Friday, January 27, 2012

O Xeros Potamos -- 'The Dry River'?

This morning when I went to make breakfast at six, I saw that we were out of milk so I set out in the car for the nearest place that would be open, the Market at Mandria Junction.  Crossing the bridge over the river below the dam, I realised that something had changed.  Instead of the usual dark chasm of earth and rock, the space below the span was white and swirling, and even though there was not light enough to see, I knew that the dam had overflowed and that the river was coming down.

A few hours later, I set out under (relatively) clear skies to have a look... Along with, it seemed, the rest of Paphos and his donkey.

First stop was the river side, where I joined an elderly gent who was videoing from his phone.

"O Xeros Potamos?"  I asked him.  "The 'Dry River'?  That's its name, right?" I asked him in Greek.  He snorted.  "That's what they say!"  Then shook his head in wonder... "Πολύ νερό, πολύ νερό..." A lot of water, yes indeedy!

Atop the dam, the populace and the press was out in force.  Even when the hail began.  The Highway Department has blocked ingress from one side of the dam, but a steady stream of cars, icecream vans, fruit sellers, and donut and snack vans kept arriving from the other side, parking, leaving, hooting...  The buying, selling, photographing, laughing, continued unabated.

"Κοίτα! Ξανά χαλάζει! (Look!  Its hailing again!) yelled one man, grinning, and turned his face to the sky.  Lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and hailstones gathered in the folds of my jacket.

By this time my shoes were wet and my jeans soaked to the knee.  I decided that I had had enough and ran for the car.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Asprokremnos Dam

Yesterday, Leo did not have a tennis lesson: as soon as we reached the court the rain started again, so his teacher shrugged, pointed at the sky with its complement of lowering grey clouds, and waved goodbye.

“Can we check out the dam and see if it's overflowing yet?” Leo asked. So to assuage his disappointment (Leo loves tennis – a passion I cannot find it in myself to share) we headed for Asprokremnos on our way home.

It seems like a lot of Paphiots had the same idea: both the ice-cream van (“Mum, who in their right mind would buy an ice cream on a day like today?” Pause. “On second thoughts, I would. Can I have an ice cream?” “Are you in your right mind, Leo?” “No!” “Well, no. Sorry.”) and the loukomades van were there, as well as a number of people who, like us, parked on the dam wall to look over the side and cheer on the water level.

I only had my phone camera, and that was a little wet, so the pictures are a little... lumpy.

The rain continued all last night and was still falling when I went to collect Galena the Cleaner at seven-thirty this morning. I didn't want to come back on the motorway, so we mosey-ed back on the old road, and just before the dam turn-off I said: “Let's go and see if it's full yet.”

This morning there were more people than last night – and the ice cream van was still there! A man from a blue pick-up truck and I found ourselves side-by-side looking at the water, now only half a metre below the spillway lip. “Another day or two?” I said in Greek. “Nah,” he answered. “Later today!” It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him if he wanted to put twenty Euros on the question, but I was too shy. Chances are, we would have had a good laugh over it, but I didn't want to seem too forward.

As I dived back into the car (the sky was chucking down cats and dogs and I didn't have a jacket on), even more people arrived to look at the spectacle. I guess there's nothing much to do around our neck of the woods when it's pouring with rain just before eight on a mid-week morning.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Natural Skin Care -- for Pennies, not Pounds

About twelve years ago, working from intuition rather than recipe, I made a beeswax and olive oil handcream and gave it to my Ukranian cleaning lady whose husband's hands had chapped badly and cracked from his job in construction. I didn't think about it again until some time late last summer when Galena casually mentioned to me that they had never found anything nearly as good in any shop. And shortly after that (synchronicity at work!) while looking at one of my favourite blogs, Root Simple, I found the recipe for an olive oil - beeswax cream that I had to try.

I assembled the ingredients and equipment, and in less than half an hour I had six 125 ml pots of light, pleasantly scented and easily absorbed hand or body cream.  I gave Galena some and she was happy. And over the next few days the idea for my Christmas gifts took root and I trawled the Net finding more recipes for skin cream and lip balm (always in use in our house and so expensive at 5-7 Euros for four grams – never mind the ingredients which include mineral oil and parabens). The kitchen, throughout November and December, became a lab as I experimented with the balance of ingredients for natural salves and also for scented drawer sachets and potpourri. I decided that my Christmas gifts for the extended family would be mint lip balms and 'spicy aroma sachets' for the men, and luxury natural hand creams and 'floral and musk aroma sachets' for the women.

Saint Basil's Day (January 1, the traditional day in Cyprus for the exchange of gifts) came, and we went as usual to Mili and Phil's for the Big Family Feed. Our presents -- Zenon had made everyone tie-dye t-shirts and Leo had baked for each household a batch of either brownies or chocolate chip cookies -- were added to the pile of gifts surrounding the tree in the corner, and after the meal, distribution began. Zenon's and Leo's contributions were a real hit; mine required more explanation, but once it became clear that I had made them from natural ingredients and carefully researched combinations of scents, enthusiasm flowed, especially from Sil and Bridie. The men of the family were a little more skeptical, but at least if the sachets don't end up scenting their drawers or softening their lips, chances are that wives and girlfriends will find a use for them.

I had no feedback for a while. Then, last weekend Best Beloved was over at Bill's house and Sil told him how thrilled she was with the Christmas Cream. “I had horrible rough patches on my hands,” she told him. “But now they're completely gone!  Is Asproulla going to be making any more soon?”

When I went to see Auntie Maroulla last week, I took a jar from a later batch that I had made. It seemed a poor exchange: 125 ml of cream for one carrier bag bursting with mandarins, another that overflowed with peanuts, yet a third full of black-eyed peas, and half a kilo of fresh anari, not to mention the 10 kilos of mandoras that I picked from the orchard on the way out, but Maroulla has a truly loving and generous heart and does not keep score.

Two days later I had a report from BB who had been to his mother's for coffee. “Maroulla gave some of the cream to her daughter's father-in-law who had cut his fingertip while pruning and nothing seemed to help. Well apparently it's better now, so everyone wants to know if you sell the creams, or if you can give them the recipe. Please go and see my mother and sort it out...” So I went over to Mili's and invited her to come and see how it's done and yesterday afternoon we had a cream making party.

When we had finished,  BB mentioned that Maroulla, (older than Mili by nearly a decade) recalls their mother making the almost the same cream for universal family use, although Mili has no memory of it.  "Now we have to bring 'foreign experts'," he said.  "To remind us how we used to do things a generation ago!"

As a basic recipe and for method, I use Root Simple's Olive Oil Whip (back in November I had bought Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Industrial World and had started working on many of Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen's ideas and recipes there is also a Kindle edition, for those of you who read on Kindle) but with a tweak to include coconut oil (I find that one part coconut oil, one part beeswax, two parts olive oil works nicely for the right consistency), Vitamin E capsules as an anti-oxidant, and essential oil for scent. We have boatloads of oil from past years' harvests, and I buy pure (though not organic) beeswax from the local ecclesiastical candle maker. The dearest ingredient is the organic coconut oil from the health food shop. Lip balm uses the same ingredients but a slightly different method and works out at cents, rather than Euros per gram for all-natural ingredients. Anyone wanting natural skin care on a budget should really check out Root Simple, A Sonoma Garden, and other blogs, books, and publications dedicated to natural living. Like me, you might not want store-bought again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wise-Eyed Fishing Boat, Pomos

The prompt from The Gallery this week was 'Eyes'

Soon after I bought my digital SLR, a Nikon D-80, my family and I went for a day trip to the northwest area of Cyprus near the village of Pomos. Pomos has a wonderful restaurant set high on a bluff above the small shelter for fishing boats. You can bet that your lunch is fresh!

On the way to the beach we walked around the tiny harbour, watching men repair their nets and dodging children who ran with icecream cones in hand.

This boat reminded me of the children's book The Story About Ping, the tale of a duckling who lived with his mother and father and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and cousins aboard a 'Wise-Eyed Boat' on the Yangtze River.

Far from having a duckling in mind, the boat's owner was probably taking precautions against the Evil Eye in a custom that has long predated Christ in these parts. You'll often see eyes on boats here, but usually they're smaller and a single eye is more common than a pair.

Please follow the link at the top of the post to enjoy others' work on the same theme.  Why not join in, too?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Daisies, Pearls, and Mushrooms – Adventures in Language Learning

Shortly after I began Greek lessons, I arrived at my mother-in-law's house and asked where my rooster was. Somewhat baffled – probably because although she has a rooster, I don't – she told me that he was in the cage. I said that I had something to tell him when he came out. Because my in-laws have always regarded me as a somewhat bizaare addition to the family to be humoured rather than confronted, she played along and said something like 'ok, but that probably won't be for a while'.

“Why?” I asked.

“That's where he lives... Has always lived...” Which is fine – for a rooster. Except that I hadn't meant to ask for my rooster, I was looking for Phil. But the word for father-in-law, 'petheros', had become entangled in my newmother-newlanguage-newcountry brain stew combo with the word for rooster, 'petinos'.

Similarly, I once told her I was going to the 'man-seller' ('anthropoleio' – no such thing exists, of course; slavery being a thing of the past, but an 'anthropoleio' would mean 'man-seller') for a bouquet instead of to the flower shop ('anthopoleio') and that I was cooking a suburb of Nicosia ('Lakatamia') for lunch with beans instead of chard ('lakana'). An Irish friend once told her mother-in-law that she would prefer some winter (she mixed up 'himo', juice, with 'himona', winter) to a glass of grass ('krassidi' as opposed to 'krassi' meaning wine)... The stories are legion: any readers with stories of their own of language misunderstanding in multi-lingual households, please share them in the comments section...

Mili and I often bond over language issues. She recalls the time that she urged an Anglophone friend not to pick fruit 'before it's raped', and always has to think twice before talking about heavenly bodies: she's likely to call them 'stairs'.

When Li'l Bro and Bridie visit, talk always turns to languages because they're both interpreters. Two weeks ago, I came into the house singing, while LB was sipping wine with Best Beloved at the kitchen table. “Then mporo”, I warbled. “Na se psegaso, prospatho...” And I saw LB's eyebrows climb toward his hairline. “'I can't spray you'?” he asked. “Are you sure about that?”

I had started having to master the vocabulary for sustainable agriculture about the time that Notis Sfakianakis' album 'Enthymio' was popular, and one of the oft-played songs included the lines that translate to “I can't forget you, (though) I try.” Trouble is, 'xehaso' (the subjunctive of 'forget') sounds very similar to 'psegaso' (the subjunctive of 'spray'). Of course I had known, but the idea at the time of serenading my trees and vegetables to confirm that they would be allowed to grow naturally was too good to pass up. The song remains forever in my mind linked to organic agriculture, and thus I continue to sing it – at least around Asproulla-friendly personnel.

Yes, the vocabulary of sustainable agriculture can be a minefield: during an early visit, the organic inspector advised me to plant vetch as a green manure to enrich the soil.  While telling Mili, before my visit to the seed shop, I mistranslated 'vetch'.  "He said I needed vitsia," I told her as we drank our coffee on the verandah.  Her expression became one of alarm, but I rattled on.  "Do I just go to the shop and say 'Thelo vitsia?'"  I thought that the coffee was going to come out of her ears, and my father in law convulsed beside her.

"Uh-oh. What have I said?" I asked in English.

"'Vitsia'" began my mother-in-law. "Is sex with whips and chains and..."

"Kinky stuff!"  Phil helpfully supplied.  "The word you want is 'vikous'..."  OK! Glad I asked...

Image courtesy of Micheal Palmer 

“Ah, yes,” Mili mused in a mixture of Greek and English. “We call these mistakes 'margaritaria' ('pearls') because they're treasures!” I looked out onto the spring-carpeted field nearby and saw daisies 'margaritas' and thought that the conversation had turned again to flowers – where it had been a few minutes before. Gamely we struggled on, with me talking about flowers and her talking about pearls... until somebody brought in a basket of mushrooms. “Manitaria!” She exclaimed. And began rhapsodising about mushrooms. About that time I realised that she hadn't been talking about daisies in the first place...

Not too long after that, I was gleefully telling somebody that we had 'Chelones' (turtles) nesting in our courtyard when I meant to be talking about swallows ('Chelidonia').  But it's all part of being a foreigner and embracing a new language with a new life.

Things are better now, but Best Beloved and Sophia still nearly pee themselves over my Greek mistakes, and Teacher Kyriaki manages to keep a polite straight face: she's too professional to lose it even when I really drop a clanger.