Sunday, June 26, 2011

Art With Auntie

When my children hear that Auntie Ruth is due to visit, their eyes light up. A well regarded artist at home in Baltimore, Ruth also teaches workshops in art history and technique in the US and in Spain where she spends the early weeks of the summer. She always brings materials and new ideas, and both the Little Ones and the Big Ones get creative during her time with us.

Several years ago, she introduced them to making pictures with oil pastels, and this summer has added twig and ink drawing to the morning activities.

Summer Lunches

My sister Ruth is here. She usually arrives this time of the year for a week or two, and it's always good to see her. She has lived in Baltimore, on the east coast of the US, for the last thirty-one years, but has a small flat in Chinchon just outside Madrid where she spends the early summer before visiting us in June then spending some time with our older brother on the west coast of Ireland.

She comes bearing family news – of all of us far-flung siblings, Ruth is the only one who keeps in touch with everyone, ideas to keep the Little Ones entertained during the increasingly hot days, and a light vegetarian habit that gets me eating the way that I prefer to.

“You must give me the recipe for this talatouri (as the Cypriots call tzatziki),” she said as we sat down a little after noon today surrounded by bowls and dishes containing the hummous and talatouri that I had just made, the beetroot that I had pickled according to my Greek and Cypriot food blog friend Ivy's recipe (beetroots roasted until soft then peeled and preserved in half-and-half balsamic and red-wine vinegar and a little salt), and the sliced tomato and cucumber that sat dewily on a small plate.

So I did. It's not difficult, and it's certainly tasty – given extra zing by the garlic that I had pulled out of the earth only last night and the cucumbers just plucked from the vine: take half a kilo of strained yoghurt and empty it into a bowl (glass looks nice, or a pretty dark, glossy blue). Grate two cucumbers and squeeze out the excess water. Add them, and a tablespoon of dried mint, to the yoghurt. Finely mince some garlic (I used about a quarter of a clove), add a small glug of olive oil, and a few twists of the salt grinder. Mix well and taste. If you like it, it's good. If not, add what's missing – a little more garlic or salt, probably.

I heated some Paphos pitta-breads – much fluffier than those found in other parts of Cyprus – and that was lunch. Yesterday we had some garden zucchinis fried with scrambled eggs (take two medium zucchinis and slice them finely with a sharp knife or mandoline, fry them in butter until they colour. Meanwhile, break four eggs in a bowl and beat them with a little milk. When the zucchinis are slightly brown, add the eggs and let them all scramble softly together with a few twists of the salt and pepper grinder. Serve hot.) which went beautifully with a village salad of tomato, cucumber, and pepper chunks sprinkled with crumbled feta and a scattering of oregano leaves.

In a little while I will go out the the garden and pick parsley for Best Beloved to take to Nicosia. Somewhat anaemic because of his Thalassaemia gene, he craves parsley, and will devour taboulleh, the Lebanese salad made with mint, parsley, bulghur wheat, and tomato, by the bucket. I usually make him some on Monday morning, and tomorrow will make enough for us to enjoy as well.

I can't wait for the aubergines to be ready with their endless possibilities for dips, salads, and fritters.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Updates -- On All Fronts

School is really over!  Alex finished his last IGCSE yesterday at noon, and with a flying leap vaulted over the wall, yelling 'I'm free!'  We're looking around for work for him at local garden centres and restaurants, and are arranging his Provisional Driving License and a set of lessons.  He has been promised my car, if his IGCSE average was B.  Results come in at the end of August -- in the meantime we are all trying to forget about it.

Sophia finished Friday, and with a huge sigh said: 'Well that's that!  No more going back there...'  She is taking a week off before diving into her distance learning IGCSE's and hopes that she scored well enough on the exams that she just took to get into the schools for which we have applied in the UK.  The results of those come out July 4, and we will duly send them off as well as making plans for a week's visit to England at the end of September.  She is highly motivated, and I think will do well.

Leo & Theodoros baking carob cookies.

Zenon and Leo finished in the middle of last week and are having a good time.  Both have projects to work on and friends to play with, so most days see them either at friends' houses, or with friends around here.  A mate of Leo's from school was over and they were making carob cookies today -- turned out delicious!  I know that some parents dread the holidays, I thrive on them...

House works...

At long last I have persuaded Best Beloved that SOMETHING Had To Be Done About The Floors Downstairs.  When we were building, I had wanted concrete.  My dad's house in Hawaii had a concrete living room floor.  It was beautiful: a mellow golden colour with weathered brick lines to discourage cracks.  The Turkish-Cypriot house in Agios Ioannis that we rent has a concrete floor, smooth, mottled, and coloured with ochre.  I wanted something similar for here.

Trouble is, no-one knows how to do plain, polished concrete floors... Believe it or not.  And we ended up with an ugly patchwork that BB decided -- against my and a friend's strong counsel -- to paint.  Disaster:  flaking, ugly, difficult to clean.  I have been lobbying with increasing stridency for a change, and he finally caved.

The Corridor Before...

Sophia's Flaking Floor

Leo Helps Tile His Room
The Corridor During.

We chose black granite for the corridor, and grey tiles for the bedrooms.

For the last week the house has been full of misplaced furniture (as each bedroom has been done at a time), dust, and the whine of the angle-grinder.  We are almost on the home stretch.  The five bedrooms have been done -- just in time for my sister's arrival this evening.  The guest bathroom has been done with pebble panels, and now the downstairs corridor is slowly being covered with black.  I got really cold feet over the corridor:  the granite would be too dark ("It will be like descending to the Abyss down there, Manamou!"), it would show every speck of dust, it would look like crap and I would never be able to change it...  But I think it's beginning to look really nice.  The next few days will tell.

The Irish Satellite...

Will Try to Enter for Companionship...

For some reason Leo cannot get his tongue around the name 'Sputnik' and instead insists on calling our latest family member 'Spud Mick'...  But whatever we call him, the Small Golden One has morphed from a Shivering Emaciated Wreck that peed himself if we so much as looked at him into a Happy Little Being who bounces around the garden and verandah, comes (mostly) when he's called, pees and poops (mostly) in his toilet spot near the old goat shed, and stretches out through the heat of the day in a doorway to catch any available breeze.

Training -- Mili came to learn how to cope with Lucky
Training -- Leo is the most dedicated of us all

A dog trainer paid us a visit one afternoon last week and gave us some tips on training him which I implement when I take him for his walks.  Leo is is most loyal supporter -- taking him for 'potty walks' every hour of the day, cutting  up treats, and teaching him to 'sit' on command.  Lucky, of course, is wildly enthusiastic at the presence of another canine about the place, but must be very jealous to see him wandering free.  Sophia takes both dogs for a run every evening, and reports that Lucky's rambunctiousness is as ill-contained as ever, but that Sputnik, although only about one-eighth her size, is learning to hold his own.

And So it Goes

In the confusion of exams, the end of school, and work going on in the house, I have not been able to add the Coda to the last post.  Anyone following the Syrian situation will have probably seen that the Gay Girl in Damascus was actually the creation of a straight man in Edinburgh.  He has apologised for misleading the world, but said that he did it with the Best of Intentions.  Well, as my Sainted Dad used to say, the Road to Hell is paved with those, and let's only hope that he did no harm to anyone, though many 'on the ground' disagree...

To add a bizarre twist to the story, though, one of 'Amina's long-term contacts in the lesbian blogosphere was also a straight man!  Both had been running their Internet personalities for some time, and both had taken in vast numbers of people...

'Amina' impressed me:  I liked her take on politics, admired her courage, and enjoyed her writing.  Like many other people, I feel betrayed by the hoax, and disturbed by the distraction that it has created in a real, often life-and-death situation.

Additionally, I have to wonder at the voyeurism (is that the word I want?) that drives straight men to create on-line lesbian personnae to the depth of detail and emotion that these two men did.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thought for Amina

Last time The Little White Donkey strayed from the humdrum of my header 'family life in rural Cyprus' was during the Gaza War. It's straying again – off the beaten path and into the murky territory of neighbouring lands and neighbouring struggles – because this morning, in my dawn skim of the International Press, I saw that Amina Abdullah Araf al Omari (The 'Gay Girl in Damascus' whose daily posts have been one of the links between the people of Syria and the outside world) was yesterday taken into custody by armed men whose car had an Assad sticker.

As yet her family have not posted word of her whereabouts or well-being. They are working and praying for her speedy release, and taking comfort in the idea that, had the regime wanted her dead, they would have killed her already. Perhaps her dual nationality – she holds American as well as Syrian citizenship – and the recent wide readership of her blog will act as shields.

Amina knew the risks. In her recent posts she has described the precautions that she and her father have been taking in case they were detained.

I have thought about her all morning. As I cleaned the house, watered the garden, walked the dog, not far from my thoughts were the hideous thoughts that a brave woman who wanted to be free in a free society (read her words from two days ago, people!) and was willing to risk all for it is enduring pain and fear – if not agony and terror – only one hundred and fifty miles away. The same sun that shines on me, here, in the tranquility of my rural home and family, is shining on her. The same breeze blowing on my cheeks will soon rustle the cypresses outside Damascus. The clouds that sail by, will soon sail over her – and over the hundreds of others like her... but the others are faceless, nameless, because they don't write blogs that 1,000 people follow.

I don't know how the New Middle East will look, J – to answer the question you asked on a discussion list this morning. How can Assad think to retain power now – yet he tries? I don't think that Syria will sink to a morass of corruption, or become a fundamentalist hotspot like Iran. My optimism, and belief in the hundreds of thousands like Amina who want to shake off the repression of generations and take their place in the modern world, won't permit me to think it.

But it is my fervent wish that Amina is here to see it, to share it, and to delight in it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We seem, in the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi to have, yet again, collected 'another pathetic life form'. In almost exactly the same spot where I picked up Lizzie, I saw an emaciated golden canine puppy-form staggering along the tarmac under the sun. Alex and Sophia were with me.

'Why are you slowing down?'

'He's not going to last out there...'

So I turned around at the dam – where we found the injured horse, remember – and drove back to little Sputnik.

I put my flashers on to warn other traffic, but my heart was in my mouth to be stopped in the middle of the road – the more so when Sophia got out to collect the puppy, and he, seeking shade, dived under the car. He was too afraid to come to her, terrified to let her approach; but I had to pull off the road and managed to not run him over. Too weak to flee, he peed all over Sophia when she managed to catch him.

'Little Sputnik,' she crooned when he was safely inside.

So we took him home and gave him some water and a little food. He's curled up now, by the back door, pencil of a tail fluttering when someone approaches, and little murmers of excitement and pleasure that he is too weak to fully express.

What to do? I have no time in these manic last weeks to walk Lucky, let alone take on another dog, and Best Beloved will roll his eyes to see him. 'If the cat objects,' Sophia announced. 'He'll have to go!' and although I can hardly see Stumpy protesting with a banner, a puppy is a definite blight on a crippled cat's patch.

In the mean time, he's staying – skin and bone, floppy ears, eyes bright with hope and all. Let's see what tomorrow brings.