannered and he was happy.

Wael M. El Dessourki answered: Thanks, Victoria, for your positive response. Your writings about your experiences in Libya are wonderful and I sincerely enjoyed them. I am quite sure you did not have any bad intentions when you mentioned those remarks; however, as an Arab, I see those remarks as annoying dents in a very nice picture. I am concerned that such remarks might be a turnoff for other Arab readers.

In this world, we hope to build bridges between cultures that bring people to common understanding and to respect our differences. In my opinion, your blog is similar to a nice bridge but unfortunately it’s got some holes.

I admit I am not perfect although I did not say that to this concerned Egyptian reader.  He wrote before the Egyptian and the Libyan uprisings and continuing unrest. I wonder what his thoughts are now about the upheavals??

CAPTURING TRIPOLI POSES–Libya Now & Then

Mohamed Posing

Mohamed Copying My Pose from the 1950s

 

My friend posing on the old restored DeSoto in Tripoli’s Garden City area  is Mohamed Ben-Masaud, a Tripoli, Libya, native now living in Denver, Colorado. Since he does business in Libya, he visits his family and friends back home several times a year. Thanks to Kathie deRussy (a Wheelus High School friend), he has gotten to know, both personally and through Facebook, many former American military “brats” who went to school in the 1950s-60s at Wheelus Air Force Base just outside Tripoli. Mohamed has read some of my stories of life in Tripoli and seen some of the photos I’ve posted on this blog and on Facebook. He was gracious enough to explore Garden City to find our old family home nearly 60 years later! Street names are no longer in Italian and much has changed. He persisted while I tried to remember directions since the main marker for me had been the Egyptian Ambassador’s compound that was right across the street from our home. He located the right spot, but the house had been completely changed and the walled property across the street had become the Tunisian Embassy. The higher walls of today make the neighborhood seem more closed in.

The biggest surprise was how he copied my flirtatious pose from the 1950s–his shoes are on the sidewalk, he’s wearing jeans and socks, the car is pointed the wrong way, like my car, and there’s a car further up the street. What made him sure he found the right spot was the manhole on the sidewalk near his right foot. You can see the square manhole cover above my shoes below. Needless to say, I was ecstatic that he would go to all that trouble!

Teenage "Viki" on the family Ford in Tripoli

Teenage “Viki” on the family Ford in Tripoli

 

Here’s a little background on my Tripoli adventure: Just before Christmas in 1955, my US Army Corps of Engineers father settled  the five members of the Williams family into a home in Garden City, an upscale location for Europeans, Americans and wealthier Libyans. Consisting of streets like spokes that branched off Garden City Circle, the area was a neighborhood of one and two-story, flat-roofed, square and rectangular-shaped villas surrounded by stucco walls as high as ten feet. The walls were as much for privacy as protection, and many of them had decorative, fret-worked sections. Flowering vines such as bougainvillea, lantana hedges, and palm trees were ubiquitous; Garden City was an appropriate name. It was some time before I discovered that the vibrantly-colored pink and purple bougainvillea vines that seemed to cascade from countless rooftops were in actuality growing up from the ground to the roof and not vice-versa.

Our spacious home was on the second floor of a two-family villa on a street that maintained its Italian name, Via de Gaspari; a Libyan family lived downstairs. A balcony, on both stories, ran the full length of the villa’s frontage. We were renting a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment. There was no central heating, but since doors closed off the entrance hall, separate dining room and separate living room, we could keep the back bedrooms and kitchen warm in winter with portable Aladdin propane gas heaters. To add to the coziness and keep out pesky sand from ghiblis, the desert sandstorms that would blow into town on occasion, there were green wooden shutters that could be rolled down over the outside of all the windows.

Garden City was multi-cultural. Our side of a very short block boasted a British general and his wife on the corner next to us; another British family occupied the home on the other side of us. Across the street lived a French family and an Italian family, and a large corner compound surrounded by a decorative wall contained the home of the Egyptian ambassador to Libya. The popular Gamel Abdul Nasser was in power in Egypt, and while we were there the ambassador held a party for Libyan dignitaries and politicians (only male, of course). I spied on the interesting event from our balcony and watched as his male visitors mingled. Robed Arab sheiks, with their distinctive square cloth headdress bound with gold rope, seemed to be the dominant guests. Seated at outside tables set up in the sizeable yard, they smoked as they watched films of Nasser on a giant movie screen.

 

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