Vignettes,  War Serenade

Mountains, Miracles, And Santorini

I am all about “If you dream it you can do it.” War Serenade in tangible form is proof of that. I dreamed about “her” for 40 years until I did something to make her happen.

I learned the screenwriting craft only because the story demanded it – I saw it in moving pictures, and writing a script was the means to an end.

What came in the guise of my first miracle was a one year movie option – wow! One year to work with a producer to raise the $8 million needed and shine my script into something special people might pay to see. I – the antithesis of a sporty sort – began the climb up my Mount Kilimanjaro. Ignorance was bliss – I had no idea how hard the challenge. Yes, I had a few guides and some “How To” books to take my mind off the height and the freezing, lonely nights on the peaks. Without a single piton and little oxygen, I nearly made it to the summit. But “nearly” doesn’t get you there, and I was forced to climb down because of a tragedy which left me discombobulated and sad.

Three or so years later, another chance to make her into a movie and like the excruciating pain of childbirth that’s quickly forgotten, Kilimanjaro turned from a looming ogre full of hard bumps, into an inviting challenge with a beckoning pinnacle. I pulled on my ballet shoes (what do I know about athletic equipment?) and headed back to Africa’s tallest peak, one eye glued on the summit. A year later I fell. There was no safety net. I lay bruised, broken, and defeated.

And then my clever Martha – multi-published author and mentor extraordinaire – said: “To hell with them all! Write a book!”

A long three-year climb from script – to novel – to print. If the summit was publication then yeah, lightheaded I pitched my tent, patched my blisters, slugged a shot of Amarula*, and shouted “I’m the king of the world!”

But writing a book is all very well if you are writing for writing’s sake. My goal is for you to become my reader. And once you’ve read my book, I want you to want more. I want you to long to see those characters’ laugh and fail and flail and love and conquer and lose and grow as they cry real, ugly tears or shout their achievement from the summit of their own Mount Kilamanjaros.

YES! I want to make that happen for you. And of course, for me and mine. But most of all, for The Story.

But how? I’m just an old, tired girl who loved to dance, with sagging krag* and courage too jaded to climb the world’s tallest free standing mountain – again.

On the 22nd June 2019 I remembered The Miracle of Santorini and knew how I could make it happen. Shockingly I’d let eight whole years slip by without letting God/The Universe/Good intentions do the work for me.

But for you to understand, I have to go back to 2010. By that year, real estate had been in the long drop for three long years and showed no real signs of improvement. My Besties – Lanie and Kitty – knew JUST the way to cheer me. They came up with the astronomical amount of dollars needed to fly me the 8,000 miles home to Johannesburg. Neither had the means on hand, but they scrimped and scraped and used precious nest eggs and small inheritances to do so. I was overwhelmed and touched to the core, lost for words and humbled by their love. But I was prideful and told them over Skype that “I absolutely couldn’t accept such a generous gift.”

I expected their disappointed but not Lanie’s wrath. She looked directly at me, and I felt the screen heat up. “You love to give, give, give. You know the joy of giving. But let me tell you, you’ve just sucked all the joy out of our giving.” Her words kicked me hard. Once in the gut. Once in the heart.

I’d never thought of my tendency that way. But oh, how right she was! So at that moment I said only two words. “Thank You.”

When I hit Benoni, my besties didn’t spare the horses to treat me lavishly.

“Hospitality” is such a weak word for their gentle, love-infused gestures and out-of-this-world thoughtfulness. In my “own” room in each of their homes, were framed pictures of my parents these dear friends knew and loved; long-craved chocolates adorned my pillow; favorite home-cooked dishes and desserts weighed down familiar dining room tables; vases of fresh flowers scented my rooms; even a hand-made butterfly was pinned on a bedroom curtain to show my mom was ever-present. I didn’t open my purse once to contribute for fear of Lanie’s wrath. There was no way I would suck out a second of their benevolent joy. It was on that trip I learned to receive unconditionally in the vein of the giver.

A year later when real estate generated enough to sustain a moderate living and induce a little spark of hope for us, I created my first (and only) dream book. I resurrected my passion to make War Serenade into a movie and designed “her own” dedicated page. Now, years later, I suspect my wounded pride and still-sharp disappointments clouded the intended certainty my Dream Book required.

I had other pages dedicated to positive dreams, but I lingered longest on how to thrill my besties as much as they had thrilled me. I found an old travel brochure in the pile of junk mail not yet discarded, cut out a random picturesque scene, and glued it into my Dream Book. I found an old photo of us three and glued us in, so we “stood” in the foreground of the vista. There! It didn’t matter where we were – only that we were together. On the top of that page I wrote: “Thank you for being able to take Lanie and Kitty on holiday.”

I poured over my Dream Book every single day for six months.

Nothing happened, so I abandoned it, in favor of the minutiae of real life.

Mercifully real estate got busy again and a year or so later, my Ath called me into his office and gestured to his screen. There was a cruise ship with Venice in the background. Venice. A place I’d never seen but had poured over and imagined, because it was an important setting in my story.

“Why the hell are you teasing me so?” I asked my husband, smiling.

His tone was earnest. “We’ve had a good year. What if you and your girls were able to go on this cruise?”

“You’re crazy and sweet, and that’s why I love you.” I turned to leave the room.

“Just look at the price,” he insisted.

It was a last-minute bargain-price for seven days. “I’ve looked,” I said, and, shoulders slumped, I really left the room. “Bargain” was relative.

“We can do it, you know,” he shouted down the hall.

The conviction in his voice lured me back.

“How?” I asked, wary as hell.

“I have enough saved for three cruise fares,” said my husband, and my jaw hung open. Then I remembered. Every time we have a closing on a home we sell, we both get a teeny weeny little bit of mad-money. I spend mine on things I can’t remember, while my sweet Ath saves it all. I hugged him for his huge generosity and kissed the top of his head. Then panic set it. “But what about airfares?…what about…”

Ath made the proposal to the girls via Skype. It was a magical moment for me. When they objected to him contributing in such a big way, I rubbed my proverbial hands together and with immense glee I declared: “Don’t you dare suck the joy out of my husband’s giving.”

They said “thank you.” He was delighted.

I wish I could tell you that in addition to Ath’s generous gift of the cruise, he and I paid for the whole trip. We certainly didn’t…but we three found a way to be together in places magical and mostly new to us all.

I arrived in Venice from USA before my girls landed from SA. During those free hours I didn’t walk, I ran like the wind to La Fenice Opera House – the very theatre where my imaginary friends in War Serenade– Pietro and Stef – made their operatic debuts: one on stage with his velvet voice, the other in the orchestra pit with his violin.

I was quickly enveloped into the magic of this great monument to art and was mercifully left alone to wander while the English narrator guided the lone tour from my rented earpiece. I stopped before a roped-off area. I swear the thick, twisted silk furled up in the shape of an index finger, and curling inward it beckoned me to cross from the easily-seen to the sacred-unseen.

Adrenaline pumping, I snuck under the rope and followed the sounds of bliss. An opera was in rehearsal. I sat in that exquisite theatre on a well-padded leather seat, drinking in every nuance like heady nectar. When the pull to meet my friends for the first time in two years was fiercer than my ornate nirvana, I left the theatre dazed with delight. My eyes were brimming with opulence, my ears ringing with the richness of the tenor, and my head spinning from gazing into the souls of my fictitious friends – Pietro and Stef – who’d risen from a seedy dressing room in Naples to perform at the famed La Fenice.

Our cruise was divine in every way. On our ship’s 4th Port o’Call, we wound steeply upward on foot to reach picturesque, Santorini. But it wasn’t the obstinate donkeys or the cleanliness of the quaint whitewashed town, or the foot-nibbling-fish-pedicure we screeched our way through that made that day one to be forever chiseled into our memories. No, it was the photograph taken of us as we stood on top of the hill, the backdrop of bright blue domes that covered white-washed stone buildings and the azure Aegean Sea behind us.

I thanked the random tourist-photographer I’d hijacked for the job, and looked at the image just taken with my phone. There we were. Just three old friends on top of the world in so many ways…and then my heart stopped.

You see, two years before, when my goal was to create a visual situation in my dream book that would awaken the creator of miracles to find a way for me to show my friends my gratitude, turned out to be the very scene where we 3, by some miracle, ended up. For Real!

Imagine! My newly-taken photograph was almost identical to the one I had glued into my Dream Book. The only thing missing was my sentence written underneath the image, 670 days before: “Thank you for being able to take Lanie and Kitty on a holiday”. I’d thanked in advance, you see, for what I’d intended illustrating my belief it was already in the works.

Could I have a hand in making my other dreams materialize too? So powerful. So profound.

But when I returned home there were new challenges to face, demons to slay, diseases to conquer for friends so dear…and I forgot about The Miracle of Santorini. Shockingly, I let life overshadow that miracle. How shameful.

The M of S only dawned on me again when just weeks ago, I strived to find a birthday present for my friend that would give her hope in the face of insurmountable obstacles. I needed on her special day, to produce for her a perfect gift which would guide her to reach her own Mount Kilimanjaro summit.

When The Miracle of Santorini popped back into my head, I was dizzy with excitement. This was Lolly Pie’s perfect gift. How could I have forgotten this huge secret? No matter, it was back with a vengeance.

So I told my friend: “I am going to give you a gift that keeps on giving. We’re going shopping, and all I will need is $10 for materials. And I’ll get one for me, too.” We shopped for basic supplies, and she was bemused until I explained my miracle and told her quietly “If you know specifically what you want, create it on paper the way it appears in your head. If you don’t know what you want, think of the end result and illustrate it in your own way in your book. On each page representing each goal, say “thank you” to show your appreciation and your unwavering certainty that what you dream you will receive. The universe will do the rest.”

Truthfully, I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I can’t deny Santorini, and I choose to believe I CAN better my circumstances and perhaps, those of the people I love. Surely what’s done in positivity can’t hurt, no matter what one’s beliefs…

So my friends, get out your $0.99 book of choice. Buy your glue. Use your imaginations. Santorini, the moon or the stars are your only limits. Cut and paste. Color if the mood takes you, but most important don’t just ask…THANK God/The Universe/Your Angels/Your Guides for those gifts you’re expecting, thanks to your Dream Books. Remember it’s YOUR dream. It doesn’t need to make sense or be approved by anyone else. Don’t feel the need to show or tell. It’s YOUR book, and it can be anything you want it to be.

I created and witnessed The Miracle of Santorini. The second miracle is that I remembered it when a dear friend needed hope more than anything. Frankly, I can use a hefty dose of positivity myself right now. So I’m off, to dream first, then to cut and paste and of course, to say “Thank You,” then sit back and watch it happen.


Dream Book II.

Page 1: No showing no telling…but rest assured there are a lot of “Thank Yous!”

Page 2: A black and white poster with an aria in the title’s font; an airplane spiraling downward as it burns, a woman with her back to us, her hair cascading down her back of a red head wears a go-to-hell red dress.

And that bold print below? “Starring the divine Rebecca Ferguson as IRIS and the hunky Kit Ferguson as PIETRO…”

What’s that handwritten sentence in gold down below? Ah! The piece de resistance.

“Thank You for making War Serenade come alive in moving pictures for the world to see.”

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