LA STANZA  di Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

An Appreciation of  Una Ragazza Americana a Tripoli
based on the writings of the american author Victoria Giraud

by Umberto Vaccarini

Dear Brother Giuseppe Volpati, dear Domenico,

I have had the pleasure to read the extensive and detailed extracts  from “Una Ragazza Americana a Tripoli” by the author Victoria Giraud and published both in her books and her blog. Actually I had the pleasure to ‘meet’ the author herself  whilst researching on internet for stories relating to Libya and more specifically  to the American Base of Wheelus Field of Tripoli. I became enthralled with her vivid memories of life in Tripoli in those years. Victoria Giraud has helped me to enrich my memories and because of this I thought it useful to open a new folder  and with Larry Tesler’s classic ‘copy and paste’ save her writings for my archives.

Looking at her sunny smile in the photo taken in those wonderful 1950’s carries me back over the years.
The clothes  that Victoria Giraud is wearing, the style unmistakably 1950’s, unleashed a river of memories for me when the girls wore tight waistbands and full skirts.

Victoria Giraud in the fifties

Our generation, that of the last century, appreciate the testimonies and memories of people like her who lived in Tripoli during those happy and ‘effervescent’ years. We could do with a little of that enthusiasm today !
Thinking of this brings to mind a song written by Claudio Mattone called ‘The Fifties’ and interpreted by the great Gigi Proietti that goes something like this ‘ when you wore a large coat with a big collar, when the older kids hung around in front of the school hoping to get noticed, when you rode a Lambretta or Vespa wearing T shirts, goggles and scarves, when the whole family went out on Sunday for the day in their old car or new 600, when couples rushed to the movies to kiss and cuddle in the dark’

The 1950’s were the years we exchanged pens, nibs, ink and blotting paper for Lazislao José Biro’s invention, the ball point pen. Baron Marcel Bich, an Italian born in Turin and naturalized French bought the patent from Biro in 1953 and from then it quickly spread across Europe and eventually  to us in Tripoli. Thinking of these pens reminds me  that there were also small cardboard packets containing six coloured Giotto crayons. Printed on the outside was an illustration of Giotti as a shepherd boy with his flask by his side, sketching a sheep on a rock. Cimabue is seen wearing a red headdress and observing with amazement the natural skill of this undernourished child. The story goes on to say Giotto was welcomed by both him, as later Giorgio Vasari did, into his Florentine workshop.

Six colors of crayons Giotto

Dear friends, those were the  years of transition. World War II had ended a few years before and people were starting to live again, both socially and economically. The new fashion in music reflected this change with the swing and the twist. The newer generations may look on it as prehistoric  but it was the golden age of rock, the one and only legendary music that still shakes the soul of its’ followers. Juke boxes appeared in cafés and bars and our homes were given facelifts, repainted and repaired.

These were the early years following the proclamation of the ‘United Kingdom of Libya’ that then became the ‘Kingdom of Libya’. In 1955 the young state became a member of the United Nations. I remember the great enthusiasm of the Libyan population and the celebrations that accompanied it on its first step on the  road to becoming an independent nation. Tripoli was a city in celebration. The roads were decked with flags and banners depicting their leader King Idris el Awal everywhere.

King Idris El Awal

Maidan Essavaia (Castle Square) and Maidan Algeria (Cathedral Square) were illuminated with lights representing the Royal Crown.

Maidan Essaraia - (Castle Square Maidan Algeria - (Cathedral Square

Victoria Giraud’s description of the Hotel Mehari with its well known underpass where she stayed takes us back in time. Today all that remains of the Mehari with its guestrooms that opened onto six great Arab court-gardens is its name. It had been built in 1935 , together with the Uaddan Hotel by an architect , Florestano Di Fausto. Another architect , Gatti Casazza was responsibile for the interior design.

Hotel Mehari Hotel Casino Uaddan

I enjoy photography and have used some of the photographs from my archives as illustrations for Victoria Giraud’s recollections. They will bring back memories to all of you. Here they are:

The Promenade built in 1922-1924 by the architect Armando Brassini Fishermen mending their nets in the port
Fishermen mending their nets
Tripoli Harbour and small fishing boats

The Sacred Heart Cathedral

The Gazelle Fountain 01
The Gazelle Fountain 01
Suk el Giuma in the floods 01
Suk el Giuma in the floods 01

The Grand Hotel. The first mega hotel constructed in Tripoli in 1928. Designed by an architect, Alessandro Limongelli. It was demolished in 1982 to make way for a new hotel, the Al Kebir Hotel

I remember when Richard Nixon , the 36th Vice President to the United States, accompanied by his wife Pat Nixon, paid a visit to Tripoli.

Pat Nixon and Vice President of the United States, Richard Nixon

There was a great turnout of the community for this exceptional visit. It was in March 1957 and these illustrious guests  were welcomed to the Ambassador’s Residence by the Ambassador John L.Tappin
If I remember rightly, a part of the US delegation stayed in the Grand Hotel and the Grand Hotel was the venue for the reception in which all the maximum authorities of the Libyan Government , the Ambassadors from various countries and other VIPs attended.

Their arrival at the Grand Hotel

At one of the funcions
Another official funcions

During this visit there were bilateral meetings to discuss the development of new relationships and the promotion of economical and technical co-operation between the two countries.

Continuing the Sciara 24 December visit - 01
Continuing the Sciara 24 December visit - 02
Visiting the  Sul el Turk
Visiting the Technical School

The cast of the 1957 film, ‘The Legend of the Lost’ (‘Timbuktu’ in Italian) starring Sofia Loren, John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi were also guests of the Grand Hotel during the shooting of the film.

Legend of the lost - film Rossano Brazzi, John Wayne and Sophia Loren

Once the shooting  finished our journalist friend Gianni Massa, editor of ‘The Corriere di Tripoli’, the daily newspaper of Tripolitania, obtained an interview with Rossano Brazzi. The interview took place in the foyer of the Grand Hotel and present were also colleagues , Stefano Licata, Franco Cosentino and Vittorio Halfon.

Rossano Brazzi's interview

I am sure you all remember the cannon on the walls of the Red Castle and its place in American history. The story relates that the first war fought by the USA outside of American Territory was in the First Barbary War which broke out on the 10th May 1801. The USA and their ally Sweden, hoped in this way to protect their mercantile vessels from being captured by the pirates who were the  last remnants of the Ottoman Empire and their leader Yusuf Karamanli, Pascià of Tripolitania.
In the October of 1803 the USS Philadelphia ran aground whilst patrolling the coast. The Corsairs from Tripoli wasted no time in boarding the vessel and engaging in a violent gun battle with the crew. They managed to take possession of the ship despite various attempts by the crew to scuttle her before she could fall into enemy hands. About 300 crew members were taken prisoner along with their Captain, William Bainbridge and were later held to ransom. The Philadelphia was brought back to Tripoli where she was anchored off the entrance to the harbour with the aim of using her as a coastal battery against possible attempts by the Americans to gain entry to the port.  However, on the night of the 16th February 1804   volunteers from the 1st Regiment of Marines on board a small vessel , the USS Intrepid, under the command of Captain Stephen Decatur Jr. managed to retake the USS Philadelphia and scuttle her thus leaving Tripoli without defences. The USS Intrepid was a small vessel that had previously been taken under corsair command. Retaken she was returned to service with the US Navy. She was the vessel of choice when, on the 4th September , under the command of Captain Richard Somers she attempted to enter harbour. Somers planned to blow her up in harbour  in an effort to scuttle the entire fleet of the Pascià Yusuf Karamanli at anchor there. The ship was hit by the cannon from the castle defences before it could reach harbour and in the explosion that followed Captain Richard Somers and his five crew members were killed. They are laid to rest in the Hammagi Cemetery  in Tripoli in the section reserved for the Greek Orthodox and
Protestant communities.  Their names have gone down in history.

 Plaque in memory of the American crew of Intrepid volunteers Marines sunk in the Harbour of Tripoli on 4 September 1804
The mounds of Marines and of the Captain R. Somers Umberto Vaccarini and his wife, Angela,on the ramparts of the Castle, next to the cannon which (they say) sank the Intrepid

Games were important for us growing up in Tripoli in those years. It was well known that the American school Basket team from the airbase were a formidable team. However , as often happens when facing a strong team , the other team, fuelled by adrenaline, is galvanized into super human efforts. The final points scored meant a disconsolate return to the air base by our American friends. Our team was the envy of all the other school teams in the community and it was not easy to beat a quintet formed by Dino Mercantanti, Piero Pieroni, Augusto Belpassi, Alberto Mallia, Franco Taliana backed up by Bruno Cosentino, Domenico Romeo, Bito and Italo Nemni, Orestes Sagona, Alberto Candelaria, Antonio Marcello, Giorgio Devruscian, Harold Tartaglini, Giancarlo Eminian, Franco Venza, Antonio and Sebastian Palmer. All great players who represented the best in the Italian schools.

The Italian School team  of basketball

Finally I would like to spend a few words on the “Big Texas Rodeo” held in Tripoli in 1957.

The program announced

“ The 17th United States Air Force and Wheelus Air base

In co-operation

With the Government of Tripolitania


Thrills of the Wild West

Busetta Race Track

Tripoli,  Libya

30th Nov-1st Dec”

Program Organizing Committee - Information lines Eco printing

I was there. I had never seen anything like it nd it was an unforgettable experience.

Some of the photographs reproduced here are from my personal archives and are testimony of a wonderful event.

Various photos
Opens the parade the Queen of the Rodeo, Miss Clauda Sobczac Rodeo Queen Claudia Sobczak

Dear friends, for me this has been a stroll down memory lane and in sharing these memories with you all hope to have contributed to an appreciation of  Victoria Giraud’s “ An American Girl in Tripoli”. I have done so with great pleasure because they are our memories and memories are also emotions. Assalam Aleikum

Victoria Graud
Unberto Vaccarini

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