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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 4: February 28, 2001

 It snowed last week in the mountains. At night, a thick fog would settle over the tops of the peaks and in the morning when you woke up, you could see Mt Olympus, the tallest in the Troodos range, wearing a white party hat. We had forgotten, in the 75 degrees of the valley, about living in a place where Nordic and Saharan climes are squashed onto a space the size of East Texas, so when we came around a corner in the Troodos in our car and slipped on the sudden snow, we both laughed out loud.

It turned out to be appropriate, really. The church Jimmy and I were going to visit was called St. Nicholaus of the Roof (no relation to Santa Claus) and was originally built in the 11th century. In the 13th century, a new roof was added because a recent snow that had dropped two meters on the nearby village of Kakopetria made the townspeople anxious the roof would cave in and the frescoes would be destroyed. The walls and domed ceiling in this tiny church are completely covered in still-brilliant colors and intricate designs that have been mostly preserved in their original forms. There are narratives and tributes and decorative motifs and lots of other artsy words I don’t know that I’m sure some of you could really appreciate.

But the caretaker is a work of art himself. He has cared for the tiny church for nearly 12 years; in the summer, tourism keeps him mostly busy, but in the winter, when tourists and school groups rarely come for tours, he sits in his red truck outside the gate and waits for hours. Then he will show you the frescoes and explain them with in a hushed, reverent monotone. “And here, they captured him. And here they poked him,” of the fresco showing the torture of St. Nicholaus. “And here, they beat him. And here, they scratched him. And here, they burned him. And here, they killed him.” I looked over once at him with his hair thinning at the sides and sunspots on his head and his chin dissolving into his Adam’s apple and I thought – I really did – now here is a man of God.

Jimmy, too, seems to be practicing for the Higher Order, or at least for People Magazine’s “Best Dressed of 2001” issue. He has confided to me that the dress pants, silky shirts and ties he wears to work every day make him the most extravagantly dressed in the Embassy (second only to maybe the Ambassador). I thought it was policy all along, but apparently this is a voluntary response to… To what? To sitting in a small cramped office all day? To the infantry of female guards that fortify the Embassy strongholds? Parents and sophisticates, rejoice! Fellow vagabonds and thrift-store shoppers, weep! One among us has been lost.

Speaking of lost, those of you not already aware of the motley tradition of the Hash House Harriers should now be introduced to this international community of runners which thrives in nearly every major city in the world. The groups meet once a week, with unity of two-fold purpose no matter Tokyo or Kalamazoo: to run and to drink beer. Their worldwide self-definition is “Drinkers with a Running Problem,” which immediately gives you an idea of the order of priorities here.

Each “meeting” consists of a run over a course marked on the ground earlier with baking flour by designated “hares.” The job of the pack is to follow a set of cryptic symbols laid by the hares that chart a winding course through any number of bucolic locales, including empty fields, drainage ditches, private yards, etc, until you eventually find yourself back at the starting point, where you realize that the run was only an excuse for a bedraggled party.

 The NH4 (Nicosia Horrible Hash House Harriers) squadron is overseen by a boisterous fellow in his mid-40s named Malcolm, who tells a very romantic story over dinner about how he met his Cypriot wife in middle age after years of searching for his calling, through jobs as a ski instructor and an engineer and a tourism executive, and resigning himself to bachelorhood.

He conducts post-run meetings with a scepter that appears a lot like a baby bottle attached to a stick. While he waves the stick around, decreeing and denouncing in the Queen’s English, he balances himself on the lower rungs of a walker for height.

There are various forms of “punishments” meted out, which include running with change in your pocket, looking in shop windows at the run’s various “checkpoints,” performing well in a race and thus defaming the club’s casual approach to running, etc. All of these ills mean the perpetrator must perform a “down down,” in this case either drinking beer out of a golden goblet to the count of 10 or, if you are abstaining, pouring it on your head. Ahh, the dappled life we lead.

For early the next morning is a return to Greek class, where we have been gradually filling our heads with the past tense – to the detriment, of course, of the present. That whole theory you learn when you’re a kid that we only use 8% of our brain or something is just hogwash, I’m convinced, to coerce kids to do their homework. Let’s face up to the truth, people. When your mind gets too full up, it’s “Move over, bacon, here comes something more interesting.” And something has to give. So, as of this week, you may only ask me questions in Greek about yesterday. Tomorrow we delve into the future. I can honestly say that I am more worried than I ever have been of what the future brings.

 Jimmy and I celebrated Carnival and the beginning of Lent Cypriot-style: light on the Carnival and heavy on the fasting, which interestingly enough Cypriots turn into a huge party. It’s called “Clean Monday,” which means that families pack up their picnic baskets with fruits and vegetables and wine and head out of the cities into the fields, where they have picnics and play their car stereos. By afternoon, many of the men are quite drunk and are singing and dancing, twirling each other around gallantly. Jimmy got cotoon candy and popcorn.

We were staying in the Akamas peninsula, one of the least explored places in Cyprus (though wilderness in a place the size of Connecticut is really a pipe dream), and also one of the most beautiful. On the way, we stopped at the rest stop for Aphrodite’s Rock, the birthplace of the goddess. There’s a bathroom, a chintzy gift shop and a restaurant full of soccer players hanging over the balcony and gawking at the ocean. Maybe they thought if they stared hard enough a naked woman with flowing blond hair would appear.

We stayed at a beach that was almost secluded, save one fisherman who was either out of touch with the realities of his environment or on a daily escape from his wife. He didn’t catch anything in the shallow chop, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. In the morning, Jimmy rode his bike north and came across a village inhabited entirely by goats. The village was vacated as a result of the war, and now goats find shelter in the empty houses and stores. I’m sure they’ve done wonders with the interior decorating, and the landscaping is divine.

Hope you are as divine as gnawed grass. Jimmy and I go to Paphos this weekend on the coast to run the Paphos Marathon. We were duped into thinking the course was flat, but got a rude awakening last weekend when we actually saw it. Giant hills at miles 20 and 22. But food, beach and vineyard wine at 26.2. Wish you all could be here!

Hugs and misses,
 Janie and Jimmy    

 

 

     
 

 

 

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