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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A BAD HAIR DAY (1952)

After my visit to the Museum of Vancouver last week, and finding another example of one of these hideous electric hair perming machines, I decided to revive a story I'd written a couple of years ago and submitted to the BC Museum in Victoria when they had a large display of memorabalia.  The story went along with the instrument of 'torture' after I'd  remembered all those unpleasant memories of a real 'bad hair day'!



Old fashioned electric perm marchine 

 Back in 1952 when I was soon to graduate from Britannia High School in Vancouver, there was a popular hair style called the ‘poodle cut’.  It was a short hair cut, permed into a soft curly style resembling a poodle’s pom-pom.  A lot of my classmates were having their hair styled this way for our grad, and I wanted to be like them.

 It happened that my Mom and little sister both came down with scarlet fever and were quarantined as they did in those days and I had to go and stay with a family friend, a very kind old lady named Mrs. Grey.  I told Mrs. Grey how much I wanted a poodle cut.  So one day she gave me some money and told me to go up to Commercial Drive and make a hair appointment.

Up to this time, my Mom always cut and permed my hair.  So it was quite a thrill for this teenager to have an appointment at a real beauty salon.  I felt somewhat daunted when I saw the electric perm machine, something left over from the ’30’s,  a kind of weird thing like you‘d see in a mad scientist‘s lab. But I was determined to get my ‘poodle cut‘.  The woman cut my hair, then rolled it up in the perm rollers.  The perm machine worked on electricity. As I sat under it, I could feel it sear my scalp and I smelled  burning hair. When the procedure was finished and the rollers were removed, to my horror I looked as if I had been zapped by 220 volts of lightening!  My hair was frizzed like a Hottentots.  You couldn’t even get a comb through it.  What a frizzy mess!  I was in tears.  I wouldn’t go out without a kerchief on for days and even missed school because I was so embarrassed.  How could I face my class-mates looking like such a freak?  I didn’t realize I was pre-dating the Afro hair style of the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s. 


   My "poodle cut" after Mom had cut off most of the frizz!

 Fortunately, my Mom soon recovered enough for me to return home.  She immediately set to work on my ruined mop with her clippers.  She had to cut off most of my hair. Even then it was still tight and frizzy. When I returned to school, the older guy that I had a crush on started calling me Puppy Dog.  He’d pat me on the head every time I passed him in the hall.  At least he was paying attention to me.  After all, I did look like a poodle! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine Themes #3: THE SHEPHERD

LALA

Mitso's house is the white one on the top. My little spitaki is hidden behind the trees to the left of the white house with the red showing.


Mitso
 In 1984 I began living part-time in the village of Lala up in the mountains of Euboeia in Greece, and I spent nearly all my spare time there until 1987 when I had to return to Canada. Since then, I visited as often as I could, because it became "my" village, and the people there adopted me as their friend.

When I first started going there, I met Mitso, one of the shepherds, and we became very good friends over the years.


THE SHEPHERD (Part One)

I'm sitting on the stone fence, looking out over Lala, its houses nestled among the trees on the inner slopes of the mountain. everything is green, even this late in the summer The square white houses of the village are tiered up the steep hillside. Below them, tall cypress trees spire above the olive and citrus groves. On the far mountainside, behind the village, old groves of chestnut and oak trees cluster under the rock spires of the mountain's crest. Behind the village, the undulating grey rock ridges encircle the valley, rising like a fortress wall. Every sound echoes -- dogs barking, goats and sheep bleating, sheep bells clinking and clanking in their sonorous tone as the flocks move down the hillside to their evening pastures. I hear the distant sounds of Greek music, a man singing in a minor key, children's voices, neighbours calling back and forth.

Somewhere in this village, there is a shepherd named Mitso (Demitrios). I look at all the little white houses and wonder which one is his. Are those jangling sheep bells his sheep? Is that bleating nanny goat one of his herd?

This shepherd rides a white horse. He's a lean, wiry man, a mountain man. He has a wide, beautiful smile and eyes that crinkle at the corners. He wears a peaked cap and a checked shirt and grey trousers -- the shepherd's costume. He is in his mid-fifties, and he has lived in this mountain village all his life tending his flocks of sheep and goats.

This is the shepherd who comes to me in my dreams, tells me wise things, counsels me and makes me wake up feeling very happy. This is a special man, someone who has been a source of inspiration to me for almost ten years now.

But he doesn't speak English, and my Greek is very basic. So how do we communicate? Somehow, we do. But there is too much that has to be left unsaid, too much I want to say, he wants to say, we want to say. And how will we say it?

Across the valley I hear a man's voice. Is it his? Is that him driving his flock down the mountainside?


"THE SHEPHERD: Part Two "A Marriage Proposal."


The setting sun is shining right on Mitso's house, the 'acropolis' of Lala; the house where I have dreamed of sitting on the porch writing. But now I know it will never be. It's because of the village - the customs - the archaic rules that prohibit even grown adults like Mitso and me to sit privately together, or even have an intimate conversation. Life hasn't changed much in this village since the old days, though perhaps there are more modern comforts to make the life easier.

Far away I can hear the shepherd calling his flock. "Kroo kroo kroo-kroo"
One time I heard Mitso calling his sheep up on the ridge behind the old mill where I often sit to meditate and enjoy the cool, fresh spray of the waterfall. He appeared there, radiant as a knight, his appearance stunning me into speechlessness. He expounded poetically on the "zoe" (life) and I (as usual) was baffled by the translation.

Not much has changed. He still astounds me. I'm still baffled by the language and miss all the important things he tries to convey to me. Like the other day when we met on the dusty roadside, quite by chance, as I was walking down to the port to catch a ferry back to Athens. We stole a precious few moments, expressed our delight at seeing one another. Then he said something to me in a very serious tone. I couldn't work out the translation, and misinterpreted what he meant. Until ten minutes later, as I walked down the road, I realized he had said "When are you going to marry me and come to live in the village?"

My friend Antonia told me that long ago Mitso's father went off to America to earn money, and returned to buy his sons land. Mitso and his brothers had no education. They have lived their lives here on the mountain. When I considered Mitso's proposal, and asked Antonia's husband if I should marry him, and come to live in the village, Jimmy looked at me sternly over the top rim of his glasses and said: "How can you marry him? You don't have any money or property or anything."

I had forgotten the dowry system. In many villages in Greece this old-fashioned bride barter is still the custom. I'm just a struggling writer with no bank account and a part-time day job. I don't even own a car or a townhouse.
"And what would you do with him, anyway?" Jimmy asked. "Will you take him to Canada?"
Mitso rarely even goes to Athens, so how could I take him to Canada? He's a mountain man.
"Can you cook and do housework?" Jimmy said. "Because if you live here in the village, you wouldn't be able to sit around reading and writing. You would have to be busy preparing things!"

It was Jimmy's frank statements that made me see things as they really are here. Being married to a shepherd would be a life I could not tolerate. A loss of freedom. A loss of independence. So, the fantasy that has gone on for all these years, will remain forever a fantasy. I will always be just a guest-friend here.

It is evening now. The shadows are darkening in the folds of the hills. There are tinges of golden brown and russet on the hillsides, and patches of brilliant green in the valley where the mountain streams run through the olive and citrus groves.

I listen again to the pastoral sounds of sheep bells and these sounds, this mountain music, fills my heart and head, remains with me always, returns to me on wet night and winter days in Canada. These are the sounds I cherish, this special music of the village. And months from now, when I'm back home, I'll think of this place, my village, and my shepherd who is always on the mountain and is perhaps thinking to me.
****************************************

A couple of years after I wrote this, I rethought my decision and was going to village to see Mitso again, with the intentions of accepting his proposal.  Just before I left for Greece that summer, Antonia phoned to tell me Mitso had died.  It was unexpected and a shock to everyone.  He’d succumbed to lung cancer.  I went to the village that summer with my friend and put a sprig of myrtle on his grave.  A funny turn to the story:  I’d always thought he was ten years younger than me because he once told me his age. Turned out, according to the engraving on the grave, he was ten years older!  See? Even men lie about their age!



I returned to the village again two summers ago with the intention of putting flowers on his grave.  The graveyard was is disarray.  Mitso was not in his grave – his sister was. Then I remembered that after five years the dead are dug up and their bones places in an ossiary.  Little did I know then that just a few weeks later, my friend Antonia would be buried there. (I didn’t know until much later that she had passed away in Vancouver and the family took her body back to Lala to be buried.)

That was the last time I visited Lala. For some reason the village was deserted – like a ghost town. Many houses were shuttered up and not a soul was to be seen.  The magic had gone out of the village, and so had the life.




Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine Themes #2: FLYING ON A WING AND A PRAYER


Istanbul

                                            
Each time I  fly off into the rising sun, I am reminded of another flight I took some years ago. Although these trips I have plenty of money in my pocket, that time I was really "flying on a wing and a prayer" in what was to be an unforgettable magic carpet ride.

The adventure began in the winter of '75. I had recently split with my boyfriend. I was feeling melancholy that night my friend Rosalie invited me to the disco. I certainly was not looking for romance.

It was toward the end of the evening when the handsome young man asked me to dance. Although we didn't speak at first, there was suddenly magic in the air. he projected warmth, and something very special. Strangely, even before he said his name, I knew it. "Hakki."

He was Turkish, a Chief engineer on a Turkish ship. He spoke English well having been educated in the best marine officer's college in Istanbul. He was a small, dark man with a flashing golden smile, an athlete (marathon runner) and a career merchant seaman, an officer and a gentleman. We danced together for the rest of the evening and at the end of the night we could hardly bear to part. We fell in love that night. For the next two weeks we spent all our time together either at my house or on his ship.

I was welcomed on board by the Captain and crew and treated respectfully as an honoured guest. The Captain, who reminded me of my literary hero Ernest Hemingway, invited my friends and i to dine in his private galley. he was very much concerned about Hakki and me, in a fatherly sort of way. "What are you two going to do?" he wondered. Everyone knew this was the beginning of a big love story.

Then the day came when Hakki was leaving the ship to fly back to Istanbul for his leave. It was a difficult farewell, bitter sweet, but not without hope. Coincidentally, a week before I'd met him, I had gone to a travel agent intending to purchase a ticket to Guatemala to return to the villages where Dan and I had spent three months the previous year. On an impulse I booked a flight to London instead. England in February? At the time, I didn't know why I'd done that. Now I know it was my destiny and in fact, the decision may have saved my life because a devastating earthquake destroyed those Guatemalan villages right about the time I would have been there.

So I said goodbye to my beloved Hakki, agreeing to meet him in London the following month.

When I arrived in London, Hakki called and suggested I should come to Istanbul instead. he wanted to show e his city and some of the historical places on the Turkish coast. I decided to travel to Istanbul on the Orient Express train (me and Agatha Christie) and while I waited for my money to be transferred from Canada, I went off to Wales to visit my cousins.

While in Wales, I got a call from my friend in London. Hakki had sent a cable. "Don't wait for your money. Come now. i have signed on a new ship and must leave in 10 days."

I rushed back to London, booked a one-way flight to Istanbul with borrowed money, and wired Hakki to say I was arriving Saturday morning. I had no time to prepare myself for the adventure that lay ahead. I set off with only five Pounds in my pocket, on a one-way ticket to a city I knew nothing about, a mysterious city far away to the East, flying on a wing and a prayer to the Orient.

This was Istanbul during the time of "the Midnight Express" and the very first attempted plan hijackings. As we landed, I saw that the airport was completely surrounded by army tanks and heavily armed military police. The airport arrival building seemed to be only a Quonset hut. Hundreds of men milled about staring with their intense eyes, speaking a language that was impossible to translate. I had no idea of where I was or what I'd do if Hakki wasn't there to meet me. At that moment I realized how frivolous and possibly dangerous this escapade was. Supposing he wasn't there? What would I do? the Canadian Embassy was far away in Ankara. The five pounds I had in my pocket wouldn't even get ma a taxi into the city and a hotel for the night. I pushed my way through the crowd, breathless and terrified. And then i saw him! I ran to embrace him, relieved to be safe in his arms. He seemed taken aback, a bit reserved. Later in the taxi he explained that it was forbidden to publicly embrace and kiss in Turkey. "But anything goes in private," he grinned.
Those days I spent with Hakki in Istanbul were the most memorable of my life. There are so many moments I can never forget and often I can project myself into his apartment to relive those times. Each time I make Turkish coffee, I remember that first day in his kitchen when he was showing me how to mix the coffee and sugar, fill the little briki with water, then watch carefully til it bubbled up. And each time we'd be in a passionate embrace just as it bubbled up and boiled over. I remember watching gypsies with a dancing bear on the street below his apartment. I remember all the nights he held me close, nights I never wanted to end.

He took me everywhere, treated me like a princess, lavished love and attention on me, showed me every aspect of his magnificent, mysterious city. I fell in love with Istanbul and the Turkish people and most of all with Hakki, my Prince Charming.

Finally the day came for me to leave. I don't know how i got through the departure gate at the airport without bursting into tears. Both of us were torn apart by my leaving. I walked away from him bravely and took a seat in the waiting room. A strange man came and spoke to me, pointing to the departure gate. Hakki was still standing there, so I ran back and embraced him one last time. This time I couldn't stop the tears.

I cried all the way back to London, but I vowed I’d see him again somehow, some day.

We kept corresponding for several months. I still have the letters, the tender words "you are an estimable woman". I had wanted to have his child, but it was not possible so all I was left with were the precious memories.

Some affairs are never meant to be anything more than beautiful fairy tales. Eventually the letters stopped, but my memory of him, my love for him, never faded to this day. He taught me the tenderness of unconditional love. He restored my faith in romance.

I can still remember very clearly all those days in Istanbul: eating yoghurt for the first time at a small cafe by the Black Sea; wandering thr9ug the Topkapi palace in awe of all the treasures kept there; the Grand Bazaar where he bought me a beautiful maroon velvet shirt and embroidered slippers.
I left a piece of my heart in Istanbul. Some years later, when I was living in Athens, I went back there to visit. I was sitting in the coffee shop at the Topkapi museum and suddenly looked out on the palace gardens. At the moment I realized I was sitting in the exact place I'd sat with him. My memories of Hakki were everywhere and they still live in my heart.

Since then I've been to Istanbul three times, also Izmir, Cesme, Bursa, The Princes Isles on the Marmara Sea where the Byzantine princes had their summer villas. I've visited Assos, where Aristotle had a school, and Troy and Pamukalle where turquoise cascades flow over limestone cliffs.

Once at my favourite donair kebab shop in Kusadasi, a man joined my table. He said he was a sailor on leave from his ship, an officer, from Istanbul I said I'd been to the officer's club there, because I had a friend who was a sailor. he asked me my friend's name.

"Hakki Sarikaya."
"I know him," he said. "He doesn't go out to sea now. He inspects ships in the port.' He asked why I didn't try to contact Hakki. But ten years had passed by then. It was too late.

In my jewelry box is a small gold locket. Inside this locket is a pressed violet. I still recall the cold, windy March day that Hakki bought me the violets from the little gypsy girl. Whenever I see violets, I remember Hakki. And each time I have gone back to Turkey I think of him



Hakki and me in the night club in Istanbul.
In the corner is the little gold locket with the pressed violets he bought me.
Post note: A couple of years ago I was at a media dinner for Turkey and sat next to the tourism agent who reminded me a lot of Hakki. I told him this story. He was so moved by it he insisted he would try to find Hakki for me when he returned to Istanbul, and give him a message.  After some time, he actually did track Hakki  down and spoke to Hakki's wife (of course, by now I knew he'd be married!)  He gave her the message for Hakki that his friend from Canada sent greetings.  For me that was a beautiful closure to a real love story!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

VALENTINE THEMES: #1 "APHRODITE'S ARROW"

Valentine's Day is coming so I'm going to post some poems and stories about love, broken hearts and other appropriate themes.


APHRODITE’S ARROW

A quick-silver spark

like a diamond’s prism

strikes me.

Aphrodite’s silver arrow

turns this cafe bar

into the galaxy.

Reality escapes me.

Fleeting,

swift,

it hits its mark,

sets aflame

the dark night

of my heart.