Monday, January 08, 2007

Welcome to this site.

Welcome to my backtothemed site. It chronicles a journey I took back in time in the spring of 2006 to the land of my birth: Cyprus. Cyprus is nestled in a crook of the Eastern Mediterraean, south of Turkey and west of Syria. I was born in a small, company hospital in March 1954 to American parents. My father worked for an American copper mining company based in the foothills of the Troodos mountain range, just above the Solia Valley (valley of the sun). My siblings and I grew up intimately connected to the land and the people of this idyllic, sun-drenched island. We left this area to attend college in the United States, but our parents stayed behind. Then when Turkey invaded in 1974, they, too departed. I have not been back since.

This trip was an opportunity to reconnect with my original homeland, with the intention of determining if I could ever return to live. I also travelled to Beirut, Lebanon, where I had attended junior high and high school. The American Community School was celebrating their centennial during the year between June 2005 and June 2006. I thought this would be a chance to revisit a country that I had lived in, but not really fully explored. (We were very sheltered as boarding school students.) Times were tumultuous back then. I was soon to find out that they are tumultuous still.

I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences and my reactions as I navigated my way around Aphrodite's birth place and the cradle of civilization that is the levant ( Lebanon). Perhaps you can understand the feelings I had as I explored things familiar and unfamiliar, and the feelings I have had since returning, watching a country I loved being suddenly destroyed. Again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Beautiful Beirut.

(Please remember to read this blog in reverse order, and begin with the archives in May.)

Finally, I must comment on the terrible destruction in the beautiful land I just returned from.

The pictures you see on this site no longer reflect what is there. Anyone who reads the news knows that devastation replaces the rebuilding that had taken place in Lebanon. Most Americans, however, have no idea of what is really happening in the Middle East. That ignorance extends to most Westerners. The media coverage is very biased. If you will re-read my postings from Beirut, you will notice that we were prevented from taking our field trip to Sidon, in the south of Lebanon, because Israel had bombed the area. That was weeks before Hezbollah abducted the soldiers from the northern part of Israel. I have heard from those in the know, that in the interim, Israel conducted fly-overs repeatedly, creating sonic-booms that terrorized the residents in south Lebanon. Frequently, they would bomb the power plants, plunging the city of Beirut into darkness for hours. Our friends, Alice and Rae, commented that during the week we were in Beirut, it was the first time in a long while that they hadn't had a power-outage of some duration.

I reiterate, this was weeks before the soldiers were taken. It is clear to me from the reaction of our president to this outrageous occurance, that the United States figures into this carnage some how. I want to publicly apologize to the people of Lebanon for the actions, or non-actions, or both, of the American government. There is no excuse for the extreme loss of civilian lives and the wanton destruction of your beautiful country. I know you will rise again, but in the meantime, I mourn with you for all that you have lost.

Here is a well-written comment from a writer I respect:

Robert Fisk's Elegy for Beirut

The Independent
July 19, 2006

Elegant buildings lie in ruins. The heady scent of gardenias gives way to the acrid stench of bombed-out oil installations. And everywhere terrified people are scrambling to get out of a city that seems tragically doomed to chaos and destruction. As Beirut - 'the Paris of the (Middle) East' - is defiled yet again.

In the year 551, the magnificent, wealthy city of Berytus - headquarters of the imperial East Mediterranean Roman fleet - was struck by a massive earthquake. In its aftermath, the sea withdrew several miles and the survivors - ancestors of the present-day Lebanese - walked out on the sands to loot the long-sunken merchant ships revealed in front of them.

That was when a tidal wall higher than a tsunami returned to swamp the city and kill them all. So savagely was the old Beirut damaged that the Emperor Justinian sent gold from Constantinople as compensation to every family left alive.

How does this happen to Beirut? For 30 years, I've watched this place die and then rise from the grave and then die again, its apartment blocks pitted with so many bullets they looked like Irish lace, its people massacring each other.

I lived here through 15 years of civil war that took 150,000 lives, and two Israeli invasions and years of Israeli bombardments that cost the lives of a further 20,000 of its people. I have seen them armless, legless, headless, knifed, bombed and splashed across the walls of houses. Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame, and whose suffering we almost always ignore.

They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite. But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis - in some of their cruellest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside - tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity? We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties - 240 in all of Lebanon by last night - with Israel's 24 dead, as if the figures are the same.

And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel's "disproportionate" response to the capture of its soldiers by Hizbollah.

I walked through the deserted city centre of Beirut yesterday and it reminded more than ever of a film lot, a place of dreams too beautiful to last, a phoenix from the ashes of civil war whose plumage was so brightly coloured that it blinded its own people. This part of the city - once a Dresden of ruins - was rebuilt by Rafiq Hariri, the prime minister who was murdered scarcely a mile away on 14 February last year.

The wreckage of that bomb blast, an awful precursor to the present war in which his inheritance is being vandalised by the Israelis, still stands beside the Mediterranean, waiting for the last UN investigator to look for clues to the assassination - an investigator who has long ago abandoned this besieged city for the safety of Cyprus.

At the empty Etoile restaurant - best snails and cappuccino in Beirut, where Hariri once dined Jacques Chirac - I sat on the pavement and watched the parliamentary guard still patrolling the façade of the French-built emporium that houses what is left of Lebanon's democracy. So many of these streets were built by Parisians under the French mandate and they have been exquisitely restored, their mock Arabian doorways bejewelled with marble Roman columns dug
from the ancient Via Maxima a few metres away.

Hariri loved this place and, taking Chirac for a beer one day, he caught sight of me sitting at a table. "Ah Robert, come over here," he roared and then turned to Chirac like a cat that was about to eat a canary. "I want to introduce you, Jacques, to the reporter who said I couldn't rebuild Beirut!"

And now it is being un-built. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its glistening halls and shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri's wonderful transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been levelled and "rubble-ised" and pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shia Muslims to seek sanctuary in schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hizbollah, another of those "centres of world terror" which the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands. Here lived Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God's leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man; and Sayad Mohamed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics; and many of Hizbollah's top military planners - including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pin-point accuracy - a doubtful notion in any case, but that's not the issue - what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?

In a modern building in an undamaged part of Beirut, I come, quite by chance, across a well known and prominent Hizbollah figure, open-neck white shirt, dark suit, clean shoes. "We will go on if we have to for days or weeks or months or..." And he counts these awful statistics off on the fingers of his left hand. "Believe me, we have bigger surprises still to come for the Israelis - much bigger, you will see. Then we will get our prisoners and it will take just a few small concessions."

I walk outside, feeling as if I have been beaten over the head. Over the wall opposite there is purple bougainvillaea and white jasmine and a swamp of gardenias. The Lebanese love flowers, their colour and scent, and Beirut is draped in trees and bushes that smell like paradise.

As for the huddled masses from the powder of the bombed-out southern slums of Haret Hreik, I found hundreds of them yesterday, sitting under trees and lying on the parched grass beside an ancient fountain donated to the city of Beirut by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid. How empires fall.

Far away, across the Mediterranean, two American helicopters from the USS Iwo Jima could be seen, heading through the mist and smoke towards the US embassy bunker complex at Awkar to evacuate more citizens of the American Empire. There was not a word from that same empire to help the people lying in the park, to offer them food or medical aid.

And across them all has spread a dark grey smoke that works its way through the entire city, the fires of oil terminals and burning buildings turning into a cocktail of sulphurous air that moves below our doors and through our windows. I smell it when I wake in the morning. Half the people of Beirut are coughing in this filth, breathing their own destruction as they contemplate their dead.

The anger that any human soul should feel at such suffering and loss was expressed so well by Lebanon's greatest poet, the mystic Khalil Gibran, when he wrote of the half million Lebanese who died in the 1916 famine, most of them residents of Beirut:

My people died of hunger, and he who
Did not perish from starvation was
Butchered with the sword;
They perished from hunger
In a land rich with milk and honey.
They died because the vipers and
Sons of vipers spat out poison into
The space where the Holy Cedars and
The roses and the jasmine breathe
Their fragrance.

And the sword continues to cut its way through Beirut. When part of an aircraft perhaps the wing-tip of an F-16 hit by a missile, although the Israelis deny this - came streaking out of the sky over the eastern suburbs at the weekend, I raced to the scene to find a partly decapitated driver in his car and three Lebanese soldiers from the army's logistics unit. These are the tough, brave non-combat soldiers of Kfar Chim, who have been mending power and water lines these past six days to keep Beirut alive.

I knew one of them. "Hello Robert, be quick because I think the Israelis will bomb again but we'll show you everything we can." And they took me through the fires to show me what they could of the wreckage, standing around me to protect me.

And a few hours later, the Israelis did come back, as the men of the small logistics unit were going to bed, and they bombed the barracks and killed 10 soldiers, including those three kind men who looked after me amid the fires of Kfar Chim.

And why? Be sure - the Israelis know what they are hitting. That's why they killed nine soldiers near Tripoli when they bombed the military radio antennas. But a logistics unit? Men whose sole job was to mend electricity lines? And then it dawns on me. Beirut is to die. It is to be starved of electricity now that the power station in Jiyeh is on fire. No one is to be allowed to keep Beirut alive. So those poor men had to be liquidated.

Beirutis are tough people and are not easily moved. But at the end of last week, many of them were overcome by a photograph in their daily papers of a small girl, discarded like a broken flower in a field near Ter Harfa, her feet curled up, her hand resting on her torn blue pyjamas, her eyes - beneath long, soft hair - closed, turned away from the camera. She had been another "terrorist" target of Israel and several people, myself among them, saw a frightening similarity between this picture and the photograph of a Polish girl lying dead in a field beside her weeping sister in 1939.

I go home and flick through my files, old pictures of the Israeli invasion of 1982. There are more photographs of dead children, of broken bridges. "Israelis Threaten to Storm Beirut", says one headline. "Israelis Retaliate". "Lebanon At War". "Beirut Under Siege". "Massacre at Sabra and Chatila".

Yes, how easily we forget these earlier slaughters. Up to 1,700 Palestinians were butchered at Sabra and Chatila by Israel's proxy Christian militia allies in September of 1982 while Israeli troops - as they later testified to Israel's own court of inquiry - watched the killings. I was there. I stopped counting the corpses when I reached 100. Many of the women had been raped before being knifed or shot.

Yet when I was fleeing the bombing of Ghobeiri with my driver Abed last week, we swept right past the entrance of the camp, the very spot where I saw the first murdered Palestinians. And we did not think of them. We did not remember them. They were dead in Beirut and we were trying to stay alive in Beirut, as I have been trying to stay alive here for 30 years.

I am back on the sea coast when my mobile phone rings. It is an Israeli woman calling me from the United States, the author of a fine novel about the Palestinians. "Robert, please take care," she says. "I am so, so sorry about what is being done to the Lebanese. It is unforgivable. I pray for the Lebanese people, and the Palestinians, and the Israelis." I thank her for her thoughtfulness and the graceful, generous way she condemned this slaughter.

Then, on my balcony - a glance to check the location of the Israeli gunboat far out in the sea-smog - I find older clippings. This is from an English paper in 1840, when Beirut was a great Ottoman city. "Beyrouth" was the dateline. "Anarchy is now the order of the day, our properties and personal safety are endangered, no satisfaction can be obtained, and crimes are committed with impunity. Several Europeans have quitted their houses and suspended their affairs, in order to find protection in more peaceable countries."

On my dining-room wall, I remember, there is a hand-painted lithograph of French troops arriving in Beirut in 1842 to protect the Christian Maronites from the Druze. They are camping in the Jardin des Pins, which will later become the site of the French embassy where, only a few hours ago, I saw French men and women registering for their evacuation. And outside the window, I hear again the whisper of Israeli jets, hidden behind the smoke that now drifts 20 miles out to sea.

Fairouz, the most popular of Lebanese singers, was to have performed at this year's Baalbek festival, cancelled now like all Lebanon's festivals of music, dance, theatre and painting. One of her most popular songs is dedicated to her native city:

To Beirut - peace to Beirut with all my heart
And kisses - to the sea and clouds,
To the rock of a city that looks like an old sailor's face.
From the soul of her people she makes wine,
From their sweat, she makes bread and jasmine.
So how did it come to taste of smoke and fire?

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited.


And another chapter by Fisk:

Blair and his masters regard ceasefires as a weapon, a means to a political end

Published: 29 July 2006

I dropped by the hospital in Marjayoun this week to find a young girl lying in a hospital bed, swathed in bandages, her beauty scarred for ever by some familiar wounds; the telltale dark-red holes in her skin made by cluster bombs, the weapon we used in Iraq to such lethal effect and which the Israelis are now using to punish the civilians of southern Lebanon.

And, of course, it occurred to me at once that if George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and our own sad and diminished Prime Minister (Fisk is from the UK) had demanded a ceasefire when the Lebanese first pleaded for it, this young woman would not have to spend the rest of her life pitted with these vile scars.

And having seen the cadavers of so many more men and women, I have to say - from my eyrie only three miles from the Israeli border - that the compliant, gutless, shameful refusal of Bush, Rice and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara to bring this bloodbath to an end sentenced many hundreds of innocent Lebanese to death. As I write this near the village of Blat, which has its own little list of civilian dead, it's quite clear that many more innocent Lebanese are being prepared for the slaughter - and will indeed die in the coming days.

What was it Condoleezza Rice said? That "a hasty ceasefire would not be a good thing"? What was Blair's pathetic excuse at the G8 summit? That it was much better to have a ceasefire that would last than one which might break down? Yes, I entirely understand. Blair and his masters - we shall give Rice a generic title to avoid the obvious - regard ceasefires not as a humanitarian step to alleviate and prevent suffering but as a weapon, as a means to a political end.

Let the war last longer and the suffering grow greater - let compassion be postponed - and the Lebanese (and, most laughably, the Hizbollah) will eventually sink to their knees and accept the West's ridiculous demands. And one of those famous American "opportunities" for change - ie for humbling Iran - will have been created.

Hence, in the revolting words of Lord Blair's flunky yesterday, Blair will "increase the urgency" of diplomacy. Think about that for a moment. Diplomacy wasn't urgent at the beginning. Then I suppose it became fairly urgent and now this mendacious man is going to "increase" the urgency of diplomacy; after which, I suppose, it can become super-urgent or of "absolutely" paramount importance, the time decided - no doubt - by Israel's belief that it has won the war against Hizbollah or, more likely, because Israel realises that it is an unwinnable war and wants us to take the casualties.

Yet from the border of Pakistan to the Mediterranean - with the sole exception of the much-hated Syria and Iran, which might be smothered in blood later - we have turned a 2,500-mile swath of the Muslim world into a hell-disaster of unparalleled suffering and hatred. Our British "peacekeepers" in Afghanistan are fighting for their lives - and apparently bombing the innocent, Israeli-style - against an Islamist enemy which grows by the week. In Iraq, our soldiers - and those of the United States - hide in their concrete crusader fortresses while the people they so generously liberated and introduced to the benefits of western-style democracy slash each other to death. And now Lord Blair and his chums - following Israeli policy to the letter - are allowing Israel to destroy Lebanon and call it peace.

Posted 3 August 2006

I am entering this out of sequence so as to keep it under the heading of the destruction of Beirut. I do not want this to become a chronical of the war in Lebanon. Because blogs show the most recent posting first, readers would be greeted by off-topic postings when they arrive at this site. So, forgive me for adding these comments out-of-order.

The following quotes come from a blogger named Zena in Beirut. She took photographs of the port of Byblos, one of the places I visit on my trip to Lebanon. The oil spill apparently resulted from the bombing of the power station by the Israeli planes. In reading Zena's words, you can get a sense of the futility and the fear that the people of Lebanon are experiencing these days. Many of the illnesses that are being reported can be attributed to the depleated uranium in the bombs, the acrid smoke from burning buildings, and the simple stress of fear.

The Port of Byblos - notice the oil-slicked water.

Here is Zena's post:

Sunday, July 30, 2006

chasing oil

yesterday, a few of us got into a car and drove up the Lebanese coast line, order to document the oil spill. we took pictures, video, and prepared a map that traced the movement of the oil slick.

though i was on the edge of having a panic attack the whole time, being afraid that at any time, the road, bridge or tunnel we were on could be bombed... it felt good to finally get out of beirut for a few hours... first time in a long time.

what we saw was horrendous. our glorious beaches... all covered in black. bays, rocks, crevices, hidden under a blanket of oil. i can not tell you how big this spill is. we went as far up as Anfe (which is about 10 minutes before Tripoli) before we had to turn back to Beirut in order to make it to our evening interviews on time. the oil slick continues to travel north, eating up everything in its path. we heard it was reached Syria now.

Byblos (Jbeil) bay is completely smothered. this once picturesque and touristic town, also the oldest port city on Earth, is in ruins. we could smell the oil before we were anywhere close to the bay. this summer, the town was planning to celebrate its 7,000th birthday! there were huge festivities planned... so much went into it... now... nothing but this black plague.

we stopped to speak with a few fishermen. they are completely devastated. they have no means of income anymore. so many of them had fixed up their boats for this summer i hopes of giving tourists small boat trips around the coast. now, that is gone too.

i had a really bad headache all day... we were driving on the coastal road, stopped every few minutes to document.... the smell was so strong. when i got home, i blew my nose and the tissue was all black. i made sure to take a really good shower.

we were going to send out the press release, pics and video today, but we got even worse news...

there had been a massacre in Qana early this morning. history repeats itself. the Israelis dropped a bomb on a building that was sheltering refugees. the news at this point is that 55 were killed. mostly women and children... but the numbers are growing. the news is still fresh. it was only a few years ago that the Israelis did the same thing, except last time, it was a UN building that they hit. and over 100 people were killed. mostly women and children killed... why?? how can anyone be so inhumane?

i think Israel is the only country in the world that is allowed to hit UN posts and get away with it. only a few days ago, a UN post was hit in the South. UN peacekeepers died. to their families, i beg forgiveness. Lebanon is a beautiful country.. full of beautiful people. we all mourn your loss.

this whole attack has been one massacre after another. and still they persist. and still, it continues...

Another post:

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

black dust

there is a black dust that is filling the air. we are breathing it in ... constantly. it has settled on my clothes, in my kitchen... it is everywhere. we are guessing it is from the Jiye power station that was bombed... it is still on fire... it is the power station from which the oil spill originated from.

today i had my first experience at queuing for gas. the shortages have arrived. so many gas stations have shut down. the few that are left have long queues.. i waited for 40 minutes.. and when my turn came, i was give $10 worth only.

i only have a few minutes left before the electricity gets cut. we are running on generator now and they usually turn it off at midnight...

everyone is talking about the depleted uranium in the bombs... it is everywhere now. in the air we breathe.. in the land... it will soon be in our crops... in our water... wow. every time i think that things can't get worse, they do.

i am already envisioning myself with cancer. i can feel it all around me. i don't know if i could be as strong as maya has been.

maya by the way is doing ok. she is now on about 5 different pain killers... they make her funny. whenever i call she answers... "hello. maya's house of pain.. can i help you." hehe. it's funnier when you hear it on the phone.

the sky is so dark tonight. there is no moon. beirut is quiet. death is all around me.

And lastly:

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

bye bye beirut

just got home.. was driving like crazy... word on the street is that Israel is threatening to hit Beirut now... i feel so helpless... i called Maya, she said that if she dies today that i could keep her dvds that i'm borrowing... i told her the same.

i called my husband and told him to come home right away. if i die, i want to be in his arms...

... my little brother is here with me. he is 20 years old. he is making some tea now. he believes it is going to be ok. we are supposed to be discussing a plan he has to make t-shirts with slogans on them to raise money for the relief shelter he is volunteering at.

this could be my last entry.. maybe...

i have thought of that every time i put up an entry... but today, i am writing it with real fear in my heart.

the violence continues... the hating continues...

how can we stop this? please help to stop this.

i am only 30 years old. i have not had children. i want children. i want to live. i want to grow old with my husband... i want my children to play with my friends children... simple things, i want.

i want to breathe good air again. i want to wake up without my stomach in a knot. i want to stop coughing and vomiting. i want to continue to believe in humanity.

my head is spinning from anxiety.

i will not accept death. it is not my time. there is still so much in life to experience... i want to smile.. and laugh... simple things, i want.

i will not say goodbye... i refuse to say goodbye.

Want to read more from Zena? Click here: Beirut Update

Friday, June 16, 2006

Back in the USA.

Now that I am back home and almost free of jet-lag, I am in the process of uploading pictures to enhance this narrative. Please check back often for photographic and journal additions.

Raggled and Bedraggled

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

In Transit.

In the internet cafe in Heathrow airport on my way home, now. Bags are all checked in with United Airlines, and no-one had a heart attack on the previous flight. Phew! The only casualty is that I left my eyeglasses on the nightstand in the dark while getting ready to leave for my 4AM flight out from Cyprus. My patients will have to be patient with ME until I have them sent on. I will be rather blind until then...

I must say, it's nice to be back in the land of lightning fast internet service. Yesterday, in Nicosia, I spent an hour trying to upload photos to this site to no avail. When I get home, I will sort through all the pictures and put up the ones that illustrate my narrative. I may have some lingering comments, too, once I have digested my experiences.

Until them, I am in THE TERMINAL. See you all soon.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Birthplace of Dr. Aphrodite, etc.

I have a question for my British friends. Is it written somewhere that "on holiday" British tourists must stay up and party until 2 or 3AM, making as much noise as possible? It seems that almost every hotel I' ve stayed in, each having a high percentage of British clientele, plays loud music until late at night. No-one goes to sleep until extremely late, and the more they drink, the rowdier they become. The Sempati Hotel in Kyrenia, where I stayed last night, was no exception. As everyone who knows me will attest, I become Oscar the Grouch when I haven't had enough sleep.

Harumph. After breakfast, I decided to pack up and head out for the town where I and my siblings were born. First, I detoured to the East to a little town nestled in the foothills of the Pentadaktilos mountains called Bellapais. In this village, clinging to a ledge, there is a very old abbey built around 1100AD. I toured the ruins in the sweltering heat and then trudged up the hill to find the home of British author, Lawrence Durrell. This pilgrimage was for my children. When they were young, we read the book, "My Family and Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell, Lawrence's brother. It was a hilarious account of Gerry's family's life on the island of Corfu. He often mentioned the antics of his brother, Larry. When Larry grew up, he moved to Bellapais and wrote a famous book about Cyprus called "Bitter Lemons". I had intended to read it before coming on this trip, but didn't manage it. I will certainly pull it out of my bookshelf when I get home.

Bellapais Abbey

Through an arch of the Abbey.

Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durell's home in Bellapais

After seeing the abbey and Lawrence Durrell's home, I decided to find out if I could locate the exact spot where one of the paintings in my office was created. It is the one with the little house in the middle of the foreground and the five fingers of the Pentadaktilos range in the background. I came upon extensive olive groves in this area, and also many new homes. Nothing looks quite the way it used to:

Then it was off to drive to the West towards Pendayia and Xeros in Morphou Bay.

The remainder of this posting may only mean something to my family as I will recount my journey back in time, again:

The drive from Kyrenia to the West took longer than it seemed it should have when looking at the map. I don't recall ever going this way before, and it is more mountainous than it appears on paper. Finally, I drove into Morphou from the East. Orange groves stretched out as they used to with rows of Cypress trees acting as windbreaks. Several orange juice stands offered freshly squeezed juice. My mouth watered, but I was out of Turkish Lira and the ATM at the Turkish Bankasi in Morphou spat my ATM card out. Didn't like it for some reason, or maybe they don't give out money on Sunday?

Soon, the Mediterranean sparkled between the eucalyptus trees that appeared on my right. I kept my eyes open for the road to Pendayia Hospital (where I was born). There it was, with a hospital sign above it in Turkish. Slowly, I drove down the road, wondering how the golf-course would look and if the hospital was still in use. The fairway on the left was overgrown with weeds, but the one on the right was just as it used to be. In fact, sprinklers were watering as I drove by. The greens are still black with oil instead of deep green with closely mown grass. I have a nice photo down the fairway between the road to the doctors houses and the road to the hospital.

Looking down the Fairway

When I got to the hospital buildings, they appeared a little rundown. A couple of ancient ambulances sat parked in a driveway. The hospital looked as if it is still in use, but the waiting room was empty. I heard echoes of children crying as I remembered how the people would crowd into the waiting room hoping to be seen by a doctor. It usually seemed oppressively hot in there and it wasn't air-conditioned. The overseas staff always got to go first. I felt a little guilty about that in that moment.

A View of the Hospital in Pendayia

Out on the road to Xeros, I came in full view of the bay. No red water (from dumping the dregs of the milling process), of course. When I arrived at the jetty that was connected to the mill, where the company used to process the copper ore in preparation for shipment, I noticed a little "restaurant" at the base of it. Get this. It was called The CMC Pub, Museum, and Restaurant! I parked and got out to see what it was all about. I met the owner, who said that his father used to work for CMC (Cyprus Mines Corporation). When the government dismantled the mill operation, this guy went over and salvaged what he could from the wreckage. He had hung at least a half dozen, black and white, posed photographs of groups of mill workers in frames on the wall. Uncle David (Marr), a close family friend, was in every one of them. The restaurant owner had also picked up an old (now antique) typewriter, something that looked like an adding machine, and various plaques from machinery. I took photos of the photos and some of the abandoned mill operation across the street with Mavrovouni in the background.

The CMC Jetty (in the foreground)

Uncle David (Marr) and the Mill Workers

CMC Machine Shop - 13 March 1968

The Abandoned CMC Mill

Skouriotissa from Pendayia on a very hazy day.

I drove on towards Xeros, which still looks remarkably the same. Apostolides' old grocery store now has several enterprises in it, including a small bank. I tried the ATM card again with no luck. Driving up the road towards Karavostassi, all the little houses on each side seem to have been frozen in time. That road was much longer than I remember, though. At the top of it, where we used to turn to go up the hill, there is a roundabout (I should do one whole posting on roundabouts!), which you must go around before you can drive up Karavostassi hill. The old house on the left at the bottom of the hill is still there. I remember it as being fairly run-down even when we lived there; it has crumbled even more. I think someone still lives there though.

Up on Karavostassi hill, the homes are in worse shape than the ones in Skouriotissa. The Marrs' original house has been painted bright yellow, and I think that is the only maintenance or painting that has been done in 30 years. Fence posts are missing, and the ones that remain haven't seen paint since the CMC workers did it. I saw the garages where my brothers lit the field on fire when they were smoking cigarettes at about age 7. The field is still there and so are the garages. At the top of the road to the right, is a university campus with apartments. It is called something like "The European University of Lefke (Lefka)". Down on the road towards Lefka, at the junction to the road to Mavrovouni, many new homes have been hastily constructed, or "plunked" as I see it. I tried to drive down the old road to Mavrovouni, but after one or two houses, it petered out. Not maintained at all.

At that point, I decided to return to Nicosia, and then back to Larnaca. Tonight, I am staying in the same little hotel I chose for the first few days (Lysithea). I slept well then, and will try to do the same in preparation for my return on Tuesday. My flight leaves at 4AM, so I will need to store up on the shut eye before then.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

In the land of the Evıl Empıre.

I have gone over to the dark sıde. The North sıde of Cyprus, that ıs.

Currently, I am sıttıng ın an ınternet cafe ın Kyrenıa, usıng a keyboard that ıs set-up for Turkısh typıng. That ıs why the "I" looks so funny. It is a Turkısh "I". I could try to fınd the lower case one on here, as I dıd for my last post, but I gıve up. You wıll have to ımagıne a dot above the lower case "I". Also, there ıs no apostrophe. More ımagınatıon requıred.

My flıght out of Beırut was delayed for about a half hour thıs mornıng because the Larnaca, Cyprus, aırport was fogged ın. I dont ever recall that happenıng here before. Ive heard ıt saıd that the humıdıty has rısen as the populatıon has grown. More ırrıgatıon, more swımmıng pools. Sounds lıke Scottsdale, Arızona!

When I fınally arrıved here, I was met by the rental car man holdıng a placard wıth my name on ıt. Woo. Important, agaın! I drılled hım to make sure I could take the car ınto North Cyprus. No problem, I would just need Turkısh ınsurance whıch ıs purchased at the border crossıng. And ıf I breakdown? Just pay for ıt and submıt ıt to the ınsurance when I get back. OK. I sıgned the forms and we went out to the parkıng lot to transfer the vehıcle.

I had requested a small car sımılar to the one I had last week, but was delıvered a Toyota Camy (small SUV). Hmmm.. Once the car-hıre guy left, I got ın and started ıt up. Next, I lowered the automatıc wındow so I could put the tıcket stub ın the machıne on the way out of the parkıng lot. Or trıed to lower the wındow. It didn't quıte functıon as ıt should have. Sometımes ıt didn't respond at all, and sometımes ıt went all the way down or up. If I trıed to reverse dırectıon to stop ıt, ıt would just reverse dırectıon but not stop. Ahhh!

Oh well. I would make due, especıally as the car-hıre guy was no where to be seen. Off to Nıcosıa I went to fınd the border crossıng. Fırst, after some jıggıng and joggıng, I found the crossıng sıte by the Ledra Palace Hotel, only to be told that only pedestrians crossed there. Bogus Lonely Planet ınfo. The polıce there very kındly gave me a hand-drawn map to the actual car crossıng at a vıllage nearby, Agıos Demetıou.

Rıght, as the Brıtısh say, off I went, and I found ıt wıthout much dıffıculty. At the crossıng, one exıts ones vehıcle to purchase Turkısh ınsurance. What exactly does ıt cover? Only thırd party ınsurance! No one told me that ahead of tıme. Essentıally, I am responsıble for any damage to my vehıcle ıf I cause an accıdent. Bıg decısıon. Dıd I want to contınue? Where was my son the claıms examıner when I needed hım? I knew what he would say. Dont go! What the heck. Everyone else was ın the same boat. So, I went through the passport control, purchased the Turkısh ınsurance (5 pounds hıgher for a rental car, for some reason) and drove on over to the dark sıde.

I say the dark sıde because sınce the Turkısh ınvasıon over 30 years ago, the Greek Cyprıots have been understandably bıtter and resentful of theır presence. The maraudıng Turks drove them off theır land and supplanted them wıth Turkısh Cyprıots as well as Turks from the maınland.

That saıd, I have to note that the Turks defınıtely pıcked some prıme real estate. The Kyrenıa area ıs some of the nıcest property I have seen on the ısland. Those of you who have observed the paıntıngs ın my Auburn offıce wıll know what area I am referıng to. Those were paınted ın shadows of the Pentadaktılos range behınd Kyrenıa. Thıs slıver of land has the same topography as we have ın northern Calıfornıa wıth the ocean on one sıde and the Sıerras on the other. Imagıne a lıttle less dıstance between the two and you have an ıdea of the lure of thıs regıon.

I ate dınner at a lıttle restaurant that we used to frequent ın the olden days: The Harbor Club, an old establishment that looks just as ıt dıd then. It ıs located down at the end near Kyrenıa Castle, the Crusader fortress that guards the harbor. I ate moussaka, drank a glass of Turkısh whıte wıne, and watched the sun set. My waıtress assured me that the sunset would be spectacular, but the demon fog forstalled the lıght show. I wıll try agaın tomorrow evenıng.

The Harbor Club Restaurant

Kyrenia Castle and the Harbor

Kyrenia Harbor at Dusk

Tomorrow, I wıll attempt to drıve around the tıp of the ısland to the West to reexperıence my bırthplace, Pendayıa. I have been told that ıt ıs nothıng lıke ıt used to be, so I am well prepared. Apparently, ıt ıs very poor and run-down. We wıll see...

A Walking Tour of Uptown and a Celebration.

On Friday, I decided to skip the lectures and the movie and immerse myself in the experience of returning to high school and to Beirut itself. I sat under the tree in the courtyard where we spent countless recesses. Alan Whitman and I were once trying to remember what kind of tree this was (via e-mail). For his benefit, I will tell you that it is, and the three other trees in the courtyard are, carob. Some enterprising person/janitor has placed a blue, plastic bag in the hollow of the tree, no doubt to preempt students from throwing trash in there irretrievably (see it behind Lynn?). While Lynn, Gail, and I sat there in the courtyard reminiscing, the bell rang for recess and the students poured out of the academic building to congregate by the lockers. Instantly, we were transported back in time. Locker doors clanged. Students called back and forth. Chaos reigned. This could be our recess...

We wandered over to what had been the boys' dormitory. It now houses administrative offices. Gone is the window where the boarders used to sign in and out. Gone is the window where Nimr (Jaba the Hut) used to sit, answering the telephone and keeping an eye on people entering and leaving the building. Instead, there is a guard hut just by the gate. There is another guard hut on the other side of the academic building. No one is allowed on campus without some form of identification. (We were given lanyards with our personal information in our welcome packets. Some people's ID cards had pictures of themselves taken from some ancient yearbooks. (A few had the wrong pictures. Oh well...)

The current headmaster, George Damon, lives with his family in the penthouse. There is a brand new ACS sign in front of the old boys' BD (boarding department) . Instead of the table to the right, there is a spiffy, new fountain surrounded by flags. The bench to the left of the BD entrance, where we sat so often - waiting for meals, waiting to sign out, or just hanging out - still exists. Frozen in time. There is no girls' BD. The building is still there, but it's not part of ACS any more. Kameel's shop is gone. So are Eddy's and Washington's hang outs.

After immersing ourselves in ACS again, as if it had been an instant ago that we were students here, we walked down to the Corniche (the walkway along the water). There is a new Hard Rock Café down near the St. George Hotel and we wanted to buy t-shirts to take home. (How many people do you know with a Hard Rock Café Beirut shirt???) As we strolled along the railing by the glittering Mediterranean, we observed all the construction on the other side of the street: High rises everywhere, interspersed by a few old buildings. On our way back, we noticed an overgrown piece of property, squeezed between taller buildings, that had a single story shack on it. Must be hold-outs ("I've lived here all my life and I'm not selling to some rich, Arab sheik - over my dead body!") We inadvertently walked through a movie set of some kind. Luckily, no one was filming at the exact moment that we ambled by, but the high intensity lights had been turned on. Maybe it's the sequel to "Syriana"... George Clooney, where are you?

Corniche, the Movie

The Corniche has become a busy, built-in fitness club. The original "24 hour fitness". People regularly jog and exercise here. A young woman rollerbladed past us. As you can see by the picture, a man wandered by looking very over-heated (notice the t-shirt on his head??).

Rollerblading on the Corniche

Fishing off the Rocks
(is that guy naked???)

Once we made our Hard Rock purchases and walked back on the other side of the Corniche, we entered the AUB (American University of Beirut) campus, showing our ID badges as we passed the guard. Trudging up the stairs, we came to the familiar banyan tree and then exited the main gate onto Rue Bliss. You can still get a great shawarma here, at Bliss House. It's just a little more organized and a slightly bigger establishment. Now you pay at the cash register on one side of the stand and retrieve your shawarma on the other. You can have chicken or beef. (Could it be camel?? We never quite knew for sure...) Fresh orange juice is offered at many shops. Though I didn't see any carts uptown for orange juice, there was one down on the Corniche (see photo above). I bought some green plums from a guy with a cart. Remember the green plums that would give you a tummy ache if you ate too many?

The Banyan Tree

Rue Bliss

Khayat's Bookstore had been closed the last time I went by, but this time it was open. We ducked inside to marvel at the musty books and the equally musty proprietors. A circular rack still contained postcards from the 60's. What a blast from the past! It was here back in 1967 that I purchased the required pocket dictionary for 7th grade English. Not only did it accompany me all the way through ACS, but, I still have it! (Each year, under the name on the fly page, I scratched out the previous grade and wrote in the new one.) I also have the thesaurus that went with the dictionary. That's in better shape 'cause I didn't use it as much.

Khayat's Bookstore

We made our way up Jeanne D 'Arc Street to the Mayflower, our hotel, and had a little siesta before getting ready for the big Culmination Barbecue planned for the final evening:


ACS put on quite the shindig for their 100th anniversary culmination event. It was billed as a barbecue, but it was much more than that.

We arrived at the new athletic field, as instructed, at around 7:30PM. The gate was around the side of the field, which was where the boys played touch football and we all had many a soccer game during PE. Because of generous alumni donations, they have covered the field with artificial turf.

For this evening, a wide red carpet had been spread out down the middle of the field leading to the old tennis courts. Here, a bedouin tent, richly decked out with pillows, blankets, etc, held a typical Lebanese musician and a singer:

We were welcomed with some lovely Arabic tunes as we all strolled into the venue. Waitors brought everyone drinks and we chatted and visited. The tennis court area was covered with multiple white tents, underneath which were rows and rows of tables with fresh sunflower center-pieces. There was a stage at one end and meal prep occuring at the other end.

We were called to take our seats and after an official welcoming address, we headed over to the buffet to pile our plates high with traditional Lebanese dishes from tabbouli and lentils, to shawarma and lamb. Another table held fresh fruit and Lebanese desserts.

Shawarma being prepared for our dinner
(notice the Manara and Knights paintings on the wall)

Once most of us were seated, the entertainment began. Whooping and hollering, a Lebanese dance troup leapt down the aisles on their way to the stage with Arabic music throbbing from the speakers. I was wondering about the effect on the neighbors...

The dancers were clothed in colorful, traditional Arab dress and they seemed to really enjoy themselves. They performed a variety of dances, some including swords, others with scarves and twirly things. After a short break for several speeches, they returned to the stage for a couple of modern dances that seemed to meld techno, modern Arabic music with punk (or rap)- type clothing. It was very clever.

For those of you who attended ACS in the 70's: Lynn, Gail and I were joined by Rae Azkoul and Alice Ludvigsen. (Picture above L-R: Me, Alice, Lynn, Rae, and Gail).

A good time was had by all. In fact, it was difficult to leave at the end of the evening, but I had an early flight to Cyprus this morning, so had to make it to bed at a decent time.


Friday, June 02, 2006


One of the people in our group, Ramsey Tawil from '74, has become chummy with some guys who own a cellphone shop down the other end of the Corniche, near the St. George Hotel. He apparently dropped in there for some help with his cellphone and got to chatting with the repair guy. Ramsey is half Lebanese, so everyone around here is interested to hear his story. One thing led to another, and they invited us all out for a light dinner in the newer, hip, downtown area. So, we took a taxi down there last night and met them at their shop.

Before we left for dinner, they showed us pictures on their computer that they had taken immediately following the Hariri bombing of last year. To remind you, or inform you, Rafiq Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon and a moderate, was driving with his bodyguards past the St. George Hotel when his motorcade was blown to smitherines by a huge bomb. The occurance has been under investigation ever since. Currently, there is a temporary building constructed over the site of the explosion. The hotel stands eerily vacant. The high-rise building across the street bends forward with its twisted metal support beams stretching upward and outward. The top two floors were melted by the impact of the explosion. Imagine how high the flames must have reached to demolish the top of the building. Authorities are still trying to determine the dynamics of the incident. Speculation says that explosives may have been placed under ground, or packed into some of the plastic barriers that lined the street. Maybe it was both. The cell phone guys said that they saw some road work being done in the dead of night before the bombing. In the morning, the workers were gone. They thought that was odd.

Anyway, because the cellphone shop is just behind the street where the bombing occurred, they suffered extensive damage to the store. The windows imploded and everything was destroyed. The cellphone guys ran over to the scene and took pictures (with their cellphones, of course!) even before the police showed up, so they had photos that were more immediate and more horrific than anything portrayed in the media. They even had a video and I won't go into detail about it here, but it was chilling to watch.

We left for dinner in a couple of cars driven by the cellphone guys. They took us into the new downtown area that was heavily damaged during the civil war. Buildings are going up right and left, and others are being repaired. It seems that the architects around here are being quite intelligent about their choice of style. Everything blends in nicely with what's here. In Cyprus, unimaginative, block-like buildings appear to be plunked down in the middle of lots with no thought for esthetics. They could learn something from the Lebanese architects.

We parked and walked to an area that is inaccessible to cars. Cafés have been set up between buildings and creative lighting on the façades exuded a warm glow. As we walked down to the main square where the parliament building is and where a brand new, Turkish style mosque has been constructed, a call to prayer rang out, hauntingly between the buildings. It only added to the atmosphere.

Behind the new mosque, a temporary memorial to Hariri has been errected. His body and that of his guards is draped with white flowers and pictures of him have been placed all around. People come here to pay their respects. I saw a scarved, Moslem woman weeping softly as she dabbed her eyes and walked from casket to casket. Hariri's death was a great loss for this country.

We had a light, Lebanese meze at one of the cafes. The cellphone guys rented hookahs filled with fruity smelling tobacco. We had a lovely time, after which, Walid, the repair guy, drove us back to our hotel. A nice taste of modern Lebanon.


Related article on AFP (Yahoo) 6/17/06

Beirut Property Boom Ignores Political Crisis

Despite Lebanon's deep economic and political crises, an unprecedented property boom has turned Beirut into a giant building site, spurred by the appetite of developers, expatriates, and Gulf Arabs.
Bulldozers and giant cranes have invaded the capital, where any vacant lot or damaged building triggers fierce battles among property developers, who are mostly building residential apartments too expensive for the average citizen.
The boom started last year despite dramatic events that shook the country, and which turned on the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri, with property prices soaring an average of 50 percent.
Beirut has witnessed a major face-lift with the new construction boom, mostly in the once war-ravaged downtown area being rebuilt by the private company Solidere, which runs properties valued at about five billion dollars.
Brand new residential high-rises financed by Lebanese and Gulf investors now tower over the marina near Seafront Road where Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in February 2005.
"Very often, when the first picks strike the ground at the construction sites, between 75 and 80 percent of these projects are already sold to rich Lebanese or Arab nationals," Raja Makerem, manager of Ramco realty, told AFP.
Victor Najarian, director general of CARE realty, said "We are managing about 15 projects worth a total value of one billion dollars, and we hope to double that amount within a year."
Along the downtown seafront area, apartments run at between 600 and 1,000 square meters (6,450-10,765 square feet) and sell at 5,000-6,000 dollars per square meter.
About 60 percent of the apartments sold in the area have been bought by Gulf Arabs and the rest mostly by wealthy Lebanese.
Relatively smaller apartments in the downtown area sell at 3,400-4,500 dollars per square meter.
"And Lebanon can still expect more, as it has great potential in the five years to come," Najarian said. He noted that five luxury hotels and a dozen large projects were underway along the seafront, where about 30 more projects are due to be launched.
Solidere sold land worth a total of 1.1 billion dollars in the first quarter of 2006, five times more than in all of last year, Makarem said.
The latest Ramco report said "Gulf investors may have propped up Lebanon's balance of payments with more than one billion dollars during 2005 alone. Additional spending on construction and furnishing could more than double that amount."
Gross foreign capital inflow reached 3.9 billion dollars in the first four months of this year, increasing the balance of payments surplus to 1.4 billion dollars, according to figures from the Central Bank of London.
According to the Ramco report, the total area of land bought by Gulf Arabs across Lebanon multiplied by four times to two million square meters between 2002 and 2005.
But the boom has raised concerns for the country's architectural heritage.
"In the 1990's, about 2,200 traditional buildings were registered in Beirut. Today, only a quarter of that has remained," architect Jacques Ligier Belair told AFP.
Perched on a hill facing the Mediterranean, the once quiet residential neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh with its old, elegant buildings has dramatically changed in the past few years. Restaurants, bars, trendy shops and new buildings have mushroomed across the neighborhood where prices have sky-rocketed.
"Two years ago, apartments were selling at a maximum of 1,100 dollars per square meter. Today, they start at 1,600 dollars," said Ligier Belair.


New apartment building near ACS.

The Old and The New(er).