Thursday, November 23, 2006

13 March 1956

Dear Folks

Here I am, you errant son, feeling very ashamed of himself for not having written before. We arrived in Beirut last Saturday, & today is the first time I didn’t go ashore. I like Beirut very much, & only wish I had about $300 to spend. My God, you should see some of the beautiful things they have—especially cloth: silks & velvets & brocades. In one store I saw a bolt of pure white silk with a gold brocade—they wanted $9 a yard for it, but in America it would cost at least $15 for the same amount of material. I bought a pretty white rayon scarf with a simple black design for $.75. I also bought (for you both) a beautiful Damascus silk red-&-gold tablecloth, with two napkins of the same design. It’s a bit too elaborate for most American tastes, but I love it--& you can’t buy an oilcloth tablecloth at Kresses for as cheap as I got this!

Sunday evening was spent in an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean sea—with a record player & a family of three—Americans—while below in the streets vendors with baskets of odd-shaped rolls sold their wares to the throngs of turbaned men & women strolling along the "Corniche" (a street running along the ocean front.).

Over 10,000 Americans—all civilians—live in Beirut. They fall into three groups—Embassy workers, Point Four workers, & civilians employed by the vast oil companies of Lebanon & Arabia.

You can’t imagine what it was like—two worlds, completely alien, & yet running nonchalantly along, side by side.

The USO canteen is located in the American-Lebanese Club—the three groups of Americans take turns in furnishing hostesses each night—Mothers, grandmothers, & daughters—they all sit & talk, or dance, & invite us to their homes.

George Le Sage, one of the mess cooks, had met Pat Anderson the first night we arrived. Sunday we saw her there, & she invited us to her home.

Rules of the club insisted that she go by Embassy car & we follow in a cab, which we did. We drove out to the fringes of Beirut, where modern apartments dot the hills next to the skeletons of more buildings going up.

Inside the building-width glass front, a set of marble stairs led to a small, four-person elevator. A man in a white shirt, sleeves rolled up, stepped off just as we got there. It was Pat’s father, who shook hands with us & said he’d be back shortly, & left. We rode up to the sixth floor, walked down a short hall, & went into the apartment. Pat’s mother was standing in the small vestibule, & we were introduced. We went into the living room while Pat’s mother went to the dining room for some material from which she was making Pat a dress.

The apartment was very nice—gaily painted—there were at least seven rooms, all of them a different color. The furnishings were all American, the family was definitely American, & yet, somehow, the rooms were not. Perhaps one reason was that there were no rugs—the floors were tile. And they seemed rather angular; though actually all rooms are, I suppose.

The view, I’ve mentioned, was beautiful—the building faces the east, & the sea is always changing color with the dawn & sunset.

Pat played some of her records—only a few of them were purchased over here--& we talked.
Mr. Anderson works as a Conservation Engineer for the Point Four Plan. They have been in Lebanon fifteen months—Pat attends an American high school, & is returning to the States this August to finish her senior year & attend college. Mr. & Mrs. Anderson are to follow in September—government workers overseas are given 30 days Home Leave each two years (the travel cost evidently borne by the government, & the leave time beginning upon arrival at their destination).

It felt so good just to talk--& so out of place, as I said before. We got to talking of the Arab-Israeli relations. Mrs. Anderson had some very interesting points---

"You know, when we first came here, I had no idea of what was really going on. Oh, I’d read about it in the papers & I’d always thought ‘Well, isn’t it wonderful that those poor Jews will have a home now.’ But I didn’t realize that when all the Jews moved in, the Arabs had to move out. Mr. Anderson’s driver—one of the men who works for Point Four—had a brother living in Palestine; he had a small store there. One day the police came & told him to leave in two hours or be shot! He got out & they wouldn’t let him take a thing with him.

"These Arabs don’t want to fight—why, I don’t think they could if they wanted to. The Israelis would beat the pants off them. And it just tears my heart out to see some of these little refugee kids wandering around—their little bodies all covered with sores from malnutrition. These poor Arabs, they just look lost—they think that tomorrow they can just walk back home & take up where they left off—they just don’t realize that they don’t have any homes anymore. It’s like you & I had locked our doors one day & gone away, & think we’ll be back someday.

"Yet where can the Jews go? They come from all over the world to their promised land; they’ve never had a real home.

"It’s just a crazy, mixed up, terrible mess. You want to tear somebody’s hair out, but you don’t know whose."

Mr. Anderson came back a while later, & we went up on the roof to take pictures of the people walking along the Corniche. Every Sunday afternoon the people come & just walk along the sea, winding their way slowly up the hill to Pigeon Rock—which Lebanese lovers use for a suicide leap.

We talked some more, & had supper—chicken casserole. They have a Lebanese maid who speaks French (Lebanon was until 1943 a French protectorate) & whose name is Juliette.

We listened to the radio—to BBC & short wave stations all over Europe. We tried to get the Voice of America, but the Russians were jamming it. This "jamming" is cleverly done—the Russians have monitors who listen to the programs as they’re being broadcast—when they hear something they don’t like, they turn on huge oscillators set to the Voice’s frequency—the result is a humming "bzzzuuumbzzuumbzzuum" which completely blocks out every word. We do the same for them every chance we get.

Now, since it’s after taps, I’ll quickly answer your questions. Yes, I am thin—I always have been—no, I’ve not lost weight—any appreciable amount, that is (I’ve gone from 143 to 140); the only reason I know that is that the Andersons had a bathroom scale.

Got your money, mother—I’ll try & call home from Valencia or Barcelona (Spain). Check that date-place list I sent you for the dates we’ll be where.

I now have 13 rolls of film—6 more in the process of delivering & developing. Haven’t sent any home yet.

No, father,--I can not get off 22 days early. I’ll have 43 days on the books, for which I will be paid, but not (NOT) let off early.

Well, got to get to bed—I’m tired.



P.P.S. The candle is from the catacombs: I don’t recall sending any money.—I think those were ticket stubs. Here’s some Spanish money—worth about 12 cents. Notice the watermark—hold it up to the light to see it.

No comments: