Give Peace A Chance!

Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot school girls on their way to public school in Kyrenia, Cyprus 1973.

Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot school girls on their way to public school in Kyrenia, Cyprus 1973.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, on 20 July 1974, I awoke to the distant drone of aircraft. Stunned, I sat up in bed and listened. Planes. Getting louder. The realization sent shivers down my spine. I placed my hands over my heart. “Oh, my God!” I gasped. “It’s the Turks!” I looked at the clock—5:20. The crack of dawn. I jumped from bed and screamed, “The Turks are attacking.”

Moments later, a series of explosions awakened the entire sleepy, seaside village of Kyrenia, Cyprus.

It happened 40 years ago today but I still remember the details vividly; the sights, the smells, the sounds, the taste of dirt and rubble collapsing around me as I ran under the stairs for shelter.

My peaceful life in Cyprus was blown apart first by the Greek Officer’s coup on 15 July 1974, followed five days later by the Turkish invasion on 20 July 1974. Thousands of lives were shattered forever by the atrocities, including foreigners who like me who lived there. To this day I marvel, bewildered at how at how a tranquil place, seemingly paradise, could be rendered a living hell in the space of a few days. The fighting between Greeks and Turks almost started a world war because two NATO allies fought against each other. The island of Cyprus remains divided by a line cutting across the capital of Nicosia–the world’s last divided capital.

And there are conflicts and atrocities happening all over the globe; In Syria, Tunisia, the Gaza strip, Ukraine, the Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan.

The vast majority of casualties in any war are civilians, who neither want war nor gain anything from it. Quite the opposite. War defeats the human spirit. What will it take to bend history, and honor the will of the people over that of their “leaders?”

La Cuisine Seychelloise

breadfruit-plant

I was introduced to La Cuisine Seychelloise in August 1975, after a private yacht I helped crew docked in the port of Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles on the day after the Assumption Day festivities had ended.

By late morning we received clearance from the port authorities, and my husband and I were allowed to step ashore on the tropical paradise archipelago of the Seychelles. We had spent thirty days of mostly hellish weather in monsoon season crossing the Indian Ocean (from Sri Lanka to Diego Garcia) and another week of battering storms from Diego Garcia to the Seychelles. Physically and emotionally drained, we asked the English Captain to give us permission to disembark in Port Victoria. Knowing he needed crew to sail on up through the Suez Canal, he was reluctant to let us go. But knowing we were unhappy about the weird things happening on board between him and his crazy Israeli girlfriend (that’s another story!), he finally agreed to give us our passports and allow us to leave the yacht with our belongings. Prior to this adventure, I knew nothing about Maritime law and a captain’s supreme authority to do just about anything he wants, including not allowing passengers to leave the ship.

Grateful to touch solid ground again, I took a few deep breaths and shed happy tears. No more rubber sea legs, sea sickness, and no more being chained to the railing when working on deck. We had somehow managed to survive storm after storm, giant wave after walls of giant waves, and were now free to walk about on earth again. In paradise no less. Our first stop was the bank to exchange money. Next stop, lunch at a restaurant in the harbor! Real food? What a treat! Our eyes of course were bigger than our stomachs and we ordered more than we could possibly eat. We asked an Australian couple, dining at a table near by, for lodging recommendations. They immediately referred us to a private B & B owned by Eveline Man-Cham. “Her cooking is the finest,” the woman told me. “The country’s traditional cuisine. Creole cooking! You’ll want to eat there all the time.”

After lunch, and receiving numerous tourist tips from the waiters and other diners, we hired a taxi to take us to Mrs. Man-Cham’s place. We checked in and were given a snack of fried breadfruit cakes with afternoon tea. I oohed and aah-ed, and asked for the recipe. Mind you I didn’t have a clue what breadfruit was but Mrs. Man-Cham was happy to show me the breadfruit trees and explain the variety of ways the Seychelloise used it in cooking and baking. She invited us to join them for dinner before we left to explore the nearby beaches.

“I’ve prepared ladob patat for dessert,” she said as we were leaving. I obviously looked confused. She smiled and added, “sweet potato pudding.”

“Sounds delicious,” I replied. “We’ll join you.”

I spent hours walking along the beautiful white sandy beaches letting the topaz water tickle my toes. No one in sight. Heaven on earth! My husband enjoyed snorkeling and we sat on the beach and watched a glorious sunset.

Later that evening we enjoyed an exquisite dinner. Mouth watering delicious, from the Soupe de Tectec ((clam cooked in tomatoes, garlic and ginger), to the Gros Bourgeois de L’Ile Mahe (baked snapper with sauce), to the Cochon de lait rÙti (roasted pig), served with the Salade De Millionnaire (palmheart), followed by a Beignet de Giraumon (Pumpkin Donut), and last but not least the Ladob Patat.

We tried a few local restaurants during our three week holiday in the Sychelles, but always returned to Mrs. Man-Cham’s for the finest Creole Cuisine Seychelloise (a mix of Chinese, Indian, and French flavors).

On the morning of our departure, Mrs. Man-Cham presented me with a copy of her cookbook, 4th Edition 1973. I’ve treasured it all these years and often use her recipes.

Her son, Sir James R. Mancham became the Founding President of the Republic of Seychelles when the country became an independent sovereign State on the 29th of June 1976. Sometime later, I heard on the news that when he went to England, to attend the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, he was deposed in a bloodless coup. A bloodless coup? Now that could only happen in paradise.

cuisine_seychelloise

Kraków Monuments

sjd,Krakow,chairs

In October of 2008, my husband and I took a train from Vienna to Krakow, Poland. We wanted to see if trains were still a fun way to travel around Europe. We discovered that a lot had changed. I had visited Krakow in the early 70s when it was still behind the Iron Curtain. Seemed strange not to have a border guard come aboard every few minutes and demand to see passports when we exited one country and entered another. As we neared Krakow, a new and more visually charming town came into view. Was it because the sun was shining? My memory of Krakow was of a dark and dreary city where people shuffled from place to place as though sleep walking. Like an old photo—sepia tone without light.

We stayed in a newly renovated fourth floor, walk-up apartment in an old stone building, one block off the 13th-century Main Market Square. Our window views of historical houses and churches was awesome. Unlike other Polish cities reduced to rubble during World War II, Krakow’s skyline had survived unscathed.

By day we walked the cobblestone streets around the lively square (the largest medieval town square in Europe, covering 10 acres) and ogled and awed at ornate mansions and Krakow’s rich cultural heritage. We visited the elaborate St Mary’s Church with its two slender, spired towers reaching high above the city. Horse drawn carriages pulled by white horses pranced about, taking visitors on short city tours. We toured museums, saw the world famous painting, Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo da Vinci at the Czartoryski Museum.

Krakow boasts of  numerous world-class sculptures and magnificent monuments including the famous Florian Gatea—a medieval watchtower erected in the 13th and 14th centuries.  Bronze statues and marble monuments are everywhere. and can be found on almost every city block. Standing on the Square of the Virgin Mary is a charming monument of  a pensive student standing atop a fountain crying tears that flow into “The Fountain of the Student.” A tribute to Veit Stoss (in Polish: Wit Stwosz), it was presented as a gift to the city of Kraków. The legend says that if you throw a coin in the fountain, you will return to Kraków.

We sat for hours in small pubs and cafes discussing Krakow’s pleasures and treasures. On one street, we viewed unique examples of communist architecture. My artist husband Doug was impressed with the fabulous street graffiti. By evening we dined in both rustic and chic restaurants. Krakow was indeed lively.

One day we  toured the famous Royal Wawel Castle and admired its picturesque Renaissance courtyard. We laughed at a fun monument to the Wawel Dragon by sculptor Bronisław Chromy. The sulfur eating dragon belched smoke out in fire-breathing bliss. On our walk back to the main square, we viewed a sculpture of a giant bronzed head,  another of someone on a horse, and a copy of the weighty “Battle of Grunwald.” As one of the greatest battles ever to take place in medieval Europe, it was a defining moment in Polish history. We stopped to appreciate a gorgeous sculpture of an orphaned pup “Dżok (Jock)” had a touching inscription, “Most faithful canine friend ever, and symbol of a dog’s boundless devotion to his master.” This work was created by the same artist who designed the belching dragon. A collection box in the back of the pup sculpture encouraged visitors to help orphaned animals of Krakow. There were monuments commemorating poets, artists, musicians,  homeland, science, patriotism and valor.

But the most impressive monument was in the “Ghetto Heroes’ Square” in Kazimierz (made famous by the film, “Shindler’s List” by Steven Spielberg).   Founded by Casimir III the Great, Kazimierz was an independent city from the 14th to 19th century. A place where Jews and Christians lived side by side in harmony. Until the 20th century.

Entering the square, I saw the eerie display of empty over-sized bronze chairs honoring the murdered Jews of the Podgorze Ghetto. I noticed markings showing the former ghetto walls in the pavement, and a sacred place to burn memorial candles.

Overwhelmed with emotion, I took a deep breath and blessed all who had been forced from their homes and ordered to bring their earthly possessions (tables, beds, chairs, etc) to the square. They were then rounded up and taken away. Most of the 17,000 ghetto inhabitants perished in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II.

I sat on one of the chairs and watched clouds roll past overhead for some time. My mind slowed to a stop as I thought of all the horrors humans have had to endure because of wars. I reflected on those bright minds whose lives were snuffed out senselessly. I thought of the Cyprus War of 1974 and the lives that were lost there and my own personal crisis when I had to flee from my home and leave
everything behind, including my beloved cat. I felt so grateful to have escaped Cyprus alive.

Rejection Brings Gifts

heart-rate-ekg-ecg-heart-beat

I received a big “NO!” slap from life many years ago when my husband informed me he wanted a divorce on grounds that I didn’t produce a child for him. After many miscarriages and the loss of a baby in childbirth, I was shaken by his insensitivity, his drastic move to end our marriage of 13 years. I tried to convince him, and myself, that we could adopt a child if this was the problem. Of course it wasn’t.

I cried and cried, feeling pitifully sad and abandoned. Worthless! I had given him my heart. What did I get in return? Rejection. I looked at my fearful face in the bathroom mirror, and with a little bit of surprise, asked myself, “What are you afraid of?”
The unknown, being alone? A voice questioned.
I searched deep into my eyes and let the conversation flow.
You’re not alone. You have yourself.
Love yourself. Trust yourself.
The best is yet to come.

Hours later, as a calm settled over me and the city of Frankfurt (where I was living at the time), a piercing cry interrupted my serene thoughts. Through thin walls, from the apartment next door, came squeals of laughter and shrill erotic screams. My thoughts scattered while my heart skipped several uncomfortable beats. Damn. Two guys. Having sex. Loudly! Initially horrified, I reacted: cranked up Billy Joel’s album, The Stranger, to the max. Singing along and dancing wildly, I no longer heard the ruckus from my horny neighbors.

Long after the album had finished, I got ready for bed. Cleaning my teeth and face, I observed light and love in my eyes. I smiled. Getting to know you.

That night I dreamed …
My husband broke into my apartment, rushed into my bedroom and pulled me from the bed. I tried to scream, but my voice didn’t work. He reached for my heart and tried to tear it out of my chest. Frantic, I waved my hands motioning for him to stop. When I screamed “NO!” … his grip loosened and his image faded to black. He vanished.

The next morning sunshine splashed across my eyes, My heart thumped a steady beat. I took a deep breath and smiled. I still have my heart. No one can take that away from me.

Transformed while dreaming, I felt grateful to be alive and thankful for the gifts rejection brought me—forcing me to explore my fears and encouraging me to love and trust myself.

Paradise on Earth

Seychelles

The closest I got to the wilds of Africa was in August, 1975 when a yacht I helped crew from Sri Lanka sailed into the port city of Victoria on Mahé —the largest island of the tropical paradise archipelago of the Seychelles.

After eight treacherous days of heavy weather and a turbulent crossing, from Diego Garcia (the top secret British-American military base in the Indian Ocean), we sighted the Port Victoria beacon. “Yea!” the crew cheered. We tried numerous times to reach the port authorities by radio, but no one answered. According to our calendar it was a holiday—Ascension Day. Having lost our anchor and not wanting to get beached on a corral reef, as we had in Diego Garcia, we let down our sails and drifted for the night. Luckily, it was a calm night.

The next morning, we tried again and again to make radio contact. No luck. Surely they had received word from the British Rep in Diego Garcia that we had no charts to guide us into port and no anchor to sit it out. We waited a few more hours, then tried again. In full view of this idyllic island, bobbing in a gorgeous bay caressed by the turquoise waters of Mahé, I didn’t even entertain the idea of ascending into heaven. I longed to simply step foot on this paradise on earth.

After many unanswered calls to the port authority, our captain decided we must make our way into the safety of the inner harbor before dark and find some way to tie onto something. Seeing no one in sight, we drifted in. Surely someone would meet us as we entered.. A man came running out along the dock, waving his arms and yelling, “Go, go back out to sea and wait until tomorrow.” Megaphone in hand, our captain explained our dire situation of not having an anchor on board. The man listened, then agreed we could tie onto a buoy near the dock and wait out the night.

So wait we did. And after many weeks at sea, that night I dreamed of eating fresh fruit and walking barefoot along the white sandy shore.

And  the following day …  I did just that.

Somewhere …

 

SomewhereAs a kid, I had dyslexia and talked funny, said things backwards. But when I would open my mouth to sing, all the words flowed beautifully. Music was my therapy and helped give me confidence.

If someone laughed at me, I would think, wait ’til you hear me sing. I’ll show you talent. And sure enough when I opened my mouth and belted out a song, the person who had laughed was speechless because I knew how to hit the high notes, the low notes, and I could harmonize with anyone.

Or so I thought … until Germany. I often sang duets with my friend who owned a jazz club where she entertained guests most evenings. Another friend of mine helped behind the bar. One evening, the bartender friend shared that she would love to be able to sing, but couldn’t carry a tune. I assured her that everyone can sing something, with practice. She smiled and told me she could do other things well, but not sing.

Wanting to encourage her, I suggested we sing a song together—after the bar closed . A song of her choice. She said her singing would just make me laugh. I promised not to laugh.
“Okay.” she shrugged and giggled.
“What would you like to sing?” I asked.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
So I sang the opening verse and encouraged her to join in. “Come on,” I said, starting the song over.
“S-ome wher-er,” she tried to hit the notes, but ended up sounding like she was purposely singing off-key.
“Falsetto?” I asked.
She tried again. “See I told you,” she said laughing.
I stifled a grin and we tried one more time.
“S-ome wher-er,” she tried to sing it.
“You’re right,” I said, bursting out laughing.
She giggled, then laughed.
I howled laughing and laughed so hard, I had to excuse myself and go to the bathroom.
When I returned, she asked, “Now, do you believe me?”
I held my sides and laughed again. “I do. You could give Tiny Tim a run for his money singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”
“I told you so,” she said, putting wine glasses back on their shelves.

I had to reconsider. Everyone can sing something? Well, maybe not something well…

Year later, after she became a world class chef and owned a catering company in Washington, DC, I met her for dinner. one night and we reminisced about our attempt to harmonize on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
“Were you purposely trying to throw me off key?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I knew then I needed to learn to cook since I obviously couldn’t sing for my supper.” We shared another good laugh.

Amazing Moments!

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A friend recently returned from a safari in Africa where she saw and photographed magnificent animals in the wild. Her photos reminded me of my visit to Sri Lanka long ago.

The year was 1975. While living on the island of Cyprus in 1974, before the Greek coup and subsequent Turkish invasion, I met a Swedish millionaire who had yachts bobbing in ports around the world. He had just purchased a new yacht from Taiwan and needed crew to sail it from Taiwan back to the Mediterranean.

Following the upheaval of the war, the captain of the yacht contacted us (my then husband and me) and asked if we would work as crew on the leg from Sri-Lanka back to Cyprus. I remember thinking, oh wow, the adventure of a life time! Mind you I was not a sailor, had never steered a boat, and knew nothing about hoisting and lowering sails. But being curious and always open for learning, I thought why not? So off we flew to join the yacht’s crew.

Arriving in Sri Lanka by plane from Bombay (since renamed Mumbai), we landed near the capital city of Colombo in the western province late at night and discovered that trains and buses weren’t operating and wouldn’t be until the following morning. After negotiating with a taxi driver for the five-hour drive, we placed our suitcases in the trunk of his small car, hopped into the back seat and headed northeast on a two-lane road to the deep-sea port of Trincomalee. Our driver stopped at his house in the outskirts of Colombo to pick up a toolbox. ‘Just in case,’ he told us. He stopped again to fill the tank with gas and off we went through the jungle one magical, full-moon night.

“Wow, wow, did you see that?” I asked again, and again as I spotted one wild beast after another roaming and rummaging in the fields for food alongside the road. “Was that a leopard?” I asked watching a rather large spotted cat leap across tall grass and pounce on something.

“Our number one predator,” our driver explained (in beautiful English). He spoke about the beauty of his beloved country and boasted about the wondrous variety of wildlife living in Sri Lanka.

“I hope we see elephants,” I said. “I love elephants.”

“They’re everywhere, roaming free.” He smiled.

I listened intently to his stories, awe struck by his love of nature. Just before dawn he slowed the car, turned off the headlights, and switched off the car engine.

“This is where the elephants cross,” he said. We waited and watched, searching for movement in the thicket of trees lining the road.

“Look!” I whispered, pointing. “An elephant …”  I took a deep breath and watched as a large elephant emerged from the brush,  followed by a baby. Moments later, another large elephant pushed shrubs aside and moved forward, crossing the road with a calf close behind. More followed—old and young. I watched the herd as they ambled across the road. We waited  a few minutes for stragglers. None followed.

“No elephant crossing signs needed,” he said, starting the engine.  “They always cross here.”

Nearing the port of Trincomalee, we passed a man walking down the main road with a young elephant by his side. Our driver pulled his car off the road and got out. “One moment,” he said, asking us to wait. He spoke with the man and then motioned for us to join them.

“You can pet him. He likes people.” He waved us closer.

“Oh wow,” I said, giggling when the elephant swung his trunk and pointed it at me. The young elephant waggled his head and wiggled his body as if he wanted to play. I moved forward and he snuggled up to me. “Ah,” I said, patting his head. He opened his mouth wide. I giggled again and patted his smooth tongue with the palm of my hand. He seemed to smile. “Wow!” I said again and snuggled closer.

Our driver indicated it was time to go. I patted the young calf on the head and thanked him. I bowed to the man. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had snuggled with an elephant and patted his tongue. “Wow!” I said again.

We spent several weeks in port, preparing supplies for the trip and waiting on charts to sail to the Seychelles. I patted many elephants while there. Once I touched them, they seemed to know me and remembered our unique connection. I marveled each time at their extraordinary keen senses and their astounding awareness of the world around them.

We ended up setting sail, across the Indian Ocean, without charts because the ship’s agent couldn’t get them and the captain seemed anxious to get going.

But that’s another story …  with many more amazing moments. In Sri Lanka I learned that elephants don’t need crossing signs to cross the road. But road signs do help drivers know where to slow down for the extraordinary elephants.

Growing Together

Growing-Together

A few weeks ago, I received a message from a friend I knew in Germany in the late 70s. He said he was thrilled to be reading my book and was having fun identifying characters in the book—characters he knew as well while living in Germany. I was delighted to be in touch with him again.

A few days later, he posted a photo of a batik painting that hangs in his living room. His message read: Susan, do you remember? What was the painting called?

It sure looked like one of mine, but I wasn’t absolutely sure because during my artist days I produced paintings and sculptures on a variety of subjects. I looked at the photo for some time, sorting through memories of my days into years as a working artist in Europe. I let my mind roam until it focused on my nature period where I was fascinated with the cyclical changes that occur with seasons.

Looking at the painting of the two oak trees—one with leaves changing colors and the other bare of leaves—I remembered exactly when I sketched the idea for the painting.

It was a brilliant sunset evening. I was sipping a glass of Chardonnay, listening to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and watching the evening light change in the garden below my living room window. Two tall oak trees stood side by side, growing close together. One had lost its leaves while the other had lustrous colored leaves of green, copper, red, and deep purple. As the moon ascended above the silhouette of buildings located on the main boulevard, I reflected on my personal cyclical changes  and made a quick note on the sketch.

From green, the leaves turn gold, then gone.
Stripped bare, the bones stand all alone.

New buds in spring,
new life will bring. …

I answered my friend. It’s called, Growing Together.

Paving the Way for Peace

Win Peace

Cyprus divided, the red showing the Turkish zone.

The country divided, the red showing the Turkish zone.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/women-s-initiative-for-peace-winpeace-in-greece-turkey-and-cyprus#home

High school students from Greece, Turkey, and the divided island of Cyprus meet each year for a week-long summer camp hoping to pave the way to a permanent peace between the countries. For centuries they coexisted and lived peacefully, side-by-side, until the early 20th century when political manipulation created nationalist movements to turn them against each other.

I lived in Kyrenia, Cyprus in the early 70s and witnessed the Greek coup on 15 July 1974 and the Turkish invasion on 20 July 1974. Thousands of lives were drastically changed forever by the atrocities of war. Of which I was one.

I urge you to support this initiative to win peace in the region.