Installment 13: August 15, 2001
Well, my friends, another unseemly lull in the Cyprus reportage has befallen. This despite plenty to tell, including, but not limited to: an unexpected visit to the island by a long lost friend, an extended bicycle boot camp facilitated by the venerable Danny Hayes, the commencement of my new job as a State Department employee (gulp), the silence of August, the heat wave of August, and the viewing of the season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slyer.
Cameron Crow, college friend turned California dot-com superstar, emerged from the corporate muck in late July to pay a surprise visit to Cyprus. Despite lost luggage and an interminable heat wave (Sorry for accusing you of being a “softie,” Cameron. It really was unbearably hot.), he brought the best kind of revisit to college life, i.e. all of the camaraderie, none of the morning drool on sticky, beer-mucked couches. In addition to providing us with lively updates on all the latest in the far-away world of citified America, Cameron completed his first triathlon ever while here.
With a rented bike that flatted out five minutes before the race started, a pair of borrowed bike shorts, about 10 minutes of training and the willingness to don a Mighty Mouse motorcycle helmet in the absence of a standard bike one (at the last minute he was saved from this unsavory fate), Cameron finished in a stunning time and proved his wherewithal in the face of all objectives ridiculous. He is also being offered an honorary membership on the rolls of team In(adequate) Training.
The Cameron-fest was made all the more exciting and outrageous by the arrival of one Danny Hayes, flaunting his freshly shorn bike legs and a little blue Italian cycling number. It was just a slip of a thing, so light and harmless looking, really. But what punishment it and its rider inflicted upon the Hayes-Bisese contingent over the next two weeks was a thing with which to be reckoned. And reckon we did. Jimmy remained the faithful Danny-pursuant, up hills and down hills and across meager stretches of flat plains. I reckoned more often from the bedroom, reckoning that I’d better sleep later that morning or reckoning that I might get heat stroke if I went bike riding outside. Heat stroke, I should note, didn’t seem to keep Danny from riding, but as you all know, I’m much more fair in temperament and constitution.
The megalo episode (I’m sure there’s actually a recognized French phrase for what I’m trying to say here, but I thought if maybe I put it in italics you might mistake it for the real thing, the coup de grace, trompe le monde, or fait accompli, if you will) was a day-long excursion on bikes from home to the town of Troodos, the highest village on the island at an elevation of about 5500 feet.
The ride culminates with a 20-mile uphill climb, which could cause one to entertain dreams of Tour de France glory, unless one (read: me) were to look down at one’s legs and realize that one’s pedals are turning at the speed of the earth’s rotation, which is about one revolution every 24 hours.
Not the stuff that’ll woo that US Postal Service. Moments of drama for me during that ride included: falling off of my bike two times from exhaustion, crying an equal number of times from exhaustion, meeting a kid who exhibited a deadly poisonous stake on a stick (“It gives you thirty minutes,” he told us all too matter-of-factly.), encountering a mentally handicapped man walking into the path of my bike traveling downhill at speeds exceeding 35 mph, and cresting the rise of the hill into Troodos, where Danny and Jimmy were waiting patiently and acting like I was the star of the universe. I think maybe they had already been to two bars, but at least they didn’t say so.
These sordid activities, it should be noted, and especially to the credit of visitors to Cyprus unaccustomed to summer weather, were mostly conducted in 100-117 degree heat. Sorry to belabor this point about the sweltering temperature here, but the pavement actually smokes. Put a nectarine in your car in the morning and that afternoon it is cooked like cobbler (here you should focus on the excessive heat, not the creepiness of someone who would eat withered, steaming fruit from the front seat of a car). The humidity fog settles in towards the end of July, the mountains disappear in the distance, you step outside your bedroom door and immediately perspire, and you begin to equate Texas weather with the Arctic Circle.
August, besides being very hot, is also very quiet in Nicosia. When the heat really ramps up, Cypriots like to escape the cities to the beach, a place where, instead of sweating mildly under the air conditioning all day, they can sit outside and really fry. This habit creates a very strange atmosphere in the city. The rush-hour traffic disappears, the pharmacies and other important places of business close for weeks at a time, and most everyone who is still around goes home early from work.
My experience as a State Department employee is today a tenured two-weeks old. In this time, I have learned many things, most of which I can’t mention in a public forum such as this.
Some I can: Most people know only about what 28% of the acronyms they use in their daily speech stand for. The water cooler is not, in fact, the place that government employees gather to fraternize (it’s the cafeteria, where “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” plays every day at lunch). Government public affairs writers put two spaces after a period (gag). Besides the fancy M-E-M-O at the top of the page, there is no difference between a “memo” and a regular note. It’s possible to get lost on a floor that consists of four corridors in a rectangular shape. Having a tiny window in your office that starts five feet above your head does nothing to aid your view of the outside world. Begging your boss for the office next to you that has a huge eye-level window does nothing to further your aims when the office is meant for the foreign-service officer arriving in mid-September.
There are also many things that I haven’t learned, and life has taught me that many of those lessons will come the hard way. In all, though, I am excited about my new job. I am already getting a chance to get some bicommunal programs underway (a conference, a four-week English as a Second Language workshop, a hip-hop CD recorded by a Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot together) and there are lots of ideas that are currently fermenting below the surface. I have a new email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use it liberally.
One more thing: some of you who are really special might get a scary-sounding call from the feds in the next couple of months. Don’t worry: You’re not being audited. They want to know about me and my rather complicated past. Tell them everything they want to know about all my covert dealings. All except that thing about dating my philosophy TA in the “Intro to Ethics” class in college. That’s really embarrassing.
So let us know how everything is. Jimmy and I both get pangs of homesickness sometimes, so come and visit us too. For humanitarian reasons I advise you to avoid August. We’ll take you to North Cyprus to drink Clasburg Beer (yes, as opposed to “Carlsburg”. Same green label and everything). Thanks to all of you for your packages and notes and updates and CDs and limes. We love you guys!
Jimmy and Janie