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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


Installment 10: May 31, 2001

It’s an extravagant life.

I know this for sure now. Not because of fancy cars or expensive paintings or movie stars or fine food. I know this because, last weekend, Jimmy and I sang “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” all the way down to zero. I haven’t done it since the bus to Washington and Williamsburg in seventh grade, but believe it or not I still remembered the whole thing. We didn’t sing in unison, like my friends and I used to.

We alternated verses, and each verse had to be sung in a different manner. This ended up including, but not limited to, singing whilst: gargling water, sniffing pepper, imitating variously Southerners, a wailing woman and William Burroughs, sneezing, blowing into a glass, turning upside down, banging on heads with a cookie, and laughing hysterically. When you have the leisure to do this, I figured later, life must be treating you right.

We’ve spent the last two weekends in North Cyprus, or the “so-called” (as American foreign policy would have it) Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. The “so-called” this and “so-called” that business is actually official rhetoric in the chic lexicon of the US State Department. Like this: “The ‘so-called’ leader of North Cyprus did so-and-so today. We’re acting casual because he’s only a ‘so-called’ person but by gum he’s gonna kill that anti-ballistic missile idea of ours that’s such a gem.”
Or maybe, “Attention all State Dept employees: The ‘so-called’ people of North Cyprus today shook the world by daring to assert that they are actually human beings with blood and molecules like real world people!”

Sometimes you can watch important US government people, who definitely would not be caught dead being called “so-called,” making the rabbit-ears quotation mark gesture with their fingers when discussing the government, leaders, or official school system of the north. In delicate discourse, sorry guys, it really does look tacky. Of course, these same people exhibit no conflict about heading off on the weekends to laze on the northern beaches, go shopping, eat in restaurants and generally bolster the ‘so-called’ economy of the north. I wonder if they are scared that when they cross the checkpoint back to the south, then poof!, that great tan and gold jewelry will just all of a sudden disappear.

Jimmy and I generally avoid the conversations, or roll our eyes when the bunny ears make their appearance, and I don’t know if it’s okay, but it makes us feel fine about spending so much time in the north. Two weekends ago, we took a long drive across the northern plain, which is mostly an incongruous mix of empty farmland dotted with huge Turkish-style houses with turrets and curving staircases, to the most remote, if not beautiful, part of Cyprus.

The northeastern-most section of the island is called the Karpas Peninsula, a protected area that’s home to sea turtles, sandy white beaches and the “Love You” restaurant. Given its pointed shape and proximity to Turkey (less than 40 miles), I have heard it called “the dagger that points straight at Turkey’s heart.” (Which doesn’t make much sense to me, given that Turkey controls that area, considers its people her own and has a friendly relationship with North Cyprus. Anyway, what is logic in the face of poetry?) 

After a three-hour drive, we finally reached the beach near the tip of the peninsula where we knew about these tiny, rustic bungalows where you could stay the night. We had seen maybe five cars in the last 12 miles, and when we pulled off the road onto the beach, nearly our first sight was a man loping around the camp in a General Schwarzkopf Desert Storm uniform.

Turns out the guy actually fought in the war for the British and he claimed, as though it was a perfectly reasonable criteria for a fashion move, that he bought the outfit because “You wouldn’t believe it! The American uniforms were so much better than ours!” He also must have apologized twelve times for wearing the outfit, as though we saw it as some sort of sacrilege. He regaled us all weekend with endless stories of machine guns, grenades and near-death experiences, which succeeded in giving the cool nights on the beach under the star-pricked sky a suggestion of the bizarre.

This past week, we were a part of yet another uncanny event when we had dinner with a group of eight Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis who were in Cyprus collaborating on a textbook for children about water resources. I sat next to a Palestinian man who told me that the safe areas of Ramallah, his hometown, are shrinking daily because of the buffer zones that keep eating into the city’s heart. He said that there are so few safe places left to go on the weekends that restaurants in the city’s core have waiting lists of three hours. No one, he said, goes out after dark. The group has to plan their meetings in foreign countries like Cyprus on holidays or weekends, so they don’t have to explain to the bosses at their day jobs that they are working with the enemy.

Sometimes cooking can be my special enemy. Last night, I cooked fajitas for some neighbors: Costas, Vassos, and their two children, MariElena and Hara. By 7:00 I had the food prepared perfectly, just waiting to go in the pan: diced chicken, piles of mushrooms, heaps of onions and this beautiful plate of red, yellow and green peppers. I must have made fajitas 100 times, and this time I was really prepared. I had even made a list.

But when they came over, I lost my mind. I was tripping over my Greek with Vassos and the two girls, and I lost any ability to think in a straight line. First I put everything on the stove in the wrong order, and then Vassos and Hara came around the counter to stand with me by the stove and watch what I was doing with eyes like saucers. It wasn’t for about 20 minutes that I realized they had never seen Mexican food before.

I must interject here that I have been to several events at our neighbors’ home, and Vassos is just about one of the best cooks I have ever known. She can make a four-course meal for 14 people in one afternoon, running back and forth between her neighbor’s oven and her own.

So when she started staring at my chicken with these wide-eyes, and trying to get me to explain where all this strange food would eventually go (Into the tortilla? But how? And then what? How do you eat it? And the rice too?), I started to lose all my kitchen elan.

When I cracked open the refried beans and she screeched, in honest amazement, “What’s that?!” I gave her a spatula and let her cook the rest of the food. There were mushrooms on the walls and dishes piled everywhere, but gosh darn it, after an elaborate demonstration of fajita assembly, many quizzical looks, the overstuffed tortillas of first-timers, and my imperfect explanations, everything turned out just fine.

But I don’t think I should quit my day job to become a housewife (moms of this world, how did you ever do it all?!) Oh wait. What is my day job?

Love you all,

Janie and Jimmy       




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