Let’s skip a few centuries to World War II when Europe was being ravaged by war. Portugal maintained its neutrality throughout and Lisbon became a sanctuary and point of departure for displaced persons from other countries.
The city has a number of tourist attractions, including parks, monuments and museums.A must on every visitor’s list is theAlfama, the oldest area of Lisbon, where the Moorish influence on architecture is still strong. One of the most interesting sites in theAlfama is the Castle of St. George, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The famous SantaMaria De Belem, a suburb in the western part of Lisbon, is another must-see. Here is where you’ll find the Tower of Belem, (Torre de Belem), one of Lisbon’s most noted places of interest. It was built in the 16th century at the entrance of the Tagus River to guard against invaders. Another historic building is the Jeronimos Monastery (A1oistero do fer6nimes ), honoring Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a water route to India in 1498. Da Gama’s tomb is contained in the 16th century monument. Americans, of course, also know Da Gama as the man who first sighted the Pacific Ocean. The Pajio de Belem, official residence of the president of Portugal, is also a highlight for visitors who come to Lisbon from near and far.
“But days of sightseeing were not on our itinerary this time around,” Laura said. “We were in Lisbon strictly for business. After checking into the hotel, we raced out to keep the appointment with our friends at their home. John carefully examined the premium tourmaline gem rough, which he knew would cut into beautiful large stones. After intense scrutiny with his gem lamp, he selected the finest pieces and the deal was made. We could now put business transactions behind us and have some fun.”
Our friends graciously drove us on a quick tour of Lisbon, a city with expansive vistas and shimmering waters dotted with ships and boats. We stayed together for an early supper and talked about their life in Mozambique and their quest for gem rough. Coal is the most abundant natural resource in this mineral-rich land on the Indian Ocean, but our interests went deeper than that. In addition to its wonderful tourmaline, which can range in color from rose to cranberry to mint green and blue green, Mozambique was known for fine garnets, as well as other lovely gemstones. The political upheaval that divided the country, severely restricted the goods coming from this region. Never again would Mozambique offer the profusion of gem material that marked the 1950s and 1960s.
Our quest this time was gemstones from the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique. We were especially interested in the flawless large green tourmaline crystals to be found in that East African nation where our friends had lived for most of their lives. They left in 1975 when Mozambique achieved independence and the country erupted in civil war.
We flew 4,007 miles to get from Kenya to Portugal, with a very brief layover in Rome. We could sense the excitement of that city, but there was no time to experience it first hand. Rome would have to wait. We were heading for romantic, mysterious Lisbon, city of international intrigue, llse’s neutral haven in the film Casablanca, and her destination when she tearfully left Rick at the airport. Well, here’s looking at you, Lisbon!
We set down at Lisboa International Airport and found ourselves in one of the most glorious seaport cities in the world. Our itinerary called for a two-day stay before heading for Switzerland. Lisbon wears many hats. It is Portugal’s capital, chief port, major commercial hub and the country’s biggest tourist attraction.
The population is, for the most part, cosmopolitan and multi-cultural, with residents from Europe, Africa and Asia. People are drawn to this charismatic city on the Tagus River, which weaves in and out of Lisbon. The climate is humid and mild, averaging 63 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. Built on terraces along the sides of a series of low hills, Lisbon overlooks a natural harbor, considered to be among the most beautiful in the world.
Ancient records indicate that Lisbon was founded by the Phoenicians. Some sources, however, give credit to Ulysses, the world traveler of Homer’s The Odyssey. The city was occupied by the Romans in the second century and was later ruled by the Visigoths and the Moors. It reverted back to the Portuguese in the middle of the 12th century and was made the capital some 100 years later.
By now, we were hopelessly-but happily – afflicted with wanderlust. Instead of going home to California after our first Kenya trip, we took a two-day detour to Lisbon, Portugal, to meet with another married couple in the gem business.
They were older and their backgrounds were much different from ours, but we had a great deal in common – including a fascination with gemstones,
an excellent working relationship and a loving marriage.
4 cups cold water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
Pour one cup of cold water into medium saucepan. Add all the cornmeal and salt and cook over high heat. Stir continually.
Bring to a boil and slowly add three cups boiling water. This will prevent lumps from forming.
Reduce heat, cover saucepan and simmer for about eight minutes until thick.
Continue to stir frequently throughout.
Serve as is or with butter,
sugar or syrup.
We returned to Kenya with one sole purpose this time- to buy tanzanite, which was now among the most sought after gems in the world. (We introduced tanzanite on a mass scale through television in 1993. It had been marketed prior to that, but not many people had heard of the fabulous blue/purple zoisite. As its popularity grew, tanzanite, named after Tanzania where it is mined, became one of America’s most desired gems. It is also one of our personal favorites.)
Traveling to our destination was almost as tiring this second time around, but far less traumatic. We got into a taxi at Nairobi Airport and told the driver to head for the hotel. It wasn’t long before we both realized we were going the wrong way. We exchanged nervous glances because we knew where the hotel was located. Becoming uneasier by the minute, we told,the driver he was taking the wrong route. He agreed and explained that’he was driving us to the monument memorializing Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of the country. Kenyatta had ruled Kenya since 1964, when it became a republic. He died in 1978, the year of our second visit to East Africa, at the age of 85. The cab driver wanted us to see the eternal flame and share his grief at the passing of his great leader. We were touched and honored by his sincerity and our hearts went out to him.
The driver was not the only one on whom President Kenyatta had made a lasting impression. We met a gem dealer in Kenya who will never forget him. The dealer had found an unusually large piece of tsavorite rough, about the size of a fist, and perhaps the biggest known tsavorite crystal ever. It caused quite a stir in the gem community. He and his tsavorite were invited to an audience with President Kenyatta. The man was very excited as he told us the story. It ended with President Kenyatta insisting that the dealer give him the tsavorite as a gift. After all, it was found in Kenya and should remain there. The dealer handed his tsavorite over quite graciously – and wisely.
We hold our memories of Kenya very close. There are days when the stories and storytellers float into our collective consciousness bringing smiles to our faces. We treasure the trips, past and future, that have kept and will continue to keep – some of the most loved gemstones in the world coming to America.
Our two weeks in Kenya were coming to an end. The time we spent there was enlightening, educational and successful. We came to love this land of contradictions with its varied landscapes and cultures. The topography ranges from snow capped Mount Kenya to warm sandy beaches, from arid deserts to grassy plains.
We had purchased rough and cut gems including tanzanite, and the elusive scapolite, in purple and golden colors. Our one big disappointment was that we were returning home without any tsavorite, a truly lovely and rare green garnet, named for Tsavo National Park in Kenya. Nature was not cooperating. Finding tsavorite was one of the main objects of our trip, but there just wasn’t any available. On the day before we left, we received a call from some miners, telling us they had located a tsavorite deposit and that they had a nice amount of rough for us to review. Nature had changed her mind. Our trip to Kenya was now complete. The lot turned out to be “gem my” – a term used by dealers to describe exceptionally fine stones – and sold immediately when we got home.
“Going through exit customs in Kenya was a strange encounter of a different kind,” John recalled. “The agents were more interested in Laura’s I hot curlers than they were in us. They were curious about the machine, asked lots of questions and wanted to know how it worked. After we explained everything to the best of our knowledge, they let us board the plane.”
Our mission to acquire East African gemstones had been successful. We were very proud of ourselves. We had ventured into a strange country, interacted with new people and survived a near disaster in the air. In retrospect, we were actually pretty lucky. The heady success of that first trip established a pattern. We couldn’t wait for our next call to adventure.
While in Mombasa, we learned to drink Pimm’s Cup*, a cocktail that originated in England. Kenya has many British traditions stemming from the late 1800s, when the British occupied the country and established a protectorate there. A major ingredient of the drink is Pimm’s No.1, a deep golden-brown liquor named for James Pimm, owner of an English oyster bar, who created the liquor in 1859. Only six people are supposed to know precisely how it’s made. The exact ingredients and amounts are a secret known only to descendants of James Pimm and a chosen few.
Our first Kenya trip was the beginning of new friendships and contacts that would last through the years, helping us to stay in touch with the latest developments and discoveries in the world of gems.
We took some time out from our buying trip to visit a local game reserve. As we watched the fenced-in lions and cheetahs, we heard leaves rustling overhead. We looked up and saw a huge baboon staring down at us from a tree. He apparently was not a zoo resident but a freeloading monkey who knew a good thing when he found it. What nerve we had to invade his park! A few seconds later, he was standing in front of us! We turned and ran and he took off after us with his teeth bared and screaming diabolically. Luckily, he became bored before we collapsed. If he had wanted to prove a point, he certainly did. That recreational experience with the local wildlife kept us happily at work for the rest of the trip. Work was far less dangerous.
“Throughout our stay, John’s gem expertise saved us from problems and disappointment,” Laura said. “During one visit to a local gem dealer, we were shown a large rough ‘tanzanite.’ John examined the stone and found it to be a deep purple blue scapolite, a rare and expensive gemstone -but not tanzanite. The dealer really believed it was tanzanite and he was surprised that a 28-year-old ‘kid’ knew more about stones than he did. That experience has been repeated many times in our gem travels, with John discovering the true identity of gems thought to be something else.”