Saving a life in World War II: an unexpected tale over 50 years later.

2011
12.13

I have not written a post for over four months.  Why? I had nothing to say.  But now I do because I received an amazing email yesterday from someone named Ben Clark.  If I didn’t have a blog, he would not have found me on the internet, and I would not have received his account of this amazing story from World War II involving both of our fathers.

I have permission to share his email.  The video he refers to is this:

The man he refers to is my father, Edward Reep.

And my father tells the story also in a book that he wrote:

Here it goes.

Susan I must start by telling you about my father. His name was Martin Clark.  My father was a boxer as well as a soldier.  He was a world class fighter and was actually promoted to fight Joe Louis the Brown Bomber…

He (Martin Clark) would laugh when telling his stories He told us many stories over and over again, and my friends would come to our house and listen again and again to his telling of his days in the war.  I remember these stories as if they happened to me.

One of his stories was the account of how he was injured at Anzio Beach.  He told us all hell broke loose and every one was scrambling for fox holes.  He was hit in the leg and later discovered that he (his leg) was almost amputated by shrapnel.  His account was as he was laying there a jeep drove up and someone carried him to the back of the jeep.  During that moment he was also shot in the leg.  As the jeep drove down the beach they hit a bump  in the road and one of the men stated that he thought my father was dead.  My dad stated, “The hell I am.  I am not dead.”

56 years later I was nursing a neck injury.  It was Sunday and I could not find my remote; then on PBS came a video about an artist who sketched the war (They Drew Fire).  As I watched I learned of your father who in the beginning tells of the story about a group of men who were in a theater tent that was hit by a mortar.  He stated that he hid  through the night and the next morning felt ashamed and that he was a coward.  He also stated that from that point on he would seek to redeem himself by going to the frontlines.

Now the tape moves to Anzio Beach and as I listened I thought that it would be interesting to hear another perspective about the place where my father almost died.   Your dad said the same things, that all of a sudden all hell broke loose. Then your dad stated, “Then I saw this poor son of a gun with his leg nearly blown off.”   So against his captain’s orders, he left his fox hole and went to the aid of this soldier, not caring for his own safety.  He assisted a medic in getting the soldier to the jeep, and as they drove down the road your dad said they hit a bump in the road and he said that he told the driver he thought the soldier was dead. At that moment the soldier stuck his head up and said, “The hell I am. I am not dead..”

At that moment I was coming out of my recliner, I could not believe what I was hearing… I wrote down the number and ordered the video tape.  I later watched it and discovered your dads phone number via the internet. I finally summoned the courage and called him.  When he answered the phone I told him my name and that I watched his video on PBS. His first words to me were, “I was such a damn coward”…

OH NO, I told him respectfully that I believed that the man he risked his life to save by leaving the fox hole was my father.  I described how he would have looked at the time and your dad agreed it sounded exactly like him. I explained that there was no way he was a coward in my book, and that he was a brave man.  I could tell your dad was choking up a bit so I promised to write him a letter.

 I went on to write you father a letter explaining that because of his bravery my father made it home to his wife for 47 more years of adoring marriage, and that he had four more sons after that injury, of whom I am the youngest of the five.  My oldest brother was a cadet at West Point, my next brother served in the Green Berets, My third brother was in the U.S. Navy, and my other brother and I are family men.  All of us have college degrees and two have masters.  My father up until 2003 lived in Merritt Island, and he lived to see his great grand children.

I attribute the single fact of my existence to one lion-hearted, selfless man:  your father.  I reported this coincidental sighting of the video to a friend/reporter who followed up with a story.  But your dad, like most men of that period, did not say much.

All I can tell you is Captain Ed Reep is my hero. He not only saved my dad’s life but his actions set in motion the life of a family tree.  Surely God was directing your father’s steps that cold January day in Italy.

As for you mom, my heart goes out to you; my father suffered dementia also, and I was vigilant by his bedside the evening he entered into the Kingdom of heaven.

Susan if your father is still alive, please tell him that I think about him every day and that I thank the Lord for him. I just wanted to reach out to you as your dad has been on my heart for many years.  As I searched for him I came across your website.  It gives me great pleasure to share this story with you.

I hope you have a very peaceful and joyous Christmas season.

Peace,

Ben Clark

What a gift Ben gave me with this email.  He gave a gift to my dad also, who is 93 and sill living independently (more or less).  I printed the email and took it to him.  When he got to the part about Martin Clark enjoying 47 more years of marriage and having five sons, Dad was overcome.    He said that maybe he had done something worthwhile in his life.

And Ben found me because of my web page.  That in itself is reason to continue my blog.  Being “found” can lead to unexpected treasures.  I’ll try to write another post before four more months have passed.  Maybe I’ll find my voice again.

The Algae Woman

2011
07.29

In keeping with my “BLUE”mood, and as Creative Every Day’s BLUE-themed month draws to a close, I have one more item to share – a poem.  After writing  The Algae Woman, it was as if my mind cleared and the mood lifted.  Writing is indeed therapeutic.

The Algae Woman

 

The Algae Woman

 

I have become the algae woman.

I’m that person out by the pond every day

As golf carts roll by and the regulars look.

I’ve become the weird one, that woman,

You know, always out in her yard.

What the heck is she doing?

 

I’ll tell you what she’s doing,

Besides removing algae from the pond.

She’s wondering if she’s old.

She knows she’s the algae woman and doesn’t really care.

Isn’t that a sign of getting old? Or is it just getting careless.

 

She goes out first thing in the morning in her nightgown

Just to see if there’s any new water lilies.

She figures if a golfer goes by, he won’t even notice it’s a nightgown.

That’s old-person thinking, but at least she’s thinking.

Or she’s careless, or just doesn’t care.

 

She’s noticing that everything seems like too much trouble.

Is she just old chronologically, or emotionally, or what.

Is she slowing down, or has she chosen to slow down.

There’s a big difference.

But should she care?

 

Plagued with questions that shouldn’t be asked,

She’s thinking, sorting, observing, saying no thank you.

 

She’s snipping. Cutting notices from the paper.

Tai chi, yes, she should get back to that.

Concert, yes, she wants to see that.

Drink recipes, she wants to learn umbrella drinks.

Snip snip snip.

 

The stack of notices sits on the table until finally,

As always, she throws them away.

Why did she cut them out anyhow?

Everything seems like too much trouble.

 

She stays up until midnight,

But staying out past eight sounds awful.

She doesn’t like to drive at night, but that’s nothing new.

Last year she got lost coming home after dark

On a route she’s driven hundreds of times.

It’s just a whole lot of trouble.

Is it wisdom or age?  Maybe both.

Shooting for wisdom though.

It’s supposed to come with age.

This she cares about.

She thinks about this.

 

So that’s what she’s doing, that woman by the pond.

She’s pulling out algae.

She’s me.

 

I’m the algae woman,

But removing algae isn’t as simple as it looks.

 

The Blue Guitar

2011
07.05

Creative Every Day – the theme is BLUE

My father Edward Reep is an artist.  I was looking at one of his paintings that hangs in my living room – The Blue Guitar.  Why not do a short post on this painting?  If you were up close and could read what it says, you’d see this excerpt from Wallace Stevens’ poem The Man with the Blue Guitar.

The Blue Guitar by Edward Reep

Just for clarity – painting by Edward Reep; poem by Wallace Stevens.

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said then, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.”

 

Little Blue Blog

2011
07.03

Unbeknownst to almost everyone, I have continued to follow the Creative Every Day website and post on their page.  Every month Leah (it’s her website) has a theme to encourage people’s creativity; give us a little nudge, as it were.  However, she makes a big deal about the fact that you should not feel compelled to follow the theme.  And I have not followed the theme in a very long time.  Perhaps it’s been a year. Who knows? Passage of time is ephemeral.

But – this month’s theme is BLUE!  Of course I want to do BLUE blogs since I focused on blue during our Morocco and Spain trip in March.  I’ve been thinking about blue ever since, and I fashioned a book called

on the Blurb website.  It’s really nifty how you can view the book and turn the pages.  It’s for sale but do I expect anyone to buy it?  No way.  Because to make even $15 off a sale I have to charge a hideously high price.

Anyway, to the task at hand.  I took a little trip to Pismo Beach by myself after my mom’s memorial.  I just wanted time to think about her and remember her life.  Get things fixed in my mind.  I have to concentrate on that because things are becoming unstuck all the time now.

I had my camera but just didn’t feel like taking photos at all.  I walked and walked on the beach without camera in hand.  But apparently I did take a couple of photos from my room balcony, so here they are – all focused on blue.

View from my Kon Tiki balcony

Kon Tiki is the hotel I stayed at.  I focused in on the pier and now I am remembering why I grabbed the camera.  I liked the could formations and colors.

Pismo Beach Pier

I looked straight out and saw a blue umbrella all by itself.

Little Blue Umbrella

I looked farther and focused on the ocean.

And soon I drove home under a blue sky

Today I was looking at our pond and saw a blue dragonfly.

This guy was impossible to photograph because he wouldn’t stay still.  However, an orange dragonfly rested for a moment on a reed, and this one did stay still.

Dragonfly

Why am I finishing up the blue post with orange?  Because the background appears to be blue.

There.  I did it.  I posted to the theme.  It’s going to be a BLUE month.

Losing Mom, Part Two: The Final Goodbye

2011
06.27

Mom and Dad with me

Note about the photo: My dad was back from World War II, he had built their first house, and the first baby was born – me.   I can hardly imagine the excitement and hope for the future that Mom and Dad had as their lives together began to unwind and reveal the joy, the pain, the adventure, but mostly the love that led them through 68 years of marriage.

……

I began this 12 days ago.  Mom died on June 17 at 7:00 a.m.  It’s been 24 days since my sister and I have functioned in anywhere approaching a normal pattern.  That’s ok.  We both had 24 days to spare for our mother. We will forever be grateful that Mom’s pain did not last very long, that she was able to go out under her own terms, and that she died comfortably at home.  At least one of us was with her at all times, holding her hand, telling her how much we loved her, what a good mother she’d been, and that it was ok for her to go, we understood.

We had a memorial on Friday, June 24, before Janine went back to Alaska.  It was small and intimate, at my house, and it was a good send-off.  I had made photo boards and I’m going to do some blog posts matching my eulogy to photos – partly because I think it’s interesting to look at old photos, but mainly as a tribute to Mom.

Even though we hadn’t really had mom for years because of her dementia, I still miss her terribly.  Even though she was 87 and deserved to die on her own terms, I miss her.  I’m at Pismo Beach now, alone, hoping to catch up on sleep and quietly contemplate mom’s life.  In all the hubbub, no one has had time to properly mourn her or consider her life.

It’s still perplexing how all of this happened so fast.  We knew, of course, something big would happen soon.  Each day that something didn’t happen was one day closer to the “event:” losing a parent.  I mean, Mom was 87 and Dad is 93.  We knew it was looming.  We’d been blessed by all those years. But then it happened.  So fast.  June 1 was the first time we knew we were in trouble – 17 days.

Mom had been in pain before June 1, but it was perplexing.  Dad would call and say, “Your mother is in terrible pain.  We have to go to the hospital.”  One of us would rush over and Mom would be sitting on the couch laughing or standing at the stove.  So we’d leave only to get another call the next day.  Looking back, she may have had a small fracture that was irritated more and more by certain movements – I don’t know – until it reached critical.

People ask – doctors, officials – when did she fall?  But how would one know unless that person was present?  With elderly people who don’t remember so well, it’s likely that you’d never know when a fall occurred.  Elderly people fall at home, they fall in hospitals, they fall in nursing homes, they fall in supermarkets – they just fall.  Sometimes Mark has gone over to help Mom up from a fall, but not often and not for a while.  The doctor said she may have fallen sometime that we didn’t know about and had a hairline fracture that could have worsened just by leaning hard against something, i.e. a fall that didn’t quite happen.

But now I understand why broken hips and broken pelvises often spell the end for the elderly.  It’s too much for an already frail body to recover from.

Mom, rest in peace.  We knew you and loved what we knew.  Our kids and grandkids – your great grandkids – all knew you and loved you.  You made us all better people just by being you.  You will not be forgotten.  You made a difference.  We will try to continue that difference, learning from you as we contemplate the details of your life and fully understand your tremendous courage.

My Mother is Dying

2011
06.26

Karen Patricia Stevens Reep circa 1938

Mom in her garden last year

Begun June 14, 2011

My mother is dying.  It’s so bizarre.  First everything is fine, then there is pain, then a fractured pelvis is diagnosed, and then dying – in the space of two weeks.  Activity is frantic as caregivers are lined up, the house rearranged, and a story line develops that changes three or four times by the end of the day.  Death moves quickly when one has decided to die.

Mom is heavily sedated right now – thank goodness.  We called Hoffman Hospice yesterday since hospice nurses are always amazing, always available, and always knowledgeable.  I knew deep inside that she wouldn’t make it, but mostly, Mom needed pain control and that’s one of many things hospice does well. Part of me thought, if the pain can be controlled…but the other part remembered… she’s not eating.  She doesn’t want to eat.  She doesn’t want to be alive.

Neither my mom nor my dad has ever wanted to live in an incapacitated manner.  When mom was first home from the hospital, she realized she couldn’t move or walk without great difficulty and extreme pain, and she said she can’t live like that, she’s just a big lump, she doesn’t want to live like that.  And I knew she meant it.  Maybe if we could have gotten the pain controlled earlier…but thoughts like that are futile because it was what it was.  A fractured pelvis can take up to a year to completely heal, and months until the severe pain goes away.  Mom wouldn’t be able to do that.  She always said it, and she meant it.

Mom actually asked me how long it would take to heal and I told her the bone can take a long time but the pain should be able to be controlled and might go on for a few months, but not as bad as now.  She said, “Susan, I know I can trust you.”  In retrospect, I realize she was deciding whether to live or die.  She knew that asking Dad was impossible since he’s 93 and has loved her deeply for almost 70 years; she knew asking my sister was impossible since she is so emotionally invested that she’d just be encouraging. Not that I am not emotionally invested, but it’s different. I marvel at Mom’s clarity in this as she’d suffered from dementia for years and couldn’t remember one minute to the next. I’m glad I didn’t know the burden that was placed on me until afterwards.  Burden is perhaps not a good choice of words, because Mom would never have intentionally burdened her children with anything.  I’m glad I was truthful even though I made it a little rosier than it would have been in reality.

Yesterday and today, at least this morning, Mom kept telling my sister and me how much she loves us.  Over and over again.  She’d say, “I love you.  I love you so much.”  Every time someone visited, like Daniel, when he left she said “I love Daniel so much.” She was emphatic, making sure we really understood.  She was saying her goodbyes and I knew it. She repeated to herself over and over, “It’s going to be all right, it’s going to be all right,” by which she meant it was ok to leave us, she was comfortable that Dad would be taken care of and we would be all right.  She was convincing herself that she could safely leave us.  This, too, I understood in retrospect.

This morning she described a beautiful green lawn she was seeing.  She was looking for Grandma Betty, her mother.  She was reaching out with her hands to things invisible to us.

My mother-in-law did that when she was dying, and a dear friend did that when he was dying.  I read about it in a hospice booklet but now that I’ve seen dying people do it three times, I believe it. Dying people reach out to the unseen and recognize people who have passed before them.  Reconnecting.  Being helped over to the other side.

So my mom is dying.  She’s on the hospital bed that was delivered today to her bedroom.  She’s on oxygen, and when that was delivered this morning I said, “Oh, we’re not going to need that.”  How fast things change.  Within hours.

Mom’s been suffering from dementia and her personal hygiene hasn’t been good the last few years.  Now she’s as clean as a baby.  The “bath” nurse came.  To move her to the hospital bed, hospice called the transportation team who knows how to do these things incredibly gently.  Josh, the wonderful equipment guy, brought the bed and oxygen.  Another nurse came and spent hours with us.  And then the “bath” nurse came.  Who would have known?  She very gently bathed mom, washed her hair with real water and real shampoo, carefully put lotion on, and even filed her nails.

Tonight the “tuck in” nurse is coming to make sure everything is set for the night.  Our night caregiver, Katie, will be here and we were all going to sleep at home in our beds.  Now, that’s impossible.  I will – I can hardly hold my head up now.  But my sister is coming back – once it became clear what was happening, no way would she not sleep here.

While this was going on we were in a race to get our sister who lives in Alaska here in time.  She had been planning to come on Saturday, but it all moved so fast and we realized she had to come – now.  She got here by Wednesday afternoon; my husband raced to LAX to pick her up and get her here in time, and although Mom was not responsive when Janine arrived, I know she could hear and was aware that Janine was there.  Janine had all day Thursday with her because Mom died on Friday June 17. (the link is to the obituary).

We have Sharon, someone dropped in our laps from heaven I think.  She took care of a relative of my friend Pat in Utah and was highly recommended and she was available.  How quickly we came to depend on someone who was a stranger just days ago.  And Katie – she’s just 18 but she went from being someone new to a member of the family just like that.

Mom’s respirations are slow now.  Partly from the morphine, but mostly because her body is shutting down.  Looking at her, I just feel an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude that the unbearable pain is gone.  I’m fighting off the sense of loss that is trying to creep in.  I don’t want to feel it or deal with it until I’ve done what needs to be done and can collapse.

To be continued…

La Bouqueria on Las Ramblas – Barcelona’s Amazing Market

2011
06.05

Food, glorious food; hot sausages and mustard…may I edit that line from the musical Oliver to say Food, glorious food, La Bouqueria in Barca? It is a huge market that packs sensory overload like you’ve never experienced.  The exterior gives no clue as to what is inside.

La Bouqueria

Of course I took way too many photos so I’ll just give a sampling here.  No narrative necessary, except to say that if my husband weren’t sick back in the hotel room, I would have spent twice the time and taken three times the photos.

Vegetables in La Bouqueria

Olives La Bouqueria

Ham in La Bouqueria

Delicious, fresh juice in La Bouqueria

Fruit snacks in La Bouqueira

Fresh fish, La Bouqueria

Eggs and more eggs, La Bouqueira

Dried fruits, La Bouqueria

Herbs La Bouqueria

Spices, La Bouqueria

Cheeeese in La Bouqueira

Bread

Chocolates and sweets, La Bouqueria

All the ingredients for a wonderful meal right here – cheese, bread, ham – especially Iberica de Pellota – fruit, olives and more, topped off with a bit of chocolate – why would you ever need to shop anywhere else?  This would be my Trader Joes of Barcelona – e.g., no need to go anywhere else.

Sevilla

2011
05.27

Note: so many people have been asking about the photographs – I’ve combined some in a book called Blue: Photographs from Spain and Morocco.

Part of the plan on this trip was to visit Mark’s sister Dana and her husband Bishop who live in Sevilla.  We awoke way too early at Dar Jand to catch the early ferry.  Andrew kindly walked us through the medina down to the port where we boarded the fast ferry to Spain, watching Tangier recede in the distance.  Arriving in Tarifa, we took a taxi to the Comes bus station, which turned out to be two bus benches and a shed.  Hmmm – we had a couple of hours, lots of luggage and nowhere to go.  There was a small café across the street so we maneuvered everything in there and settled in, buying tapas  (not very good) for lunch and several coffees to justify taking up their space.  By the end, we were almost best friends.  Which was not easy because no one in Spain seems to speak anything but Spanish!  We’re used to people in Europe and even Morocco speaking several languages.  We kept speaking French, which was a little odd because English is our language, but after two weeks in Morocco, it just came naturally.

We both grew up in California with a large Hispanic population, but every Spanish word we knew evaporated.  Even the easy words!  Nonetheless, we made it onto the bus and were met in Sevilla by Dana and Bishop, who of course speak English.  We walked to their apartment, which is centrally located in the heart of Sevilla, easy walking distance to the historic core of the city.  They had a great array of tapas for us – olives, cheeses, and what is said to be the best ham – the Iberica Bellota – made from pigs who forage for acorns.  We were hungry and grateful for the munchies followed by minestrone soup.  We chatted a while and they walked us to our hotel, the Amadeus Musica.

Sevilla street

Dana and Bishop’s apartment is on the third floor of a modern building – the third being the top in this case.  The living room has a floor to ceiling window so it feels light and airy.  Many of the streets are lined with orange trees and we were there at just the right time to enjoy the heavenly aroma that is like no other.  The oranges are bitter, used for making marmalade, and that’s why they don’t get stripped from the trees by the populace.  Because otherwise who could resist?

We settled in and collapsed until they picked us up for a walk around the Santa Cruz barrio, the old Jewish quarter.  Bishop is a font of information – he really ought to be a tour guide because he knows every bit of the history and every detail of the architecture.  We just couldn’t take it all in.  We hadn’t expected our two weeks in Morocco to be as arduous as they were, so our brains were mush.

Note on the Amadeus Musica – our hotel.  There were instruments everywhere and each room had a CD player with a whole raft of opera CDs.

Interior Hotel Amadeus Musica

Alley our hotel was on

The streets were packed that night.  ‘Twas St. Patrick’s Day, heartily celebrated in Sevilla.  Of course – why not? Any excuse for a pint, funny green hats, and a party.  We settled for ice cream (at least I did) and early bed.  The promenade was just getting going, but we don’t seem to be able to stay up late anymore, and even 9:00 p.m. is a little early to be out on the plaza. Also, my stomach was hurting and I was getting a blister.

In fact, after two weeks of no ailments large or small, in Sevilla I had a bad stomach, a blister on top of a toe on my left foot and underneath another on my right.  My knee (I have condromalacia patella) flared up and every step was agony.  That made it hard to truly appreciate that amazing city.  And it was beautiful, relaxed and comfortable.

Giralda at night

Plaza by the cathedral

We visited the cathedral, which doesn’t have a name other than the Sevilla Cathedral.  It is built on the site of a mosque and the minaret is the only part of the mosque that remains.  The first 2/3 of the tower is the minaret from the 1100s, but when the Christians prevailed over the Moors, the mosque was converted to the cathedral and the top of the minaret to a bell tower called the Giralda and topped with a weathervane.  It’s the largest gothic cathedral in the world, complete with flying buttresses.

Flying buttresses, Sevilla cathedral

Here’s some information on the interior, and I’d like to credit the source but I don’t remember it, although judging from the translation it may be a brochure I picked up:  The most spectacular part of the interior of the Seville Cathedral is undoubtedly Retablo Mayor, the golden altar of the church, the main chapel.  This masterpiece was designed by the Flemish master Peter Dancart who worked 44 years on the reliefs, since 1482.  The altar was finally completed in 1564 with other artists.

Christopher Columbus was buried in this church and his tomb is impressive.

Christopher Columbus tomb

There is also a crown with 11,000 jewels and the largest pearl in the world (forming the body of an angel),

Crown with largest pearl in the world

as well as a beautiful reliquary depicting the crown of thorns and said to contain a piece of the true cross.  Although I have no idea how one would verify that.

Interior, Sevilla cathedral

We had a late lunch of sorts and the best part was the menu.  Some of the translations reached a new level of hilarity:  “in a mess of mushrooms of season” and “small cauldron of deer” being two examples.  If you click on the photo, it’ll enlarge.  Then just arrow back to return to the blog.

Hilarious menu

Another place we visited during our three days, as I limped along, was the Real Alkasar, a former Moorish fort that became a royal palace (the upstairs is still in use as such).  The Alkasar is one example after another of Moorish plaster carving, tile work, and carved wood.  It’s truly beautiful.  The best part is the gardens – which we couldn’t see because I could not walk at that point and had to get off my feet.

Tile detail in Alkasar

Interior courtyard Alkasar

Exterior of Alkasar

Front wall detail

Detail of wood carving in Alkasar

Blue plaster carving Alkasar

Ceiling detail Alkasar

We also enjoyed the Plaza de Espagna, which was built for the 1929 Iberia/America exposition and is now used as government offices.

Plaza de Espagna

Plaza de Espagna

There are insets along the curved wall (first photo) for each section of Spain.  I think they are equivalent to counties.

Dana, Mark and Bishop

Plaza de Espagna

Fans for sale at Plaza de Espagna

Maria Luisa Park, a short walk from where we stayed, is enormous, full of birds and blooming plants, shrines, fountains and pools.

Maria Luisa Park

Maria Luisa Park

Maria Luisa Park - retouching a tribute to a Spanish writer.

In one plaza, kids feed the pigeons, but they are not ordinary pigeons.  They are Paloma doves, all white, and live only in Sevilla.  They were a gift from the Philippines during the 1929 exposition.

Paloma doves

The public transportation system in Sevilla is excellent.  There are busses, streetcars (electric trains) and bicycles.  All over the city there are bike racks.  You buy a card, kind of like a subway pass, and when you need to go somewhere, you insert your card and grab a bike, leaving it in a rack at your destination.

Bicycles that can be taken from one rack and returned to another

I wish we had things like that here.  In the United States, our transportation systems were built around the automobile – at least in the wide-open spaces of the West.  Some of the big cities like New York, Washington D.C. and others are compact enough to have good subway systems, but the cult of the car isn’t letting go yet in the West.

Sevilla is where flamenco got it’s start and it’s THE place in Spain to see a flamenco show, so we did at a little place called Los Gallos.

Los Gallos

Judging from the backdrop on the stage, I think Los Gallos means the fighting roosters or the roosters.  We didn’t know what to expect, but the two-hour show was magnificent.  Accompaniment is not only guitars, but men clapping their hands in the most wonderful rhythms, making different sounds depending upon how their hands strike each other.  The costumes are extraordinary and the dancers – well, I don’t see how they could have been any better.  From what we could tell (not understanding the words when there were songs), it’s all about flirtation and lost love, or having been done wrong by a man.  It was a great way to cap our last evening.

It was time to go to Barcelona and Gaudi-land.  Dana and Bishop met us early and we took a cab to the train station.  We said our goodbyes, which was kind of sad, and hopped on the bullet train to Barcelona, our last destination.

To Barcelona on the high-speed train


 

Finally – Tangier and the American Legation – after crossing more mountains

2011
05.20

Last stop ahead

Time for the last big drive, Al Hoceima to Tangier.  At this point I believe we were regarding this as a strenuous trip because we had NO IDEA how much driving would be involved.  As we left Al Hoceima, the countryside was beautiful with orchards in bloom, wild lavender by the road.

Orchard outside of Al Hoceima

Some of the hills looked like the farms along The Three Gorges in China – multi-colored and terraced.

The weather was gorgeous and there were people alongside the road gathering herbs.

We passed fascinating haystacks.

Haystack outside Al Hoceima

We passed prickly pear in full fruit, but we noticed something alarming.

We were going up.  We had forgotten about the Rif.  We were driving Morocco’s third major mountain range.  But the weather was lovely, we could still see the Mediterranean – how bad could this be?

Bad is the answer.  It was getting colder and I did not have my long underwear on.  The car heater of course was still broken.  And it was foggy, then raining.  We passed patches of snow up on a hill.  I took a picture, thinking, “Ooh, I’ll show the kids how high we were and how close to snow!”

Snow in the distance

You might be asking yourself right now, as I am asking myself, what do the kids care if we are passing snow?  We have snow all the time at our cabin in Alta Sierra.  And the kids aren’t little either.  The youngest is 37.  Old habits die hard.  So when we passed snow at the side of the road, I took a photo of that also.

Closer patches of snow

If I’d had my crystal ball with me I would have known that in a matter of moments we would be driving through a snowstorm.

Snowing

Yes, for about 1½ hours.

Visibility was low.  And snow was starting to coat the roads.

The snow starts to stick

Snow is beautiful, one must admit, even in the midst of it.  The trees were turning white.

And then rain.  The road tricked us – we’d be descending and Mark would say, “We’re out of it now, going down.” And we’d go up again.  Each time, Mark hopefully said the same thing, and finally, at last, the snow and rain and fog were gone and we were out of the Rif.  We’d seen the snow plows going up to 7,000 feet, where we had been, and where the roads had been awful.  It registered now why Joaquin had said, as we drove away from Casa Paca, that the roads probably hadn’t been fixed yet since winter.  This place gets torn up each year from snow and ice and rain.

And all of a sudden, as if we’d never been through rain, fog and snow, there were wildflowers.

Tangier

So.  Tangier.  We lived there for six weeks in 1971 during our Peace Corps training.  And we were going back.  The American Legation, where we trained and lived, was the first property the United States owned on foreign soil, and it is currently the only National Historic Site not in the United States.

George Washington and King Mohammed I had correspondence back when, trying to solve the Barbary pirate situation.  And thus Morocco came to be the first country to officially recognize the United States as an independent nation.  We couldn’t wait to see it again.

But we needed to get rid of that rental car which meant find the airport.  Signage had been pretty good throughout the country so I just said to Mark, let’s drive into town and we’re sure to see an airport sign somewhere.  Now understand that “town” has gotten a whole lot bigger and we drove a very long way, before, on the verge of desperation, we saw a sign.  We knew we couldn’t go very much farther without landing in the Atlantic Ocean, and we knew the airport was south of town near the coast, but nonetheless, we were beginning to look for airplanes and what direction they were landing.

Walking happily into the airport to the car rental desk, eager to tell them about the lack of oil and the squeaky brakes and the lack of heat, we found – no one.  There was one person in the whole array of rental car agencies and he said, oh, they aren’t here, just put the papers under the window.  OK? OK, we did, and found Andrew from Dar Jand who was picking us up, and we were on our way to the medina.

We wanted to stay in the medina since the Legation was in the medina and it would be like old times, sort of.  On tripadvisor I found Dar Jand.

Dar Jand

And a plug for tripadvisor – it was invaluable.  I got most of our lodging based on recommendations on tripadvisor, and none of them were in the guide  books.  Unless it’s Rick Steves, I don’t really trust those books like Frommers and Fodors anymore.

Andrew and Janet – the JAND of Dar Jand, are an American couple who own a quirky, four (or was it five) story place in the medina.  Janet spent five years renovating it while Andrew was still working in the states and I am in total awe of what she accomplished.  When she arrived she spoke no French or Arabic, and she says now she’d never do it again – had no idea just what she was in for.  But she did a fantastic job.  Honestly? It was nice to be with Americans and speak English.  Andrew showed us where everything was, including the laundry.  We’d been three days in the same clothes and I mean all the same clothes and were desperate for something clean.

View from Dar Jand - Medina Rooftops

How was it that we knew that medina inside and out once?  It’s a rabbit warren, a maze, it tricks you into walking in circles.  But we’d had the adventure squeezed out of us by now and lacked the energy to care about where we ate or what we saw.  We just wanted to be there.  And visit the Legation.

Medina steps outside Dar Jand

Andrew gave us directions, we set out, walked in circles and got lost.  Someone offered to lead us so we knew a tip would be in order, which was fine with us.  It’s a way of working, it provides a service, and everyone we saw in this country worked hard.  We wondered about how unemployment is defined.  Are people selling their vegetables in the souks considered unemployed? Or people selling on the side of the road?  What kind of living do those people make compared to the cost of living? One thing is clear, I expect to the population in general as well as outsiders: the country runs on tourism.  It’s only 10% of the GNP and that’s hard to believe.  The unrest in the Arab world isn’t good for Moroccan tourism, although Morocco is completely safe.

So we were happy to pay our self-appointed guide to reach the legation.  Jerry Loftus, the director of the Legation museum, met us and actually got pretty excited when he realized we really truly had lived there during a Peace Corps training.  We were searching for our room; when we lived there we had the best room of all since having a two-year-old daughter gave us privileges. Where other volunteers bunked together and shared bathrooms, we got our own room and bath!  We did not just have any room, however.  Ours had a secret door with a hidden area that one could escape to if one didn’t want to be found.  And I don’t think it was for getting “alone time.” Perhaps the area could be treacherous.  We explained all this to Jerry but we couldn’t find the room.  I knew in my head exactly how to describe it, and now we’ve found that Jerry is actually living in that room – but since he has not found the secret door, he didn’t match our description to his room.  It may not be there but then again…it was a secret.

Jennifer outside of our room 1971

How did Jerry figure out he was living in the room? We sent him old photos after our return, which he was happy to have, room identified or not, as there is very little in the way of records for that time period.  He did bring out a very old, very crude scrapbook that someone had given him, and Jerry wondered about the photos.  We knew who the people were because it was our training group!  (By saying “very crude” scrapbook, I’m not disparaging the work of whoever made it – but it sure makes a stark contrast to all the technology available today.)

Scrapbook in legation

Little by little, the Legation is being restored and the museum enhanced.  There are copies of letters between George Washington and Mohammed I – difficult to read with the florid script of the day but thrilling nonetheless.

Courtyard steps 1971

Legation courtyard 1971

Dining room American Legation today

Dining room during Peace Corps training 1971

Jenny at kid's table 1971 - on the balcony

Legation balcony today

Exterior Legation crossing over alley

A neat feature of the American Legation is that it spans the road in the medina.

So it was over.  We’d seen what we came back for – Oujda, the Legation, Tangier, and points in between.  Tangier was the most different of anywhere.  A tourist in Tangier used to feel like a gladiator thrown into the pit, set upon by people offering to sell you goods, guide you, or pick your pocket.  It was not so much like that now, blessedly.  Plus, many shops do not bargain anymore, which is a huge relief no doubt and makes the tourist experience livable.  So many of Tangier’s tourists make day trips from Spain, and to have one’s first experience of Morocco seem like a hell-hole can’t be good for extended tourism.

Tangier is also feeling more like part of the country.  Hassan II did not like the North and never set foot in Tangier, which left them the poor stepchildren of Morocco.  Mohammed VI, however, has a residence there, visits, and it’s made a terrific difference to the populace to feel like they count.  That, at least, according to our host Andrew, and if I’ve misremembered, I offer apologies.

Here are a few pictures of our wanderings in the medina.  Everything is interesting, colorful, exciting.

Purple wall, Tangier medina

Blue wall, Tangier

Blue passage, Tangier medina

Inside a holistic herb store, Tangier medina

Medina port, Tangier

Now our zip was completely gone.  We were ready for Spain.  We’re getting old and organized tour groups are looking better and better; but we couldn’t have seen all we’d wanted to without driving the country and it was worth it for sure.  We’d been on camels, in planes, cars, taxis and trains in a little over two weeks.  We found a country we loved that had developed incredibly in 40 years yet still retained its character and heart.  We headed through the medina to the port to catch a fast ferry to Tarifa  to the bus for Sevilla.  We got one last look at Tangier as the ferry pulled away.

View of Tangier from ferry

We’ll be back.  Next year is the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps in Morocco so chances are good we’ll attend, then go to Agadir and spend a week or so at a beach resort and spend time with Krim.  As soon as we recover our energy from this trip, it’ll look a whole lot better for a return.

Next – to Sevilla.

 

Our Peace Corps Work Worked

2011
05.19

The Fruits of Mark’s Labors

Forty years ago we set out with our two-year-old on our great adventure – joining the Peace Corps.  We were just burning up with the idealism of the late ’60s and our desire to make the world better.  Mark heard a radio ad recruiting for architects and planners (he is an architect and planner) so we applied.  One day we got a phone call from Dick Holbrooke (yes, the Richard Holbrooke who just died, the master diplomat).  We were each on an extension when Dick asked us, would we like to join the Peace Corps and go to Morocco or Tunisia?  Yes, we would.  We hung up and raced to the bookcase to find the atlas.  Where was Morocco anyway? We had no idea.

We went, and right now let’s get it out of the way – the question I am always asked, What did I do in the Peace Corps?

This is a loaded question for me.  My husband is an architect and planner, and we were invited into an architect/planner training.  I was called a non-matrix spouse but promised I (and the other non-matrix spouses) would be given a job once in our final destination.  I pretty much didn’t have any formal skills at that time and didn’t have a teaching credential, but the Peace Corps knew that and said something would be available.  We were assigned to Oujda, Morocco, which made us very popular since Oujda was the least desirable location and we requested it, getting everyone else off the hook. After being somewhat angry for months about the lack of a job and the lack of action by the Peace Corps office to get me one, I realized it wasn’t going to happen.  Mark had been so valuable as an architect/planner that they wanted us and probably only had a vague idea of what to do with non-matrix spouses.

I started asking around on my own, trying to find some sort of meaningful activity but I wasn’t able to.  Part, or most, of that was political.  Oujda was at that time a small town on the Algerian border.  (Now it’s a bigger town on the Algerian border.) Women were treated passably well but they didn’t work at anything I could do without taking a job away from someone else.  Everyone thought we were CIA agents anyway, so I gave up the work idea and focused on being my own little personal good will ambassador.   And had a child.

See why this is a loaded question? I never know what to say when people ask me, “What did you do?”  So we were there just because of Mark, and it would be important that his work counted for something.

We went, and Mark spent two years in the office of planning and housing, as well as in the field, making site plans.  These are plans to guide the development of towns –  analyses of where housing should go, where the mosque should go, where business should be located – so that infrastructure can be utilized more efficiently and a town can be a pleasant place to live.  The theory behind this was good: the government did not want to see mass migration to the cities and the development of shanty-towns; they wanted people to live satisfactorily in rural areas.  By and large, this strategy seems to have worked.

Mark kept copies of all the site plans for 40 years and now we were going to see if they had been effective.  We were driving through Zaio, Taforalt, Sidi Bouhia, and Mt. Arrouit. We also wanted to drive through Berkane, the town fellow volunteer Mike Zelinski worked on for his entire two years.  First, however, we headed to the Gorges of Zegzel, where we had been on excursions so long ago with fellow volunteers and our friends the Krims.  We left Oujda, headed for the night to Al Hoceima, with these stops in between.  It was going to be another long day.

First stop: Gorges of Zegzel – we drove to the Grottes de Chameaux (cave of camels) and it had changed for the worse.  Whereas water used to gush from the opening into a pool where people swam, no water was gushing now and the pool was concreted in.  The cave entrance looked blocked inside with debris.  Forty years ago, you could walk through huge rooms and come out at another end.  That was disappointing, but at least we found it!

Grottes de Chameaux in 1973

Grottes de Chameaux 2011

Picnic in Gorges of Zegzel in 1973 - with mint tea

Look in the back right and you’ll see the Butagaz bottle.  It wouldn’t be right without mint tea.

When we went on these picnics or to the Gorges, we needed to fill up on gas.

Filling up at the Shell Station 1973

We headed on to Taforalt to see what changes 40 years had wrought.  This one was funny.  A housing tract had been constructed right where Mark had indicated on his plan, but it was a design unlike any we’d seen in Morocco!  More like Swiss mountain homes.

Housing development Taforalt

Not the style you’d expect, but at least they followed the plan.

We were hungry and had arrived at a traffic checkpoint, so we asked the soldier/security police/whatever he technically was where we should eat.  We had a little chat about how we used to live there, etc. and went off for lunch.  We were just a tad worried because we had all these city plans spread around in the car as we were talking to the officer, but I guess he thought we were harmless.

Outside town there is a strip full of butcher shops, cafes, and individual tagines sizzling on grills.  We each got a tagine, which surprised the waiter – I don’t believe very many non-Moroccans end up there!

Lunch in Taforalt

We had tagines for lunch

Sidi Bouhria was the next stop.  Mark was able to orient himself with the plan and found that it had been of some use. The mosque was right where it was supposed to be.

Sidi Bouhria

We stopped in Zaio and again, plans had been used.  The town had developed just as it should have.

Zaio

Zaio

Still lots of room for growth, but I think it’s incredibly gratifying to know that two years worth of work in the Peace Corps did actually amount to something.  The towns aren’t exciting to look at in the pictures, but when you think about what it represents, and when you  picture the slums and shanty towns in India, for example, you can really appreciate the forethought of Hassan II, never mind his other shortcomings.

Mt. Arruit had developed more than any of the other towns.  This next is a picture of Mark and others from his office taking a look at the site for Mt. Arruit.  There’s pretty much nothing there.

Mt. Arrouit 1971

This is what it looks like today from the same vantage point.

Mt. Arrouit today

On to Al Hoceima

Our trip down memory lane was finished and we pressed on to Al Hoceima.  Since we didn’t want to rush visiting the little towns, we again were in a race against dark, plus we were tired, hungry and grumpy.  We missed our turn and went into the thick of town – it was still light then.  But Al Hoceima was crowded, full of one-way streets, bumper-to-bumper traffic.  It was the wrong time of day to be there for sure.  By the time we got it all sorted out it was dark and we blindly drove out of town searching for the correct turn.  How we did it I don’t know because we ended up in a residential neighborhood high on a hill, but I reasoned that what goes up must come down and it did.  Where was Casa Paca?  Apparently I was to have called Joaquin at Casa Paca for him to meet us and guide us to his guest house.  But I didn’t.  We did see a sign:

So we thought it would be a piece of cake until we found ourselves winding up a road – not even a road, a rock path – up and up and up.

Road in the daytime

No lights, pitch black.  We thought we were horribly lost and were going to turn around when we saw what looked like a parking lot prepared for three or four cars.  We stopped.  It was Casa Paca.  It was dark.

I called “hello, hello” and as we, despairing, were about to drive back down the hill, a voice called, “Susan?”  Saved.

It was Joaquin, who had given up on us.  We were the first guests since Christmas (Casa Paca is on the Mediterranean and guests just don’t go there in winter.  It’s a beach place.) We went in.  I said, “Do you have any food?” I must have looked awfully frazzled, because he and his wife whipped up a dinner of the most tender and flavorful grilled steak, grilled zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and homemade French fries.  I will forever be grateful to this wonderful man.  We wished we had more than one night to stay, but it was just a stopping off point on the way to Tangier.

Casa Paca

Joaquin built this place just about on faith.  He had constant doubts if anyone would want to come there and watched his savings evaporate as the house took shape.  He did a wonderful job – really thought out all the details to make guests comfortable – and it’s been a success.

Casa Paca Patio

The door on the left is our room. From our room we looked out on the Mediterranean and two interesting things: one a fortress, and the other, a big rock.  The fortress is a Spanish garrison with very high walls and the only way in or out is by helicopter.  The other, the rock, is Spanish territory and if you look closely you’ll see a Spanish flag.  This apparently is hotly contested land.  Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why Spain just can’t give the rocks to Morocco.  Not too long ago there was a little skirmish here.

There are a couple of towns in Morocco that are part of Spain, Ceuta and Melilla, both on the Mediterranean coast.  I’m sure Spain strategically is happy to have the towns and even the garrison, but those two rocks?  Really.  If I’d waded over there I’d have been in Spain!

If anyone is ever in that part of the world, I’d recommend Casa Paca.

Casa Paca comfortable sitting room

Joaquin takes pictures of all his guests and puts them in the stairway.

Now, our pictures will be up there also.

With Joaquin at Casa Paca

Next, we cross the Riff Mountains and go to Tangier, our last stop in Morocco.