Installment 2: January 31, 2005
For thousands of years, despair and hope have been battling it out in Cyprus. You can read it in the island's tumultuous, blood-spattered history books, decipher it with a language dictionary from sidewalk graffiti, read it in the speeches of politicians who hold hard-line positions in one hand and an olive branch in the other, hear it in the voices of Cypriots speaking about the war that split their island and took their homes. Though somber, somehow the bitterness always eventually turns up an optimistic underside. If they hold a contest here for a national symbol, I'm proposing a stiff upper lip.
So why shouldn't my Greek class adhere to this ideology as well? Daily I drown in a sea of declensions, adjective/noun agreements and strange-looking letters that don't make any of the sounds the sororities, fraternities, or your first-grade Sunday School teacher told you they make at all.
For four hours every morning, I gawk at my fellow students, most of whom speak English better than me and are learning Greek as their fourth or fifth language, whizzing through complex language feats such as "This doctor is pretty. Those other two are ugly" like they're out for a stroll. Usually when the teacher asks me a question, I stare blankly ahead for a long while, hoping the moment will pass and she'll forget what she asked me and go on to someone more competent.
This, of course, never happens. So eventually I rise from my stupor and answer what I think she might have asked, which never fails to engender raised eyebrows from her and sympathetic smiles from my fellow students. I felt a wave of relief on Friday when the smart British girl answered the question "What do you do when you're tired?" with a self-assured, "I dust myself." Was it so wrong that I gloated - just for a second?
But, as is the Cypriot way, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It usually shines at night, when I am reviewing my work from the day all alone and suddenly, out of nowhere, I become the most prolific Greek speaker since Saint Paul was in prison. I put Homer to shame. I am declining left and right, trading witticisms with myself, and just generally conversing like a charming, fluent Hellenic goddess.
But then there's always tomorrow.
But while I am in class, hanging on to the desk and just hoping nothing too terrible happens and if it does that they can quickly notify my next of kin, Jimy is hob-nobbing with some of the most renowned water experts on the face of the island. He has made two discoveries of major importance:
- Walking into an office and announcing that you have a meeting with "Costas" or "Nikolaus" to the secretary will get you exactly nowhere without a decent pronunciation of their last name (which is usually the tricky part), and
- working in an office with no window to speak of sucks only secondarily to working in his boss' office, which is a closet under the stairwell with a desk and a phone.
But then you have to consider where the money they're saving on these offices goes, and I think we might have gotten a first-hand peek when we had our first tea with the Ambassador. Yes, that's right, say it with a British accent: "Te-e with the Ombassadah." Complete with jolly conversation, biscuits and crumpets. His wife's name is even Jane. Charmed, I'm sure.
The ambassador's residence is on the grounds of the Embassy, and is in a style reminiscent of an armored building whose heavy metal fortifications have been thinly transformed into art deco stylings. The steel, for example, surrounding the fireplace is painted a metallic blue with exposed bolts - just, you know, to give it that upper Manhattan look.
Of course all this is combined with ancient Greek urns and marble and Hellenic fountains and tropical plants, so it's kind of confusing. The ambassador's son said that no one ever goes downstairs to the rooms we were in. Somehow we all still felt compelled to whisper, as if we were discussing national secrets and not how neat it was that the pineapple tastes so good in January.
Which it does, and the weather is beautiful almost every day. We went to Kyrenia, the coast in the north, last week and had our first taste of the Turkish side of the island. There is less wealth there, you can see it vaguely in the cities, with their empty buildings and cracking sidewalks, but land just as, if not more, beautiful than the south.
A fire ravaged the plains just north of Nicosia seven years ago, so it looks empty, but the
mountains are ominous and beautiful and the water is see-through blue, even when it's raining. We had lunch in the Kyrenia Harbor and then walked around some tiny, winding stone streets where all the signs are in Turkish, which is more freckled than Greek but with letters that I recognize. Our house is only 35 minutes away, and the embassy owns a house, so we can go for the weekend when we want. We want, we want.
This weekend we ran a long run in the Athalassa Forest on the outside of town, which, unsurprisingly, houses an extensive military base. Most of our long runs so far have been under the direct supervision of the military; I'm just hoping they don't notice that I pronate.
It was a very hard run, and were it not for the sign from God, there would have been little comic relief.
We made it back to our car 15 minutes before the end of the run, so we were forced to get back on the trail and run 7 ½ minutes out and then run back. Being in the battered state I was in, I started counting down minutes on my watch to pass the time. In the last minute and a half of the run out, I counted down every 30 seconds. At the exact moment we reached 7 ½ minutes, we stepped right on top of a line drawn on the sidewalk that said, beneath it, in English no less, "TURN." I kid you not. It was so emphatic that I
think we would have had to turn had we not been feeling terrible and like we were going to die if we didn't stop running soon. It really hurt my legs to laugh.
So God thinks these long runs are funny, huh? I just wish they were
Love to you all! Come visit. Or at least send us emails and letters!
Janie and Jimmy