take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Christmas less ordinary 

Christmas Eve 2006 was spent at Salamis, in bright sunshine with a temperature which must have exceeded 20C (70F). We had our picnic lunch in short sleeves, perched on a jetty on a deserted beach overlooking the Eastern Mediterranean, with views to Gazima─čusa (a.k.a. Famagusta) to the South and the Karpas peninsula to the North, while a kestrel hovered above on the lookout for its own lunch.

Christmas day itself was a normal working day in North Cyprus, since it is predominately Muslim, as evidenced by the minarets punctuating the landscape and the regular call of the muezzins carrying on the wind. This didn't prevent there being a power cut which lasted around seven hours (a regular occurence, so we were told), but luckily we had planned to have our Christmas meal in a nearby hotel, which (like most sensible businesses in the area) had its own generator. We were also begrudgingly grateful to Big's relatives for insisting on installing their hideous old gas cooker in the brand new kitchen (much to their architect's chagrin) as it meant we could at least have a proper lunch and the odd cup of tea. I was just about to commandeer the gas lamp so that I could apply my make-up when the power lurched back into action just in time for us to put our gladrags on and set out into the colder-than-we'd-envisaged evening.

It was a refreshingly different Christmas, a complete break from the norm and thoroughly relaxing. None of the stressing and rushing about - that had already been done in England, prior to our departure a week earlier. With no television, we spent our evenings playing Nomination Whist or Mah Jong, reading or listening to Turkish radio stations, not understanding a single word.

One of the more surreal moments was watching Big's female relatives dancing to "Enter Sandman" and "Smells like Teen Spirit". Big looked on with something approaching horror.

I satisfied my need for beautiful things, returning with a modest two kilims and the obligatory evil eye talisman. There were many more ceramics and textiles I would have brought home if I hadn't had to consider such mundane matters as baggage allowance. The supermarkets were fabulous, with fresh, local produce, wonderfully fragrant seeded breads and gooey baklava. We enjoyed meeting the numerous cats at Girne harbour, patrolling the al fresco restaurants and charming their patrons in anticipation of a few scraps.

Not having travelled particularly widely, I found it strange and frustrating to be in a country where I could not communicate effectively. Of course, I had learned my pleases and thank yous, and I proudly asked how much something was at the market but, inevitably, I couldn't understand the reply and proffered an appropriately big bank note to disguise my ignorance. On one occasion, I must have managed to say a convincing "merhaba" (hello) in a shop, as the shopkeeper replied with a long stream of incomprehensibility and was most surprised when I interrupted her to explain that I was English. "But you have such dark hair and eyes!" Yes, but haven't you noticed how pale my skin is?

Despite enjoying our time there, I did feel a slight unease. The area we stayed in felt shabby and deprived - almost like a third world country. I felt in some way as if I were intruding on something, though I was not sure what. As I looked at the vast array of concrete edifices being built to provide Western Europeans with their place in the sun, I felt that something was being exploited and that, by being there, I was part of that process. Big's relatives bemoaned the development and showed us photos of how unspoilt it had been just a few years ago. Although their house had been built in an existing village, it was hard not to feel that there was a little hypocrisy in their attitude.

Still, it was generous of them to let us share their new home and to discover a snippet of a culture which has fascinated me for some time.

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