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Austin
Cyprus
Malawi

January 21, 2001
January 31, 2001
February 12, 2001
February 28, 2001
March 9, 2001
March 26, 2001
April 12, 2001
April 29, 2001
May 14, 2001
May 31, 2001
June 18, 2001
July 17, 2001
August 15, 2001
September 23, 2001
November 6, 2001
November 27, 2001
January 18, 2002
November 20, 2002

Cyprus

Installment 3: February 12, 2001

I bet that Christmas is both a lovely and dreadful prospect for parents. I surmise this from of my own experience as a wretch of a child, based on one reason alone.

For weeks, months, and sometimes years, all children beg and cry, plead and groan for that one wonderful toy they absolutely MUST have for Christmas. We fixate, night and day, on all the ways this toy will change their lives, making them into miniature Rocky Balboas or Suzanne Sommers’. And we swear, swear mom and dad (even if swearing is highly forbidden by the Church), we’ll never ask for anything again. Presumably, upon acquiring this gizmo equivalent of a pace-maker, health and contentment will be a steady companion that will accompany us through our entire lives until death. Probably we will be buried with this toy, though those less selfish (read: goody-goodies) will pass the toy along in their wills to posterity.

So for parents this is a great opportunity to really make their kids happy, to satisfy their greatest longings. And some parents, I’m sure, Christmas shop with a completely unselfish abandon that foresees nothing but the utter joy and delight in their child’s eyes on Christmas morn. But some parents probably, and I’m sure I would be one of them, have to occasionally rally that smile of Yuletide cheer even as they wrestle with the nagging knowledge that on some day in February, they will find the perfect plaything, with its Holy Grails ‘R Us tag still attached, stuffed under a living room chair or being used as a storage tank for other, cooler toys. Worse yet, they will discover it strung up, disarmed and disemboweled, hanging by its engine or hair or whatever was once the toy’s most compelling feature.

Which brings me, in a not unrelated way, to living in a foreign country, especially an island in the Mediterranean where the weather is always perfect, the streets safe and the people no less than lovely. Having the chance to live in a place like this is a lot like Christmas, but for people like me, who can be selfish enough to demand a cherry on top of the Crown Jewels, there is a challenge to be found in the discovery that, no matter where in the world you go, you still take your same old baggage and neuroses and head games and passive aggressive tendencies along for the ride.

And here’s the shocker: They don’t just up and drown themselves in the Mediterranean because the water is blue and has lots of pretty fish.

Which is only to say that the act of getting down to business and making a life somewhere – anywhere – has the same challenges no matter where you go. I mean, you always get ants in the cabinet until you find the best place to keep the sugar, right? And you always sit in traffic when you’re in a hurry, just to find out you’re going south instead of north, into the jaws of the rush-hour beast when there’s no place to turn around, yes? And you always wonder what your neighbors think of you, whether they think you’re stuck-up and provincial because you’re not friendly enough or if they think you’re an overbearing lunatic because the first time you met them you laughed too hard and drooled down your chin.

But it is good if you can take a lesson from someone you can spy on a lot, preferably one of your other neighbors who doesn’t, as yet, suspect you of any sort of sociopathic tendencies. Our neighbors behind us are an older couple who, we have learned through the all-consuming food chain of neighborhood gossip, lived in Britain for many years and have just recently returned to their childhood home of Cyprus.

They have a nice airy porch that I can see from the bedroom window, and they spend hours, and I do mean hours, just sitting and looking at the sky. The wife is frisky; she gets up to move some plastic furniture around or take something inside every hour or so, but the husband does not seem prone to such peripatetics.

He sits. And he looks so content, just sitting there, listening to the blue sky and the yells of the workmen across the street and the birds and the passing traffic. I’m sure he knows a lot of things I don’t know, so I am trying hard to take a lesson from him. At any rate, there’s a lot here to listen to.  

We have made our appearance at yet another Embassy-hosted event, at which Jimmy and partners were the esteemed guests of honor. We were demoted this time from home of Ambassador to home of the Deputy Chief of Mission, the second in command guy who seemed truly surprised to hear that we already really enjoy living in Cyprus. This occasion was filled, predictably, with lots of finger sandwiches and introductions, though the saving grace was the Cypriot water managers who Jimmy has been working with.

They discoursed over ancient Greek vs. Modern Greek, their opinions on the water situation in Cyprus and their own visits to the United States (“In Tucson, when I used to say, ’It’s all Greek to me,’ those other students knew they were in BIG trouble!”). They enjoyed hearing Jimmy and I stumble around in our thimble-sized vocabulary; I kept getting the feeling that for them it was like watching a freak show at the circus, but we enjoyed the attention. Anyway, it kept us from having to discuss pate or what the Marines were up to.

Jimmy has begun his Greek classes; he came back from his first class with more practical phrases than I have learned in my three weeks of class. But I still lord it over him that I can say “The newspaper is under the wheel,” and he has no idea how.

I have been learning a lot of new cases, if this means anything to anyone. To any of you who were tortured with Latin classes as small children, you know the drill: Nominative, Ablative, Accusative, the whole bit. Jimmy keeps wanting to know when I am going to learn the Degenerative case. He says it comes naturally to him.

We finished our last long run in preparation for the March 4 marathon this Saturday and then celebrated with a disastrous attempt at margaritas. This island, despite being a phenomenal grower of all things citrus, does not believe in limes. Maybe a lime was the symbol of an ancient conqueror or something; we haven’t been able to find out for sure. For future reference and for your own protection, highly concentrated lime cordial (“Dilute to taste”) does not a margarita mix make.

We headed to Agia Napa and Protaras, the beaches on the east side of the southern part of the island, on Sunday to make up for the bad margaritas. Agia Napa (Saint Napa in English) is named after the handkerchief used to wipe Jesus’ face on his way to the cross. The amusing thing is the derivative: “napa,” as in the root of the English word “napkin.” Is nothing sacred?

At any rate, the water is gorgeous and there is no lack of entertainment and nightlife for any of you tempted to come visit us here in our humble abode. The spare bedroom is waiting, with open arms and about 12 closets that you will never need. We can also go have a late afternoon lunch at an outdoor taverna like we had on Sunday, and eat eggplant moussaka and olives and bread and cucumber tzansiki and fetta cheese while the sun sets over the ocean. It’s okay here. 

We love you and miss you all. Send pretzels, limes and big, wide open spaces – and if all else fails, an email now and again will do just fine. By the way, note the new email address. You can use either, but this one is more fun. Also, send me email addresses of anyone who I have left off this list -- especially people who have expressed clearly their relief at not having to receive these emails from us. 

More cordially than lime,
 janie and jimmy

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