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January 21, 2001
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Cyprus

Installment 12: July 17, 2001

First things first: Happy birthday tomorrow to the illustrious Connell Dunning! Girl, you freak the bobcat!

Secondly, now that you all know who put the “stall” in “installment,” apologies for my recent electronic reserve. I'm sure you can understand, though, that for the past couple weeks I have been struggling over the prospect of typing in the keystrokes of my prodigy sister’s witty, yet evocative, prose. (Remember her installment – the funny one you read twice?) Anyway, while I was clawing my way up a glacier last week in my fake Doc Martens – more on that later – I started to feel guilty. So now here I am paying my penance, dripping sweat on the keyboard. The temperature inside says 97 degrees.

Much has happened here in the past couple of weeks, not the last but perhaps least of them being the Fourth of July.

Some of you may think, as I did, that Independence Day is a little overrated in the US. My sense of things is that many peoples’ Fourth of July celebrations are much like mine have often been: you drink beer and eat hot dogs all day, and then just when you start to feel nauseous and tired, it gets dark and you pile in a car with a bunch of other sweaty, tired people. Then you head to a big parking lot near a mall or a small duck pond where you spread out a moth-eaten blanket and watch a fireworks show for 20 minutes. Then you sit in a traffic jam for an hour or so to get back out of the mall. Usually you go to work the next morning.

But then there’s this other option: the Fourth of July celebration in Cyprus. But be careful, because this party actually happens on the third of July, presumably so that Embassy employees don’t have to be paid time and ½ for working a holiday. It’s a gala of about 1000 of the Ambassador’s nearest and dearest friends, and while most of the official Embassy functions are salvaged by the excellent food, this Fourth of July (or more precisely Third of July) bash is catered by the best American companies in Cyprus: Budweiser, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut. You know, the things you really miss about home.

The attendees were more colorful. The Archbishop of the Cypriot Greek Orthodox Church was there, in full regalia, munching on a cheeseburger. There was a wide contingent of important British people, who may have been less-than-impressed by the Ambassador’s thinly veiled barbs at the Motherland during his speech. They let it slide though, probably assuming he was just swept up by the headiness of the occasion. (That might have also explained why he inserted that comment about the prowess of American military might the world over, but I’m not sure) Jimmy even got to meet the President of the Greek Cypriot government, who is the oldest head of state in the world now (86 or 88 years old).   

I got to chat with the Czech Ambassador-ess, who was wearing sprinkle-on glitter. I also met a politician running for Parliament who spent a long time explaining to me how the local press had misquoted her supposedly slanderous statements about America in their news stories (“I love America!” she kept saying. I had never heard of her nor read the articles). I didn’t get to meet the President, because I was in tow until 11 pm with one Holly Peirce, whose mission it was to introduce me to all other 999 people at the Third of July gala, from a lascivious fireman to the British Ambassador to Cyprus.

My special treatment was due to a new development in my life, which is that I have taken a job at the Embassy here. I am shrinking into my socks as I type this, but I learned years ago that anything I vow never ever in a hundred years to do effectively seals the deal that I will, in fact, one day do it. Unfortunately I didn’t discover this truth until I had already sworn I never wanted to work for the federal government. I don’t remember specifying the State Department, but I must have said it under my breath. You would have thought that by now I wouldn’t swear off anything unless I wanted it to happen, but this weekend I slipped up and blurted out that I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those stretchy suits wrestlers wear with the low-cut front. So look for me in Lycra soon.

Actually, I am excited about this job, although I think it will be a lot of hard work. I will be the Cyprus Bicommunal Coordinator for the US Embassy, a suitably vague title that goes in the great workplace tradition of describing nearly nothing about the job it is describing.

In practice, I will be coordinating all of the training, cultural and educational programs and projects that the US Embassy sponsors (i.e. finances) to support relationship development between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. These projects vary widely – this year they will include everything from training musicians who come together from both communities to earthquake search and rescue training to a nurses training program and GRE prep classes. I will be in charge of allocating the budget for these types of projects for the 2002 fiscal year and also overseeing the programs set to happen this year.

Holly, who I will be replacing, has already started warning people there might be a slew of bicommunal 5Ks and triathlons. It should be a neat job, mainly because Cypriots are really cool and many of them have never, their whole lives, gotten the chance to meet people from the other side of the Green Line, much less share a project of common interest. I’m looking forward to being a part of that, and less so to working in a long, narrow office without a window. At least they’ve got good coffee there.

For his part, Jimmy is right this moment having a bicommunal shindig of his own in Vienna. The USGS project is hosting a conference for managers and technical people from the water departments on both sides of the island in Austria. He is getting nothing but rave reviews about his work, from his bosses and the Cypriots. (I try to take credit whenever I can, excusing myself to the toilet whenever the words “interface” or “directory” comes up.)

Before the conference, we went together to Slovenia, which must be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It’s so green it hurts your eyes. We saw Patti Smith play in the capital, Ljubljana, and she satisfied us all by getting in near-constant fights with the bouncers, drinking white wine from a fancy glass and reading Alan Ginsberg poems the way they were meant to be heard. The next day we went to Bled, a town much more idyllic than its name would imply, where there is a castle on an island in the middle of a blue blue lake. It is surrounded by the Alps, and they have beaches and huge pizzas for less than four dollars. We saw a classical music concert in a beautiful church, but we missed Water Music because our waitress forgot to give us the bill. That was the most catastrophic occurrence of the whole three days.

That is, until Jimmy left and I decided to go hiking in the mountains for three more days alone. I took a pair of corduroy pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a non-waterproof raincoat. I wore the afore-mentioned fake Doc Marten walking shoes and carried some dried apricots.

I’ll spare you the details about blisters and cabbage soup and getting lost in the rain, but I will tell you that by the end of the first day, I was scrambling up scree at 2500 meters, slipping across glacier snow that stretched down below for hundreds of feet, and crawling over sheer cliff drops clutching a metal cord bolted into the rock. I got very good at bargaining – with myself to take 50 steps at a time before stopping to gasp for air. I was rather proud of myself when I reached the mountain hut where I would stay the night – that is until 16 Brits, all over the age of 60, tramped in laughing with their perfectly healthy lungs. 

The next day I traveled with three Slovenian guys – scouts, to be exact, with blue and white striped kerchiefs around their necks – who would hurtle themselves down snowy ice fields I was scared to even look down and then chant in unison, “We like to ski!” They cooked meat soup for lunch and said a Hail Mary before and after they ate. We talked about Tito, anorexia, mining and cars. They even taught me how to say the very useful phrase, “This is a big rock” in Slovene.

My third day on the trail, I spent a wet, lonely five-hour morning soaked to the core in my corduroys and a bathing suit top. I even lost my hair band, so I’m sure I looked like a wild animal emerging from the woods when I scared the tourists at the bottom of the trail. I was so cold and happy to be inside that I changed my clothes in a backseat of the bus back to Bled.       

I just got back to Cyprus this afternoon and am now remembering bright red sunsets and sweltering heat. Please write and let us know what you are doing, so we can feel entangled in the sticky webs that are your lives. We can’t wait for visitors, so to those of you who haven’t made your reservations yet for the Hayes/Bisese five-star, I exhort you once again: Don’t stay home!

Hugs and kisses,
Janie and Jimmy

     

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