Tag Archives: Egypt

Vlado and Mary Liz, 1957: Part 1

Vlado Fabry 1
Vlado – L’apparition

This next series of letters is dedicated to my dear friend in Geneva, Simone, who was close friends with my mother-in-law Olinka. She was surprised when I told her that Vlado had left behind love letters, because she never heard anything about him having girlfriends. She rarely saw Vlado – he was like an apparition – but she has told me how much Olinka adored her brother, and worshiped him like a god. Simone is my favorite person, and I miss her, so these letters are my birthday gift to her.

The only thing that is disappointing here is that Vlado didn’t keep copies of all the letters he wrote to Mary Liz, his romantic interest of 1957 (and beyond?), but I can imagine Mary Liz must have treasured them. Perhaps they have been lost, but I hope they have been inherited by an appreciative family member, like myself.

(For further context of the events of 1957, I recommend reading Vlado and the Suez Canal.)

7 February 1957

Vlado

When you will receive this, I have no idea, but I wish you could have it in time for St. Valentine’s Day. Because even tho you know it now, I want to tell you again how much I love you. Of course, I want you to realize this every day – but especially on Valentine’s Day.

And Vlado, I don’t expect anything. All I hope for is your happiness and the chance to love you – & please let me. What comes back is not important to me. I am eternally grateful to Him for the mere fact of meeting you. It’s joy to know someone like you.

I say I want to please you because I know that your happiness does not lie in my power alone – I can only add to it, if possible. And you are the only human being whose happiness is of such concern to me.

Mary Liz

Don’t feel as tho you should answer this, please.

Ismailia
22/II/1957

My Dear One,

your letter did not quite make Valentine’s Day (which I eventually discovered to be 14/II) but whatever day it did arrive was proclaimed to be Valentine’s Day irrespective of any conventional date it may be feted by other people. Thank you, my darling, – I am not trying to answer the letter because that cannot be done – I am only trying to tell you that I do not recall ever having been so touched and made so mellow – and at the same time a bit ashamed – deep inside as I was when I read through your lines.

It made me very happy and at the same time a bit sad over my inadequacy to give as much in return as you offer to me. But I do love you – and you know it – as much as my queer warped nature permits me to, and I too and full of tender desire to protect you and make you happy and fill your life with excitement and joy. And I do miss you.

I scribbled a quick note to you on my arrival – it may have reached you just about Valentine’s day if it was not delayed on its way, although if I had realized the approach of that occasion I would have surely tried to add a line or two. There is very little that I can write about myself – the working hours here are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday, and that leaves very little time for any private adventures. I miss my weekend exercise, but got into the habit of making a two hour walk, changing into trot and run as soon as I am out of the city, each night, and for lunch I take two hours off for a sunbath and quick dip into the Timsah Lake (it’s still rather cold and I nearly [ran] into a minefield the first time, but it’s getting warmer and I know my way around now). But every two or three days I spend on the road or “on the Canal”, I should say, making inspection trips, straightening out problems, and holding palavers with the salvors or with Egyptian authorities, or else giving a hand to the UNEF staff on legal problems. As soon as I catch up enough with my work to be able to extricate myself for a few days, I plan to visit the front lines in the north and south and have a look at St. Catherine’s Monastery, and maybe spend a couple of days at Luxor and Thebes. But that will have to wait for a while. In the meanwhile there is the fascination of learning a new trade which more than compensates the lack of free time and exercise and the occasional fleas and bedbugs. Although there was a time at the beginning when I felt rather asea (or acanal) trying to weigh the respective merits of doing a parbuckling job by using sheerlegs or by blowing up camels (which, by the way, does not refer to a zoologic digestion process but means pumping air into oversized barrels attached underwater to a wreck).

Love, Vlado

28 February 1957

Dear Vlado,

It was so good to receive your letter – and I must say it came as a real surprise! I’m afraid I took you at your word when you said not to expect much in the way of letters. However, it didn’t arrive till last Tuesday (more than a week since you mailed it).

Peggy took off on a vacation for three weeks and left me to take her place. It’s fun – writing my own letters and running the show (not completely tho – Mr. S [Stavropoulos] is still here). But it means that I’ve got more on my mind these days and that’s why I didn’t write before this. I can’t honestly say that the work is hard but I just have to use my brain more. Enough of Volunteer Services…

The Ski Club misses you so much. Gary Karmilloff filled in for a while but now he has a London assignment so that the post of Liaison Officer (& V.P) is still vacant. They are planning a weekend in the middle of March to Manchester, Vt. and then I guess the season will be over – too short. Have you had a chance to ski in the Cedars of Lebanon?

Ran into Peter Kempton the other day. You probably know he’s working with Hungarian Relief. Seems like one big happy family! And he is really enjoying the work, I think.

When I read the last part of your letter (about your walk down by the lake) I wished I could fly right to you. But then I remembered what you once said about being close to someone even tho he was far away physically. I feel very near to you Vlado – maybe because you’re in my thoughts constantly.

I love you

Mary Liz

P.S. Let me know if I can send you anything e.g. books or food.

Sunday, 10 March

Darling,

Thank you for your beautiful letter and for making me so happy. And I am so overcome that it is difficult to put into mere words how I feel. When you come back I’ll really be able to tell you.

Don’t be sad if it seems that you cannot give as much in return because that doesn’t concern me. Believe me when I say that it is not so much what comes back that is my happiness as it is the chance to give my love to you – freely. And your “good” nature makes me love you, so don’t accuse yourself that way again. I love you so much now, I can’t see any flaws.

Last night I saw a play by James Joyce, “The Exiles” (incidentally I went with an Irish girlfriend of mine). The main theme had to do with fidelity although there were all sorts of undercurrents, as usual. But he said so much (my program is covered with lines scribbled with lipstick) and one line really struck me. It was a scene with the central figure explaining to his little son what it is to give something & he said – “When you have something it can be taken away from you but when you are given something, it is yours forever.”

As far as form in letters goes I’m afraid I don’t pay much attention to it (as you can see from my letters). Content is more important to me and not only in letters but in literature too. Characterization & plot means more to me than language or style of writing – although I do appreciate the letter.

You are working hard over there – by this time you must have weeks of compensatory time coming to you. When you mentioned in your letter about taking a trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery I recalled the first & only time I visited one. A girl from school was being “clothed” i.e. she received part of the nun’s regular habit thus marking passage from postulant to novice stage. Anyway – this was in a Carmelite Monastery which meant that this was to be the last time family & friends could see her – thereafter she would live a strict cloistered existence. So we could see her but only through an iron grille. Well one of her friends had brought along her four year old son, who appeared quite bright. However, at one point the nun had to leave the room for something and this little boy turned to his mother & said “Mommy, when is the lion coming back?” You can understand him in a way – it looked just like a cage. But I think he’s a little comedian.

You mention doing a parbuckling job by using sheerlegs or a camel. Why don’t they use a parbuckle? But I get the impression that you are there for more than just the clearance operation. Do you have to have to stay there until the problem of administration of the canal is solved?

More questions – is your secretary from Hdqs.? By the way, I must compliment you on your typing – so neat & hardly any errors. What can’t you do?

Called Karol and asked about your apartment. He said David was having a fine time living there and, if it was Mr. Crandall you were wondering about, everything is all right with him. He asked about you, naturally, and I gave him all the news. And he said he was just as well pleased that you didn’t write to him since he then didn’t have to write back since, he said, he was not one for writing letters.

Saw Dr. Kraus and he wants to see the x-rays before starting the exercises. But I don’t think it is necessary (exercises). I’m wearing high heels and can even run for the bus in the morning. Anyway I do have an appointment with him for next week. My doctor knows him – I don’t think very well – but then I guess most doctors know of him.

I think I’m going to call it a day and go to bed; so tired. — Don’t run into any more minefields, it can be dangerous. —

All my love,

Mary Liz

And now, one last letter from Mary Liz…

7 April 1957

Vlado darling,

It was such a beautiful day today! About 50, not a cloud in the sky, and just a slight breeze blowing, The crocuses are starting to come up in the backyard and already you can hear crickets. Next spring, we must be together–

Was just listening to the news and it said that by Tuesday the Canal would be open to all traffic. I know you’re hearing this from all sides but really you and the other people working on the Canal are to be congratulated (hope that doesn’t sound glib because I mean it). The World Telegram had a article some weeks ago about the General [R. A. Wheeler] and it said at the beginning there was some people who thought the clearance might take close to a year. So you must have a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Yesterday I ran into a girl I worked with at Shell Oil and she said their stock is almost up to what it was but that it had gone down $12 a share in the beginning — and Shell doesn’t even have holdings over there (Royal Dutch does, of course).

Do you still manage to go swimming at lunch time? Karol told me to tell you not to anymore – because of the sharks – “we don’t want Vlado soup”, he said. Sometimes I see him in the hall – and the other day he had a wonderful opportunity to meet Helse. She and I were coming down the stairs from the fifth floor and he was walking toward the elevator. He walked past us first but then stopped to say hello but Helse had kept on walking since she was not coming with me anyway. But maybe he’s lost interest or something.

The Ski Club had its party last Friday nite. At the home of a Mr. Caprario – friend of Dianea’s and not a member. He let us have the complete run of his six-room apt. – very kind and warm-hearted person. You know, even tho I keep meeting such good people you’re the best — of all –. Vlado, I love you so very much and I wish you were coming back soon. At the party I especially missed you and Bill Vaughn only made it worse by saying every time he bumped past me “Tell Vlado to come back – or When is Vlado coming back”.

Mike Shaw was there and was nice enough to take me home. We left sort of early (12:30) because I had to get up at 8:00 the next morning and anyway he hasn’t been feeling well these days. He’s a good kid – a little affected sometimes but a good kid! The party went off pretty well — everyone cooperated wonderfully with the food and we had a film on Norway. The projectionist was telling me about the raw films they’ve received from Egypt and said I could come down and see some of them.

While we’re on the subject of Egypt again — our Travel Counselor is now featuring the Land of the Pharaohs as the ideal place to spend your vacation. I’d like to know who’s kidding who – anyway I don’t believe there’s been much of a response. Still I’m wondering why the thought occurred to her.

Dr. Kraus (saw him a 2nd time to show him the x-rays) sends his best regards and so does Christine and–I send you all my love.

Mary Liz

Vlado and the Suez Canal

The United Nations Suez Canal Clearance Operation (UNSCO) was one of many missions that Vlado was involved with. Interesting items have been saved from this time, including a chart of the UN clearance operation schedule from January-April 1957; which shows the names of the tugs, salvage vessels and diver’s ships, with names like “Hermes and Wotan” and “Atlas”. It’s a very large chart, but I will post it here soon.
This is a photo of Vlado taking a camel to work:
Fabry Archive - Selected Photographs (43)
Here are three letters written by Vlado from Ismaïlia, Egypt, during the clearance operation – the first letter was sent to his friend and flatmate in New York, William W. Crandall, March 27, 1957:

Dear Bill,
I am afraid I shall be late with my rent this month but I left early last week for what was supposed to be a two days inspection trip into forward positions and what eventually turned out to be nine days out in the dessert (my spelling shows to you what is uppermost on my mind after a week of field rations). (And no USArmy rations, either Yugoslav or Indian, and neither of them go for fancy stuff). Anyhow, I eventually caught up with the pouch again, and the cheque is enclosed. Next time I better start thinking of the rent by midmonth.

Most of my work here is on the problem of opening up the Suez Canal and I am thoroughly enjoying the technical side of it – I am getting to be quite an expert by now on sweeping wires, parbuckling, blowing up camels (although when I heard the term the first time I could not visualize anything else then the results of a faulty digestion of the local beasts of burden), patching and pumping, as well as on the even more complex problems of dredging maintenance, rehabilitation of workshops and floating equipment, signalling systems and traffic direction that must be solved before the Canal can be opened. Less pleasurable is the realization that notwithstanding all the efforts here and the good progress of the technical operations and negotiations on the local level, nothing will come out of it until the political issues are solved by the big boys. I also got caught up by some of the problems of the Emergency Forces, although that’s not really my job, and that was quite interesting too.

I hope all is well with you – I think a bit wistfully of New England snow, this being my second skiing season that I am missing, but basking in a reliably constant sun is not too bad either, at least now while it is not too hot. But there is not much one can do for exercise – specially so as the office hours are 8am to 10pm, Monday through Sunday – and I see myself coming back as fat and flabby as King Farouk (or even worse so unless I find some suitable partner willing to engage with me in the one kind of exercise that he was practicing quite assiduously).

With Best Wishes – Vlado Fabry

This next letter is to Mary Sheila Dean Marshall, dated March 2, 1957:

My dear Sheila,
If you should catch me off my guard and jump on me with the question “how long since you left New York”, I should quite sincerely answer that it was last week or so. I keep surprising myself each time i look at the calendar and realize how time has flown. One reason why all time conceptions become blurred may be our working hours arrangement – 8am (sic!) to 10pm, Monday through Sunday, not counting overtime -; with no weekends or even solitary Sundays to mark the full stop after another elapsed week one simply never knows that another week has begun.

This having been said I am a bit at a loss what else I can write without getting at loggerheads with the UN staff rules concerning unauthorized release of confidential information. I can’t write about my private life – not only is there none but even if I had any I’m sure it would be classified as “restricted”,- everything else seems to be, including memos telling us what to do about fleas and bedbugs and summaries of news clipped from local papers. There are flocks of correspondents swarming around and of course all of them know perfectly well what we are doing and what’s going on, but still both at UNEF HQ and at the Canal Clearance Group I have to pretend as if I was an invisible man whom they could not possibly have seen emerging from a plane or car. Maybe the story about the secrecy class of documents marked as “to be destroyed before reading” was not an invention at all.

In spite of everything, I am thoroughly enjoying life and the feeling of being in the middle of it, and I feel smug and happy whenever I get a chance to stop and realize how I feel or that I feel anything at all. I don’t know whether others feel the same when they wake up to it, but judging by the grumbling about tiredness, food, vermin, roads, dust, sleeplessness, cold, heat, dirt and everything else that one constantly hears around, I may be a blissful idiot completely unaware of the black doom around me. Of course one does get a bit discouraged from time to time when after beating for hours against a stone wall one finds the efforts rewarded by a small crack, only to come back the next day and find that the wall is as solid again as it ever was, but that’s all part of the job and is more than compensated by the absolute bliss when things do move ahead. And there is always the net profit on top of it – the new experience, in particular what I was able to pick up about the salvage and navigational aids business when working on the Canal clearance problems.

With best wishes to Desa [Pavlu] and to all other friends – Love, Vlado

This last letter, dated April 7, 1957, is to Mary Liz (still don’t know her last name, but she worked for the UN), who had a sweet romance with Vlado:

My Dear One,
Sorry for the long pause in my writing. You were just about due for a letter when things started crackling in Gaza, and what with the SG’s [Secretary General Hammarskjold] visit and the rush to finish clearing not only the physical but also political obstacles standing in the way of normal traffic through the Canal, this is the first time I have a free evening since nearly a month. But I don’t regret having been caught up in the madhouse of hectic rush and strain, far from it, I feel grateful for the chance to have been right at the focal point of world history for a while – although I would be a hypocrite not to admit the sigh of relief when Stavropolous OK-ed my actions and took over the responsibility. I always boast to be able to sleep a log in any circumstances, but there was a night when I tossed around tense with worry despite the fact that I had worked 39 hours without a break and should have been tired enough. I was the only lawyer on the spot, events moved so quickly that there was no time to set opinions into code and send them to headquarters for approval, actions were taken on papers dictated right in the typewriter without a chance to reread and revise them, and for a while I was left with the nightmare of figuring out ex-pot all that could go wrong instead of having a chance to think it over in advance. But we muddled through somehow. I admit that there were days when I did not think of you at all, or at most with a quick flash of recollection swamped away before the image could get proper hold, but I am making up for it now – I literally woke up with you on my thoughts the last three mornings and you stayed with me whenever my mind lazied away from work through the day and evening.

Not much I can write about myself otherwise. I took an apartment (top floor, of course, to have an unobstructed view) with a big terrace and a contraption for beating out carpets on it that I planned to use for some chinning up exercises, but hardly made any use of it. Nor did I find time during the last month to go for my lunch-time swim and sunbath. I stayed in Cairo during the SG’s visit, but all the time could not find an hour for myself to look into a mosque or museum. And of course no time to read – although during the first month here I managed to pense books on Islam, on the pharaonic art and history, on 17th century philosophers, on Abelard, Graves’ Sargeant Lamb, Greens’ Heart of the Matter, Weller’s mediocre but for me interesting novel on “liberation” by the Russians, Dylan Thomas’ autobiography, Faulkner’s Unvanquished, a collection of Truman Capote and a few more.

Hope to get a letter from you soon – never thought I would ask anybody to write me just for writing’s sake, but your letters are very precious to me and it feels so good to read and reread them (I got three so far). Let me know how your leg feels – will you be ready for some hikes when I come back? By the way, I shall leave here around the 20th or 25th April for Europe, reach NY probably beginning June.

All my love – Vlado

And just one more extra – the footage of Hammarskjold’s visit to the Suez Canal in 1957, thanks to HammarskjoldProject on Youtube: