January, 2015:

THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI – MEMORIES

Lungomare, the boulevard bordering Tripoli Harbor

Lungomare, the boulevard bordering Tripoli Harbor

The more I am on the Internet and especially on Facebook, the more I connect with old and new friends that have some connection with Libya. Many of us fondly remember the friendlier, peaceful days in the 1950s and 1960s. I’ve made friends here in Los Angeles with Mahmud Abudaber, a Tripoli native. Not long ago, he mentioned a street I was familiar with–Sciara Ben Ascuir, or at least that’s what it was named then. Apparently, it still has the same name but I’m not sure of the current spelling. It was only a few blocks from my family’s villa on Via de Gaspari, and it was the route our school bus took to drive us to school at nearby Wheelus Air Force Base.

Tripoli—the name rolls off my tongue conjuring up exotic memories of its smells, sounds, landscape. It’s been several decades now but the city on the shores of the Mediterranean has never lost the magic it held in my heart. I note as I get older that life seems to go in circles; my Southern California domicile has the same weather and blooms with many of the identical plants that I first came to know and love in Tripoli.

As a young American teenager in the 1950s, I was fortunate to spend several of my 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.

Teenage me on Via de Gaspari, Tripoli

Teenage me on Via de Gaspari, Tripoli

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 there by an Italian hairdresser and fashioned into a short, curly style 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.

Libya has gotten out from under Gadhafi’s thumb now, but it’s far from peaceful, which is sad.  In the middle 1950s it was a bustling, cosmopolitan city inhabited by Arab (we were taught to call the residents 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, and that auspicious occasion had been marked by the renaming of a main thoroughfare, to become 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 shocked 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, for some governmental reason (Morocco was having violent political problems, as it turned out), 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 Joan 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 and finally on to 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 that sat 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 that 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.

If you’re curious about more Tripoli stories, check my archives. I’ve also published AN ARMY BRAT IN LIBYA as an Ebook on Amazon. It can be purchased on Amazon by going to the link on the upper right of this blog.

NO GUARANTEES IN ROMANCE

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 or Google to investigate the potential date. The dating game is much the same, however.  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 texts and 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.

romance

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 was complimentary and joked that he wasn’t expecting Dolly Parton. 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. It was obvious 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? At that time I had only been single for a few years.

The most daring experience I had answering the ads was choosing to accept a free trip 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. (It was odd that a science professor was even visiting a pyschic–maybe New Orleans’ spirit side was getting to him). He made good money, evidently, and paid for everything. 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, an eccentric woman who had custody of their children and had remained in Israel. He was very polite for the most part as he told me his sad story, and showed me around some of New Orleans’ hot spots. By the second day he realized he’d made a mistake and wasn’t ready for any kind of relationship. I left a day early, a bit wiser. I knew I would laugh about these experiences, and I am still amused. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The only thing that hurt was rejection.

It seems my own 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.

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

I have a theory that the foods you enjoy during your childhood stay favorites all your life, whether they are the healthiest choices or not. My kids retain their love of certain cereals: Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. I don’t know how they acquired the taste since I didn’t buy sweet cereals when they were younger. Perhaps they sneaked it in when they had some of their own money as teenagers. I once had to break up a fight because my son Hans had eaten the last bowl of Captain Crunch. Heidi came after him and they wrestled on the couch. At that time they were both tall and strong. Since they were acting like fighting cats, I filled a large glass with water and threw it on them. It stopped the fight and we’ve laughed about it ever since.

Some of my earliest food preferences that I remember date back to Tripoli when I was a teenager. Mom bought most of our food from the Wheelus Air Force Base Commissary, and it was American food. I remember eating Cheerios for breakfast almost every day and never lost my taste for it. Lunch (I recall brown-bagging it in high school) was generally a bologna sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, mustard and pickle relish. I have a vague memory of eating cereal in Germany right after WWII, but we had to make do with evaporated milk in cans shipped from the States. I was too young to protest the odd taste. The photo below is the young me watching over my baby sister, Tupper, in Bavaria (the house was posted last Sunday). I wonder if she had to drink the evaporated milk as she got older.

Tup & Vic#1

My mother was a Virginian and cooked Southern food all her life, although she did explore a few more exotic dishes, occasionally, like Beef Stroganoff, which was her favorite for company. In Tripoli, she didn’t want to try or make the traditional Couscous because it usually had lamb in it and my dad hated lamb. I remember Mom’s fried chicken particularly. The chicken pieces were put into small paper bags full of seasoned flour (usually only salt and pepper) and shaken. They were then fried in Crisco in an old iron skillet and it was delicious. Green beans were a Southern staple, and it wasn’t a short process, like the French with their crunchy beans. The ideal way was to boil and simmer for what seemed like hours, in a heavy pot with a ham hock, unless you had a pressure cooker.

Iron skillets, like other old implements, are now back in style. Years ago, they usually ended up encrusted with old grease but lasted forever. I learned to make the best baked beans in our skillet by starting with bacon grease, adding a can of beans, then ketchup, brown sugar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. I was taught to estimate how much you needed and pour or sprinkle. Bacon was a necessity for a more complete breakfast. When you bought your set of canisters for flour and sugar years ago, the set usually had a special canister for bacon grease. Southerners used bacon grease instead of oil or butter for the most part, so that container was a must since you wouldn’t want to pour bacon grease down the sink drain, and there was nothing wrong with leftover bacon grease.

My parents were a little ahead of the “health” game in some ways. We usually had a salad with dinner—iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, celery and an oil and vinegar dressing. I was in charge of all the chopping and mixing.

Mom made spaghetti but it was fairly basic and bland—there were no Italians in her family. Her idea of lasagna didn’t resemble what we eat today. Maybe it was because whatever commissary she was using didn’t carry the right noodles!

The homemade sweets I remember most were were chocolate chip cookies, pecan pie (another Southern tradition), and icebox cookies (thin chocolate wafers stacked with whipped cream between them and around them). At Christmas time Mom made chocolate bourbon balls. Yes, they actually had bourbon added for an extra kick. My favorite store-bought candy bar would definitely be Snickers and Oreos are still on the top of my cookie list. These days I favor the Belgian chocolate bars at Trader Joe’s.

 

 

A ROLLING STONE…

The world has grown more mobile since my youth. In the mid 20th century, many folks stayed in their hometowns for their entire lives. Being a military brat, like I was, meant you would be a gypsy. Sensing that fact, I’ve been documenting my addresses since 1950. One of my parents’ military friends, who knew I enjoyed reading, gave me a history book Love Affairs That Have Made History. For some reason I don’t remember, I decided to write down all my addresses on the front flyleaf and when I ran out of space, I added some on the back.

 

Mom's childhood home, the blue color is recent and I think it's been torn down.

Mom’s childhood home, the blue color is recent and I think it’s been torn down.

I was born in Danville, Virginia, during World War II and my first home was a bedroom in my mother’s family home on Berryman Avenue. It was a spacious 2-story wooden home on a corner with a cemetery across the street: my Motley grandparents’ final resting place. When Mom married Darby, her second husband, they began married life with me in Murnau, Germany, in 1947. It was a picturesque Bavarian village undamaged by the war, and even though my dad was only a Captain, the huge 18-room house we were assigned made us feel like he was a General. To the victor go the spoils comes to mind. Although I was quite young, I can still remember the large garage building, full of empty bottles (maybe they recycled during wartime). We even had a maid and a houseboy and a hill nearby to ski down. My sister was born in Munich, where the big military hospital was, and her first home was our “mansion” in Murnau.

 

My dad's tomato garden on the side of our German mansion.

My dad’s tomato garden on the side of our German mansion.

When we sailed back to the U.S. in 1950, we lived in an apartment building in Ft. Lee, New Jersey—401 Park Place, to be exact (I bet Gov. Christie knows!). The only thing memorable for me was my mother getting locked out on the roof when she was hanging clothes, and the fact that one of the famous Ames Brothers singing group lived in the same building. We were soon sent to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, for the next year and lived at 34F Pulaski Street. I imagine these military quarters were fairly basic, but we were there such a short time I can’t remember anything but being smart enough to skip second grade in elementary school.

Shortly after the Korean War started, my dad, who might have been a Major by then was given orders to participate as a Corps of Engineers officer in Korea. Years later he remembered the horror of war even in the midst of the Alzheimer’s that finally killed him. Mom, my sister and I moved to Dad’s home state of Florida, and we lived in a small stucco home in Jacksonville Beach (530 11th Avenue North). I remember seeing sand everywhere instead of grass, and the very wide beaches where you could actually park your car before going into the ocean to swim. My 4th grade teacher was a pioneer of sorts—she had us participate in a morning snack time of raw fruits and vegetables we were required to bring from home. Music was also a priority: each class member had to learn to play harmonica for our class band. We even had uniforms—colorful little satin capes and envelope caps, like members of the Army!

When Dad came back in one piece in 1952 from Korea, he was bearing Japanese gifts – a pearl necklace for Mom and painted silk parasols for my sister and me (I still have mine). It was time to head north—the Bronx in New York City. Dad was going to study for his Master’s Degree at NYU. City living was very different; at Fordham Hills Apartments, 2451 Webb Avenue, we lived on the 12th floor. I attended PS 33 for 5th grade from 1953-54. The school was located almost under the elevated subway and across the street from a Loew’s movie theater.

Elevators were commonplace in New York and my toddler sister escaped us one day and rode up and down on our elevator until I managed to track her down. The apartment buildings were on a hill and the sidewalks leading to a playground at the bottom of the hill were ideal for roller skating practice.

My dad’s next assignment was Ft. Knox, Kentucky. There weren’t any officers’ quarters available at first, so we had temporary quarters in what was called the cantonment area (T-7600 D Montpelier Street), which was once part of an old hospital with lots of empty, closed down corridors. It was a short distance from the famous Gold Vault (the US Gold Bullion Depository)—no tours, however. We were rewarded at Ft. Know, however. My baby brother was born there in the military hospital, of course.

Within a few months, we had graduated to large brick quarters at 1460B Fifth Avenue where we would live until November 1955. Although quite nice, these quarters were typical of almost any Army base. The street name sounded prestigious, and I remember the old leafy trees and quiet atmosphere. We had a nice basement where my dad could indulge in his photography hobby and I could put on dancing/singing shows with girlfriends from the neighborhood using my folks’ old 78 rpm records. One of my favorites was “Managua, Nicaragua is a wonderful town…” While we were there President Dwight Eisenhower visited and I actually had a peek.

I had started 8th grade when Dad got orders for Nouasseur, Morocco. The orders were changed quickly to Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. After a very long flight and stops in the Azores and Morocco, we landed at Wheelus and our first home was the Hotel Del Mahari for a few weeks. It felt like something out of the Arabian Nights with fountains and flowers and exotic smells, but we soon moved into a two-story villa with one apartment on each story in Garden City: 26 Via De Gaspari. We lived on the second floor, had three bedrooms, one bathroom, separate dining and living rooms and a large balcony with a view of the Egyptian Ambassador’s compound across the street. It had a one-car garage and a small side yard. The windows had roll-down wooden shutters, which helped keep sand out during the ghiblis (sandstorms).

Our two and half-year sojourn in Tripoli was the highlight of my youth, but I’ve written far too much in other areas of my blog to cover the same material again.

When the family headed back to the States again in 1958, we were bound for Alexandria, Virginia and Davis Avenue. It was suburban Northern Virginia-Washington, D.C. area. Dad would be stationed at the Pentagon working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We didn’t have a villa this time but a small stone-fronted two-story home with a good-sized back yard dominated by a weeping willow tree. My parents didn’t stay long; when I went off to study at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, they went to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to the US Army War College for a year before heading off to Mannheim, Germany.

I joined them in Germany after college and started a whole new saga in my life that brought me to California, where I’ve been ever since.

 

 

AFRICAN ADVENTURE–A TRUE STORY

My connections to the continent of Africa have created some of my favorite adventures—both in person and with books I either edited or wrote. I wrote about my own years as a teenage military brat in Tripoli, Libya, in An Army Brat in Libya available on Amazon. When I first began editing books some years ago, I edited Dick Griffith’s book, In the Hearts of Famous Hunters, which told of the exploits of famous fellows like Roy Rogers, astronaut Wally Schirra, test pilot Chuck Yeager, and LA Times publisher Otis Chandler on African hunting expeditions.

Gods

More recently, I edited Dick Mawson’s book The Gods Who Fell From the Sky, also available on Amazon and doing marvelously well with sales. Shortly after WWII, as Dick tells the story, his English parents decided to make a fresh start in life and flew to Africa with their very young sons in a small twin-engine plane. After a non-fatal but heart-stopping crash into the bush not far from their destination, the family was rescued by native African villagers. Luckily, one of the villagers spoke English and sent word by runner to Ft. Jameson, fifty miles away. Nine days later the English chief of police in Rhodesia had assembled some trucks for the rescue, and the Mawsons eventually made their home in the capital of Salisbury.

Crashing into the southern part of Africa as a child was just the beginning of Dick’s amazing saga of overcoming adversity during an exciting and heartbreaking life. At the age of eleven, he lost a lower leg in a farming accident, and at sixteen, as a daring boat racer, seriously damaged his good leg, among other injuries. He managed to overcome both hurdles to achieve consistent winning status in car racing in Africa, Europe and England. He’s over 70 now, and living in southern England, but he’s still racing cars and building them as well.

Along the way, Dick was happily married to his lovely Penny (he’ll tackle those challenges and her death in his second book), had children and now is the grandfather of five. Despite all his racing wins and business successes, he says his family is his greatest achievement. Dick Mawson shown below with two granddaughters.

Mawson+grands

Editing Dick’s book was an adventure for me. After the basic facts, I wanted to know more about the wildlife, the bugs, the plants and the people. Dick had many tales to tell and together we flushed out the important and entertaining parts of his story. As an energetic, “never say die” man, he had many hilarious incidents to relate about his life. He even found humor in the really tough parts—handling his injuries during several accidents and once having his false leg slip off, which terrified a woman in a London subway tunnel so badly she fainted.

According to Dick Mawson, “It’s pointless looking at what one can’t achieve in life when there is just so much that one can achieve. There is nothing that I have found to be impossible. There are always ways of reaching your goal and the biggest thing along the way is to have fun doing it.”

500 BLOGS TO CELEBRATE!

It’s been almost 5 years since I started my blog, Words on My Mind. I’ve now posted 500 blogs – HOORAY!! At this point, judging by the statistics, I’ve had at least two million people check in.

I used a poem to begin my efforts. Here’s part of what I wrote:

Birth pains were negligible,

A little wine helped,

And some chocolate with nuts.

Since the Baby Blog

Has shot into Cyberspace,

It’s no telling what it

May eventually weigh.

Does anyone know

The Weight of Opinions?

I started the blog to promote my editing business and to sell my historical fiction novel, Melaynie’s Masquerade. Since then I’ve written 6 additional books (Ebook format) that are also for sale on Amazon. An Army Brat in Libya, Discovering the Victor in Victoria, Colonels Don’t Apologize, Angels in Uniform, Pink Glasses, and Weird Dates and Strange Fates.

Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

As a consistent chronicler of my interesting life, in notebooks and eventually on computer, I’ve reported my personal history, ups and downs! I had written plenty of tales of growing up as an Army brat, my long career as a newspaper and magazine editor/reporter in Los Angeles, and life as a single woman. Since 2010 I’ve written about living in Bavaria right after World War II, living in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s, and residing in the Washington, D.C. area during John Kennedy’s presidency. For the past 50 years (alas, I’m no longer a youngster), I’ve enjoyed experiencing Southern California life.

The fun of getting older is looking back to the hurdles and successes of life and all the people you’ve known or seen in one way or another. I’ve written about most of it. I saw John F. Kennedy twice (when he was a senator and then a president), Robert Kennedy twice, shook hands with Richard Nixon in Libya, and observed Lyndon Johnson in the Senate. These experiences have been chronicled in my blog.

I observed Hollywood stars at Washington National Airport during the March on Washington in 1963. I stood at a window between Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Baldwin (the author), saw Paul Newman, James Garner and Sidney Poitier, and spoke with Charlton Heston. I lived through some of the repercussions from the Suez Crisis in Tripoli in 1956. I enjoyed the fun of a 1958 Mediterranean Cruise courtesy of the US Navy, landing in Athens, Istanbul, Naples, and Gibraltar, to name a few.

Since I knew and had interviewed character actor, Strother Martin, I attended his funeral at Forest Lawn in 1980 and saw Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. I wrote a blog about the experience. Living in SoCal, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with James Whitmore, William Shatner, Peter Strauss, Ellen Burstyn, Robert Stack, Valerie Harper, Kelsey Grammar, Della Reese, and Sally Kellerman, to name a few. While I worked at the phone company in Hollywood, I observed Dean Martin on a motorcycle,  saw Cornel Wilde and Mitzi Gaynor at the Brown Derby, and had a lovely chat with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft in Santa Monica. When I edited and wrote a magazine for the Beverly Hills Country Club, I interviewed athletes Rafer Johnson and Jack Kramer (my first tennis racket had his name on it) and TV star Barbara Eden. I’ve written about all these experiences as well as the sometimes crazy times of being single and dating.

One of my most entertaining interviews was with Jules Sylvester, an animal trainer born in Kenya. He was my neighbor for a while and invited me out to see his Komodo dragon (in the Marlon Brando/Matthew Broderick film “The Freshman”) and all the spiders and insects he trained for all sorts of films (“Snakes on a Plane” not too long ago).

I’ve written about the powerful 1994 LA earthquake, and about my genealogy on my mother’s Motley side, which included John Motley Moorehead, a governor of North Carolina before the Civil War. I’ve told my personal story of surprising my birth father at his office in the Pentagon in 1964. I was too young to remember him when he left to fight in Italy during WWII. Three days after we met and spent time together, he said I was his lucky charm: he had been promoted to Brigadier General.

When I’m not writing my blog, I’m spending time editing books of all types and have written/promoted many of them on my blog. So far, I’ve edited about 130 books in all genres: from historical fiction, memoirs, romance and action adventure, to self-help and children’s books.

I’ve tooted my horn enough. If, dear Reader, you’re intrigued, check out my archives after you read today’s blog. Thank you!

 

 

TRIPOLI’S ROACHES

Exotic and temperate Tripoli, Libya, was certainly appealing, but all places have their drawbacks. Those of us who lived there remember the sandstorms and locust infestations, but I had genuinely forgotten about the roaches, perhaps because my mother patiently got rid of them in our villa. She was always the champion for cleaning, insect control, and chief cook (I did the dish washing).  I’ve heard it said that if every creature on Earth becomes extinct, there will always be roaches thriving!

The Grand Hotel faces Tripoli's harbor

The Grand Hotel faces Tripoli’s harbor

I am posting another portion of Terence Sharkey’s entertaining memoir, Love, Life and Moving Pictures. In this part of his saga about making the British film, “The Black Tent,” in Tripoli and the Sahara Desert,  he describes how his quest for romance with Rosemarie (he had met her in the previous blog) at the Grand Hotel meant he would have to be in charge of pest control. As Terence relates:

We reached the corridor to her room. Rosemarie took my hand and drowned me in her enormous blue eyes. “Will you be my Night?”

“What?” I could hear my heart thumping. Had I misheard?

Rosemarie said, “Will you be my knight–you know the shining armor bit – with the cockroaches? I put the waste bin out but I can’t bear picking them up, and they run so.”

Despite its five-star rating, the Grand Hotel, like its equally luxurious competitor, the Uaddan, was overrun with cockroaches. The nightly slaughter of the creatures took place in bedroom and bathroom alike, where they would explode like rotten chestnuts when hit with the heel of a shoe. I had devised a way to avoid this messy execution by lining the waste bin with a towel into which the scrambling beasts would be put, to be collected next morning.

We went into her room. As the lights went on, the creatures scampered for the walls or any shadow that was available. Rosemarie gave a shriek. These were like no local theatre or palace-of-vaudeville beatles back home, with which as an actor I was familiar. The Empire certainly hadn’t set on these gigantiques. The dull brown creatures were all about two inches long, as big as my thumb and when not dashing for cover would climb walls with antennae waving and even fly a short distance. It was a losing battle and having captured a dozen or so we gave up.

While Rosemarie took a shower, I remained there (on the bed) contemplating a country where the best hotels had cockroaches and whose balconies were home to marauding cats who haunted the verandah of the outdoor dining room.

(Cut to romance scene…you’ll have to buy the Ebook to read it)

Terence continues:

I understand that a new Grand Hotel, bigger and even more opulent, was built in 1983, inspired by the original building’s façade and owing much of its design to its predecessor’s Moorish arched windows.

I wonder, if I were to return, would there still be cockroaches in the bedroom and would there still be a teenage blonde in the bathroom…

MAKING MOVIES IN LIBYA – 1950s

Last year, Terence Sharkey, who had been a teenage British actor in the 1950s, sent me an entertaining story of his adventure at Wheelus Air Force Base in 1955. He meant it as a Comment, but it was too long and too interesting not to include it as a blog, and I’m publishing the story again. I made a few minor changes (like American spelling) for clarity.  Terry told me:
I was a guest at Wheelus almost sixty years ago and I still recall the warmth of the welcome which matched the 90 degree heat everywhere. In 1955 food-rationing from WWII in England had only just ceased, and for an English youth, my eyes had popped out at steak sizes I’d never seen, breakfast portions undreamed of, and chocolate bars in abundance. (I’d never heard of Hershey bars –but I soon learned). Suddenly England seemed even more austere when I saw the goods on offer in the commissary.

I was sixteen and had gone to Libya as a young actor for desert location scenes for a movie (The Black Tent) we were making at Pinewood Studios back in England.
A couple of days after my arrival at Idris airport the once daily flight from London’s Heathrow ended in tragedy when a BOAC DC4 Argonaut crashed in flames on landing, killing fifteen and badly injuring many of the forty-seven on board. Idris facilities were about what you’d expect of one of the world’s poorest nations with an international terminal that looked like it was the film set from Bogart’s “Casablanca” and the boys and girls at Wheelus had mobilised immediately, with helicopters ferrying the injured to the military hospital.

Terence Sharkey, teenage British actor

Terence Sharkey, teenage British actor

A few days later, at a break in the filming schedule, I visited the base with Rosemarie, a young woman survivor of the crash. American helicopter pilots honored her with a bouquet. Their tears turned to laughter when Rosemarie discovered the bouquet was swarming with ants, which had joined the consignment somewhere locally. (Where had they had come up with fresh roses in such a desert?).

The base was enormous. I had been fearful that the sight of aircraft so soon after the tragedy at Idris airport on the other side of the city would be upsetting, but my companion was enjoying the tour as much as I was. At one stage our jeep rattled its way over the tarmac beside twenty or more very business-like looking fighter jets with US Air Force emblazoned on each silver fuselage together with the big white star. “F-86 Saber jets” our driver told us proudly. “See them swept-back wings? They’ll take-on anything those Commie-bastards can throw at us – they’ll out-maneuver any of Joe Stalin’s boys.”
Stalin had died two years before and his successor, Nikita Kruschev, had appeared to adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards the West in an attempt to end the Cold War. Our driver, if he knew of the demise of the despot, cared little for the changes and continued to extol the superior virtues of the Saber jets over the Russian MiG-15s, which he told us he had seen in dogfights in the Korean War a couple of years before.

An international incident was narrowly avoided when this naïve British visitor took a photograph of his beautiful companion. I had not noticed that the background included some tents and several large aircraft. I still have the Zeiss camera, which I had bought cheaply a couple of days before, just a museum piece now in our age of digital photography, but I will always remember that day when I had to hand over the film to the fierce military policeman declaring us off-limits.

Actually, he turned out to be quite an affable sort who, having executed his official task, seemed more than happy to assist my companion, who had discovered that the ants were now invading her blouse. Uncle Sam’s Military Police are clearly up to anything the day throws at them and the fellow produced some magic mosquito cream, which he applied liberally to her neck. His enthusiasm for the task knew no bounds and soon it was the turn of the female visitor to gently point out what was off limits.

Apart from the loss of my pictures it was a memorable day with hospitable hosts, an air-conditioned day that offered a welcome contrast to the sweltering Sahara filming days that lay ahead.
Happy days! More are captured at http://www.lovelifeandmovingpictures.com/

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