Archive for the ‘Village Life’ Category

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Green apricot salad

June 9, 2012

A day or two I stumbled across a recipe for using unripe peaches. You know the sort: they look ripe and promising but in reality they are never, ever, going to ripen and nothing you can do is going to change that. The recipe was from Food52’s Genius category and you can find it here.

Here we sometimes get a problem with nectarines in August so I was intrigued. But, it’s a little still too soon for the main nectarine crop (we’re still in cherry and strawberry season) so I filed the recipe until later in the year …

… only for a neighbour to drop by this morning with a bag of apricots in his hand.

About half of the fruit were underripe so were prime candidates for testing.

And the result?

Absolutely fantastic.

From crunchy flavourless apricots to juicy, glistening fruit in less than
ten minutes.

While the apricots were doing their thing I knocked up a leaf salad with some cold chicken and shavings of parmesan and then added the apricots and their dressing. Sadly we were too busy eating it to have the sense to take photos but you can see the gorgeousness of the fruit in this photo from the original recipe.

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Firewood

February 26, 2012

Things rarely happen quickly in Cyprus.  Things need to be considered, discussed over coffee with friends, debated, get tied up in bureaucracy and then be dunked back in coffee again.  Usually.

Then occasionally that whole process gets thrown out and instead speed is of the essence. It doesn’t happen often, just often enough to catch us out, which it did yesterday.

Next to our little cottage is an abandoned single story house.  Beyond that is a field containing fruit trees, including the lovely fruit cocktail tree that produces both oranges and lemons.  In that same field, close to the abandoned house, is an old and tall tree.  When we first bought this house the tall tree was half dead; the side nearest to us was clearly dead, the side away from us was still growing.  Over the last two years whatever disease it has took hold and the entire tree died.

The dead tree, as seen from upstairs

During this winter, which has been longer and colder and wetter and windier than most, we’ve looked at the tree a little more often.  As strong winds have raced up and down the valley the tree has been creaking a little more and frankly we’ve been concerned.  Our best estimate was that the tree was about 100 feet tall but it was nothing more than a guess.  From time to time we’d sit outside with a cup of coffee and look at the tree, and the distance to the house and speculate: if the winds were very bad and the tree came down, which way would it fall?  And, if it came our way would it reach the house?  Would the lovely new roof of two summers ago break the tree or would the tree break the new roof?

A few weeks ago we had a run of poor weather and gale-force winds through the night.  3am is a stinky time to be trying to calculate the likelihood of a tree crashing through your roof, it makes for a poor night’s rest.

A day or two after the weather calmed down we wandered round to the field to take another look at the tree and bumped into the mukhtar.  ‘Are you concerned about the tree?‘ he asked.  When said we were and he nodded and said he would see what could be done.  Which takes us back to the start: in Cyprus things rarely happen quickly so we assumed that it would take months for anything to happen.

Which is why we were surprised when a cherry picker turned up yesterday morning followed by a truck full of men with chainsaws.  Don’t be deceived by the sky below: yes, it is beautiful and blue but the day was fresh with a cold wind blowing.

A handy cherry-picker

It took most of the morning (and much discussion, debating, coffee and cigarettes) but the tree came down.  Taking the top off was particularly fraught but it fell away from the houses and hurt nothing other than an inconveniently placed prickly pear.  The front door of the abandoned house didn’t fare so well: one of the wheels of the cherry-picker needed to be where the door stood so it was knocked down and then nailed back into place later.

In the midst of the tree

Which one next?

Almost done

After a leisurely lunch the chainsaw boys reappeared and it became clear why this job had been done so promptly.  This long cold and wet winter has meant that all of us in the mountain villages have had to burn significantly more firewood than normal.  There’s still no sign of the weather improving, in fact it’s due to take a turn for the worse next week with more strong winds and temperatures colder than the north of England.

Fueled by copious amounts of coffee the chainsaw boys got to work breaking down the tree into usable lengths.  Truck after truck pulled up outside to be loaded with as much wood as they could carry.

Firewood

The fires will be burning well in this part of the hills tonight and we can sleep easy once more.

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A Christmas ramble

December 27, 2011

While these days are so short we try and get out and about before the early winter light fades. The weather is likely to be cold and wet in January and February so it makes sense to capitalise on the clear and bright days when they appear.

Yesterday we wandered around our little village for a while enjoying the sunshine, chatting to tourists and taking a photo or two. Whilst it was glorious at middday, by 3pm the sun was starting to drop behind the hill and it wasn’t long before discussions about lighting the fire started.

On our wandering we stopped by the village spring; the spring water is always beautifully clear, if very cold, but we’d never noticed before that the tap is in the shape of a dragon’s head.

Nearby somebody had placed a whole run of pots of poinsettias which looked pretty against the local limestone wall.

Back home we grabbed a photo of one of our Christmas wreaths, suspended from the huge lintel above the front door.

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Legal to vote

December 14, 2011

Village elections are taking place this month and in a village of little more than 100 adults our two votes could be important. Or so claimed the mukhtar of the village some months ago when he asked if we were registered to vote. Ummm, no, never felt the need before, was our answer, and anyway it’s not a straightforward process for us expats. As a man seeking re-election, in turbulent village times, he offered to help. He, he said, would personally deal with all the paperwork and arrange for our voting cards to be issued.

A day or two later he appeared at the gate with a handful of forms to complete and a request to see passports and for a handful of passport-type photos. He took the forms, copies of the passports, the photos and a copy of our house purchase contract and our title deeds, and headed off to the appropriate office.

A day or two later he re-appeared. The office, he said, wants more information. Did we perhaps have our pink/yellow slips handy? We did so copied them both and handed them over.

A week later he was back again. The office wanted to see our yellow/pink forms rather than pink/yellow forms. Did we have those? We didn’t. For a moment he looked deflated. The only other thing they will accept is birth certificates and I know you won’t have those, he said. Hah! There’s a man who doesn’t know our filing system; two minutes later he had two photocopied birth certificates in his hand.

Armed with more paperwork than a competent identify fraudster reasonably needs he headed off down the hill to wherever the voting-card-office was and that was the last we saw of him for several weeks. As the election approached and he didn’t re-appear with the voting cards we decided that either he’d found the process too tiresome to continue or that he’d realised that he didn’t need our votes.

How wrong could we be? Last Sunday morning the phone rang. Were we up and dressed and decent? The mukhtar asked. If so he was outside our gate with the voting cards in hand. The question about us being up fit to receive company was reasonable: we have a reputation for being sleepyheads.

Being suitably attired, Ian headed down to meet him and collect the cards. From the look of sheer delight on the mukhtar’s face we can only assume that locals find the bureaucracy wearing at times too. And this in a week when a piece of research established that Cypriots know that getting things done depends more on who you know rather than being able to meet published criteria.

So, we’re good to vote which puts us a tiny majority compared to other expats. Very few expats go through the process of getting voting cards, though there’s only anecdotal information why. Too difficult, uninterested, too bureaucratic? Who knows.

What we now know is that, even before our voting cards were issued, we unwittingly changed the face of this village election. The mukhtar is standing unopposed: his rival decided not to run when he heard that we were going to be eligible to vote. Since we don’t even know who he is we are baffled, but then that isn’t an entirely unusual state of affairs for us in this village!

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Village Life: Weed Clearing

June 28, 2010

Have weeds to clear?  Don’t want to use a strimmer?  No problem!

Weed clearing

Well, it was fast and fairly efficient.  Noisy and dusty too but it got the job done.

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Unintended Consequences

May 18, 2010

More tales of village life.

At the back of this little house is the, oft mentioned, donkey track that leads down into the rest of the village.  Since the house next to us is deserted and the house opposite derelict the track gets little traffic.  During the summer months tourists wander up it from time to time and then turn back when they discover that it leads to a dead end.

Ever since we moved in we have had an eye on that dead end; the track opens out into a space about 15 feet by 15 feet, overlooked by our kitchen window but otherwise entirely private.  It isn’t our land, the title deeds are perfectly clear on that, but it’s a lost space and no one uses it and it’s been entirely unloved.  Our vague plan when we bought the house was that we’d clear the space and put tables and chairs out there along with some plants in containers.  Then, if anyone ever complained at our colonisation we could undo things.

The hidden garden, from above

Until now that plan has been on hold.  The house had to be the first priority and the walled garden close behind.  There was also another reason for holding back: we wanted to have some time in the house to understand how the light and the sun impact the walled garden and the potential second space.  No point putting sunbeds there if it never got the sun.  We learnt quickly that full sun is as welcome in winter as hard shade is in the height of summer.

Well, a year on we now know that in winter it rarely sees the sun.  It is east-facing and the surrounding stone walls are high on several sides so in the short light of the winter months it is a cold and damp place, so much so that moss and lichen become a problem on the donkey track.

In summer it gets the afternoon sun but because of the height of the walls it stays much cooler than the garden.  Just the place to retreat to on a sweltering summer’s afternoon.

But, apart from the project to clear the area there is another issue: the area is bordered on two sides by a derelict house and an empty plot.  On their own they wouldn’t be a huge problem, all are built of fantastic Lefkara limestone and look beautiful.  The issue is that the weeds have been allowed to grow unchecked and combined with the occasional discarded household appliances the plots look distinctly unappealing to humans.  To rats however they are an ideal home.  We’ve seen them running through these plots unchecked.  The term rat run is all too appropriate.

Anyone need a spare water tank?

So, the potential is there for a lovely hidden secret garden to sneak off to on hot summer days but for the ten foot high weeds and local rat population in parts of the village over which we have no control.

Our only other fellow Brit in the village, Gerry the antique-collector, lives on the other side of these plots.  Via the donkey track it’s a good 5 minute walk to his house from ours or 30 seconds as the crow flies.  Since we mentioned the rodent problem he has become aware that he, too, is hearing the nocturnal patter of rodent feet across his roof.  He has long wanted to buy the empty plot to get it cleared and improve the look of the area around his house.  However despite his best efforts he, and the previous English owner of his house, has been unable to find the details of the owner.  His neighbours have always claimed that it would be impossible to buy as the land had been passed down according to Cypriot inheritance law and was probably now owned jointly by a dozen or more heirs.  To buy would mean getting each to agree to sell their 1/12th share.

This week Gerry declared war on the rats and weeds.  If the mysterious missing owners would do nothing about the plot then he’d take charge, he said.  He would pay for the land to be cleared and when it was done he might put a chair or two in there.  This morning we woke to the sound of someone strimming and chopping and hauling ancient water tanks out of the area.  We assumed that this was Gerry’s doing and it turns out that, indirectly, it was.

This afternoon he stopped by to gloat; he hadn’t paid for the area to be cleared, the owners had.  Apparently the village grapevine had been activated and word had got back to the owner (just one, the story of a dozen heirs seems not to be true) that a mad Brit was planning a land-grab.  Horrified by such an idea the owner decided to take preemptive action and get things cleared so there was no further cause for complaint.

The work is not yet finished but already the area is looking distinctly better and, hopefully, less appealing to the local rodent population.  We might just get our secret garden this summer after all.

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Village Life: Easter

April 3, 2010

Caught out again. Once more we fear that we are probably the talk of the village. In a nice way of course as they are both welcoming and tolerant of our strange English ways. But we’re pretty sure that there is talk out our strange English ways and, in conjunction with that, eyebrows have been raised once more.

This is Easter weekend. You knew that, of course, as you are probably reading this with chocolate easter eggs to hand. We are not: they are prohibitively expensive here so we choose to do without. Anyway, it is Easter here and Easter in the rest of the world also. That isn’t always the way; Greek Cypriots celebrate the Eastern Orthodox festival the date of which is calculated differently to Easter as celebrated in the UK and North America.

Some years the calculations result in the holiday falling at the same time, other years it can be as much as 4 or 5 weeks adrift. In 2008 when there was much commentary in the UK about how early Easter was, the third week in March, here in Cyprus that was barely the start of Lent with Easter weekend falling late in April, four weeks later.

This year, and next, the two churches are in sync.

Easter is arguably the biggest religious fesitval of the year, though in this modern world Christmas is making a strong challenge. For now at least this time of year is important in terms of Church and family and also celebration and feasting after the long period of Lent. Late last week the supermarkets were heaving with folks stocking up on all those goods that have been forbidden for the last seven weeks; the bakeries and butchery counters were doing particularly good trade as meat and sugar were finally allowed back into people’s diets.

Yesterday, Good Friday, heralded one of the biggest church services of the year. We knew our village would all turn out for the late service, followed by a traditional meal of egg and lemon soup and blessings of the houses by the local priest to ward off ill omens for the remainder of the year. We choose to stay home and have a quiet evening whilst listening to the bells call the faithful to church.

This morning all was quiet again. We, foolishly it seems, expected the villagers to have a quiet morning to compensate for their midnight worship and late meal if nothing else. So we were somewhat surprised when there was a slight commotion outside the gate followed by hesitant knock. Curious to see what was going on we trotted down the garden to find the gate being pushed open and one of the village committee standing there. Behind her stood the mukhtar.

She looked part amused, part embarrased as she handed over a cellophane wrapped and be-ribboned tray.

“For you. From the village. For Easter.”

Said she with perhaps more emphasis that was needed. True, we hadn’t been to the midnight service but we did know that it was Easter. Actually, being entirely fair, perhaps the discomfort was having to talk to the two nice-but-slightly-strange English people at their gate while they were still wearing PJs.  Sleepwear to some.

Look, it was Saturday morning. We thought the rest of the village would be asleep and we weren’t expecting visitors. We’d have got dressed eventually … possibly even by midday.

And our gift from the village? A prettily wrapped supply of Easter delicacies on a tray, flaounes no less.   The Little White Donkey makes her own; these presumably were courtesy of the local bakery.

Easter Goodies

But can you see? Underneath, on the left hand side, there’s something else. Until we unwrapped the tray we couldn’t make out what it was. More bakery goodies perhaps? Chocolates or biscuits maybe?

Ahhh, but no, this is Cyprus. It’s an icon. No, really. The village has gifted us our very own wall hanging icon.

House Icon

You can almost imagine the committee meeting when the trays are discussed next year.

Should the strange-but-nice-English people get one?

Yes, they’re part of the village.

With an icon? We know they are not Greek Orthodox.

Yes, perhaps it’ll encourage them to join and I hear the house does not have a single icon at present.

OK, so they get the tray and the icon but be sure to deliver theirs last; remember last year when they were still in their pajamas at 10 o’clock in the morning?!

Really, we’re the talk of the village once more!