1950s

TEENAGE ROMANCE IN TRIPOLI

Living on the economy, as the term went, had exciting advantages over living among only Americans. During my second summer in Tripoli, I expanded my social horizons by meeting some British teenagers. The British Army also had a post in Tripoli. A few of my girlfriends and I were invited to a private party given by a young English boy. We were the hit of the party in our Bermuda shorts, a fashion that had yet to hit England. These young Brits listened to American rock and roll but many of them hadn’t quite mastered the steps for fast dancing, which at that time was something we called jitterbugging.

A young man named Chris, an American wannabe (or so I assessed him), who sported a crew cut, talked to me at the party and asked me to dance. Dancing to slow songs was an invitation to bodily contact. I think we were both about 14 at the time. I didn’t know what his experience in romance had been; mine had been limited to a few kisses with a boy at my dad’s last post in Kentucky. What a wonderful awakening to the highly enjoyable sport of making out. Better yet, he had mastered the art of kissing, in my humble and inexperienced opinion. As I remember, we had great fun testing out new feelings through several slow songs. I did quite well at reciprocating, and it was thrilling.

That summer I spent many hours in his company comparing notes on the differences in American and English lifestyles. Like most English students in Tripoli, he would visit his parents on his several vacations during the year and would return to England where he went to a private boys’ school. He invited my mother and I (my father must have been on one of his business trips to Saudi Arabia or Ethiopia) to join him and his parents on a sailing excursion in Tripoli harbor. They were members of a Dolphin Club, which meant sailing an impossibly tiny sailboat with room for three at the most. My mother joined his father. I was onboard with Chris and his mother, and she relaxed while I helped with one of the important ropes. The trick was to move from side to side with the wind, making sure the boom didn’t hit you in the head. I got calluses for my efforts; my mother narrowly missed the boom, but enjoyed relating her adventure afterward.

Steve, Enzo, DarbAbove:  Stefano and Enzo with my baby brother Darby
An enthusiastic tennis player, my father joined the Tripoli Beach Club, a European private club of Italian, English, Russian and American families that featured tennis courts, a private beach on a small cove and a clubhouse. The club was outside town, a short drive away. Being a member didn’t help my tennis game, but it added to my boy-watching skills and provided a way for me to meet more international teenagers. One of them was Stefano, or Steve, as he liked to be called, a young man who had gone to school in the U.S. and whose father worked for the Italian Embassy. He introduced me to his young Italian friends.

It wasn’t long before I had developed a crush on the handsome young Vicenzo, or Enzo for short. I later recalled that I had been sitting two seats away and admiring Enzo at a concert at the Piccolo Scala the year before. His father was a wealthy Italian businessman, his mother was English, and they lived on an estate about a mile away from our villa. He was entranced enough with me to begin waiting for me at the school bus stop in the afternoons and walking me the half block home. What made him especially dashing was the motorbike he rode. To this day when I hear the soft whir of a motorbike engine, I think of that old excitement. No leather jacket for this dapper Italian; on school days he was always in proper trousers and the sport coat he wore to school.

Enzo invited me and a couple of my girlfriends to his sixteenth birthday party scheduled from 4 to 10 p.m. on a Sunday, which I remember thinking was an odd time for a party. The lush estate was impressive. His parents had converted a stable into a party house, adding furniture in the latest style, a corner fireplace, huge picture windows and a wall mural depicting a hunting scene.

The guests consisted of Italian teenagers with a sprinkling of Americans. Charades in English and Italian provided a challenge and much hilarity. After a tasty Italian pastry cake, we all danced. The Diaconos were quite modern: they had a small collection of Elvis Presley records! I received a kiss from my Romeo when one of the Italian girls suggested that the birthday boy had to kiss all the girls. He blushed but kissed us all politely on the cheek. It seemed that in the romance department my friend Chris definitely had the kissing advantage. Never underestimate the British!

GIBRALTAR, THE GATEWAY TO THE ATLANTIC By Victoria Giraud

It’s been over 50 years, but I saved the mimeographed Rose Report from the USNS Rose, now very tattered and the type blurred from age. The Master’s Morning Report was featured every day and the one I kept related we’d traveled 167 miles from Naples to Leghorn at a speed of 12.9 knots and a time of 12 hours. It didn’t mention if the storm had slowed us down. I wonder how much faster modern ships sail–but I’m too lazy to check. After our visit in Livorno (Leghorn in English), we were headed for Gibraltar on July 29. Curious, but as fate would have it, I am posting this blog on the current July 29!  Our last port was 713 miles away, which would keep the ship at sea for two days.

The Report was very informative, giving us tidbits about the geography and the history of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding countries. There were also a few articles about military personnel and their dependents, like the story about a baby born on a military plane at 7,000 feet on its way to Hawaii. My souvenir Report informed us the movie being presented that day for adults was “Wild is the Wind,” starring Anthony Quinn, Tony Franciosa and Anna Magnani, who I remembered as the tempestuous Italian actress who wasn’t a beauty like Gina Lollobrigida.

Gibraltar was our last stop before crossing the Atlantic, which would take a week. When we docked in Gibraltar port, we were all instructed that photos of the dock were not allowed. Those were the days of the Cold War and the British Forces stationed there were security conscious. Several of us wondered about the name of a British ship docked near us: the Eddy Beach. I imagine its name had some historical significance but a brief Internet search didn’t reveal the origin.

Since there was no tour offered of the renowned “Rock” or views of the famous monkeys (called apes) that lived there, a bunch of us meandered the nearby streets in downtown Gibraltar. I noted a few of the very British street names: John Macintosh Place, Cumberland Road and Spud Hill. I complained about the French fries in a tea shop—“swimming in grease and salt and not very done.” I also wrote that I bought a Crunchy bar, two caramels, and some Treets (chocolate-covered almonds)—all for watching movies on the Atlantic voyage. I saved a scrap of paper from a bag from Perez & Navarro, a fruit and chocolate store established in 1894 on Main Street!

When we got back from our very long walk, Diana and I took turns looking through my binoculars at some British fellows training in the harbor for boat racing. Teenage girls were always interested in males!

At 6 p.m. that evening the Rose departed Gibraltar and began the journey to New York harbor and the good old USA, just seven days away.

The Rock in the 1950s

 

 

A Swim in December? In Long Island Sound, New York? By Victoria Giraud

In the early 1950s while my dad was getting his Master’s Degree at NYU, my family lived in Fordham Hill Apartments in the Bronx. I attended PS 33, just off Fordham Road and next to the elevated subway, where I met and made fast friends with Jackie.   We have kept in touch ever since as I moved to Kentucky, Libya, Virginia, Germany and finally to California. Her life has taken her to the Midwest, New England, Hawaii and then she ended up in Northern California. Who could have guessed at 10 years old we’d keep in touch (remember letters by snail mail?) and see each other over the years in various places and eventually live in the same state?  Life is a mysterious journey.

Right after Christmas in 1959, when I was just about to turn 17 (January 1), I took a train from Northern Virginia to visit Jackie and enjoy the excitement of New York City from a more grown-up point of view. Jackie made sure I saw the highlights (some of them with dates)— “Destry Rides Again” a Broadway play; a movie at Radio City Music Hall, which included the Rockettes dancing; a drink at a Greenwich Village night spot, and a meal at the Jaegermeister, a special German restaurant. We even saw “Wild Strawberries,” a Swedish Ingmar Bergman movie—now a classic.

My very pretty friend was dating a few fellows, but the primary one at the time was Gerry, an older man of 21 and a Fordham University senior. Gerry fixed me up with Ray, a junior class friend of his. My dates up to this time had been limited to younger guys, so I was thrilled to pretend I was a college sophisticate, not a high school senior!

The fellows were bright and entertaining and I felt quite comfortable with both of them. Being an Army brat does lend a bit of cachet in life, and lots of experience in zany situations.

One night they took us to a casual restaurant/bar called The Barge, which was right on Long Island Sound. Our dates ordered a pitcher of beer and the bartender didn’t bother with ID for Jackie or me. Not quite 17 and I was out having beer! It wasn’t something I’d tell my dad about, but I would certainly share the adventure with my mother.

Me, Gerry and Jackie at The Barge -- Beer and Babes!

After a beer, Gerry, who was quite the comedian and a bit of a showoff, led the three of us outside to the barely lit back patio, which jutted into the water, to show us the view. It was freezing, but I recall we left our coats inside. He instructed us to watch him carefully and then he ran to the other end of the small patio, jumped over the wooden border and disappeared. Since there was water all around, we assumed he’d jumped into the water. Why?

Was this a stunt or some kind of trick? Although he didn’t reappear for a few minutes, Ray assured us Gerry would be fine.   Before we got too worried, we saw hands and then a head appear as Gerry slowly pulled himself back over the side, bedraggled, soaking wet, panting and shivering.

“I knew there was a small shelf you couldn’t see and you’d think I was an idiot for jumping in the water,” he told us, trying to chuckle at himself before freezing to death. By this time we were all laughing at his mistake as he blurted out, “It turned out that the shelf wasn’t solid and I went straight into the water.”

Trying to warm up after a winter swim

Gerry kept shivering and dripping as we stealthily made our way through the bar and out to the car, trying not to be too loud with our laughter. Ray  found a blanket in his trunk, Jackie added a muffler, and we drove to Ray’s nearby home for a change of clothes for Gerry.

Gerry had literally put a damper on the evening in his attempt to steal the spotlight! It was unusual, hilarious and unforgettable. Amazing what a guy will do for a laugh and to impress his girlfriend! Too bad there was no YouTube in those days. At least we had a camera to document it for posterity.

TRIPOLI MEMORIES FROM BLOG READERS by Victoria Giraud

Libyan & his camel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will include more interesting comments in future blogs.

 

 

July 4th – Celebrating with Camels & Donkeys in Libya

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friend Karen shows off her camel-riding skills!

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

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

My mother & little brother Darby on a Tripoli beach

 

AMERICA, HERE WE COME!

On July 1, 1958, the USNS General Rose left the port of Gibraltar and sailed into the Atlantic Ocean. Destination: Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York City on July 8. There were approximately 160 passengers from Wheelus/Tripoli and about 15 of those were teenagers. In Turkey, I’d documented we’d picked up 22 more teens, which made a grand total of 37 of us traveling across the Atlantic. That’s quite a party!

The Aft Lounge was essentially headquarters for the large group of teenagers. We played games, listened to rock music: “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Pretty Baby,” and “Purple People-Eater,” and expended lots of energy dancing. As I wrote, we “goofed around,” and if there wasn’t enough to do, we could go to the main lounge and “pester the grown-ups.”

An 18-year-old named Bill, who was coming home with his family from Ankara, Turkey, was interested in me and I enjoyed the attention and the opportunity for a skilled dancing partner. He taught me “his special little dip,” and we spent some time star-watching out on deck.

There was a party for everyone the evening of July 4th. I noted that Bill picked me up for the dance and I wore a “red print, off-the-shoulder dress.” When the lounge proved dull, the teens persuaded the seaman in the control room to put on snappier music. “We livened things up…bopped up a storm, and did The Stroll, which the grown-ups thought was real cute,” I commented. The chaplain, who was a “marvelous” dancer and usually squired my mother, invited me to do the polka with him and we danced for ten minutes! I had discarded my fabulous Italian cork heels from Naples and was barefooted. I felt like the Belle of the Ball.

Our last night on board, July 7, featured a farewell dinner and I saved the menu. The offerings included: Fresh Halibut with lemon and butter, Grilled Beef Steak with Mushroom Sauce, or Baked Virginia Ham with Pineapple Sauce. Besides a choice of potatoes, yams, corn, rice or peas (so typical of American food then), there were salads: Hearts of Lettuce (iceberg, of course), Hard-boiled Egg with mayo, or Cottage Cheese on Lettuce Leaf. Dessert was a choice of cookies, ice cream, fruit compote, Danish pastry or a Chocolate Nut Sundae. Babies had their choice of Pablum, carrots or apricots! We were served coffee, tea, cocoa, iced tea with lemon or water to drink. I was too young and distracted with other interests to notice if there were any alcoholic beverages. To celebrate the end of the cruise, our waiter took a Polaroid.

Mom, Me, Joan, and teachers: Ed, Marilyn and Becky--our table

 

 

As we got near New York, a stinky fog rolled in and we started to pass other ships going our way.  One distinct memory was listening to a shipboard radio catching all the latest rock n’ roll tunes from a New York radio station. We hadn’t heard the current hit, “Charlie Brown,” and it was wonderful to contemplate all the Stateside surprises coming up. Libya and the other countries in the Middle East had been quite an adventure for most of us, but being back home in the USA and sailing past the Statue of Liberty was even more exciting.

I paid no attention to the world news on our souvenir Rose Report. Russia was threatening to withdraw from the UN, the Soviets were set to release nine American airmen whose plane had been forced to land in Soviet Armenia, and Cuban rebels were releasing five American civilian prisoners to be flown to Guantanamo Bay. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was on his way home to talk to President Dwight Eisenhower. Dulles had been trying to discourage France’s Premier Charles de Gaulle from insisting France become a major nuclear power. As the French like to say, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

My departing gift from my shipboard beau was a 50-cent piece to buy a banana split when I got to Northern Virginia, where my family would be living. I thought I might see Bill again since his family was also relocating there, but when my dad saw me with a guy’s arm around my shoulders as we pulled into the dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he was on alert. When Dad discovered Bill was 18,  that was the end of that!

 

 

 

HEADED FOR GIBRALTAR, GATEWAY TO THE ATLANTIC OCEAN

I saved the mimeographed Rose Report, now very tattered and the type blurred from age. The Master’s Morning Report was featured every day and the one I kept related we’d traveled 167 miles from Naples to Leghorn at a speed of 12.9 knots and a time of 12 hours. It didn’t mention if the storm had slowed us down. After our visit in Livorno (Leghorn in English), we were headed for Gibraltar on the 29th. Our last port was 713 miles away, which would keep the ship at sea for two days.

The Report was very informative, giving us tidbits about the geography and the history of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding countries. There were also a few articles about military personnel and their dependents, like the story about a baby born on a military plane at 7,000 feet on its way to Hawaii. My souvenir Report informed us the movie being presented that day for adults was “Wild is the Wind,” starring Anthony Quinn, Tony Franciosa and Anna Magnani, who I remembered as the tempestuous Italian actress who wasn’t a beauty like Gina Lollobrigida.

Gibraltar was our last stop before crossing the Atlantic, which would take a week. When we docked, we were all instructed that photos of the dock were not allowed. Those were the days of the Cold War and the British Forces stationed there were security conscious. Several of us wondered about the name of a British ship docked near us: the Eddy Beach. I imagine its name had some historical significance but a brief Internet search didn’t reveal the origin.

Since there was no tour offered of the renowned “rock” or views of the famous monkeys (called apes) that lived there, a bunch of us meandered the nearby streets in downtown Gibraltar. I noted a few of the very British street names: John Macintosh Place, Cumberland Road and Spud Hill. I complained about the French fries in a tea shop—“swimming in grease and salt and not very done.” I also wrote that I bought a Crunchy bar, two caramels, and some Treets (chocolate-covered almonds)—all for watching movies on the Atlantic voyage. I saved a scrap of paper from a bag from Perez & Navarro, a fruit and chocolate store established in 1894 on Main Street!

When we got back from our very long walk, Diana and I took turns looking through my binoculars at some British fellows training in the harbor for boat racing. Teenage girls were always interested in males!

At 6 p.m. that evening the Rose departed Gibraltar and began the journey to New York harbor and the good old USA.

The Rock in the 1950s

 

 

HEADING NORTH THROUGH A TEMPEST

After the Pompeii tour, we were back onboard the Rose that afternoon and left Naples for Leghorn (Livorno in Italian) at 6 p.m. June 28, 1958.  The ship tossed and turned as it fought its way north; it was our only storm during the entire cruise. A dance was planned for the teens, and my friend Diana was anxious to go since her latest boyfriend, who was the president of the Naples Teen Club, had debarked in Naples. Nature wasn’t in the mood for a party.

The dining room had finished serving when Diana came to my cabin to pick me up.  The ship was already rocking, and right away, she threw up in our sink. That wasn’t the end of it, as I noted in my scrapbook: “Diana threw up five times!” When Diana returned to her family’s cabin, I went by myself to the dance and even managed to dance a few. The party soon broke up—not too many sailors among us. I was proud of my stamina and balance, and wrote: “I pulled through. How I don’t know, but I didn’t throw up once. Whew!!”

The following afternoon we docked in Leghorn; most of us were relieved to see land after the rough seas. My mother, sister Joan and I met Army friends from the Corps of Engineers who had been stationed in Tripoli and were now in Italy. Because of all the traveling, even in the days of letter writing, military people tended to stay in touch for years. The old friends took us to the Leaning Tower of Pisa before we went to a cocktail party (only for the grown-ups, of course).

“At Pisa, going up the steps to the tower was murder; I don’t know when I’ve walked up sooo many steps,” I wrote. “The steps wound around the tower. Coming down the tower really got me though.”

 

My sister and I had started up the deeply grooved steps before Mom. We were surprised how open everything was. It would have been easy to walk out to the encircling balconies and fall right off: there were no railings.  Joan, who was only nine, was hesitant as we ascended since we could feel the slope of the tower. Once my mother, who was behind us, spotted the danger, she started running to catch up! We had reached the top by the time she got there, panting, and breathed a sigh of relief that her daughters were safe and sound. I don’t think Italians worry so much about safety; Americans seem paranoid compared to other cultures.

 

When we were safely down again, our little group walked over to the nearby cathedral.  I was told one of the bronze doors, which had various historic scenes in bas-relief, had a magic lizard carving. It was a superstition that if you rubbed the lizard, you would have your wish come true. It was the shiniest thing on the whole large door! I couldn’t resist and my wish did come true. I attracted a short-term boyfriend, one of the initially  “unfriendly” group that had gotten on the ship in Istanbul. Bill was an easy conversationalist, a good dancer, and knew how to kiss: must have been that advanced age of 18! The newer passengers had gotten comfortable, lost their shyness, and all of us made the most of the voyage.

ITALY, O ITALY…ESSENTIAL FOR A MED CRUISE

The two-day cruise from Turkey to Italy gave ample time to hold a teenage dance in the Aft Lounge of the General Rose and a chance to get to know the nine teenagers who’d embarked in Turkey, plus the thirteen who’d come aboard in Istanbul. I was diligent in putting down first and last names of almost every teenager. My early newspaper experience must have influenced me! It’s unfortunate those skills didn’t extend to using my fairly simple camera. I took plenty of black and white photos but the lighting is off in most of them, or it was too overcast focusing from the ship and the backgrounds look blurry. Coming into Naples, we sailed past the island of Capri, which my photos depict as lumps in the mist.

We would only stay a night and day in Napoli but it was time enough to explore after dinner and then again the next day. A small group of us, including two mothers and three teenage boys, walked from the ship to a nearby downtown area and bought a few items. I was evidently slightly disgusted and wrote in my scrapbook, “Charles (an Explorer Scout) was paying too much attention to me and I ignored him. He’s a slob. He bought an icky gray tie. We went in about every store. The boys were very bored with it all.” So much for my teenage opinions!

The next morning there was a bus to take us to famous Pompeii  and a guided tour, although at the time I thought that Leptis Magna, the Roman ruins in Libya, were much better. Apparently, the continuing excavations have since made Pompeii more outstanding.

I was annoyed when our tour guide took us to an almost completely restored house in Pompeii, but as a young female, I wasn’t allowed to enter. It was an ancient whorehouse with explicit graphic paintings and ceramic tile artwork. Some of the younger fellows who’d been able to go in told me the pictures on the walls were obscene, but they were too embarrassed to explain.

A street in ancient Pompeii

One of the Explorer Scouts from Tripoli was my companion for the Pompeii tour. David was a couple of years younger and very entertaining and energetic. When we lagged behind the tour guide by stopping to buy  postcards (the photo above is one of those postcards), we had to run to catch up. In my scrapbook I commented, “If we didn’t look a sight running through the streets of Pompeii.” I must have borrowed that phraseology from my Southern mother.

After the tour, our group was taken to a nearby restaurant for lunch. After all the exercise, we enjoyed the spaghetti.  Many of us got up to leave right after we’d finished what we thought was lunch. The waiters hurried to usher us back to our tables: the pasta was just the first course, they were already beginning to serve the second course of filet mignon. Unsophisticated military personnel and their dependents, especially in the 1950s, weren’t used to two-course meals, especially ones starting with spaghetti.

 

 

ON TO TURKEY – MED CRUISE

Our US Navy ship, the Rose, left Greece on a Sunday 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. I wrote that we passed 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.

Mom, my sister Joan and I were meeting up with Army friends who either lived in or were visiting Istanbul, and we had to catch a taxi to take us up to the 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), and the exotic Bazaar filled with hundreds of shops, where I bought a Turkish towel. There was nothing terrycloth about it: 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.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

 

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, once called Smyrna. Per usual, military passengers and dependents departed while new ones embarked. Wanting to document everything about this voyage, I kept track of all the teenage passenger names.

Diana, a friend from Tripoli, and I hung out together during the cruise. I remarked that her  shipboard romance was getting off the ship in Izmir, and that the new kids, who’d gotten on in Istanbul, weren’t very friendly. It didn’t take long, however, 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.

Izmir seen from USNS Rose - my amateur photo

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.

 

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