Beware! Chew and Brew!

My husband, Doug, and I flew from Lima, Peru (sea level) to Cusco, Peru (Elevation: 11,152′) on July 12th, 2016 with a group to visit ancient sites in Peru and Bolivia.

The plane landed, doors opened, and oxygen got sucked from my lungs. I gasped for air. My vision blurred. Dizzy, I clutched seat backs and handrails to exit the plane. Doug extended his arm for support but he also struggled to breathe in the thin mountain air.

I knew altitude sickness could affect people and that it can be dangerous; even lead to death. Since I had hiked high mountains without problems, I figured I was low risk. The risk is low if one increases altitude in a gradual way. The risk is high if one climbs over 1,600 feet per day. And we climbed to an elevation of 11,152 in one hour and twenty minutes.

A world traveler, I didn’t expect complications but took high altitude pills for four days before. Just in case. The pills can cause minor side effects; tingling fingers, a strange taste. Better than dead.

A bus took us to our hotel in the historic district of Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire. We checked in at the desk and climbed the staircase to our second-floor room. My eyes teared non-stop and my left eye throbbed in pain. I clung to the banister for guidance. Not far, I thought struggling to catch my breath with each step. When we entered our room, we collapsed on the large firm bed. Exhausted, I assured myself I had mild altitude sickness (AMS). I’d be fine once I acclimated to the high altitude.

We met our group in the lobby later and discussed our various symptoms. Some travelers had headaches, others earaches, one a bloody nose. Lucky me; a throbbing eye. No blood.

Our local guide pointed to small bowls filled with coca leaves in the dining room and suggested we chew the leaves. He explained how coca is an essential part of life in the Andes. A South American plant, coca grows wild in the humid foothills a

We joined others in a welcome ceremony to connect our souls with Mother Earth and spirit guides. Inca tradition. In the meditation, I imagined my eyes healed; with bright vision again.

Susan & Inca Cross

When the ceremony ended, we received gifts and our guide explained the spiritual meaning of each Incan symbol. I chose a dark wooden cross on a leather cord. He said it was the “Chakana” (Tree of Life) and provided protection. Incas used the “Chakana” to decide everything important in life. Doug selected one from light wood which represented purification.

After the ceremony, we walked along the old stone streets of the historic capital of the Inca Empire (13th-16th century). I wiped my teary eyes and stepped with caution as I listened to the ancient history of the region and the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. The Spanish destroyed most of the Inca structures and built new ones on top of the old.

Cusco Walls

Our guide explained the evidence of great builders before the Inca and pointed to the megalithic walls at the base. The stones on top of the granite were typical Inca rectangular shapes which resembled polygons. Adobe mud, used as mortar covered the rough stones and held them in place. The Spanish built walls of straw, adobe mud, and painted the rough surface. Spanish walls looked sloppy by comparison.

I touched the smooth massive boulders at the bottom; the ancient walls. They varied in size and shape, yet joined, edge to edge in a perfect fit, interlocked without visible gaps and without mortar to hold them in place. My fingertips danced across the even surfaces and the rounded corners of the gigantic megalithic boulders.

Doug pointed to a Puma figure and a snake in the granite shapes. Our guide showed us a condor figure higher on the Inca wall.

Next we visited the holiest site in Incan mythology; “The Coricancha.” I rested my eyes and listened to our guide tell us the history of the religious complex; the center of the Inca world. Built to honor the creator god, and Inti, the sun god, it housed shrines to the Moon, Venus, and other weather deities. The vast astronomical observatory had a device to calculate movement of the earth with ceremonies conducted round the clock.

Temple of the Sun, Cusco, Peru

When the Spanish conquered Cusco, they described the temple as “beautiful beyond belief.” Then they stripped its gold and treasures and sent them back to Spain. After demolishing the temple, they built a cathedral on the site. Earthquakes have destroyed the cathedral but the ancient temple foundation remains intact.

Next stop was the Cusco Museum of History.  Tattered documents and ancient artifacts told the story of the various stages of development of all invaders who inhabited Peru.

A wooden bench, on the porch, beckoned me. It looked to be on the same floor level. But when I took a step, I stumbled and almost fell because I couldn’t judge the size or the distance of the step. My depth perception was gone.

We returned to the hotel for an early dinner, then to bed for a good night’s sleep. We tossed and turned for long hours, then realized coca is a strong stimulant. No rest for the weary. Chew and brew did us in.

But, when on a tour, the show goes on and we joined our group for another day of exploring more ancient sites.

Good Morning Diego Garcia—Excerpt Chapter 8

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

July 1975

We wandered around town and found a small cafe.
“Isn’t this one our taxi driver also recommended?” I asked Charles.
“Yes.” Charles nodded.
We went inside and ordered toasted cheese and meat sandwiches. No
coffee, but tea was served and it was delicious.
“Ceylon tea,” the waiter said proudly. “Best in the world.”
“Your English is good,” I said.
“Thank you! I worked on cargo ships for many years. I sailed all over
the world.”
“Are you a Sri Lankan?”
“Yes. I returned home to look after my family.” he said, looking around
to make sure no one else was in the cafe. “We’re Tamils.”
“We read about the Tamil Tigers in the newspaper,” Charles said.
“We’re calling for an independent state, where we are respected,” the
waiter said.
“I understand,” I replied. “Are the Tamils a minority in Sri Lanka?”
“Yes, and we’ve formed a group to fight for our rights. There is no other
alternative. We will fight to the end.”
Charles and I sat silently, taking it all in.
“I’ll bring you more tea,” the waiter said.
“Is it the group the police think took the dingy from the boat?” I whispered
to Charles.
Charles nodded.

The waiter returned with more tea. Charles ordered another sandwich.
I told the waiter our nice taxi driver, from Colombo, had recommended
his cafe.
“My cousin,” he said, and in a hushed voice warned us not to talk publicly
about the politics of Sri Lanka. “It’s not safe.”
“In America,” I said, “minorities also have to fight for their rights.”
He nodded.
“Your cousin is a nice man,” I said.
He smiled. “He also sailed the seas for many years. But the Indian
Ocean is different because of the mawsim.”
“Mawsim?” I asked.
“Monsoon in English. Arabic in origin, mawsim means fixed season.
In the North the winds blow from the northeast from November to
March, and then switch and blow from the southwest. The fixed seasons
are called the Northeast and Southwest Monsoons.”
“Is this what causes cyclones?” Charles asked.
“No,” the waiter said. “Cyclones are tropical storms. They form over
tropical oceans with high winds of hurricane force.”
“Oh dear,” I said. “They sound dangerous.”
“If you cross the Indian Ocean in mawsim season, you are guaranteed
a few cyclones.”
Charles asked a few more questions about the Trincomalee area and
asked for the bill.

Going out the front door, I almost tripped over a grossly disfigured
man sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against the wall, outside the cafe.
He held a tin cup, hoping for coins. I asked Charles to give him some
Our waiter appeared in the doorway and told us to drop the coins in
the cup.
“He’s a leper. An outcast,” the waiter said. “Sits here most days. I feel
sorry for him.”
My mind reeled, remembering images I’d seen of leper colonies in
films. Leprosy was common in Bible times, and was used as an example
of sin’s destructive power. ‘Unclean, unclean,’ a leper was expected
to call out. To think, this terrifying disease has been around since
ancient times. The thought made me shudder. Why was this man here
and not in a leper colony? Why wasn’t he receiving help?
“Isn’t leprosy an infectious disease?” I asked Charles.
“Yes, but not so contagious. Children are more likely to get it than adults.”
“From contact with body fluids?”
“Yes. From someone with untreated leprosy.” Charles answered. “That’s
why our waiter told us to drop the coins in his cup.”
“What a horrible disease,” I said. “Remember the man we saw in India
with the giant elephant legs? Elephantiasis?”
Charles nodded.
“Everyone else was so skinny; people and cows. And the poor man
could barely move with his heavy legs.”

We stopped in the crowded souk. Colorful displays of green beans,
carrots, peas, and yams got our attention, and the prominent exhibit
of fresh fish impressed me. The market was alive with noise and the
sweet smell of spices and local fruits. One stand was cooking freshly
made stuffed patties. We bought several, and some fresh fruit to take
back to the boat.
Processed milk products were relatively new to Sri Lanka and local
cheese was hard to come by. We found a cheese made from powdered
milk; bought a small piece and sampled it. Not the tastiest, but hey
when in Sri Lanka.
We discussed whether to buy a chicken or seafood, and decided to
wait until we talked with Mia about what foods were needed on board.
“I suspect Mia is a bit territorial in her kitchen,” I told Charles.
“No doubt,” he replied.
The locals were friendly and helpful. A few spoke some English, but
we mainly communicated by pointing. “International sign language
is amazing,” I remarked, as we headed back to the boat.



Good Morning Diego Garcia—Excerpt Chapter 7


Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
July 1, 1975

Nearing the port city of Trincomalee, our driver pointed out shops
and restaurants which might be of interest.

“Only a short distance to the port,” he said. “What is the name of the yacht you will sail on?”

“Zozo,” Charles told him. “I’m sure if you drop us at the entrance to the port we can find our way.”

“No problem,” he said. “I’ll take you there. I have family who work in the port.”

“Oh thank you! Our suitcases are heavy,” I said, remembering all the books I had packed to read during the ocean crossing

Entering the port, our driver asked for directions to the yacht and
drove us a few hundred feet to a concrete quay. The Zozo was docked
alongside a Greek oil tanker. There were dozens of big tankers in the bay. The yacht looked small by comparison.

We unloaded suitcases, paid our driver, and thanked him for his
excellent service.

“I hope you enjoy your stay in Sri Lanka,” he said, nodding goodbye.

Charles called to Dylan and we climbed the gangplank to the boat.

Dylan answered, “Come on up!” He squatted on deck neatly arranging
ropes. “You made it.”

“A few days later than planned. We couldn’t get out of India.”

“Because of ‘The Emergency’?” Dylan asked.

“Yes. Every flight was full or delayed,” Charles answered.

Dylan showed us to our stateroom below and said Mia and Alon had
gone into the village for supplies and should return soon.

“Alon?” I asked. “Mia’s brother sailed with you?”

“Yes, he’s a great help.” Dylan answered.

He showed us the bathroom and sauna, and explained the sauna and
other luxuries all stop working once under sail and on the open sea.

We unpacked our suitcases. Charles went above to help Dylan sort
the ropes. I stayed in our room and put things away in drawers. I was impressed with the abundance of drawers and the nice size closet. I hung our windbreakers and clothes, put swim suits and underwear in a drawer, and placed my new, non-slip deck shoes on the closet floor. Not one for wearing hats, I put those in a top drawer along with sun protection lotion, a deck of cards, and high powered binoculars. I jotted thoughts in my journal.

Zozo? Where do I know this name from?

When I heard Mia and Alon return, I joined them on deck. I was surprised to see Mia dressed in hot pants and a scanty top. Why does she dress like this when visiting foreign countries with conservative dress codes? I wondered, remembering her almost nude attire when I first met her in Cyprus. Her risqué manner of dress; more undressed than dressed, reminded me of the voluptuous L’il Abner female comic strip characters who ran around half-naked. Men didn’t seem to mind. And, it didn’t seem to bother Dylan either.

“Hi Mia,” I greeted her.

She smiled and said, “Welcome aboard!”

Alon greeted me with a bright smile. A young, handsome man, he
looked like a suntan lotion advertisement. Tan and fit, with perfect
white teeth.

“Alon, nice to see you again,” I said.

Mia made fresh coffee. We joined her in the galley below.

Good Morning Diego Garcia Excerpt Chapter 5

Agra, India
June 1975

The taxi drove us to the river bank and agreed to wait for us.

The night was warm. The steps to the water’s edge were filled with pilgrims making their way over the sandy bed of the Yahuna River. For some reason I expected a cremation ceremony to be serene and quiet. Heavens no, the atmosphere was electrifying, with action all around us. Rowboats waited near the shore to take visitors along the river for a quieter viewing.

As far as I could see, the shores of the Ganges, Hinduism’s holiest river, was dotted with dancing fires. Dusk descended, candles were lit, and I watched people of all ages assisting in the rituals.

Planks of wood were measured and weighed to make certain the
correct amount of firewood was used, according to the physical size of the deceased. Funeral pyres were built. Holy men stood in a long line,chanting verses, while waiting to perform the last rites. Bodies were wrapped in several layers of cloth, set on wooden planks, and taken to the sacred river for cleansing. After the cleansing, the body was placed on a pyre and the fire was lit. The evening was alive with a fiery glow, and the sounds of ringing bells and beating drums.The odor of burning flesh filled the air. I covered my nose, watched and waited with others for the moment when bones burned to ashes, and the soul ascended to heaven.

Amidst the chaos, I felt a calm, an appreciation for being witness to the departure of so many souls. A sacred moment.

We returned to the hotel for dinner and an early night. Of course I had many questions for the hotel clerk on duty.

“What happens after the cremation?” I asked.

“The focus changes to purifying relatives of the dead. Exposure to the corpse makes them impure.”

“Wow,” I said, “I thought it was beautiful watching relatives clean and wrap the body.”

“The eldest son or male relative shaves his head and wears a white robe and pours milk over the pyre.”

“Oh,” I said, “another reason the cow is sacred.”

“Yes. Family members wash and pass under a cow yoke and pray to the sun, and walk away. Never looking back.”

“How long is the mourning period?”

“Ten to thirty days, depending on the caste, and the age of the

I thanked her for answering my questions. We headed to the restaurant for dinner.

Good Morning Diego Garcia! Excerpt Chapter 4

Good Morning Diego Garcia, by Susan Joyce

Bombay, India
June 1975

We asked about good restaurants in the area. She suggested the Harbor Bar, a lounge bar in the hotel where you can enjoy drinks and order food from any Taj Hotel restaurant.
“Nice!” I said. “The airline clerk recommended it.”
“Yes, and it’s famous for its selection of drinks; the first licensed bar in Bombay,” she added.
“I’m feeling perkier already,” I said.
“Let’s check it out!” Charles smiled.
“Be sure to ask the bartender about the signature cocktail,” the receptionist said, pointing us in the direction of the elevator and lounge.
“Sounds perfect,” I said.

Entering the Harbor Bar, we noticed the liquor license plate: proudly hanging, proclaiming its place in Bombay history as the oldest licensed bar in Bombay.
The greeter showed us to a comfortable window table facing the historic waterfront—overlooking the Gateway to India.
A smiling waiter welcomed us to the stylish lounge bar.
“We have a selection of fine wines, malts, spicy cocktails, and international food fare,” he said. “But first let me tell you a bit of our history.”
We smiled, waiting for him to continue.
“The Harbor Bar opened in 1933,” he said, “during the Prohibition era, and was the first licensed bar in Bombay.”
We nodded.
“An American, traveling across the Indian Ocean in a yacht, was docked in our harbor when he received a radio call from his wife telling him Prohibition in America had ended. He had no alcohol on his yacht and decided to walk to the Taj Mahal Hotel and get a drink to celebrate the news. Entering the Harbor Bar, he asked for a special drink to quench his thirst after many years of not drinking alcohol. The bartender agreed to make him a special drink to commemorate the happy occasion. Using Indian fruit juices, he promised to concoct a tasty cocktail which would blow his mind.
With the first sip of the exotic cocktail, the man shouted in glee. ‘What is the name of this amazing drink?’
The bartender smiled and said, ‘Sir, since it’s an original made special for you, you can name it.’
The American stood, raised his glass, and shouted, ‘From the Harbor Since 1933!’”
“What a great story,” I said, laughing. “I’d like to try it.”
“Flambéed at the table,” the waiter said.
“Flambéed?” I asked. “Even better.”
Charles nodded. “When in Bombay … we’ll have two.”

The waiter returned with a cart holding two wine glasses filled with sliced fruit and another glass filled with fresh squeezed fruit juice and ice. He poured the content of the two glasses into a shaker and shook it with the fancy flair of a seasoned performer, and poured the mixture into two fluted bowl shaped glasses.
“Gorgeous glasses.” I said. “Shaped like the kerosene hurricane lamp my grandmother used during storms when power went out.”
“It’s called a hurricane glass,” he said.
I laughed. “Of course.”
He poured gin into another waiting wine glass, and struck a match to light it.
“Oh,” I said, watching the flames rise.
He swirled the glass and flames around, and slowly poured the flambéed gin into our hurricane glasses. One last stir and the signature cocktail was presented with a broad smile.
The flames disappeared. We sipped the tasty cocktail.
“Peachy and light,” I said, asking for the recipe.
“Gin, crème de peach, pineapple juice, and green chartreuse.”
“Thank you!” I noted the ingredients in my travel journal.
“Flambéed to perfection,” Charles said.
We clinked glasses together, and said, “Cheers!” in unison.
The waiter smiled.

We decided to order dinner from a restaurant located in the hotel named Tanjore. Our waiter explained their menu offered dishes from all of India’s diverse regions. He suggested we order a sampler platter for two, which represents all of them. “You won’t be disappointed,” he added, and explained tastes of India vary tremendously, as a result of local culture, geographical location, seasons, and economics.
Charles asked the waiter to select a white wine to go with all of the different cuisines.
“An Alsace Pinot Gris,” he suggested. “It provides a touch of sweetness.”
“Perfect,” Charles said.

Sandalwood and Sanity

An excerpt from my next book about crossing the Indian Ocean in monsoon season in 1975.

Agra, India 1975


We thanked our tour guide and left the magic of the magnificent Taj Mahal behind, and took a rickety cycle rickshaw back into town along a crowded street filled with potholes, constant clatter, markets, bazaars, peddlers, and the usual, always skinny, sacred cows. Traffic along the narrow road came to a halt as a small team of men surrounded wandering cows and attempted to gently coax them out of the way. One cow refused to budge and another knelt down in the middle of the road for a rest and to finish munching vegetables thrown out by street vendors. Our driver explained that the cow was a holy animal and could not be harmed, and feeding them was like receiving a blessing.

I sighed. Charles nodded.

Since we were only a short distance from our hotel, Charles suggested we pay the driver and walk the rest of the way. We ascended into the chaos of blaring taxi horns and shouting rickshaw drivers. I gasped at the sordid sight of starving beggars with limbs missing, slumped amidst haggling housewives in the market stalls. And the sad sight of skinny cows pulling carts behind bullock drivers. Walking along the crowded street, I felt out of sync with the rhythm of poor Indians. India clobbered me with its scenes of despair. Seeing poverty this close up overwhelmed my senses with despair for the doomed of humanity. These disturbing images made me want to stop the world and get off. The heat and the repugnant smells of dung and decay didn’t help.

Why is the cow sacred when humans aren’t?

I thought of all the gold-threaded saris I had seen in the airports and on planes worn by the wealthy and contrasted this to the miserable plight of the lower castes; India’s system of segregation. My thoughts and emotions overpowered me. I called to Charles,“I feel like I’m going to faint.” He assured me the hotel was just around the corner.

And just in time, we entered the pristine clean of our hotel lobby. Taking a deep breath of sweet, sandalwood incense, I paused and felt refreshed by the fragrant air.

I told the hotel receptionist about the cows roadblock earlier and asked her why the cow was sacred.

“For many reasons,” she said. “The cow gives us milk and ghee. It represents life and the sustenance of life. And, it takes nothing but grass, water and a few grains.”

“I’ve always liked cows,” I said. “They’re gentle creatures.”

“They’re vital to life in India,” she answered.

Happy in Uruguay!


I am delighted to see photos of these smiling men and to know they have finally been freed from Guantanamo prison in Cuba. All were arrested following the 9/11 attacks of 2001. Although they were never charged with any crimes, they sat for years in black holes in Cuba.

Muchas gracias to Uruguayan President Jose Mujica who offered them freedom, education, and a home in Uruguay. He also demanded that they arrive in Uruguay free of shackles and take their first steps on Uruguayan soil as free men.

Bravo, Mujica!

Bookcases Speak Volumes …


Centuries ago, books were written by hand on parchment paper. The earliest literary works (preserved in a manuscript tradition) date from the early Iron Age. Ancient writings were kept in small boxes which owners of the works often carried with them.

As volumes accumulated in homes and places of work, the flat books were stacked, back side down, on shelves in cabinets. In large libraries, doors were often installed to protect the fragile, original manuscript.

With the invention of the printing press, more and more people could afford to own copies of printed books and the modern bookcase idea evolved. Bookcase doors were discarded, books were printed with the title of the book on a spine. The spine made it easy for the book to sit upright and allowed the reader to view a particular book title from the shelf before removing it.

Modern bookcases are now used to store books in an orderly fashion, or not. My husband and I once visited a new-age bookstore on the Oregon coast where he recommended they find a better way to organize their books. He then suggested placing them on shelves by the color of the book cover since “new agers” were looking for answers without knowing the question first. The owner wasn’t keen on that suggestion. I remember thinking the “color system” wouldn’t work well for color blind readers. But it was fun to imagine an all green section without any books about money or gardening. Years later, I read about an independent bookstore in San Francisco where a local artist arranged every single one of the 20,000 books by color. Readers loved it. Makes perfect sense to me.

As you can see from my photo, our living room bookcase holds books plus a few little extras things. My favorite cookbooks sit together on the top shelf, to the left. Our language and travel books occupy the bottom shelf. Literary works fill the spaces in between. There’s no rhyme or reason, but there is a good explanation for the extras. Rescue Remedy? It’s in a convenient location when I need to calm an over-excited dog on his way to the groomer. Mosquito repellent? Yes, the bookcase is just inside our front entrance and is easy to grab and spray before taking a walk during mosquito season. A nail file? Easier to find than in my purse. A bookmark? Always handy to have near a bookshelf.

Can you spot a slim black book-looking device, without writing on the spine? I store another entire bookshelf filled with dozens of books on this unit. I’m curious to know what treasures your bookshelf holds. How do you organize your books? Do you keep non-book items there?

Kraków Monuments


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.

Race against time …

Cyprus divided, the red showing the Turkish zone.
The country divided, the red showing the Turkish zone.

Evacuated from Cyprus following the war in 1974, I remember looking out the window of the helicopter and gasping at the sight of scattered, charred remains of a place I had known and loved. I wept. My heart ached.

For years following the war, I marveled, bewildered, at how a tranquil place—which seemed like paradise—could simply go away. Unravel, disintegrate, and become a living hell in the space of a few days.

The Lullaby Illusion, my memoir, tells my struggle to find answers, to fit together pieces of a life shattered by the coup in Cyprus on 15 July 1974, followed five days later by the Turkish invasion on 20 July 1974. Thousands of lives were drastically changed forever by the atrocities, including foreigners who happened to live there. Of which I was one.

Knowing today, almost forty years later, that more than 2,000 of the country’s one million population are still missing I mourn and am reminded that in war there are no winners—only survivors.

Race against time