Friday, July 7, 2017


July 14, 1971
     My Nikon has been a life preserver. Clinging to it, I have given the world a second look and discovered beauty. The hours I spend in the darkroom are enthralling but lonely. Floyd Rinker, my high school English teacher, phoned and asked how I was.
     "Could be better," I said. “My marriage has broken up.”
     "Come over and tell me about it."
     I did. After a few hours of telling him, I asked: "Where do I go from here?"
     "How much traveling have you done?"
     "Martha's Vineyard. Fort Lauderdale."
     "Never been to Europe? At your age? Go!"
     I tried to hide my qualms about traveling alone, but this guru read my mind.
     "If you'll behave yourself," he said gruffly over lunch a week later, "maybe I'll go along. I don't like to be spoken to until after I've had my morning coffee, I don't like to be kept waiting for cocktails, and don't expect me to traipse all over the countryside with you and your camera." Included in our arrangements are two side tours for me alone—to Copenhagen and to Istanbul.
Sept. 1971 Wednesday or Thursday or something like that
North British Hotel
Edinburgh, Scotland
     Floyd elected to have a continental breakfast brought up to his room, but I wended my way to the dining room after first trying to go through a large pair of decorative windows.
     “We’re off to a bit of the wrong direction this morning,” burred a cheerful porter, steering me toward the right one. I had so wanted to see what was on the other side of the looking glass, but the Scots are a practical sort who keep their white rabbits well hidden.
     I did see a mad hatter during our brief stop at the London airport. He was about four feet tall and solemnly preoccupied with stacking and re-stacking all the hats his family had collected during their travels,
then balancing the lot on his head to see how they felt.
     When he was satisfied with the effect, I snapped his picture, whereupon his mother, Lady McKuen, asked me to send her a copy and even offered to pay for it. Never having been within gawking distance of a real Lady before, let alone being commissioned to do a portrait of her son, I was that flattered!
     Now we can only hope that the latent image on my film turns out to be a likeness of the lad and not of his Lordship’s butt, which had a disconcerting way of intruding itself between camera and subject at precisely the moment I was ready to fire away.

2 November 71
Dear Mrs. Malley
It was a lovely surprise to get those sweet photographs of my Mad Hatter son. Thank you very much indeed. He, John, is very proud of them; to the rest of us it brings back the summer days as now the wind howls round the house and the leaves fall off the trees. You have caught the summer feeling and the serious/eccentric character of your small subject.
Thank you very much for sending me the copies. With best wishes, Brigid McKuen.
January 2012
Kathie found Lady McKuen online . . .
November 25, 2010
. . .The honour of opening the exhibition was bestowed on Lady Brigid McEwen of Marchmont, who herself is a keen Wojtek enthusiast having dedicated a chapter to him in her book about the Polish war effort.
     She said she was “extremely honoured” to be asked to perform the opening after being told the story of Wojtek many years ago.
     “I was originally told about Wojtek by an old Polish Soldier who came over to Britain during the war. . .
     “They were treated very unjustly at the end of the war so I wanted to write a book which highlighted all of their efforts.
     “Wojtek was an extraordinary animal so it was only right that he was featured heavily. . . ."
      On their trip through Iran, the men of the Polish 22nd Transport Artillery Supply Company came across a young Iranian boy wandering through the desert, and carrying a large cloth sack. The men thought the boy looked tired and hungry, so they gave him some food and a Crunch bar. When the kid thanked them, the Poles asked what was in the bag. The boy opened it up and revealed a tiny, malnourished brown bear cub. Since the soldiers knew the little cub was in very poor health and needed attention quickly, they bought the bear from the kid for a few bucks (or whatever they used for money in 1940’s Iran) and fed it some condensed milk from a makeshift bottle. For the next several days, they nursed the bear back to health, giving it food, water, and a warm place to sleep.
     Over the long journey from Iran to Palestine, the bear, now named Voytek (it’s spelled Wojtek in Polish but pronounced "Voytek”) quickly became the unofficial mascot of the 22nd Company. The bear would sit around the campfire with the men, eating, drinking, and sleeping in tents with the rest of the soldiers. The bear loved smoking cigarettes, drank beer right out of the bottle like a regular infantryman, and got a kick out of wrestling and play-fighting with the other soldiers. Of course, he was the most badass wrestler in the entire company, thanks in part to the fact that he grew to be six feet tall, weighed roughly five hundred pounds, and could knock small trees over with a single swing of his massive, clawed paw.
     He grew to be a part of the unit, improving the morale of men who had spent several years in slave labor camps, and was treated as though he were just another hard-drinkin’, hard-smoking’, hard-fightin’, hair-growin’ soldier in the Company. When the unit marched out on a mission, Voytek would stand up on his hind legs and march alongside them. When the motorized convoy was on the move, Voytek sat in the passenger seat of one of the jeeps, hanging his head out the window and shocking the shit out of people walking down the street. . . .
September 11, 1971
King Frederick Hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark
Dear Floyd,
      After checking into the King Frederick, I walked across the square to the Tivoli Gardens and had my first adventure almost as soon as I passed through the gate. I was taking in all the lights and excitement and fun, and bumping into people in a touristy way that would make my husband cringe, when suddenly I found myself nose to nose with an Indian. I couldn't have jumped higher if he'd had a tomahawk and feathers. He was the kind of Indian who comes from India; but his swarthy complexion, curly black beard, and gleaming black eyes, weren't what I'd expected to meet on a dark night in the Tivoli Gardens.
      "Hello!" he said, between the gap in his front teeth. I was speechless.
      "I only said hello. Is that so frightening?" He fell into step beside me, asking where I was from and how I liked Copenhagen. I decided to ignore his piratical appearance and assume he was a harmless foreigner from a strange land, even as I.      He told me how difficult it was for a native of India to leave his country. After buying his airline ticket, he was permitted to take with him only $8.00 in American currency. Fortunately, he had a brother living in London, who was able to help him.
      "Oh, look," he said, stopping suddenly and pointing. "They have gambling in there. Do you enjoy gambling? Why don't we go in and watch?"
      I saw that piratical glint in his eye again, and said I didn't care for gambling and thought I'd go back to my hotel. The pirate tried to talk me into having a drink with him, but orange lights were flashing in my head. He walked me to the gate of my hotel, and when I wouldn't agree to meet him the next night at a definite time and place, he bowed and smiled and said we would perhaps meet again by chance.
      If you never hear from me again, you'll know we met by chance, whereupon I was doped and smuggled off to India as a white slave. Further adventures I'll relate in person when I see you in Venice. Don't plan to meet my train; I have become self sufficient and will see you at the whatever-it‑is hotel when I get there. If I'm more than 48 hours late, check with the Bureau of Missing Persons in New Delhi.
      I have been forgetting to take my tranquilizers, yet have never felt more tranquil. I think of Ed once in awhile, but am no longer obsessed. Your travel prescription is working, Dr. Rinker. . . .
September 12, 1971
     I left Copenhagen for Milan at 9:30 a.m., where—according to my travel agent’s plan— I was to get on a train for Venice at 5:43 a.m. This temporal legerdemain was beyond me. True, I had not been paying much attention to the news the last ten days. I’d heard Khrushchev was dead, and a bank in London was robbed, but as far as I knew, time zones had not been altered.
     Fortunately, Floyd detected this error before we parted in Edinburgh on the tenth, so the first thing I did upon arrival in Copenhagen was to seek out the local AAA. I was told I would have ample time after arriving in Milan to catch the train for Venice.
     Other things I sought out in Copenhagen: The Little Mermaid; The funny mirror in the Tivoli Gardens; the Stroget or “walking street.” On the Stroget, some sit on a bench and read the local newspaper; some sit and feed the pigeons; some sit and smile; others fiddle for a living. The lady with the camera walks the Walking Street and takes pictures.

      I'm not homesick in the least, but the suitcase I bought in Filene’s Basement is a problem. I wrote Floyd that not only is there more than enough room for my wardrobe, but I could also curl up and sleep in it in an emergency. He replied that he had heard of babies left in baskets on doorsteps, but to see a full-grown woman arise from a suitcase would be a novelty.
Sept. 13, 1971    
      My train was due to arrive in Venice at 5:02 p.m.  At 5:05 the train stopped and the few passengers still aboard began piling off.  I hefted my two suitcases down from the overhead  rack, then discovered the corridor was too narrow and crowded to  get everything off in one trip.  With my carry‑all and camera  hanging from my left ahoulder, and my purse and smaller suitcase  clutched in my right hand, I disembarked.  Leaving the suitcase  on the platform, I returned to my compartment for the jumbo bag.   By the time I staggered down the steps of the train, my shoulders  were pleading for mercy.  Not a porter in sight.  Italian male  stalwarts stare  studiously in other directions.    
     Loaded down like a camel, I staggered down a long flight of  stairs leading to the terminal, and eventually found a taxi.  
     "Please take me to the Bauer‑Grunwald Hotel," I said to the  handsome young driver, as I settled back with a relieved sigh.    
     "The Bauer‑Grunwald is in Venice."    
     "I know," I said.  "That's where I want you to take me."    
     "It will cost you 30,000 lire."     
     It sounded like a lot of lire.  "Why so much?"         
     "Because we are not in Venice.  You should have gotten off  at the next stop."    
     I pictured myself staggering back to the train, only to have  it chug off as I approached. Quel nightmare!      
     Okay, I told the driver, take me to the Bauer‑Grunwald.  On the way, I remembered my letter to Floyd.  Suppose he had disobeyed orders and was now waiting for me at the Venezia  station?     
     "Driver, I may have a friend waiting for me at the railroad  station.  We'd better go there first."     
     "I cannot do this, Madame."        
     "Why not?"    
     "Because of the waterways.  I will take you to the water bus  that will take you to the station."    
     At the water‑bus dock, I dragged, pushed, and pulled my  suitcase to the ticket window while a throng of muttering  commuters shouldered their way past me.  I was now sweating  profusely and was sure my hairpiece as well as my scarf needed  adjusting.  Either that or my bangs had grown six inches in ten  minutes.    
     "A ticket to the railroad station," I said when I reached  the window.    
     "Numero uno, numero uno!"    
      "Yes, just one," I said.    
      "Numero uno!" the ticket agent repeated, glaring and pointing off to his right.  I picked up my bags again and stumbled toward gate numero  uno.  I remembered that Kathie's impression of Italian men had  been unfavorable, and I was fast learning why.  Gallant,  charming, and flattering they may be when you're tripping along taking in the sights but attention unrelated to romance is not their forte.   As I joined the crowd milling toward the boat, my purse fell  open and spilled out my passport, hotel itinerary, change purse,  and vitamin pills.  People stepped around, over, and on me while  I crouched down and collected my belongings.  I was the last one  to board the boat.     I reached the station too late.  My bangs grew another four  inches.       
     Enough!  My pencil is worn to the nub and so am I.                                                 
Sept. 14, 1971 
Hotel Bauer Grunwald         
     From the moment I reached this hotel, I've been in a  fairyland.  The Grand Canal flows by my balcony. 

     Across the  canal is a church. its dome glowing in the light of the setting  sun.  Wherever I turn, there are spires, domes, and cupolas  outlined against a pink‑streaked sky.  The activity on the canal  holds me like a magnet; I can scarcely tear myself away long  enough to unpack.  Gondolas propelled by lithe gondaliers. 
     Barges conveying everything from laundry to vegetables.  Motor  boats, waterbusses, huge steam-ships ‑‑ there is so much to see,  it is impossible to describe. 
     Venice...ah, Venice!  Everyone I  love must see Venice.                                        
Sept. 22                                       
Departing from Istanbul 
     A week on a cruise ship seems like a year of ordinary living. The excursion scheduled yesterday morning included a visit to Istanbul's famous bazaar, seemingly hundreds of streets and thousands of shops.  Outside the bazaar, the streets teemed with sellers, buyers, strollers, beggars, and human creatures humped over like camels, bearing enormous burdens on their padded backs. I snapped picture after picture.

     Nearby was the university and an open area where handfuls of corn were sold by crones and children. A pretty Egyptian girl assured me I would get my wish if I threw the pigeons a few golden kernels. I threw a few kernels. 

     A young man, wearing tinted glasses and a dark moustache, spoke to me next. "You are American. Are you visiting our city for long?"     
     "No, my ship is leaving tomorrow"

     "I am a student at the university," he said, falling into step beside me. I hoped he wasn't going to be a pest. I didn't want company; I wanted to concentrate on taking pictures.

     The young man introduced himself as Gilmaz and continued to ask questions. I didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him to get lost.

     He offered to take me to picturesque areas I would have difficulty finding by myself    outdoor markets, fishing wharves, and parks. At no charge, he assured me.

     Gilmaz was twenty-four and couldn't believe I had two sons almost as old as he. "You are so slim and shapely -- surely you must have been a child bride?"

      Going, going, gone. At the end of the afternoon, as Gilmaz walked me back to my ship, I agreed to meet him after dinner and let him show me Istanbul's night life. I took the precaution of telling shipboard friends that I was going out for the evening with a student named Gilmaz.

     "If you don't show up for breakfast, we'll sound the alarm."     
     My escort took me first to a shabby cafe where we had drinks and tried to talk above the clamor of a juke box. Soon GIlmaz was calling me by my first name, clutching my hand in both of his, and telling me I was the most fascinating woman he had ever met. After one more drink, I believed him. He was not satisfied just to hold my hand, he said. He would take me to a place where there was dancing, and he could hold me in his arms.
     The next dive shrouded its seedy atmosphere in darkness. Battered tables, lit by candle stumps, were grouped around a dance floor. We had more to drink, we talked, we danced. Gilmaz said he couldn't bear to think he would never see me again. Behind his glasses, his hooded eyes entreated me to relax and let him hold me closer.
     "You are not afraid of me, are you?  You can trust me totally."

      So might a cobra speak if it had a larynx and spoke with a Turkish accent.     

     "It's too late," Gilmaz was insisting a couple of hours later. He showed me his watch. "The authorities close the gates to the ship at midnight. We'd never get there in time."

     Then I would have to go to a hotel, I told him. I was tired and had had too much to drink, and I  wasn't feeling very well. Gilmaz said it was his fault, he was so enchanted that he had lost track of the time. My stomach rumbled disagreeably. From one unwashed glass or another, I had picked up an affliction which would make subsequent events even more nightmarish.
     Now, arguing persuasively, Gilmaz convinced me I should spend the night at his villa. There, he assured me, I could enjoy complete privacy in a separate apartment; and to prove his honorable intentions, he would give me the key to my bedroom door. He would get me back to my ship first thing in the morning. 
     Several bus changes followed, with the neighborhood and our fellow passengers gradually deteriorating in appearance. I began to feel alarmed.

     "Gilmaz, I've changed my mind. I want to go back to the city."

     "There are no connections at this hour. Why have you changed your mind? Are you frightened? No harm will come to you as long as you are with me."

     Next, we were walking down a deserted alley, lined with the dark irregular shapes of two- and three-decker tenements. I desperately needed a bathroom. That first, then a policeman.

     "Here we are," said Gilmaz, whose voice had begun to sound brisker and less ingratiating as we neared the home he had described in such splendid terms. He led me down a set of jagged stone steps, took out his key, and pushed open a scarred, creaking door.

     "Where is the bathroom?" I asked, looked around the dingy apartment. I had been thoroughly conned. The question was, would I now be killed or was I just in for a bad night?

     "Over there." Gilmaz pointed to a curtain. "The toilet seat came from Sears Roebuck," he added with a note of pride. "We haven't had  it connected yet, but you can use it."

     "We—?" I asked.

     "My cousin, with whom I share these quarters. You remember my telling you about him?"

     Yes, I remembered something about a cousin. At the time I had visualized "these quarters" as being less intimate.

     "He is very nice, you will meet him in the morning. Ah –   here he is now."

     A youth with sparse black whiskers, pulling on a pair of trousers, came through one of two doors opposite the curtain. Gilmaz started to introduce us.

     "I have to go to the bathroom," I interrupted. The toilet seat, backed by a lidless, empty tank, was stationed over a hole in the floor. I had no choice but to use it. Outside I could hear Gilmaz and his cousin conversing in low voices. Oh God! Trapped in a 12 X 14 "villa" with Bluebeard the Turk and his cousin, Blackbeard.

     "If you need water, I will show you where you can wash up," Gilmaz called through the curtain. When I came out, the cousin had disappeared. Gilmaz said he had gone to bed. I certainly hoped so. He ushered me into a cubbyhole which was apparently the kitchen. There was no sink, just a pipe with a faucet.

     "Where's a towel?" I asked. Gilmaz gestured toward a grimy rag hanging next to the pipe and left me to manage my Turkish bath as best I could.  
     "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it." A male joke.  Gilmaz entered my cell in his maroon pajamas, removed his glasses, and surveyed me with dark, heavy lidded eyes. He had changed from a mild-mannered university student to an imperious, mustachioed sultan, accustomed to having his way with his choice of the night.

     Gilmaz said, "Do this." Gilmaz said, "Do that." 

     I will draw a curtain over the next few hours. Throughout that long night I felt an affinity with women of all times and all cultures, who have been sexually exploited against their will.
     The next morning, haggard and degraded, my self esteem in shreds, I accompanied Gilmaz and his cousin to the bus stop. The three of us talked about the weather on the long ride back to the city.

September 22, 1971

     It worked again. Like my stay in the loony bin, my night with Gilmaz lost its obsessive power once I had written it out in terror-assuaging paragraphs.

     I stayed in my cabin on the ship until noon yesterday, writing, writing.  I sent for a sandwich and wrote some more.  Then I slept, and slept.  This evening I was ready to face the pre-dinner cocktail group. There, someone asked me, “What do you do?”  I had rarely heard this question until I started traveling.  At first, my stammered answer was “I’m a housewife, I guess.”  But now another answer occurred to me.  “Well, for one thing, I fly an airplane.”

    This terminated all conversation within earshot as effectively as if I’d announced I was a go-go dancer.  My shipmates insisted on hearing about some of the zanier adventures Ed and I have had, starting with our boating days; they wouldn’t let me stop until my memory went dry.  Next to writing, holding a group’s attention is the best poultice for a traumatized psyche.

     I am about to go to bed, after condensing a sanitized version of Istanbul and Gilmaz onto a postcard for Kathie: “Leaving the bazaar, I was picked up by a twenty-four-year-old Turk, a university student who told me I was beautiful and said he wanted to take me dancing so he could hold me in his arms.  Wherever you may roam, a line is a line is a line.  After a few drinks of Turkish rotgut, we did go dancing and I woke up this morning with a hangover.  Love, Mom"

Nov. 2, 1971

     I returned from Europe looking like the one thing I had never been able to be for Ed since 1940 --   a new woman. In another era we might have reconciled and lived haphazardly ever after, but now I knew I had options besides shrinks, suicide, and making do. I asked Ed for a trial separation.

     "Enry Iggins" was sure I'd come crawling back in two weeks. Instead, I made an unexpected discovery: being single again wasn't all that bad. Instead of orbiting like a trapped satellite around my husband's personal planet, I was free to explore new worlds, including the world evolving inside my head.  I've joined a women's consciousness-raising group, and signed up for a seminar for recently divorced and separated women and men. I'm looking into Parents Without Partners. I'm even taking dancing lessons.

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