Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Leftovers

We’re still eating turkey.

Best Beloved left for Nicosia Monday morning, having eaten turkey in every meal (including breakfast) since Christmas lunch. “No, don’t give me any to take with me,” he said as he fled to his car at seven on Monday morning. “I think I’ve had enough!”

My family had a tradition of naming our turkeys. When we lived in London in the Sixties, my mother used to name them after film stars. “Bake well,” she’d say. “Gina!” -- or, Brigitte, Elizabeth, Marilyn, Zsa Zsa. My father had a trademark recipe that he made every year for the family and to give as presents – uncooked cranberry sauce flavoured with orange. I remember racy jokes about large-breasted turkeys and ‘plenty of sauce’– though I didn’t understand them then.

In this PC era, such names and jokes would be deemed outrageously sexist; worse, by far, than giving hurricanes only female names. Maybe next year I’ll stick Brad in the oven. Or George.

Maybe not. ‘Cold George with gravy’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘A bite of Brigitte with sauce’. Consider me irreparably damaged by my upbringing.

But I digress. I have been cooking leftovers for the last four days: turkey soup with egg and lemon (boil up the carcass for 1.5 litres of stock, then remove the bones and add a palm of rice per person. Whisk 2 eggs with the juice of 2 lemons, and when the rice is cooked add a little of the broth to the egg-lemon mixture. Add more, whisking well. Then a little more. Finally add the egg/lemon/broth mixture to the rest of the stock, whisking constantly so that the eggs don’t curdle. Add shredded turkey meat and enjoy with a sprinkling of black pepper.), mushrooms and turkey cooked in a wine and cream sauce, toasted turkey and brie sandwiches, turkey with pesto, turkey omelette, turkey fried with halloumi... Reeling off the menu I feel a little like Bubba in the movie Forrest Gump telling Forrest all the ways that he knew to cook shrimp.

I estimate that only one day of turkey leftovers remains. Five days’ eating’s not bad for thirty-three euros, but I doubt I'd ever choose a bird that big for only family again -- at least not until the Littles become teens.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I am my Father’s Daughter (or The Saga of our Christmas Turkey)

My father did not grow up poor, but his father did. My dad grew up in Depression-era St Louis, the son of a dirt-poor man from Tennessee who had gone to the city and had some lucky breaks, but imbued in his son and daughter a life-long thriftiness that somehow combined with true generosity of spirit. I remember seeing my father build and repair tools rather than buying them, and he enjoyed a life-long quest for the Special Offer.

*****

A couple of weeks ago, Best Beloved and I had our usual Christmas discussion about whether we would have a turkey or a goose for Christmas lunch.

“Turkey, Manamou!” he finally decided. “But not from Pepa (a village woman from whom we’ve bought turkeys for the last few years). She’s been getting greedy. Order a free-range one from the frozen shop.”

So I ordered a free-range bronze English turkey that would arrive fresh on the 23rd and be available for collection any time up ‘til lunch on Christmas Eve.

Yesterday I went to collect it at about nine. “Name?” asked the owner, a middle-aged English Cypriot whom I’ll call Charlie. I told him and his frown of worry deepened.

He went to the ‘fridge, scanned the tags on the two remaining birds, and came back to the desk looking tense. “Are you sure you ordered?”

“Yes,” I told him. “And you wrote it in the book.” Together we pored over the pages until we came to my name. “Ah!” he said with a smile of relief. “I misread the name as ‘Bachelor’! Now…” He launched into an explanation of how the other shop had mistakenly taken one of his turkeys and left him a fresh bird short “So, you could have this 7 kilo frozen defrosted one for half-price, if you want, and your fresh one will go to So-and-So… Or, of course you can have your slightly smaller fresh one at 12.50 a kilo...(And I'll find some other sucker to take the defrosted mammoth off my hands.)”

“When was it defrosted?” I asked.

“The girl in the other shop took it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge yesterday morning.”

He brought it down and my heart sank when I saw the price tag. How could someone pay 83 Euros for a turkey? I thought. Why didn’t I just get one from the supermarket instead of opting for this ludicrously expensive bird? “See, your fresh one is smaller,” Charlie said. It would have been 76 Euros.

I thought for a minute. “But this one is frozen, so are you offering it to me at half the price of a fresh one – which would be 6.25 a kilo – or half the price of a frozen one which would be less?”

“You’re a hard woman!” he said, throwing up his hands. “OK. A frozen one’s 10 Euros a kilo, so at half-price this one would be 33.”

We opened the plastic pack and smelled it. It smelled good.

“You’ve got a deal,” I said. “But if I die from food poisoning, I want a big wreath – a massive wreath,full of flowers and ribbons – at my funeral.”

”If you die,” Charlie answered. “I’m right behind you, because my family’s eating the same thing tomorrow.”

We laughed together. “OK, we’ll party in heaven,” I told him.

“You’re going there?” he asked, raising both bushy eyebrows. “OK, but I doubt that I am – and I don’t think they do very good parties there, anyway.”

“Further south, then,” I told him laying cash on the barrelhead and walking to the door with my prize. “It’s a deal!”

*****

I was a bit nervous recounting the story to Best Beloved later. “What if he thinks I did the wrong thing and endangered all of us for the sake of 50 lousy Euros?” But born of cash-wise peasant stock, my husband had no such qualms. “You got the ultimate Special Offer, Manamou,” he said with a grin. “Happy Christmas! Colonel Jim would be proud.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

School Christmas Party


Friday was the Big Ones’ school Christmas Dance. Like last year it was held in the Aliathon Hotel, tickets 25 Euro a shot, 7.30 to 11.30, buffet dinner and DJ. The few days leading up included a flurry of shopping. “I’ve got to have shoes, Mama!” “I need black jeans that fit and a red tie!” “How do I clean my skate shoes?” (Answer: “You don’t – ya gotta buy a new pair of shoes..”)

Fortunately, Sophia fits into my clothes and had no wish to buy anything new as I had found her dress several months ago.

Thirteen and a half years ago, when she was just a baby, we went out to Hawaii to visit my father. Strolling through the Ala Moana centre one day, infant in arms and toddler in tow, Best Beloved and I stopped in front of a dress shop.

“That would look lovely on you, Manamou!” he said, pointing to a reddish, slinky number on a manneqin. “Go and try it on.” I did, and it hung awkwardly, but when I tried on the smaller one, despite hugging my various bulges, it looked better.

“I’ll be losing those soon, anyway,” I said to myself. “I’ll get the small.”

The price tag of $369 made me wince a little – this was over a decade ago, and that seemed a lot to me for a dress – but I bought it…

…And never wore it. Never even removed the tags. About 4 years ago I tried it again, realised that I had grown even more bulges that I would never lose, and took it to the Dogs and Cats charity shop.

Last summer, flicking through the dress racks in the Cancer Patients’ charity shop, a familiar reddish tinge caught my eye. There was my dress – with the tags from Ala Moana still attached.

I bought it for a Euro and it fit Sophia perfectly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Children Sing in the Car.

Probably everybody’s do – and I know that when my siblings and I were young, we used to sing often – in the car and anywhere else, heedless of wrong notes, mistaken words, and variable keys. But hearing Zenon and Leo sing song after song – in Greek and English – during a twenty-minute car journey is one of my almost daily blessings.

And I don’t ask them to. One will start, and the other will join in – their voices generally true, even for children of nine and seven. Usually they sing songs learned at school – traditional Greek or Cypriot ballads or patriotic songs. Occasionally they sing pop songs, and Zenon has acquired a taste for soft rock, so that between glorifying the heroes and martyrs of 1821, he will launch into ‘Desperado’ – often with very strange words as he hasn’t managed to figure out what the lyrics are and just adds his own approximation.

He also has a liking for ‘Eye of the Tiger’, but fortunately his rendition only occasionally figures in the repertoire. Lately he and Leo have learned the words to ‘Jolene’ thanks to someone’s leaving a CD in my car. Both Zenon and Leo have picked up not only the lyrics, but Dolly’s accent, too. The other day Best Beloved pulled out of the drive on the way to town, and drifting back down the drive came ‘Ah had t’have this toke with you, mah happiness depends on you…’ A day or two later, apropos of nothing, Zenon suddenly said “What’s a toke, Mama?”

Alex has a true voice as well, and will often sing with me: our repertoire ranges from Kathy Mattea’s ‘Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses’ to Meat Loaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’ complete with motorcycle sound effects. He has an instinctive ear for harmony, so we do quite well together.

Sophia is more inclined to join Celine Dion or the Dixie Chicks when she’s listening to them on her computer. Unfortunately it’s hard to persuade her that her singing with headphones on means that we get a tuneless drone – she just shrugs when we stand in front of her pointing at the headphones and wincing.

She is the one who most wants to be able to sing well, as she has hopes for the stage. But people ‘in the know’ have told her that an ability to sing and dance gives one a better chance of acceptance into acting school, and a good drama school is practically pre-requisite for a stage career. She has started learning to play the guitar, and I have been trying to explain basic theory. But “I don’t want lessons!” she insists. “That’s the quickest way possible to put me off music.” Unfortunately my knowledge is very limited, and if she applies herself as I know that she can, she may be looking for lessons within the next year or so as she realises that self-teaching can take her only so far.

Now that Christmas is around the corner, we are regaled by a range of carols. Rudolf (in both English and Greek) is reindeer non grata, and I’ve threatened to put a boot through the Little Drummer Boy’s instrument if I hear of it again (never liked that carol!), but the house and the car are full of ‘Jingle Bells’ – often including the parody ‘Batman smells’), Silent Night, and Greek and Cypriot seasonal songs.

It’s good to be surrounded by music.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Soldier Boy

Best Beloved just finished his annual army service for 2009. Conscription is mandatory here, and every July a crop of shaven-head eighteen-year-old males is herded off to the various training camps to spend the next two years running up hills, playing about in tanks, splashing around in rubber boats and guarding the Green Line from the 40,000 Turkish regulars who still squat in the northern 40% of Cyprus.

After their two years, all men have to do a regular reserve duty (most keeping their kit, service rifle, and ammunition at home) – the younger ones for several weeks a year, the older ones gradually tapering off their number of days until they reach their fiftieth birthday when they are assigned to Home Guard units.

Best Beloved did his army service as a Lt quartermaster in an armoured reconnaissance unit back in the early eighties. He hated most of it, but was a good shot and still loves weapons. When he came back from finishing college and work in the UK, he didn’t report to the police for Army Service, and after about a year they went to his parent’s house to ask where he was. His mother gave them our address, and shortly afterwards, they showed up at the door.

“Why on earth couldn’t you say that you didn’t know where I was?” he asked her.

“It was the police, son. And for your Army Duty! I couldn’t lie about that…”

“Thanks, Ma. Send me back to the tanks!”

The Army descended on him with glee, sent him to do another officer course, and ordered him to spend a couple of days a year at war games. When he began travelling regularly for work, they downgraded him until now he is out of his old unit and only has to report one day of the year.

So around December 1 each year, he dons his (too tight) camouflage and trundles off to base to play soldiers with the other forty-somethings who are too old for much and too young for Dad’s Army. They sit around and drink coffee and clamber into a five-ton truck for a shooting session before heading back to their city offices.

Last year he forgot. Missing your Army Duty makes you liable for a fine, but someone must have signed him in, because when he arrived today (“Don’t forget to remind me on Tuesday that I have to go to the Army, Manamou!” – but of course I forgot) no one said a word about it.

I just phoned him.

“I’m back at the office now,” he said. “But we were all saying that we need the chiropractor. Climbing into those trucks without a ladder is a bit beyond most of us now, and bumping over the tracks is a little hard on bones more accustomed to a Mercedes. The trucks’ll kill us before the Turks ever get a chance!”

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“Fired ten bullets.”

“Did you hit the target?”

“Well according to me I did – you can tell when your hitting it. But the bloke who was reading our scores really didn’t give a damn – he was just saying whatever came into his head. We could tell because the guy standing next to me always hits a near perfect score and so do I, but they told us both a silly number that didn’t mean anything, so we figured that they didn’t really care.”

Oh, it’s good to feel so well protected!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Back to the Dentist


“Mummy, my tooth hurts,” Leo told me last night after brushing. “The same one that Doctor C filled.”


I looked in his mouth, saw nothing wrong, and said “Ok. Well let me know if it gets any worse and I will make an appointment for you with Doctor Lenia tomorrow.”


I half-expected him to wake me last night, but he didn’t, and except for saying that it still hurt a little this morning, complained no more. Nevertheless, as soon as the surgery opened this morning I was on the phone to Lenia’s receptionist. She gave Leo an appointment for 11.45 today, and I arranged with the school to pick him up early.


As soon as she touched the tooth, she tightened her lips and shook her head. “When I see cases like this, of a baby tooth with decay, I never fill,” she told me. “I tell the parents to make sure that the child brushes well, and we keep a very close eye on it. Drilling a tooth like this can push the decay deep inside. Then the filling caps it, the bacteria multiply, and you get an infection like this.


“You have two options,” she continued. “We can prescribe antibiotics and kill the infection, but that will probably be only a temporary measure. He does not shed this tooth for another four years, and you could be looking at successive infections. Or we can take it out.”


I could, she told me, avoid antibiotics altogether if I wanted to use Propolis, “But it will take longer.” Leo has never had antibiotics – strange for a Cypriot child, paediatricians hand them out left, right, and centre – but I reach for them when there is a need, so I asked her to fill one and she gave us Amoxycillin for the bacteria and Nurofen for the pain.


“Once the infection is gone, we can do the extraction,” she said. “I don’t like it, and I wish that it weren’t necessary, but I think that it’s the only way to go.”


We made an appointment for next Tuesday, and Leo skipped out of the office, running smack into Kay in the waiting room. She had come to have a filling and was not looking forward to it, so we kept her company until her name was called, then headed for the car.


“Will it hurt?” Leo asked on the way home, and I explained about injections “like the one Zenon had which made his mouth feel really strange,” and said that it would be a little uncomfortable later. “But I’ll be with you all the time, and we can get a treat afterward.”


He seemed satisfied with that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Armistice Day Baby

Eighty-three years – almost to the hour – after the guns stopped roaring, the gas stopped seeping and the great curtain of mud and steel that had bisected Europe from Switzerland to the sea had ceased to seethe, Leo, my last-born, made his appearance.


I have an Armistice Day baby. He was not born on ‘Remembrance Sunday’ – the closest Sunday to November 11 – when the Queen bends her knee before the Cenotaph to honour her fallen soldiers; nor on Veterans Day – the nearest Monday – when the Americans take a day off for barbeques and Super Sales to remember their veterans, living and dead. No, Leo arrived on The Day itself: a day that for as long as I can remember, I have marked with a silence at eleven o’clock. When I was little, the ranks of the red-coated Chelsea Pensioners still included veterans of the trenches, but now that Harry Patch has passed on and the Great War – in England at least – has passed from living memory to history, their ranks are filled with other men and women, but the number of families touched by continuing conflicts is continuing to grow by the day.


***


But there was no two minutes of silence for me in 2002 – not at eleven, anyway.


For the last few weeks of my pregnancy, Leo had been breech presentation (feet down), or lying sideways. On November 10, Best Beloved had left for London and the World Travel Market, and Doctor Michalis, my ob-gyn had warned me “Any pains and you come straight in. I’ll do a breech delivery with you because this is not your first baby and we know each other well, but a baby lying transverse cannot be born and will require a Caesarian.”


Fortunately, on the morning of the eleventh, I felt Leo turn around, and was in the English Butcher, half-way up the Mesoyi hill, when the first dragging pain told me that today would be the day. “Looks like you’ll be having your baby soon,” Rose smiled at me from behind the counter. “Actually,” I gasped. “He’s on his way now!”


It wasn’t the first time that I had driven myself while in labour, but I hope it was the last… Kay was at home with Zenon, then two. She called Lise who picked up Alex and Sophia from school and contacted Barbara, a friend who was going to help Kay look after Lise’s and my combined children because Lise was coming with me to take care of Sophia who wanted to be at her brother’s birth. Kay also called Jude, a midwife friend who had agreed to act as my ‘doula’ or birthing assistant (something unknown in Cyprus) throughout the delivery.


All these ‘additional extras’ to Leo’s birth are testament to Doc Michalis’ unusual temperament. Not only was he willing to deliver a breech presentation with me, he agreed to letting Jude be present, as well as Lise (though he knew them both well – Jude in her capacity as a midwife and Lise as a patient), and he sanctioned Sophia’s presence, although he insisted on a letter from a child psychologist saying that in her professional opinion, Sophia’s witnessing the normal delivery of a sibling would not cause her harm. He also allowed me to dispense with a shave, an enema, and a drip – all normal birth procedures in Cyprus.


Everyone duly arrived and the house began to bustle with eight children, two baby-sitters, and two carers. Jude dosed me with Rescue Remedy “To reduce trauma” and massaged me with essential oils of clary sage and frankincense “The first one to totally bliss you out and the second to induce stronger contractions”, she said.


Lise drove us to the hospital where our arrival, just as labour was beginning to accelerate, caused quite a stir at the Well Woman reception. The nurse showed us to our room, Doc Michalis checked me out (“Not long now”), someone thought to call Best Beloved (“I thought it wasn’t ‘til next week!”), and within an hour or so, I was moved upstairs to the delivery room.


“If you want to watch, Sophia,” Doc Michalis said. “Come and stand behind me.” So Sophia, one little hand in Lise’s, took up station at his shoulder, her eyes growing wider and wider as the top of Leo’s head began to appear. “Is that his brains?” she whispered. “No,” Lise whispered back. “That’s his dark curly hair… Look… the rest of him’s coming now!” And with a slippery wriggle, the rest of him arrived. Doc Michalis caught him with the ease of a thousand other births, and after cutting the cord and wrapping him in a cloth, handed him to his six-year-old sister.


“Well, that was easy,” the doctor said, putting a stitch into a small tear (99% of births in Cyprus include routine episiotomy – a cut to enlarge the vagina and make delivery ‘easier’ – Doc Michalis had promised me that he would avoid cutting me, and he did). “We’ll do the next one at home, shall we?”


“No next one, Doc,” I answered. “I know where these little buggers come from now!” Smiles all round. Home births do not happen here, yet.


***


We had Leo’s seventh birthday party on the Sunday before the eleventh – ‘Remembrance Sunday’. Fifteen children came and played traditional games like Pass the Parcel, Musical Chairs, and Pin the Tail on the Horse. We ate sandwiches and cake, jelly and pies, and when the last cars pulled away began the clean-up: dishes in the machine, paper in the bin, toys downstairs to the bedroom. A little boy went to sleep tired but happy that night.


Yesterday, the eleventh, I taught my second Organic Principals for the Backyard Gardener workshop at Lise’s Turtle and Moon studio in Trimithousa. At eleven, I was in full spate, explaining the workings of compost and mulch.



But at one, eleven GMT, I was on the road home. I pulled over for my two minutes of silence and wondered why I hadn’t said something during the class. Was I being Politically Correct? (“Don’t mention the War!”) My (two) students were, after all, English – brought up in the same tradition that I had been. Britain is now losing soldiers at an ever-increasing rate in Afghanistan, and thirty years ago, when we were all children, not pausing for the silence at eleven would have been inconceivable.


That’s something to think about for next year.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oxi Day in Akamas

The twenty-eighth of October is one of the year’s big holidays. It marks the day, in 1940, when Ioannis Metaxas, the leader of Greece, refused Benito Mussolini’s request that Italian troops occupy Greece to further Axis aims. Italy invaded Greece, Greek soliders repulsed the Italians through the murderous mountain winter of Albania, and the following spring German Panzers subdued the Greeks and began the Occupation that would last until 1945. Oxi Day is a day that the Greeks are justly proud of – and one that many Cypriots celebrate vocally “Hurray for the Patrida!” No wonder Turkish-Cypriots feared that they would be incorporated into a Greater Greece.

But that’s beside the point. For us it’s a day off. Best Beloved planned to stay in Nicosia so that he wouldn’t commute twice, and when I asked the Little Ones what they’d like to do for the day, the answer was unanimous: “A picnic!” Alex said that he could live with that, Sophia had a friend over and we arranged that we would collect Hannah, and I decided that sixteen years had passed since I had seen Avakas Gorge, and that maybe it was time to take my children there.

We loaded the Land Rover with baked chicken, spinach pies, an assortment of fruit, bread, peanut butter, cheese, juice, and water, and set out at 10.30, stopping at Kissonerga to collect Hannah.

How the road to Akamas has changed! When I was first here, it was single lane tarmac after Coral Bay, with only a few houses scattered on either side. Now it is ribbon development: houses, offices, restaurants, kiosks… all the way to the harbour at Agios Giorgios. I almost missed the turn-off for not recognising it.

At the parking lot for the Gorge, I had a little smile to myself. The place was full of safari Land Rovers that were just leaving (thank God!) and as each one passed us, the drivers checked me out. Very few women drive Land Rovers here -- I think I’ve only ever seen one other, and like me, she was a foreigner. I don’t know if these guys felt their masculinity in doubt, but I know that I saw some of them bridle.

“We’re not going for a walk are we, Mum?” Sophia said, looking dubious.

“It’s not far,” I answered. “And there’s no point in your coming and not seeing the gorge. It’s spectacular.”

Some eyes rolled. “But what’s there?” Teens!

But Zeen and Leo were already heading up the track, Alex in their wake, so the girls had no other option but to follow.

A few other people were on the path, and we joined them in reading the names of various trees and shrubs that the forestry department has thoughtfully labelled. The path is much clearer than when I was last here – trees cut back, and steps built into some of the rougher parts. A few stagnant pools of water were in the stream – in true winter, it often becomes a cascade, and I’m sure that I remember Exalt Travel, in the days when David Pearlman owned it, doing some kind of trip down the Gorge with inner tubes.

When the walls narrowed to the point where we could nearly touch them on either side, even the girls were impressed. The boys loved it, scrambling ahead, clambering over boulders, their shouts echoing around us. “A goat!” they cried, pointing to a precipice thirty feet above us, where a goat nibbled on some greenery. And “Look at the pigeon having a shower in the waterfall!”

About half an hour in, the girls elected to turn back, and Alex, saying that he was hungry, went with them. The Littles refused. They insisted on continuing for another hour and a half, so I went with them, sure that the Gorge would open out soon, and we would find our way back down the road like Best Beloved and I had done sixteen years before. Sometimes we followed a trail marked with red paint splodges, sometimes we just stuck to the streambed. There were no other hikers about, and the trees were full of bird song.

But eventually Leo flagged, and a couple that was descending said that it was at least another half hour until the walls ended, so we turned back. I sent Zenon ahead as I was afraid that the others would start to worry as we had been away longer than I had hoped, and he set off at once. I had to help Leo over the steeper bits and give him a hand over some of the bigger rock falls, but he never once complained. I carried him the last 200 metres, and we consoled ourselves with the hope that the others had left us some food.

We needn’t have worried. There was plenty left.

After lunch we drove further into the Akamas. Past Lara Bay where the turtles nest, we found some Hobbit caves and went up to explore them. Some old time shepherds had filled the mouths of naturally weathered limestone hollows with rocks to make simple shelters for their flocks, and we all enjoyed climbing and exploring. “Can we come out here and camp in the summer?” That was Sophia’s question and, yes, she was serious. But “Without an adult, I mean. Just a crowd of us?” I had to say no. Party-pooper!



Rain threatened, so we headed home, stopping at the kiosk by the harbour at Agios Giorgos for an icecream. It was a rip off. But nobody really minded. We had all enjoyed ourselves far too much to let something as insignificant as crappy ice-cream ruin the day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Evening at the Red Park


These days I do a lot more driving and a lot more hanging around. And not the kind of hanging around where you can just park the car and read: at least twice a week I am hanging around for an hour or more with the Little Ones at dusk while the Big Ones do TaeKwanDo.




Last Tuesday, by the time the Littles’ class had finished and I had dropped off the Big Ones, I had done all the town errands and was a bit at a loss for entertainment. Zenon and Leo were no help. “I’ll just stay in the car,” was Zenon’s contribution, and Leo said “I want pizza!” Neither was an option, so I said: “We’re going to the Red Park!”


A chorus of groans met this suggestion. “Then we’ll have to change out of our TaeKwanDo suits!” and “It’s getting dark, no fun!” But Benevolent, I may be; Dictator, I am. So I said: “Tough! That’s where we’re going. Change your clothes in the car.”


The Red Park is Yerouskippou village’s municipal park. Large and grassy, with landscaped gardens, slopes, paths, and a footbridge, it also has a kiosk/cafeteria (always closed when we are there), playground equipment (painted red, hence our name), benches for sitting, and a water fountain. Before we moved out to the sticks, we used to have Zenon and Leo’s birthday parties there: there were flat places for football, cricket, or games of tag, woods and bushes to hide in, even an amphitheatre for showing off. Its drawback from May to September is a shortage of shade. The trees are still small, so to enjoy Yerouskippou park in the summer, you need to go before nine or after five-thirty.


We found the parking lot nearly full, and Zenon and Leo tumbled from the car – all complaints suddenly silent. At least fifteen families were enjoying the evening at the park: swinging on the swings, climbing the frame, sliding. Two separate games of kickball were happening, and skateboards and bikes whizzed around the concrete area.


The boys headed for the swings, close to a group of three women, two toddlers, and a baby. We exchanged smiles, the gold teeth of the older woman flashing as she looked up at me. One of the toddlers wandered toward the path of Zenon’s swing, so I scooped him up and returned him to his mother, and I realised that the group was speaking Arabic. I hadn’t twigged at first because, although the older woman was dressed ‘ethnically’ the two younger ones were in Western dress. Most of the Syrian women here wear the conservative Muslim head scarf.


Over at the flat area, a Russian mother and her son were playing kick-ball while Babushka watched and called occasional encouragement. Some Ponti kids were playing on the line swing, a Cypriot thirty-something was encouraging his four-year-old daughter up the slide, and an English mother was trying to stop her two sons from braining each other with lightsabres. As I watched them all, I reflected on how the demographics have changed since I first set foot on Cyprus just over nineteen years ago.


The population then was almost purely Greek-Cypriot. A foreigner’s land purchase had to be approved by the Council of Ministers. Some foreigners (mostly English, many former military) had retired here, and some intermarriage, again, mostly with English – or English-speaking foreigners had taken place. Those (mostly) women had assimilated. Before the ‘nineties, you simply couldn’t manage without Greek. Guest workers were Philippinas – nurses, cabaret ‘artistes’, and home-help, but Cypriots, both men and women, still did menial jobs.


Things began changing. Sri Lankans appeared – the women working as housemaids, the men as shepherds, drivers, cleaners. Then came the Russian invasion: as the Soviet Union crumbled, more and more Russians, many of then wealthy, set up businesses and homes here. Syrians came to work on the building sites, and Pontic Greeks arrived to live – their Greek passports assuring them a right of residency. When I helped with ambulance cover at the rugby match, I ran into our Nepalese worker, and he introduced me to Paphos’ Nepali community which lives in a complex of rooms at the rugby pitch. The latest wave of house- and field-help has been from Vietnam, and it still gives me a slight sense of cultural dislocation to see three or four women in their traditional conical hats, squatting in a field of onions or walking in the market place. You can find a Cypriot house-cleaner, baby-sitter, or field worker for neither love nor money.


When we joined the European Union in 2004, Brits arrived en masse. Suddenly, they could work and buy land. Because there were so many of them, and so many British businesses, learning Greek was no longer necessary: they could buy land, build a house and decorate it, shop, give birth, educate their children (privately), and watch t.v all in English. The one thing that they couldn’t do in English was die. The State still deals with death, and formalities are the same whatever the nationality. Doctors and police speak good English, but the bureaucracy is still Byzantine.


Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic States joined at the same time. New languages were heard. Leggy blondes appeared on the streets, in cafes, married to locals. In 2006, 26% of marriages that involved a Cypriot in the government-controlled part of the island were to a foreign partner. When Bulgaria and Romania came into the EU two years ago, even more foreigners flooded in. The economic downturn has seen some retreats – particularly of fly-by-night British who thought that they would make a killing here, then were hit by recession and the loss in value of Sterling. But by-and-large there is still a good-sized community of out-of-towners.


Hence the polyglot mixture at the park. This new multi-culturalism can’t be bad: we all have to live on this planet, the better we know each other and the more things that we realise are common, the less likely we are to kill each other. Syrian and Russian children sharing classroom space with English and Cypriot kids will only lead to greater understandings… won’t they? I’m glad that my children will have international friends. Taste foreign food. Learn foreign tongues.


Just now, like last Tuesday evening at the park, the situation seems pretty idyllic. Maybe I’m just naive, but I hope it stays like that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At The Olive Mill

Theodora and her crew filled fifteen boxes. Each box holds a little over ten kilos, so I knew that we had around 150 kilos and decided to press them at Anogira. I called the mill and confirmed that I could be the first through the press on Saturday morning. “Be there at nine, sharp!” Andreas said. Although each farmer’s fruit is theoretically kept separate, because ours is certified organic I like to be the first through the press. Being first means that you know, beyond any doubt, that your oil will come from your olives – and although it wouldn’t affect our certification, I like to be able to tell my customers that their oil is 100% certified organic olive oil.

So, leaving Best Beloved to take Leo and Sophia to Drama, I drove up to Anogira with Zenon.

We arrived bang on nine and I backed the Land Rover up to the hopper and Zeen and I started emptying the boxes. We had 168.9 kilos.

Olive pressing takes more than 2 hours. First the leaves are separated out and the olives are washed, then the fruit is crushed by the three giant wheels. After crushing the olives are kneaded in the machine, and the oil is extracted, finally trickling down into our containers.

We hadn’t had breakfast, so Zeen and I decided on a little snack to help the time pass. We chose toasts drizzled with oil and sprinkled with rigani. Mine came with tomato and feta and his was plain. And Zenon was hooked. A normally picky eater, he took one bite and his eyes lit up. “Can I have this at home every day?”

After our snack, we took a walk around the park that forms the museum part of the mill. I would recommend a visit here to anyone who is interested in learning about Cyprus or oil production. Andreas and Lina have created a beautifully landscaped park with attractive and interesting exhibits about the history and cultivation of olives. They have a model ‘old time’ press showing how donkeys were used to turn the screw; they have a collection of tools, utensils, mats, and pots. They have clear multi-lingual explanations.

But I think they’ve gone a little over the top. Where they’ve stuck to olives, everything’s great. Why add the sheep? I guess that you can say that sheep are a part of traditional Cypriot culture. A pony? The poor thing, a skewbald Shetland-cross, was disconsolately cropping coarse straw in his pen, waiting to be saddled and led around under tots all day (2 Euros a pop). I was hot, in shorts and a tank top. God knows how he felt in his woolly coat. Shetlands are bred for the inhospitable rocks of northern Scotland, not the sun-scorched Cypriot lowlands.

But saddest was the deer, in its faux-concrete pen. Young enough to still have spots, she pressed herself, flanks heaving, against the wire as far from us as she could possibly get, and stared with wide, dark brown eyes. When we moved, so did she, gauging her moment and leaping up the concrete rocks on fine-drawn legs to press herself against the other end of the pen. Her eyes never left us. There was nowhere she could hide. We put a Euro in a slot and watched a fan blow detergent foam ‘snow’ across the pen for a minute or so. Deer were here from pre-historic times until the mid-16th Century, but are no longer part of the native fauna. Maybe bringing one and creating an exhibit called ‘Snowfall in Troodos’ at an olive park was simply an exercise in wishful thinking.

By the time we had arrived back at the mill, other farmers had arrived and started their pressing. We sat around, chatted a bit, read some stories, then watched as our oil, bright green, started flowing out of the tap. We had about 27 litres – less than I expected. Less than I had hoped. But acidity at 0.4% puts it well into the Extra Virgin category, and the taste is fresh and peppery.

“Don’t sell it this year, Manamou,” Best Beloved said when I finally got home. “It has cost us 7 Euros a litre to produce this year, and you’ll not make anything on it. Keep it for us.”

Besides, if Zenon stays true to his wish and eats olive oil toast every day (and he has so far), we’ll need every last drop.

Olive Harvest

The olives are done.

The autumn bogeyman that assumes giant proportions every October has been put to bed with barely a whimper, and I’m free!

We have twenty-eight olive trees, and each year – I guess because I’m the main agriculturalist except for the vines and the mango trees – I arrange pickers, usually work as well, then take the olives for pressing. If we have a good quantity (three years ago we had 525 kilos), I take it to the village of Anoyira, about thirty minutes’ drive away, to the Ecological mill where it is cold-pressed by huge stones in the traditional way. Less than 100 kilos (we pruned back some sick trees very heavily last year, and with less watering the harvest was much less), I take to the mill in the neighbouring village of Agia Varvara where they use heat to extract the oil and the processing is much cheaper.

When I arrived back from Scotland on October 5, I did my usual tour around the property – checking to see if there were any mangoes left (there were two), looking to see if the insect traps were working on the guava trees (they were), sussing out the state of my veg patches (they had been well cared for in my absence). And I looked at the olive trees. Shock! The olives were already darkening.

“When are you doing your olives?” I asked my father in law. He shrugged: “End of the month, as usual.” Had I, the foreigner, misjudged the olives so badly, or are they doing what all the other trees seem to be doing these last few years and yielding early?

I consulted Best Beloved. “Do what you think best, Manamou!”

So I called Theodora – the little Russian Greek grandmother from Georgia who is my crew boss and asked her to line up another four workers for last Thursday. “Thursday!” I repeated. “Seven-thirty.”

Last year she diddled me. She had been picking for Best Beloved’s Cousine and we had arranged that she and her crew would come on the Tuesday but they hadn’t finished Cousine’s trees, so she didn’t show up at the rendez-vous point and when I called her that evening swore blind that I had said Wednesday. Last year’s olives were picked by a hodge-podge of Vietnamese and family over a three-day stretch and I’m sure the experience put five years’ worth of white hairs on my head.

But she was there. With another four Russian Greeks. And they had all the trees done by noon and did some work in the garden besides. They are amazing workers, Theodora’s crew; usually they work from 6.30 (I have to get them at 7.30 because of the school run) until 3, providing their own food, for 30 Euro each. They’re not slackers, and they NEVER stop talking their dialect of blended Russian and Greek.

This year I didn’t work. Fired by some Puritan urge or some macha need to get dirty and exhausted in the name of manual work, I usually join the crew raking the olives from the branches down onto the nets spread around the roots, then cleaning out the leaves and tipping the fruit into the boxes. This year I didn’t. I showed them the trees, gave them the tools, and let them get on with the job.

Maybe I’m finally learning something!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Update

There has been a long silence from the Little White Donkey lately. I was in Scotland for ten days at a residential creative writing workshop run by the Arvon Foundation at the Moniack Mhor Writers' Centre not far from Inverness.

When I came back at the beginning of the month, it was to learn that Kay, who has worked for us as a mothers' help for thirteen years, had at last jumped on a plane to Bulgaria to pick up the little boy that she and her husband have adopted. She was on the adoption list for seven years, and it seemed that she would never get the green light. Then last May, she was summoned to Bulgaria to meet the child, and at the end of September received an email saying 'Come and get him!'

So I have been very busy adjusting to what used to be a two-person schedule as far as child-care and driving goes. The Big Ones finish school at a different time from the Littles, so I have managed to work out a car pool with someone else with a child at the Big Ones' school. But after school classes still take my afternoons, and it seems that I wear a chauffeur's cap from two 'til six or later during weekdays. Still, it gives me a better chance to be in touch with what they're all up to, so every cloud has its silver lining. Best Beloved is a great help when he's here, but that's only Thursday's lunch time through Monday's breakfast.

I thought that doing without Kay would be a catastrophe and leave me a nervous wreck. Before she left (on her maternity leave -- I don't know if she will be coming back to work with us when her four months is up), I felt as if I were about to leap of a cliff. Then she was gone, and I had to deal with it all, and nothing was as bad as I feared. OK, there are some tight moments, and some routines have to be adjusted: the children have to do more than they did before -- not a bad thing, at all! But things aren't so stressful, and as I said, I get to engage more with the younger ones -- which can only be good.

My personal time gets cut -- but I was always good at procrastinating anyway, and I now realise how much of that 'personal time' was wasted. There's no time to idly flick through a newspaper now, to linger over morning coffee or afternoon tea. I have all the housework, shopping, cooking, and laundry, deadlines for the weekly food blog that I write, and have started a novel...

... and have just realised that I'm procrastinating now. However, keeping the Little White Donkey going is one of my ambitions, so even if she wanders now and then, or stops to browse, the delay won't be for long. Soon the slender, furry ears will begin to flick again, the nostrils to twitch and wrinkle. Her head will turn back to the trail, and the little flint-like, boxy hoofs will once again feel their way back to the path.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Adventure Continues

There has been a silence from the Little White Donkey for a while. I have been travelling a different path; one that has left me with little spare time over the last week.


Since, aged eleven, I watched Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe racing out of Station 51 in their paramedic vehicle through all the seasons of Emergency! and Emergency One!, I have wanted to be a paramedic. When I took the early steps toward joining the Army in the late ‘80’s, the recruiter looked at my ASVAB results and said: “Ms Asproulla, with your language skills, your test scores, and your college education, we think you’re an ideal candidate for Officer Training School and the Language Program.” I replied: “Sergeant, I want to be a medic in the Airborne Infantry!” and badgered him until he assured me that, should I sign on the dotted line, that’s what I’d be. (Thank goodness I didn’t travel that path, but returned to Egypt instead on the advice of several soldier friends: “Asproulla, you wouldn’t do well in the Army, you argue too much!”)


Now, thirty-five years after I became aware of the job ‘paramedic’, I have just completed a course for Emergency Care Assistants, the first rung on the ladder toward being one.


Paramedics did not officially exist in Cyprus until recently. If you had to call an ambulance, you might or might not get one from the General Hospital. If one came, it would certainly have a driver, but he would probably have little or no first aid training. A nurse might be on board, or another bod to help with lifting, but attendants had little or no medical experience, and at least sixty people died each year because of the lack of trained first responders.


John Thompson and Houston Medical are changing that. For at least five years, John (from here on known as Da Boss) – a former medic with the Royal Army Medical Corps, a paramedic, trainer, and Health and Safety Officer on North Sea oil rigs -- has made the creation of a private ambulance service with trained crews his mission. Alternating working on the rig for two weeks with returning home to Paphos for two weeks, he has managed to build a five-ambulance fleet that serves a small number of – mostly expat – subscribers. Now he is starting to train crews in earnest, and I was in on the first course.


SH, an old friend of Da Boss, came over from the UK where he works as a trainer of paramedics and put Houston’s current employees (J, a twenty-year driver for the Scottish Ambulance Service and a veteran of the Lockerbie bombing; ST, another Scot, a former mechanic and police recovery driver, married to C who worked as a dispatcher for Scottish Ambulance Service – yes, it confuses me when they refer to their time in the SAS; B, twenty-five years in the Royal Engineers who built the beachhead in the Falklands; and R, a Swiss paramedic who has just gone home for an operation) and me (the Cherry) through a forty-hour course that included casualty assessment, diagnoses, advanced first aid, and evacuation techniques as well as discussing mass casualty response and triage.


The week was exhausting and stimulating. Not only were there many hours of lectures, but there were long periods of practical work as well. We – or at least I (it was Old Hat to the others, but they needed their paperwork in order) learned to take blood pressure and blood sugar readings, to insert different types of airways, to suction, to splint, to use an orthopaedic scoop and a spine board; we learned different techniques of helmet removal, and different lifts. On Sunday we provided medical cover to the Paphos Tigers rugby match (some knee injuries, a couple of stubbed toes, and a few gashes requiring Steri-Strips).


When the course finished, SH took me aside saying “Well, you’d better trot down here on Wednesday then, and ask Da Boss about a job. I think you’d be an asset.”


So I did. And for the first time since 1988, I have a job. Part time – event cover for now, until I have more time up on the vehicles and more training -- also until there is more money around in the shape of a full-time contract for medical cover at Pissouri village (several Pissourans have died of heart attacks over the last few years, and the muchtar is keen to have a crew from Houston based there 24/7 – right up my alley since it’s just down the road). I get a nice dark blue uniform and weekly training sessions. In a few months, I hope to be able to get training in advanced driving techniques so that I will be able to drive the ambulances.


All this is not without a degree of angst on my part. Despite all the things I’ve done and all the places I’ve been – many of them hairy – I have never seen as much as a road accident (ok, I was in a bus crash in Egypt, but that was at night, and there were very few injuries, none of them horrific), let alone dealt with heart attacks, broken bones or any of the other conditions that we spent the last week talking about. Except for my parents, who both died at home after illness, I’ve never seen death. I wonder how I’ll cope. “Train hard and fight easy,” was SH’s answer, and Da Boss said: “Don’t worry lass, you’ll no’ panic on us!” (Yes, he’s a Scot, too).


Meanwhile, I’m still working in the field and delivering veg, still ferrying children about, and still trying to find time and head-space for writing. The adventure continues…

Friday, September 4, 2009

On Children and Dentistry

A fortnight ago Zenon told me that he had a pain in the back of his mouth and wanted to see Dr C, the paediatric dentist we have been using for the last nine years. “I think I’m getting a new molar… maybe a wisdom tooth!” So, counting backwards, I realised that about six months had past since the Littles' last uneventful appointment with Dr C -- they've never had any dental problems except for an accident that chipped one of Zenon's front teeth eight years ago, (the Big Ones go to Dr Lenia, my dentist), and made an appointment for the following day.


Zenon went first, clambering into the chair while Leo played quietly with the toys in the colourful reception area.


After agreeing that a molar was indeed breaking through at the back of Zenon’s mouth, Dr C frowned. “You still don’t use fluoride toothpaste?” I confirmed that we are a fluoride-free family. “He has some very bad cavities!”


I peered inside Zenon’s mouth and saw a black area between two teeth. Dr C scraped with a probe. “This tooth is affected, and, “ he scraped its neighbour. “This one, also. He will need two fillings.”


We decided to do them then, as I had plenty of time that morning, so with Leo floating between surgery and waiting room, Dr C drilled and filled Zenon’s teeth. Because one cavity was a little bigger, Dr C had to use local anaesthetic, but Zenon bore the procedure with no complaint and only a few winces and wry expressions.


Then it was Leo’s turn. As soon as he took the chair and opened his mouth ‘as wide as wide!’, Dr C frowned again. “This one needs lots of work, look! At least six teeth are affected with decay, but these are much bigger!”

With no time for him to do Leo’s that morning, Dr C sat me down at his desk, flipped open his lap-top, and began explaining the procedure for ‘pulp amputation’, a procedure that he would have to do on at least four teeth to ensure that there would be no possible infection, abscess, or later trouble. “Even though these are baby teeth,” he explained. “We must work to block any possible route of trouble.” Even though Dr C’s English is fluent, I wanted Best Beloved to hear this, and asked if I could bring him to the next appointment “When we will do the first, easy, filling as I want to see how Leo reacts to the drill.”


“Of course, bring the baby’s father, and I can explain everything to him!”


***


Next week the three of us trooped into the surgery, Leo endured his filling without a murmur, and Dr C explained his plans to Best Beloved. He also presented his bill.


The fillings that Dr C had done were fifty Euros each. The extensive work that he was planning for my six-year old would work out at one hundred and thirty Euros per tooth.


As we left the surgery, my husband turned to me. “Take him to Dr Lenia and see what she says,” he advised. “Lenia’s a great one for not intervening, and a second opinion is always a good idea, especially when the first opinion says to rush in with all sorts of complicated and expensive solutions.”


Music to my ears. My confidence as a mother had plummeted; my children’s teeth were riddled with decay and I had a crackpot attitude to fluoride. Dr C had made me feel seriously inadequate as a parent.


***



Our appointment with Dr Lenia was yesterday morning. She peered into Leo’s mouth, said “I can see four teeth affected by two minor areas of decay. My recommendation is to leave it for six months, make sure he brushes every day and use floss a couple of times a week. Continue to use the Mastic toothpaste – it has excellent properties, and I know that you don’t like fluoride. When you bring him back in March, we will fill them if the cavities have deepened, otherwise we will just wait for him to shed the teeth naturally.”


”No pulp amputation?” I asked. She gasped and rolled her eyes.


“Is that what he told you?” she asked. “Do you know how many of my patients have brought me their children after the paediatric dentist has done this and I have to extract the teeth and deal with serious infections?”


Lesson learned. Faith in my ability as a parent restored. Another layer of cynicism added to my carapace concerning certain members of the medical establishment and their addiction to tampering.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Playground Developments



Work is continuing three times a week at Amargeti, and the playground is growing by leaps and bounds. On Friday, Bridgestone is delivering a truckload of tyres – they’re only too happy to get rid of them! -- including some big tractor tyres, and by the end of next week, the octopus should be curling around a sand pit. We already have water in the pond and plants in the planters and the dusty, desolate space at the back of the school building is looking more inviting.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Poison

Best Beloved was talking to a Cousin who has opened a supermarket at the point where his land meets ours at the main road. Cousin is a hunter with a pack of dogs that he exercises in the area. In the course of the conversation Best Beloved mentioned that our dog had died – probably as a result of poison, that Mili’s dog had been saved in the nick of time, and that he wondered was it a result of farmers putting poisoned bait out to combat magpies – notorious fruit thieves (we have seen far fewer magpies than normal this year: usually I lose 30% of the apples to birds, this year I have lost none.)


“I don’t think so,” Cousin had answered. “There’s poison bait all along the valley – other peoples’ dogs have also had trouble.”


The valley – a ‘No Hunting’ strip of privately held plots, until recently posted out of bounds for anyone with a hunting dog – has now been included in an area where hunters are permitted to exercise their dogs, according (I think) to the common law notion of Right of Way. We used to call the Game Authority when we saw people there: a yelping pack is a pain in the ass at 0600 on a Sunday morning, especially when they’re traipsing across your property or the hunters are stopping for a gossip 20 metres from your bedroom window. Last time we called, the Authority told us that the hunters had a right to be there as long as they were only using the area for exercising and were not actually armed or coursing.


Cousin went on to say that he believes another hunter has left bait all over the valley in order to wipe out dogs belonging to ‘the competition’ and leave the field clear for his own.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playground Building in Amargeti Village




This summer has been busy up at the Art & Wild Nature Foundation Centre in the converted school of Amargeti village. Lise has run several ‘Art for Nature’s Sake’ recycling workshops: wallets from folded newspaper, a ‘found objects’ mobile, and the mosaic-ing of the Foundation sign. But the Magnum Opus has been the Playground.

Originally Doerte, the Foundation’s Founder, planned to bring over two Israelis for the project, the design -- an armature sculpted from recycled tyres and recycled plastic bottles covered with chicken-wire and concrete – being Israeli. But they wanted too much money and as every possible cent has to be scraped together from complex funding, bringing people over was completely unfeasable. Plan B was to have a Sculptor-in-Residence who would, over the course of the summer, do the heavy building, and various public workshops would be held to do the decorating and finishing. The Sculptor got sick and had to cancel. Plan C meant that the work was down to Lise and Doerte and whoever else could be roped in.

Between us, Lise and I field eleven children ranging in age from 17 to 6. Several of them are large male teenagers, handy with concrete mixers and shovels. Add two strong women to the mix (I am not counting myself here, as I am the project’s photographer), some willing extras that show up, and a host of enthusiastic Small Ones, and after several evenings’ work, you have a creditable start to the playground.

I missed the first sessions, where the initial armature was made for the bench and planters and the location of the pond was discussed. But Monday and Wednesday, we went up for the bench construction and pond digging, and Friday will be the day of laying pond foil and building the armature around the pond. Next week will see the start of either an octopus or a chameleon large enough to clamber over and through, and with space for a small slide. Building regulations say that we cannot have a structure taller than 1.2 metres without planning permission, but that still leaves plenty of scope for places to enjoy.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Walk in Old Nicosia

Yesterday morning in Nicosia I took a walk that I haven’t taken for seventeen years. I left our Laiki Yitonia hotel and walked to Solomou Square, then back along Rigenous Street to Eleftheria Square, all the way down Ledra Street to the Green Line, then along the Buffer Zone to the Archbishopric. I didn’t have time to go all the way to Agios Kassianos, so I turned south and went back to the walls, then through the other side of Laiki Yitonia and back to the hotel.

I saw many changes and much unchanged.

Seventeen years ago, I would have seen very few African or Asian faces, but yesterday, Solomou Square was crowded with foreigners catching the early buses to work. Housing is cheap in the crowded streets of the old city, and many legal guest workers, asylum seekers, and illegals have taken over the old houses and neighbourhoods. Most Cypriot residents don’t have a problem with this – the newcomers tend to be quiet and keep their heads down to avoid trouble – and the multicultural presence breathes life into crumbling areas as well as ensuring that the manual work which Cypriots won’t do any more gets done.

Ledra Street is now pedestrianized. It had been the last time that I was here, but I hadn’t walked its length. The street is still dirty – bags of rubbish were piled in the corners, and dirty papers blew in the breeze – but retains a certain majesty. The old art deco sandstone buildings with their green louvered shutters still comprise the bulk of the buildings, but now, in place of the old signs above wooden doors, the old Greek and Armenian names, plate glass and plastic with the logos of Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Guess, Next, Debenhams, and Marks and Spencers give a distinctly ‘High Street, Anytown, UK’ feeling to the place. “We’ve seen off a lot on invaders,” Best Beloved shrugged when I told him of my disappointment. “We’ll see this lot off, too…”

Outside the commercial streets, a few locals were up and about – sipping coffee, reading newspapers, and flipping their worry beads – an early morning male ritual while wives sweep dooryards and air bedding. I approached a group of them on a quiet street near the metalworkers’ alley to ask if Artin Baltayan, an Armenian coppersmith on whom I had written a Sunjet article twenty years ago was still around. One of them told me that he had died, but when I asked if anyone else was still working who could repair an antique brass Turkish jug, they shook their heads noncommittally and went back to their coffee, papers, and beads.

I put their lack of interest down to their being jaded by tourists – now that the Ledra Street crossing is open, outsiders disturb the calm of quiet neighbourhoods – but when I described the conversation to Best Beloved later, he said that they were probably Armenians. “Cypriots, Turkish- or Greek-, would have invited you for coffee, asked where you were from and never, ever, corrected the way that you spoke!” he said. “They would have probably commandeered a workshop and offered to fix the jug there and then!” Armenians, it seems, are more reserved.

The police woman at the checkpoint nodded in response to my ‘Kalimera’, as did the young Guardsman coming off line duty and edging through the open door through which I glimpsed two rows of tightly-made iron bunks. In the furniture makers’ area, an old man working in a cavernous arcaded room that I thought might be an ancient inn because of its double arcade of arches, said that he thought instead it had been a wine storehouse. “When all these planks and boards are cleared away,” he gestured at the dusty piles around him. “You can see pits and spaces where there were big storage tanks. When I took over the building, they told me that it had probably been a warehouse for wine or oil.”

Despite the new crossing into the Turkish side at Ledra Street, the Green Line looks the same. The sand bags and concrete-filled barrels suddenly block an north-south artery, the reinforced firing positions still rear up against the sides of unoccupied buildings. Soldiers still lean out of windows and loiter on balconies.

Workshops and warehouses gave way to residential neighbourhoods, and through doors ajar I caught snippets of lives – a newspaper folded beside a radio that played softly on a shelf; an old sofa on the corner of a rag-rug; the scent of early coffee; water gurgling through taps.

As ever, among the occupied buildings were tumbling walls of mudbrick and stone, old doorways and fan-lights. Sometimes a sheered-off wall showed the internal structure of a former room: a bricked up arch or window, a fireplace, the start of a rotting staircase. I peered through the broken glass and wrought iron of one doorway into the hall. Under mounds of rubbish, the encaustic tiles showed: dust-dull now, but a splash of water would show their rich terracotta and mustard tones. But no-one had splashed them for thirty years, and probably no-one would again: the fate of those lovely tiles will be a landfill some time in the future when this part of the city is ‘renovated’.

The old yards were full of vehicles – some abandoned, some merely parked, concrete mixers, bags of cement. But the old trees still stood – two or three stately palms leaning over the cistern, a mulberry in the corner, olives and citrus, still cherished and harvested for their oil and fruit.

A shock of concrete and steel beside the old Municipal market was a restaurant, it’s plate-glass walls revealing red and black fabric-covered chairs drawn up to tables set neatly for two with a profusion of cutlery, water- and wine glasses. The nearby archaeological site seemed to have made no progress since I saw it last, as I drove past five years ago: the same group of men gossiping in the shade while the red cement mixer turned. The pits were the same depth, the ancient walls the same height, the same green matting flapped on the chain-link fence.

Time was running out, so I headed back to the walls, and threaded my way through the alleys of Laiki Yitonia towards breakfast at the hotel. The touts beckoned me into restaurants for coffee, the sellers of Chinese tat smiled without using their eyes, the street sweeper winked and gave me a friendly wave. Nicosia yawned, stretched, and prepared for another August day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

‘Bye, Liz

I think we’ve lost the dog.

Every morning without fail, her cheerful, optimistic grin has met me at the door when I get up. This morning, silence greeted me. No whines, no wiggles of joy, no rushed clicking of nails on stone.

Usually I feed her before I feed Alex, then when he’s gone off to work I potter in the field – weeding here, cutting there, picking for an order if there’s one due – and scolding Lizzie when she rolls in the flat leaf parsley or pounces on a lizard in the chard. This morning I, alone, chased the goats out of the roses.

I called her, and when Zenon got up, I sent him out to scour the area, but silence met his calls as well.

Perhaps she ran off, though I don’t think so; she was happy here and seldom strayed far from the verandah. Perhaps someone nicked her, but I don’t think so; who’d want a silly yellow bitch with little brain but a sweet nature and a big smile? I heard hunters pass this morning – at least the yelping of a dog that I assumed to be a hunter’s woke me just as dawn was breaking – but she was no hunting dog, and I doubt very much that she got swept up by a passing pack of hounds.

No, I think that she took poison – or ate a poisoned animal, a rat or a bird – and crawled off somewhere to die a miserable death alone. Not that anywhere near here we have the plague that has carried off so many pets – a vindictive neighbour that doesn’t like barking, someone who’s fed up with cats turning out their garbage – who puts down Lanate-baited meat.

We put rat poison in the carob tree a month ago when Sophia , while cleaning her room, found a rat in her drawer. (Snakes usually provide adequate rat control outside – this is the first time we have used poison – but finding one in the house was a symptom of a situation out of control, and I took it to the local snake farm, but that’s another story), and some people in the area poison fruit to get rid of magpies (we shoot them), so I think that Lizzie ate a dead or dying animal. A cat won’t, and Stumpy was what I had in mind when we tacked the bait to the carob tree well out of reach of pets and children. But a dog is less discriminatory in what it eats, and my brother-in-law found Mili’s dog vomiting the other day and rushed her to the vet in time to save her. It didn’t occur to me to worry about Lizzie, and now regrets are too late.

She was with us only a short time, but she filled a space that now echoes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oooops

I heard the sirens this morning. They cut across my consciousness as I sat at the computer at 8.15 after coming in from the field. “What’s that?” I thought. Then dismissed them.

When I picked up Alex from work (a summer job sorting newspapers for distribution), Alex said casually. “Auntie Lia reminded me that it’s What’s-his-name’s birthday today…”

“Whose?” I asked, my mind half on the road and half on the lunch that I’d left Sophia responsible for removing from the oven.

“Dad’s.”

Ooops. This is the second time in sixteen years of marriage that I’ve forgotten my husband’s birthday. Lucky he doesn’t put a big store on things like that…

Alex called him at once: “Mum has something to tell you!”

Best Beloved could scarcely talk for laughter. “I’ve been peeing myself each time you called this morning” (I’ve spoken to him twice about inconsequential things) “and wondering if someone was going to tell you…”

And the sirens? They sound every year on July 15, to commemorate the 1974 coup when Makarios was toppled by right-wingers who favoured union with Greece. It started the chain of events and diplomatic collusion (the American records of which still remain sealed) that lead to the Turkish invasion shortly after.

“I woke up on my eleventh birthday to the sound of gunfire and explosions,” Best Beloved told me shortly after we met. “Celebrating never seemed too important after that.”

But I must remember a cake for when he comes back tomorrow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Miscellany


I was in traffic today beside a double-cabin pick-up truck. Stuck to the rear window was a small blue and white sticker that depicted an outline of the island of Cyprus super-imposed on a Greek flag. Underneath (in Greek) was the sentence ‘I am proud to be a Greek Orthodox Christian’. “Hmmm,” I thought, as I translated the words (one of my ways of practising Greek is to attempt translation of any signs I see). “That doesn’t make much sense…”


The Cypriot church is auto-cephalos, meaning that it has its own Patriarch, the Archbishop. Therefore, any one baptised into the Orthodox faith in Cyprus is not Greek Orthodox, but Cypriot Orthodox – a minor technicality, I suppose, but ‘the devil is in the details’… Then I started wondering what on Earth the middle-aged male driver had to be ‘proud’ of with regards to his faith.


The Cypriot Church is the largest landowner and the richest corporation in the country. It is notoriously corrupt and has recently enjoyed several juicy sex scandals. Unlike churches of other denominations that have a policy of good works within the community, charitable works by the Church of Cyprus are confined to individual priests and their personal interests and compassion -- religious spending here seems to go on Soviet made tanks (love thy neighbour) and cold concrete cathedrals in communities too small to justify more than a parish hall (kickbacks to cronies and profit for the Church-owned cement works).


Oh well, excuse my cynicism.


Further down the road, I found myself behind a little red run-about. The sticker on the rear bumper read: Caution. Blonde Thinking. “Keep your distance!” I thought, glad that I’m now going grey.