Libya

TRIPOLI’S BARBARY PIRATE FORT

Tripoli’s Bashaw Castle also known as Barbary Pirate Fort

 

 

 

The past can be very nebulous – one day it will seem like centuries ago, other days it was only yesterday in my mind. I looked for perceptive quotes about the past and found two intriguing ones. The first is a Chinese proverb: Consider the past and you shall know the future. The other comes from American author William Faulker: The past is not dead, in fact it’s not even past. I think both quotes apply to current life.

The Internet can easily make sure you don’t forget the past. I’ve been blessed by the adventures I had as an Army brat growing up, and the current continual growth of my connections with other military brats and citizens from around the world because of my Words on My Mind blog. Many of these connections have come from my three years living in Tripoli, Libya, in the mid 1950s.

Starting to thrive after the bloody North African fighting during WWII, in 1951 Libya was granted by the United Nations the status of Arab Kingdom, an independent state to be ruled by King Sayed Mohamed Idris el Senussi. I was there to witness the early blossoming, and so were a lot of Americans. Several of them, including me, have written about their experiences and had them published. I’ve read and will report on some of these books concerning Libya.

Tripoli has a tumultuous past that goes back to the Phoenicians and the Romans, and it was part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. Libyan Fadel Eswedi sent his friend Giuseppe Scalora (an Italian born in Libya) a fascinating book about Tripoli in the 18th century when the Turks still ruled Libya. Tully’s Letters was written by a Miss Tully, a young British woman who was part of the British consulate and wrote about her life experiences in Tripoli.

Reading the introduction page tells a great deal. The story comes from “letters written during a ten years’ residence at the Court of Tripoli, published from the originals in the possession of the family of the late Richard Tully, Esq., the British Consul, and it contains authentic memoirs and anecdotes of the reigning Bashaw (a high official in countries ruled by Turkey, as in the Ottoman Empire, which existed from 1299-1923).” It is also an account of the domestic manners of the Moors, Arabs and Turks.

According to this book, “Tripoli’s importance was derived from its link with Egypt and its geographical position on the great Hajj route from the west to Mecca, and the trade routes between Africa and Europe.” Miss Tully’s life in Tripoli began in 1783 during the time of the pirates, a famine and then a plague. As the book introduction quotes the reigning Bashaw’s words to the British, Dutch and French consuls who protested a Venetian ship that had been seized: “The Barbary Corsairs are born pirates, and not able to subsist by any other means; it is therefore the Christian’s business to be always on their guard, even in times of peace.” It doesn’t seem that much has changed in the world!

The famous old castle those of us who lived in Tripoli easily recognize was a dominant feature in the 18th century city. There were courtyards, and passages on different levels separated by heavy iron doors. The Bashaw lived there with his staff, his guards, his wives and his concubines, who lived in a harem in the depths of the castle. He had two sons with their families who also lived in separate guarded quarters within the castle.

Tripoli in those days had a slave market that sold off Christian slaves, and primarily Neopolitans, Spaniards, and Blacks from Fezzan and Bornu. A city of 25,000 population, 5,000 of them Sephardic Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, it was a rough and rowdy. According to the intro, the city was “a rabbit-warren of narrow lanes, arched bazaars and overhanging buildings.” Very few windows faced the street. Despite about 20 mosques, Tripoli wasn’t peaceful; those wealthy enough hired guards for their protection from the brutality.

On a positive note, east of the castle and extending along the bay for 10 miles was Menschia, a narrow green oasis full of palms, vegetables and peppers and gardens of apricot, orange and pomegranate trees. This area was the location for the summer homes of Tripoli notables. In modern times, and in the years I lived there, I will always remember the lovely bougainvillea vines that seemed to grow from every flat rooftop.

My thanks to Fadel Eswedi of Tripoli and Giuseppe Scalora, once a Tripoli resident and now a citizen of Los Angeles, for the use of this fascinating book. It was first published in 1846 and then again in 2002 in London. For those interested, the ISBN number is: 1850779279. Darf Publishers in London published the current edition.

WHEELUS AFB, LIBYA – A SOURCE OF CREATIVITY

Art Arrowsmith is a fellow student who attended Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya at the same time I did. He was Class of 1957 and I was due to graduate in 1960; we knew each other but weren’t friends. I got to know Art just a few years ago when he began reading my blogs about our time in Libya. An adventurous creative fellow, Art has done some writing, watercolor art and drawing. He’s a multi-talented fellow and a very adventurous one, having lived in countless places over the years. He shared a true story of his from his time living at Wheelus, MOONLIGHT MADNESS,  a while back and I  published it on my blog in August 2014. Check it out. I split it into two parts.

His latest reflections, called OLD AGE THOUGHTS, fit right in with my recent thoughts. All my longtime friends and I are growing older, but what’s the alternative? I am waiting today on my first grandchild’s arrival — Ella Julie Ann Giraud, in Dallas Texas. I’m a bit late in having the grandmother experience, but I know I’m going to cherish it and have some memories like those Art writes about below.

OLD AGE THOUGHTS

Days dissolve and weeks blur. Months are short lived milestones, while years bump up against one another and disappear before they can be savored, as we travel life’s ever shortening road. Time has essentially become irrelevant. Children have disappeared into adults and rivers are slowly changing their courses. Familiar landscapes, buildings and downtown venues are reshaped, somehow different, populated by strangers with strange customs and costumes. Friends are gone, lost or forgotten and missed. Loneliness is no longer just another word: it’s here.

If one catches an aged soul unawares in the autumn of their life, a long ago memory will be seen drifting through their eyes.

My hands are weaker but my faith is stronger. Reflection on past seasons and places cements certainty that many blessings were bestowed on myself and my family. Some were obvious but most not discovered until much later when their fruit blossomed. Even today I’m still realizing how protected we’ve been.

Camp fires blazing and hot dogs simmering. Checkered tablecloths on picnic tables and barbecues cooking. Children exploring their world wearing personalized helmets, peddling through the park on designer bikes, giggling and laughing, sharing their minor and major discoveries with one another and equally with strangers. We’re camping in these gloriously colorful early crisp autumn days, as the work-a-day world is left ever farther behind and we slowly adapt to and savor the long-looked-forward-to-retirement years. Our family has grown; both daughters and their families are out on their own. Now our grandchildren and great grandchildren are an integral and blessed part of our twilight years.

Art Arrowsmith’s class photo from Wheelus High; a recent watercolor of his, and a detailed drawing he did of a Porsche.

Art A

artswtrcolr

artporsche

WHEELUS AFB TV PROGRAM

My starring role as Louise

My starring role as Louise

Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya, had a TV station back in the 1950s-1960s with some imported programs from the US and some local American talent from the base and in town. I was picked for a few moments of fleeting fame on American military TV long ago. Perhaps a few hundred people actually saw the program broadcast.

Since Hollywood didn’t come knocking on my door with a contract, I chose a writing career instead. No big script or book deals or a big budget movie, yet…alas. Although I did make some attempts to get my screenplay about Sir Francis Drake produced then ended up writing an historical fiction novel about him: MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE.

My “starring” role on TV was to portray the fictional “Louise” while Joe, a talented pianist and airman played the song of that name. Maurice Chevalier, French actor and singer is known for singing the song at least 50 years ago. Two of the lines are:

Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise.

Birds in the trees seem to twitter Louise.

Joe (I can no longer remember his last name) had a half-hour TV program, which featured him playing piano. It was broadcast in the evening to every home with a TV set at Wheelus Air Force Base. I don’t remember if I even knew when or how often, but I did save the photos taken for the special occasion. My family had not brought a TV to Libya so Mom and Dad did not catch my debut.

Keeping his program unique was probably a challenge for Joe. One day he came up with the bright idea to play famous songs named for women: “Marie,” “Charmaine” and “Louise,” for instance, and have a girl in the background who represented each particular song.

He would play five songs. He already knew two Italian girls to feature, but he needed three more females to represent all the songs he had in mind. Apparently reasoning that the high school physical education program would provide him with the best choices, he came out to the Wheelus tennis courts one morning. The male mind is always intriguing! Maybe it was our grace hitting a tennis ball during physical education classes, or perhaps what our legs looked like in shorts that influenced his choices?

I had never considered myself a talented tennis player, although I did improve over the years. I was still in the hitting-the-ball-too-high stage, and lucky to make it over the net. My legs, however, were shapely.

Joe picked me, Judy Jones, and Vicki Scola and we all agreed to face the cameras. I was supposed to be a French Louise and had to find a beret and a scarf since my portrayal was a variation of the famous French Apache dance (based on Parisian gang culture and named for the US Native American tribe). I’ve still got the now tattered beret and the orange scarf.

I don’t recall that we did much if any rehearsing since we simply had to sit or stand, as the case may be, and look sexy. When Joe played each song, the camera panned from his playing to the appropriate girl and the painted background scene behind each of us.

No lingering fears of cameras linger; I don’t think I was nervous. One of the young Italian girls apparently did get the jitters; her underarm perspiration shows on her pretty dress.

Was that my “15 minutes of fame?” Fame is so ephemeral.

Between the two Italian girls, I'm in beret and scarf. Judy and Vickie are on the right. Joe's at the piano, the star of the show.

Between the two Italian girls, I’m in beret and scarf. Judy and Vickie are on the right. Joe’s at the piano, the star of the show.

 

MAKING MOVIES IN LIBYA – THE BLACK TENT

A couple of years ago, 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.

Terence Sharkey, teenage British actor

Terence Sharkey, teenage British actor, with actor Donald Sinden.

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.

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 Terence Sharkey memoir-Love, Life & Moving Pictures

LADY OF GARIAN – WWII LIBYA

Lady Garian Clearest pic

Hugh Reid, a Brit who now lives in Calgary, Canada, sent me this photo and the story below about the famous Lady of Garian painted by Cliff Saber, an American volunteer  with the British 8th Army in North Africa during WWII.  When Saber’s unit was housed in barracks in the city of Garian (or Gharyan), he decided to paint murals to cheer up his fellow servicemen. After drawing the nude pinup, he realized she looked like the coast of Libya, so, as Hugh said, “He turned her into a map. Kind of. Notice how Cairo is the nipple.” Hugh was a teenager when his family lived in Tripoli in the 1950s, around the time I lived there. He went to  St. Edwards College, a private school in Malta, during that time. He keeps in touch with former British friends and loves to share photos of Tripoli from that time period and earlier, usually asking his friends to identify certain objects in the photos and answer historical questions as well.

DESERT RAT SKETCHBOOK

Cliff Saber wrote about his artwork in the Desert Rat Sketchbook in 1959.  He told readers the book was “primarily a pictorial record…which makes no claim to being a complete history of the whole desert campaign in North Africa, although it can be used as a reference. Its purpose is to depict the everyday life of the British 8th Army soldier (or Desert Rat), with whom I lived and worked. Paintings and narrative together cannot possibly give a full account of the sacrifices and the hell the 8th Army went through. That task will be recorded by historians.”

For the recreation room at Garian, I decided upon a super-duper nude encompassing the entire wall, 30 x 15 feet. Usually when a muralist works, he uses a scale pattern of a small sketch or a photograph of the sketch projected onto the wall. He carefully traces this, insuring his proportions. In this case I had neither the time to make this sketch nor the means of projecting it. And to top it all – no scaffolding. I managed to get up by means of boxes, but this meant that my nose was rarely more than six inches away from the wall. Starting from the head, I worked down to the feet on this beautiful virgin wall. To this day I don’t know how I kept the figure in proportion. When I stood back to inspect the completed figure, I found that the top outline of her body ironically coincided with the coastal line of North Africa. I marked her off as the Middle East from Tripoli (Lebanon) to Tripoli (Libya) and named parts of her body for nonexistent wadis: Wadi you hiding? Wadi you doing? Wadi you say? Wadi you know? Superimposed on her from Syria to Tunis were Lilliputian figures of the units, men, and doings of the 8th Army. Somewhere near the midriff is a blown-out German tank with the string of old boots tied behind and a caption on the back, ‘Just Married.’ Above her soared the RAF and American 9th Air Force whose eager men were parachuting onto her. Along with the confusion of armored cars, convoys, and slit-trench digging on her terrain was a key figure similar to the Kilroy of the U.S. Army. It was a little Tommy in a sitting position holding the inevitable stretched-out newspaper and shovel. He was among the parachutists, the infantry, the armored units, and even at chow call. Such was life in the desert.

 

THE BARRACAN NEWSPAPER- WHEELUS HIGH

I keep track of my important keepsakes from my life as a military brat. As a fledgling reporter, from October 1956 to May 1958, I cherished the school newspaper and held onto 17 Barracan newspapers from Wheelus Air Force Base High School just outside Tripoli, Libya. I’m surprised how well they’ve held up considering I’ve moved about 20 plus times since my family left Wheelus for the US in 1958. The photos are a bit blurry, but we didn’t have top quality printing. Nevertheless, the copy is still easily readable. I’ll share more of them as time goes on, but I had to present my first big story on the front page–Ebb Tide is Theme of Junior-Senior Prom–even  though I didn’t get a byline. I made sure I didn’t forget this milestone since I wrote in ink: “I wrote this” on my copy!

Barracan May 1958

From the inside of the March 26th newspaper, I found that “Platter Chatter” written by Errol Cochrane announced that the number one song request on Armed Forces Radio was Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star,” and the number two was Elvis Presley’s “Don’t.” Chuck Berry had number six with “Sweet Little Sixteen.” John Carlson wrote the column “Teen Town Tips” and wrote that there would be a Hay Ride at the Teenage Club. Three “six by’s” (trucks) will be used and there was room for 60 people. The cost was quite reasonable — twenty-five cents each! I remember attending this event with Tom Henderson, who was also my date for the Junior-Senior prom. I even remember Tom joking about Johnny Mathis’ latest song, “No Love but Your Love.” Tom thought Mathis’ words sounded like “Nola Fajola.” It’s a funny and poignant memory since Tom passed on a few years ago. The Quidnunc column was high school gossip and written by Sharon Rayl. She reported on those who went to the base theater to see Elvis Presley in “Jailhouse Rock” — like Chuck Montgomery and Betty Hubbard, Bill Butcher and Carolyn Kunz, Steve Gaynor, Karen Gamel, Kathie de Russy and Arnell Gross. There was a new two-some around campus–Al (Atomic Age) Kulas and Mary Pat Riordan. Al Kulas left this world just this year. I wonder where Mary Pat is?

These memories from long ago have been fun to relate, especially since there are so many former Wheelus students who have kept in touch over the years.

 

SCHOOLDAYS IN TRIPOLI – 1950s

SCHOOLDAYS IN TRIPOLI – 1950s

Barman Newspaper at Wheelus AFB

Barracan Newspaper at Wheelus AFB

I’m a keeper of personal history; it’s a good resource for my writing and makes me realize what an adventure my life has been.

Being raised as an Army brat, another way of saying “gypsy” or perpetual traveler, has given me a different view on life. I think people can relate to each other’s lives whether we grew up in the U.S. or the Middle East, and history continues to repeat itself.

I saved a few high school newspapers from Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. The Barracan was named for the durable white outer garment Libyans wore in the 1950s. In those days, women were totally covered except for one eye and their feet, as the front page photo shows.

In reading these well-worn “antique” copies of newsprint, I find wonderful tidbits of how we teenagers were experiencing life in the days of bobby socks, circle skirts, loafers and saddle shoes. I don’t know how many students there were in the high school, but there were over 1,000 students from first grade to twelfth in 1956.

Some students related to the 1956 U.S. Presidential election. Student Jimmy Smith wanted to vote for Adlai Stevenson because the Republican Party had “pretty well messed up the government.” That remark is timeless for either political party! Student Janice Harkey, on the other hand, liked Ike (Eisenhower for those who don’t remember history) because she wanted the Republicans to stay in office (they did).

Richard Nixon, who was Eisenhower’s vice president, showed up in Tripoli in 1957 for a goodwill tour, and a couple of Wheelus students skipped school to cover the news. He shook hands with them and smiled when they related they were playing hooky. On the day Nixon was leaving from Wheelus, a friend and I got up early to see him off. I was close enough to shake hands and was thrilled.

We weren’t concerned about being “politically correct” in those days, besides, military schools were fully integrated. Nevertheless, there was a “slave” sale to raise money. Seniors sold themselves for small chores and the effort raised $12.95 for their treasury. That amount of money went a lot further in the 1950s.

Rock ‘n Roll music was popular but not predominant yet, according to the weekly “Platter Chatter” (when there were 45 and 78 rpm records for sale). In December 1956, Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was the number one favorite for the third month in a row. Hugo Winterhalter’s instrumental, “Canadian Sunset” was in 7th place and Bing Crosby’s “True Love” was in 8th.

We were attending school in a city that bordered the Mediterranean and was surrounded by the Sahara desert, but there were some students who would have preferred a white Christmas in December. No snow could be provided, even the fake kind, but I fondly remember the Nativity Scene at Wheelus with its real camels and a real donkey.

Military brats attend school wherever their fathers are stationed, at least in the 1950s. Although the students are American for the most part, there were exceptions, like Ghazi Zugni, a Libyan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY TV DEBUT AT WHEELUS AFB

My starring role as Louise

My starring role as Louise

Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya, had a TV station back in the 1950s-1960s with some imported programs from the US and some local American talent from the base and in town. I was picked for a  few moments of fleeting fame on American military TV long ago. Perhaps a few hundred people actually saw the program broadcast.

Since Hollywood didn’t come knocking on my door with a contract, I chose a writing career instead. No big script or book deals or a big budget movie, yet…alas. Although I did make some attempts to get my screenplay about Sir Francis Drake produced then ended up writing an historical fiction novel about him:  MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE

My “starring” role on TV was to portray the fictional “Louise” while Joe, a talented pianist and airman played the song of that name. Maurice Chevalier, French actor and singer is known for singing the song at least 50 years ago. Two of the lines are:

Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise.

Birds in the trees seem to twitter Louise.

Joe (I can no longer remember his last name) had a half-hour TV program, which featured him playing piano. It was broadcast in the evening to every home with a TV set at Wheelus Air Force Base. I don’t remember if I even knew when or how often, but I did save the photos taken for the special occasion. My family had not brought a TV to Libya so Mom and Dad did not catch my debut.

Keeping his program unique was probably a challenge for Joe. One day he came up with the bright idea to play famous songs named for women: “Marie,” “Charmaine” and “Louise,” for instance, and have a girl in the background who represented each particular song.

He would play five songs. He already knew two Italian girls to feature, but he needed three more females to represent all the songs he had in mind. Apparently reasoning that the high school physical education program would provide him with the best choices, he came out to the Wheelus tennis courts one morning. The male mind is always intriguing! Maybe it was our grace hitting a tennis ball during physical education classes, or perhaps what our legs looked like in shorts that influenced his choices?

I had never considered myself a talented tennis player, although I did improve over the years. I was still in the hitting-the-ball-too-high stage, and lucky to make it over the net. My legs, however, were shapely.

Joe picked me, Judy Jones, and Vicki Scola and we all agreed to face the cameras. I was supposed to be a French Louise and had to find a beret and a scarf since my portrayal was a variation of the famous French Apache dance (based on Parisian gang culture and named for the US Native American tribe). I’ve still got the now tattered beret and the orange scarf.

I don’t recall that we did much if any rehearsing since we simply had to sit or stand, as the case may be, and look sexy. When Joe played each song, the camera panned from his playing to the appropriate girl and the painted background scene behind each of us.

No lingering fears of cameras linger; I don’t think I was nervous. One of the young Italian girls apparently did get the jitters; her underarm perspiration shows on her pretty dress.

Was that my “15 minutes of fame?” Fame is so ephemeral.

Between the two Italian girls, I'm in beret and scarf. Judy and Vickie are on the right. Joe's at the piano, the star of the show.

Between the two Italian girls, I’m in beret and scarf. Wheelus students, Judy Jones and Vickie Scola, are on the right. Joe’s at the piano, the star of the show.

TRIPOLI VISIT– 1999

I am presenting the last portion of Hazel Dobson’s travel saga of visiting Libya in 1999 on a British tour of the archaeological sites. She has a very keen memory of what it had been like in the 1950s, and she compares her memories with all the changes since Ghadaffi had taken over in 1970.

Reality hit hard as we approached the city (Tripoli). We were booked into the very hotel where my sister had learned to swim and my parents regularly dined. The Del Mehari was a stone’s throw from my family’s former home, and as I stood on the balcony of my hotel room I could see into our former garden. The hotel was situated on the original Corniche (the coast road), known in those days as Schiara Adrian Pelt or previously, when I first arrived all those years ago, as the Lungomare. Sadly, because the port was very shallow and modern tankers needed to get close to the shore, the bay has been filled with concrete, which pushed the old road back. There is now a new road leading along to what was the Karamanli Mole. The magnificent Corniche still retains some of the lollypop-shaped trees and the old lamplights, but pristine, it isn’t. The road has become a racetrack for local commuters and very bad drivers and it was difficult to cross the road.

Albergo Del Mahari

Albergo Del Mahari probably in the 1960s

The Del Mahari was in the throes of being modernized and had grown from the rather squat Italianate design one saw all over Libya to a building of about five stories. The lobby area was full of security checks. I didn’t know whether that was normal practice, but whilst I was staying there, a very official contingent of Kuwaitis and Qataris arrived, resplendent in their robes and dressed to the nines with scimitars. They filled the place to capacity, so I think that the security was laid on especially for them.

That evening I discovered that I had left my passport in my room, and as it was essential to carry it at all times, I had to return to my room on the second floor to collect it. The lift was completely frozen, and the only route I could use was the staircase at the back of the lobby. Imagine how I felt when I arrived on the landing to find the whole place filled with praying men, all fortunately prostrate with faces to the floor. What does a girl do in a situation like this? I decided to continue as though nothing was happening and crept through the center of this great mass of males. Not one looked up, thank goodness!! 

I mentioned to some members of the group that I would like to go for an early morning stroll down the road to look at the old Casino building, known as the Uaddan. This had been quite a hot spot for dinner, dancing and gambling, and I can remember on several occasions when it was too hot to sleep, my parents would disappear in the middle of the night to play the tables and enjoy the warm breeze from the sea coming across the terrace. A small combo played on some evenings, and I even had my 15th birthday party there. It was the center of luxury in those days. There is now a flyover for trucks going to the port, and they thunder past the old building.

On this short walk I managed to locate a friend’s house and the Bath Club on the Corniche, which was a small officers’ club with a swimming pool. I remember the small piano in the corner and a young officer, Tony Jebb, continually playing “See you later, Alligator.” The Italian Club was a little further down the road and I regularly attended tea dances chaperoned by my Italian music teacher, Franca Guardi. Our expedition was swiftly curtailed by the Ghadaffi policeman assigned to our group, and although I didn’t exactly hurry on the way back, he looked distinctly worried.

The Lungomare or Corniche

The Lungomare or Corniche in the 1950s

The group then went to the Museum in the old fort and we explored the souk. Down the winding narrow streets of the Medina, we passed the old shops, many of which were closed and the small airy courtyards with little fountains, none of which seemed to be working. It was a sorry sight when in times past it was teeming with people, handicrafts and workshops. The Arch of Marcus Aurelius was still intact and some preservation work had been done on the pillars and carved areas. We stopped for lunch at a Souk Restaurant and had a very passable meal. Unfortunately, the drains seemed to be malfunctioning, and the owner continually squirted incense around the place to combat the smell.

The following day we visited the museum and the bookshop at the bottom of what used to be Via Roma, then Schiara 24th December, and now I think it is Independence Street. The bookshop seems to have been there for ages. The proprietor was very welcoming, and I told him why I had come back. He had worked as a clerk in the Naafi shop as a young man and wanted to talk and talk, however, but it was time to move on. He pressed some postcards in my hand and a book, and was almost weeping when I left and he whispered about the ”good” days.   I knew what he meant: they were good

After a half day at Sabratha, we went to a restaurant, which was by all intents and purposes in Georgimpopili, but it was built up and beyond recognition. We had a great fish meal in the Sherherazade Restaurant and our guide, Ala, was attired in full Libyan dress. It was a very memorable last evening culminating in a drive through the city, which was completely off-schedule and a commendable risk taken by our driver, who was being shouted at by the Ghadaffi man throughout. I was told afterwards that I had mentioned so many streets and sites like the Palace, the old Cathedral, Schiara Istikal, the Grand Hotel, etc., that they thought it worthy to drive at breakneck speed to see as many of them as possible in the course of about 15 minutes. I was shouting out the various places as we passed them, much to the amusement of Ala. It was marvelous. Although I would have wished to see them at leisure, it was not encouraged by the Libyans to go off the beaten track, so I thank the driver for that madcap journey!

The next day we drove back to the Libya-Tunisis border where we were hassled by border guards, mainly because we had two Americans on board. Both were asked to leave the bus and go to the office. The nutritionist became agitated immediately, pretending not to understand, so before it became nasty, I agreed to go with her. The border guard started shouting, and I told him that he should respect her as he would respect his mother, and that seemed to quiet him down. He wanted to know why I was travelling alone without a man, and I pointed out that method of travel is quite normal where I came from, and that my husband was in England working so I could have the money to go on holiday. He thought that was very amusing. When we left, a half hour later, we were all friends. The journey after that was uneventful. After a quick stopover in Djerba, where we said goodbye to our guide, we arrived in Tunis for the flight home.

 

 

A WRITER/EDITOR’S HISTORY

My writing career has been an adventurous one: lots of fun, great experiences and for years very little money. As I tell my editing clients—you must create through love, not desire for quick fame and fortune. Like most creative endeavors, writing is rewarding for the heart and soul but it takes time for compensation to reach your wallet, much less the bank. Sometimes it never does.

Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

Reporting stories began with the Barracan, the Wheelus Air Force Base High School newspaper in Tripoli, Libya. I was 14, it was the 1950s and our high school had less than 100 students. The school was surrounded by palm trees and the Mediterranean Sea was a short walk away.  Wheelus High was filled with typical American teenagers: jeans, loafers, saddle shoes, and crinolines to poof out our circle skirts were typical attire. We had proms, one radio station that played rock ‘n roll (an audio version of “American Bandstand”—unless you were new to Wheelus, you probably didn’t even know that TV program existed), and a teenage club that had its own student band, Stardust.

Although I wrote a few stories, I only recall one of them—the Junior-Senior prom with Ebb Tide as the theme—held at the Tripoli Beach Club. Ginny Stewart had a coketail party first at her family’s nearby villa. The entertainment as I remember it: a fully dressed Libyan woman in a very modest wrap-around indoor garment  doing a belly dance to a rhythmic drum. She pushed some of the shawl-like elements of her dress down to accentuate her hips. The woman was most likely a servant of the Stewarts and could be less modest within the house. Outside she would have worn barracan, an all-encompassing white wool garment that covered her head to toe, exposing only one eye and her feet.

In college—William & Mary in Virginia—I wrote for the Flat Hat college newspaper. Lots of stories I no longer remember, but I was pleasantly surprised at one class reunion when a displayed scrapbook had three of my stories!

When my kids were in grammar school and didn’t need my full attention, I wrote my first column: Hillrise Highlights, which covered local events and soon turned into a political campaign to get a nearby highway bridge widened in Agoura, California. As a concerned citizen, I participated in gathering signatures to get the County of Los Angeles or the State interested in funding the construction.

I graduated to covering news for the Acorn, a weekly newspaper for a rapidly growing suburb of LA, in the Conejo Valley, on the border of Ventura County. By the early 1980s I was the editor, responsible for a little bit of everything—writing and editing, headlines, photos, attendance at chamber of commerce meetings and mixers. City incorporation attempts, wildfires, water quality, and commercial/residential growth were some of the pressing issues in those days. There were also the unusual stories: my trip in a hot air balloon in a fur coat and attending a nightclub show of sexy male strippers, an early Chippendales-type show.

In the 1990s I got to mingle with a few celebrities on a couple of magazines I helped co-create, write and edit. One of them featured Bob Hope for our initial cover. Alas, Hope was recovering from prostate surgery and the closest I got to him for an interview was visiting his manager’s office in Burbank, a testament to Hope’s many movies with its giant blowups of movie stills going back to the 1930s.

Beverly Hills Country Club, a posh tennis club, decided they needed a magazine featuring their members. My boss was an enterprising Iranian who spoke English but was not fluent in writing English. For our first cover, I interviewed Barbara Eden in her home along Mulholland Drive. Delightful and personable, she wore a cropped top and low riding pants, showing off her still fabulous figure and revealing the belly button blocked out on “I Dream of Jeannie,” her famous TV series. Yes, the cover was “photo-shopped.”

Appropriately for a sports club magazine, I did stories on members, Rafer Johnson, the Olympics decathlon champion from the 1960s, and 1940s tennis champion Jack Kramer, who had remained active in the sports world promoting tennis and then golf. My first tennis racket was a Jack Kramer and I told him so. Both of these athletes were gentlemen and easy to chat with.

The 1990s included a few years of writing a weekly column, People and Places, and local play reviews for the Daily News, a major newspaper that still exists. I must have seen and reviewed about 200 plays, performed by a range of talent of all ages. I was a positive reviewer; it was essentially community theater and equity waiver. I recall a production of “Mr. Roberts,” starring Harry Belafonte’s son-in-law. Belafonte was there and I was thrilled to shake his hand as he told me he loved community theater. No, I did not hum any calypso songs!

One of my weekly columns focused on Jake Lloyd, a seven-year-old starring in his first movie, “Jingle All the Way” with Arnold Swarzenegger (before he became the Governator). Jake was charming; on the sound stage of 20th Century Fox, he led me up to a sort of catwalk on the upper levels of the living room set, where I could have an overview and see where the cameras and lights were positioned. They were filming the last scene of the movie that day. As filming is erratic, the last scene of filming would be the actual first scene of the movie. Jake went on to play Anakin Skywalker in a Star Wars movie, “The Phantom Menace.”

Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button Youtube button