Sunday, May 31, 2009


Last week two Cypriot teens, known to my children, friends of friends' children were killed on a moped. They were returning from a party at 11.15 last Saturday night. The bike had been reported stolen in Paphos a month prior. The kids were not wearing helmets. The bike's lights were not on. They were hit head on by a motorist overtaking who never even saw them. One helmet was found at the scene. Their parents claimed that they had no idea that they were riding mopeds.

Yesterday Sophia's 13-year-old seatmate in English class and former boyfriend was killed in a motorbike accident. He was riding pillion on a friend's bike (the friend is in hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries – and the knowledge that his best friend is dead) that was not street-legal and was not supposed to be ridden on the road – although it was all the time. Sophia said that a month ago, the friend had said to her that the bike's brakes were not working well and the tyres were not in good condition. When she asked him why he didn't fix them, he allegedly replied: 'It's not cheap, you know!'

“We were supposed to go out tomorrow!” she sobbed, on hearing the news of his death. And “How can I go into English and see that empty desk?”

Friday, May 29, 2009

Feldenkrais Therapy

Part III of What is my Body Telling Me

I picked a clump of celery and some stalks of rainbow chard, and rinsed a forkload of freshly dug carrots. Then with half and hour to spare, I turned the Land Rover’s nose east along the old coastal road, past the limestone cliffs of Aphrodite’s birthplace, through the scrublands and vineyards, and up the winding village road to Barbara’s eyrie high above Pissouri Bay. It was my third visit.

My right hip had hurt for the last four days – so badly sometimes that I could not lift my foot to put on my socks and shoes without a grimace.

“I suspect it’s something to do with the treatment,” I added after answering Barbara’s ‘How are you feeling today?’ “So I’m not too worried about it, just inconvenienced,”

She nodded. “It’s just your skeleton learning how to fit together in a different way.”

This time she did Feldenkrais therapy – a treatment developed by an Israeli engineer and martial artist. Treatments involving non-invasive touch and the therapist’s verbal instructions help people to use their own innate abilities to heal themselves and improve their body use.

I lay supine on the table and she positioned herself at the top of my head and started the session by ‘re-engaging’ my upper back. Sliding her hands and forearms under my shoulders, she moved and kneaded the muscles on each side of my spine. The left side was tighter; the right, almost floppy. “That’s because the left side is doing all the work of balancing your head,” she said. “You carry your head slightly to the right and your right shoulder tends to droop, whereas your left has far more tension.”

When she brought her hands from under my back and began to work around my collar bones, I noticed that her palms and fingers were burning – strong contrast to the ‘long, cool fingers’ that had done last week’s Bowen work. “I use different parts of me for different healing methods,” she said when I commented. “And, yes, you would notice a difference in the energies.”

I asked her as she worked about auras and energy fields. “Well, I could tell you, but there’s no point in talking just a bit,” she answered. “If there’s enough interest, I can do a workshop at Turtle and Moon,” -- a friend’s community-oriented art studio in the Paphos village of Trimithousa where I had recently helped to install an organic vegetable garden and was planning to establish an Amnesty International letter-writing group. “Learning about things like that is always better in a group situation, as people can work with each other.”

Then Barbara moved to my legs, explaining the relationship between the body’s three girdles: the jaw, the shoulders, and the pelvis, and how an imbalance in any one always reflected in the others.

“Am I easy to work with?” I asked as she gently moved my hip joints.

She gathered her thoughts. “Your issues are complex, about daily use, and I think that as we progress you will make some interesting discoveries about how you use your body. You’re very trusting – for instance now, you’re giving me the whole weight of your leg.” She bent my knee, a supporting hand under my calf. “Many women won’t do that – they see their legs as too heavy for me to hold, reflecting their image of having big thighs, being overweight. You have none of those issues, and you’re alert and curious about this process, which makes you a pleasure to work on.”

Moving around to my other side, she hooked my right knee in the crook of her elbow, and bracing herself against the table, gently pulled upwards. I felt the head of my femur move in its socket.

“You use an enormous amount of energy just keeping your head balanced,” she continued. “When you learn more efficient use, you’ll have a lot more energy to spare.” She replaced my leg on the table and did a little jig, hands waving. “I don’t mean bubbly energy, but grounded energy. You’ll be capable of a lot more in a more substantial way.”

That should be interesting.

At the end of the session, I noticed that I stood solidly on the ground, without having to compensate for my collapsing ankles. My weight was more evenly distributed between and over my feet than it has ever been in my life – all without my trying.

Barbara looked at me critically and made an adjustment to my shoulders.

“Now I feel as if I’m leaning to the left,” I told her.

“But you’re not,” she replied. “You feel like that because you habitually lean slightly to the right and your muscles have accustomed themselves to that feeling. Now, you’re straight. Experiment with how you feel when you stand or use your body in different ways. Know how it feels to be straight, but don’t consciously adjust yourself. It will all come together.”

I drove home marvelling how, in only three weeks, the landscape had changed. The sky had lightened from cerulean to Wedgewood; the meadows and wild-land acquiring the golden tinge of ripening grain, and new wild flowers replacing the old. The vines had grown their full coat of foliage, and cistus splashed pastel pink along the verges.

In the shadow of the mighty rocks where, according to legend, Aphrodite stepped ashore from her scallop shell, the first tourists of the season shook out their towels and anointed themselves with sun cream. Summer is coming.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Summer's Coming!

The school year is coming to an end. I can’t believe how the last twelve months have flown. This time last year I was psyched for our summer in the Greek Islands – reading Fodors and Lonely Planet, scouring the Internet for ferry schedules, counting down to June 27 when we boarded the Louis boat for Rhodes.

My mother used to say “As you get older, time goes faster”, but I didn’t credit, when I was twelve, how quickly the months would fold into years. Now we’re counting down to exams, to the end of school, to summer here. For some reason I have decided to work all summer (I’m sure to regret it!) and the field is planted with the summer crops and more and more people are calling me and wanting produce. Typical Cyprus market – a few years late. The rest of Europe caught on to organics a decade ago, Cyprus is just beginning to!

Anyway, as I was saying, the school year is moving toward final exam week, and the last milestone, the Talent Show, took place last Thursday.

Alex was one of the comperes. Hannah (Sophia’s friend, who has been staying with us while her parents are in the UK with her little sister) helped him to prepare by straightening his hair. Alex has my and his father’s curls, and refusing to cut his hair means that, dry, they just touch his collar. When his hair is wet, or straight, it falls half way down his shoulder blades. Straightening hair is as de rigeur for teens these days as curling was when I was at school, but… whatever. It’s his hair, he can do what he wants with it as long as it’s clean and tidy in public.

Sophia did her acting piece ‘After Juliet’. She did it quite well, but was hampered by not having enough room in front of the curtain to move properly. “No-one will be able to hear you,” the organising teacher insisted, forgetting that after four years of drama studies, Sophia is well able to project her voice.

The other acts ranged from excellent to embarrassing, but the show raised some money for the Paphos Hospice, and everyone had a good time.

Roll on, exam week and the summer holidays!

Friday, May 22, 2009


I haven't posted anything for a while because time has been so short, what with the field and my course work. Kay has gone off to Bulgaria to meet the child that she is hoping to adopt from an orphanage in Plovdiv, so I have additional child-care and driving this week.

The Cyprus National Guard operates Soviet-built Hind Helicopters (the main gunship that the Russians used in Afghanistan) from a base just down the road. One crashed recently, just beside the motorway into town, killing the Cypriot pilot and Russian instructor, but there are still eleven in the country -- at least one still at Paphos Airport. They overfly me regularly, often as low as 150 metres, and even though I know that they are benign -- to me, at least -- they make me feel very vulnerable.

I wrote the following poem -- or, I should say, it wrote itself -- in about ten minutes while drinking my coffee after just having been overflown by a Hind. I had been meaning to write something about it, but it never occurred to me that a poem would come out! The style of popular verse owes a huge debt to Australian poet Banjo Paterson -- creator of Waltzing Matilda and The Man From Snowy River, and , of course, to Rudyard Kipling.

When I’m working in my field

And a ‘Hind’ flies overhead

I don’t have to run for cover;

I don’t have to think ‘I’m dead!’

For the pilots they are our guys –

That’s their base, just down the road.

And the gunners don’t have rockets

That they’re itching to unload.

But in some benighted countries

When a gunship clatters by

Then the farmer in the field

Wonders if he’s going to die.

For he well knows how a rocket

Can destroy a home and hearth

And he’s sometimes buried children

Who were caught up in its path.

When the gunship clatters over,

Terror makes the eyes flare wide,

For there’s no safe place to run to,

There is nowhere left to hide.

The roar of close explosions,

And the acrid tang of smoke,

The crash of falling masonry,

The cries of injured folk.

Makes him hunker ever closer

To the cold, unyielding ground

While his eardrums ache to bursting

And the shrapnel whistles round.

I’ve never had a helicopter

Hunting me or mine

And years have passed since last I heard

A rocket’s screeching whine.

But I still feel pinned and helpless

When a ‘Hind’ roars overhead,

‘Til it wheels and soars off gracefully

Above the peaceful Med.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Different Kind of Treatment

This forms Part II of the earlier What is My Body Telling Me?

When my physiotherapist Nicos said: “You need to wear insoles for the rest of your life to support your feet and align your body from the ground up.” I didn’t question him. His words made sense, and the insoles supported my feet. But after two weeks, I felt other pains beside the knee twinges that had sent me to him initially: my knee was no better, and my neck hurt.

I winced when he twisted my leg. Then he pushed gently on the knee. “But that doesn’t hurt?” Baffled by my negative, he said. “OK. I’m going to do some deep acupuncture to free a tight muscle. It will hurt.” I judge everything by the pain of labour and, acupuncture, though unpleasant, has never come close, so I didn’t expect the sharp ache that ground into two points. Tears ran down the sides of my face from the outside corners of my eyes.

When he finished, he asked me to flex my leg. Then he showed me how to lock my right leg over the left and push down, each time increasing the range of motion in the knee. When a cramp in my right thigh forced me to stop, he became impatient.

“OK, let’s manipulate the neck.” He climbed into position on the table and hooked an elbow under my chin. Without warning he pulled up sharply and I yelped. His mouth tightened. “You must relax,” he said. “Otherwise this can be quite dangerous.” He tried again, but I was uncomfortable, and now, scared. “I can do nothing, “ he said. “You are tense. Call me Monday.”

“Don’t cry now,” I told myself during the fifteen-kilometre motorway trip. “We’ll deal with this when we get home.”

Best Beloved was in the basement, building the racks for his winery. He put the power drill down and looked at me. “You’re having a bad day,” was his only comment. “Go to bed and I’ll bring you a cup of tea.”

Lying under the quilt, I let myself have a little cry. By the time my tea arrived, I was calmer. And I had begun to think. I had been listening to my body, but I seemed to have been interpreting the cues in the wrong way. I prefer concrete, tangible things to ethereal feelings. You know where you are with concrete. Give me a motor-cruiser over a sailing boat any day. Nicos’ suggestion, logical and down to earth had appealed to that part of me, but intuition – something that I frequently deny in myself – was ringing alarm bells.

My wearing prosthetic insoles for the rest of my life is like putting someone with a broken leg in a cast forever. Rather than being constantly supported, I felt that I needed someone to help me to strengthen my ankles in a way that does not misalign something else – and that sounded less like Nicos and his physiotherapy and manipulation, and more like a technique relying on body awareness. Oh, no: the dreaded words were coming closer. If I’m talking about awareness, the next word is ‘energy’ and now we’re moving toward New Age therapy!

I believe that mental, physical, and spiritual health are connected, but New Age therapies – aromatherapy, reflexology, sound therapy, crystals -- have never worked for me. I love the idea of them, but have never seen results. Yoga? I love and respect yoga, but injuries come easy, especially with underlying problems. I realised that I needed someone to work with me on a deeper level, and the person that I had in mind used some way-out sounding ideas as well as practical touch techniques.

I wondered if Barbara was still seeing clients in Pissouri. She had worked quiet magic on several people that I knew – bringing children out of shells of silence, easing the pains of old – and recent -- injuries, realigning a friend’s body so that she actually stood taller, teaching people to use their bodies to best effect. So I found her number and called. Yes, she was still working from her home on the hill, and yes, she would see me Wednesday morning for an hour and a half.

She watched me closely as I stepped over the threshold of the pale treatment room with its huge view over the valley, the bay, and the sea. Tall and spare, she has a penetrating blue gaze, clear but wrinkled skin, and short, soft and slightly wavy mouse-coloured hair crowning a long and gentle face. My impression was of cleanness and light. And patience.

She considered my history. “Bowen treatment first, I think. Then Feldenkrais. Your problem stems not from your feet, but from your long neck and long back. You carry your head out in front of you rather than balanced on your spine. This tips your centre of gravity forward and causes all kinds of problems through the shoulders, spine, pelvis – and of course knees and ankles as you compensate.” Treatment, she said, would aim at realignment from the top down, rather than the bottom up.

She dismissed the insoles. “When you came in, I noticed that one hip was higher. That’s the insole pushing it up and misaligning everything else.”

When I was on the table, warm under covers, her long cool fingers began gentle rolling movements over muscle and sinew. She worked around my upper back and then asked: “Have you ever had an accident?” Since I had experienced nothing like the major car accident that had propelled her into learning about alternative therapies, I said: “Nothing but usual bumps and scrapes.”

“Nothing,” she continued. “That made you…?” She put her hands up to shoulder level, arms flexed as if doing a push-up.

I remembered. At nine years old, I had playing a forbidden game: jumping on a beanbag chair, and landing on all-fours. My older brother – wanting, he confessed years later, to see if there would be blood if I landed on the floor – had pulled the beanbag away, and instead of landing asprawl on cushiony softness, I had hit the floor on my face, breaking my upper front teeth at the gum, and splitting both lips.

Barbara nodded. “That’ll do it. There is deep scar tissue on your back muscles from an old whiplash injury.”

She worked more on my upper back, my neck, my lower back and my calves. She gently flexed my knees, and supporting them on small beanbags, left me alone with some music and “covered with a rainbow cloth, so that you get some colour therapy as well…”

Later, she tipped up the old beautician’s chair that serves as her treatment table until I was sitting gazing out over the sea. “Do I really have to leave now?” I asked. I felt better than I had for a long time. “Afraid so,” she answered. “But you can come back next week.”

She asked how I felt. “Shorter, and more rounded,” I said. Then I saw the mirror. “Where’s my neck?” I looked like a Marine – cropped hair, no neck, big shoulders!

“Directly under your head, and supporting its weight,” she said. “Your spine is straight now. There are still issues with your shoulders and pelvis that we’ll work on next time. Then, when everything’s gathered and in its place, we’ll open you out.”

I put on my now empty shoes, noticing that my ankles were straighter than before, my weight distributed more evenly. “Yes,” she nodded. “That’s part of the effect of the treatment, although I didn’t work directly on your feet.

“Don’t worry,” she continued. “You won’t go back to your old shape. Just try not to stand on, or favour, one leg. Drink plenty of water – at least two litres a day – and don’t do stressful yoga: sun salutations are fine but stay away from the harder stuff.”

I drove toward Paphos on the old road. The sun had come through the clouds and the road steamed from a recent downpour. The fields were green, as the winter wheat matured, and yellow flowers carpetted the meadows and wild land – the scarlet drops of Adonis’ blood poppies beginning to show. In the vineyards, the still-early sun caught the first leaves unfurling vibrant yellow-green against the rain darkened vines.

I realised that I was driving too slowly, savouring the beauty of this morning, the quiet road, and my own feeling of peaceful well-being. I pulled over to let the pick-up truck behind me pass, then continued on my way.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Musings on an Evening in Late Spring

Every evening when Best Beloved is at home, he and I sit out on the back verandah with our wine. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we argue. But at least some of the time we look out over the valley and down to the sea in silence.

The view has changed these last few weeks. No longer green, the meadows and plateaux are pale gold with ripening wheat and barley. Within a week we should see the tractors making their slow crawl, leaving swathes of cut grain that will be gathered into great rolls and loaded onto trucks.

Bright green has retreated, olive has returned. Slight humidity has brought a haze that hangs lightly over the land and blurs the once-sharp horizon. The sea has gone from blue to grey.

Last week we watched while eight hysterical hounds chased a hare across the opposite hillside, eventually losing him when the hare, with complete aplomb, zig-zagged, doubled back, and dived into a thicket of lentisk. This evening, there’s no such mad activity. Someone’s exercising their dogs on the slope, but the occasional clanging of the dogs’ bells is the only sound that alerts us to their presence.

We have started watering the olive trees. Last year the crop was poor -- plenty for us, but no excess to sell. But last year we had water cuts following poor rainfall and I was being stingey. We are also minding the field trees better this spring– applying zinc and iron through the watering system, spraying (at least Best Beloved is – after last year I washed my hands of it) M-Pede on aphids and sulphur on the mangoes. We think that there are some micronutrient deficiencies – apparently the inspector said that they were short some things, but I missed that part of the conversation because of my poor Greek.

This evening we are happy. Alex is off camping with his class in Polis (‘Getting pissed with his mates,’ Best Beloved intoned); Zenon and Leo are staying overnight with Matthew and Thomas in honour of Matthew’s eighth birthday (‘Do cleo and Chris know what they’re getting into?’ he wondered); Sophia is stuck to the computer, her nose in MSN.

I’m happy because I got so much done today. L, the Nepalese helper (he’s happy, or at least his father is because after 16 years with the Gurkhas he now has not only right of residency in the UK, but the pension and medical benefits that someone who has put his life on the line for Britain deserves) came today and together we cleared for a new double line of hoses, laid the hoses and the plastic mulch, planted 72 new cucumber vines and at least that number of green and purple beans, and cleared all the weeds out of the side garden, ready for a new round of cultivation and planting.

Best Beloved and I had a celebratory dinner: scallops perfectly cooked in butter and finished with a splash of cream, served with saffron pasta. The Condrieu matched them perfectly, and we smiled and held hands. Kay had suggested that we go out, but I don’t like going out for dinner. I can’t drink, because I drive, and I get ansty paying out for food that’s not as nice as we can make.

And nowhere has the view.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spring Winds

A khamsin (I’ve lived here for 17 years and still don’t know what they call them here!) started early yesterday morning, and by first light, was roaring out of the south-east, hot and laden with dust. At times the gusts topped 100 kph. It took the side wall of the greenhouse and some of the canes that I had put up as bean supports, and wrought havoc around the house with overturned chairs, buckets whose contents now strew the back verandah, flying boxes, tipped over bins.

My short time working outdoors yesterday had a nightmare quality, driving was a battle of compensation and correction (imagine being in an empty lorry!), no planes landed, and over everything hung a haze of dust particles that blurred details of distance, brought fresh prickling to my already irritated eyes, and made breathing difficult.

And it was hot.

By mid afternoon when I went to the garage to hang the second wash, the wind had backed and came, cooler, out of the west with slightly less fervour. Some rain – perhaps the last before summer – fell.

Night became a game of ‘guess what that was’ as the new wind direction toppled hitherto protected barrels, and a box of empty wine bottles crashed somewhere to the ground. Plastic sheeting tore free from something and flapped, endlessly. Doors and shutters creaked and rattled.

Today dawned grey, the wind still gusting, and after dropping the Big Ones at school, I went to the field to see the damage.

Just as I was lifting the last of ten 25-kilo sacks of organic fertiliser into the back of the Landrover, Best Beloved called from his Nicosia office.

“How is it, Manamou?”

I outlined the damage, adding that the spinning plastic wall of the greenhouse had not only damaged the beans, it had also brought down several sections of steel mesh on which my cucumber plants climb. He told me that this is the force of nature “an act of God, I think they call it,” he continued. “As a farmer, you have to be prepared for this…” he said the same things several times before I asked him if I could please get back to work now, to start repairs.

Later, when I got back to the house, I called him. “I hope some time, darling,” I said. “That when you are on the front line of a big damage assessment and clean-up, some Fat Cat, sitting in his distant office, sipping his cup of Fairtrade coffee, calls you to discuss the Force of Nature, Acts of God, and other things for which farmers should be prepared …”

He laughed and rang off after telling me to 'Get on with it!'