Editor’s Note: This week, the blog has been tagging along with fellow Cheapo Alex Christodoulides as she visits family in Cyprus.
NEW YORK—For the first 17 years of my life, my panorama of Cyprus was the inside of my relatives’ homes. We would arrive “apo Ameriki” and immediately begin a whirl of lunches and dinners with different relatives, and there’s a “welcome” round of invitations as well as a “farewell” one.
To an extent this is still the case — this visit, my mom drew up a calendar and listed each day’s invitations (and, afterward, what we ate, and then she and I transcribed the recipes we’d requested for the various dishes because we both love cooking) even though much of the socializing was in restaurants, as our relatives lose interest in spending days in the kitchen and hours washing up.
Now that I’m back in the U.S. I find myself wishing I’d brought home more than photos and recipes. My relatives are such charming, smart, interesting people, and trying to recreate dishes we ate at shared meals just makes me wish they were with me more often.
Besides the food, one other thing in Cyprus is inevitable: political discussions. In Cyprus politics isn’t just background, it’s life.
The Cyprus problem, as it’s called, is that since 1974 the island has been divided between the predominantly Greek-Cypriot Republic and the Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot north after Turkish troops invaded in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup (the Museum of the National Struggle in Nicosia explains some of this in greater detail, but makes no claim to objectivity). The Green Line that marks the partition is still patrolled by United Nations troops.
Since then, diplomacy has failed to truly resolve the situation, and just about every time I visit Cyprus there’s another round of talks between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot leaders. I don’t notice tension between the two sides in everyday life, but talks always get people emotional and this time was no exception.
Just before the Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union in 2003 the Green Line was made a porous border, where at certain checkpoints you can enter the north. A passport is required, and for this reason many of my relatives refuse to visit — they say they shouldn’t have to show a passport to cross a false border (Turkey’s is the only government to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) — but I’ve gone to my dad’s village on a previous trip to Cyprus and found the north sort of like a trip back in time. It was a fascinating look at how the two sides live, and interesting to see where I could have grown up.
But politics is only part of life in Cyprus, where there are beaches to lay on, food to enjoy, art to examine, shopping and nightlife to sample, and strong coffee to power us through all of it. It’s a small country with a big appetite to enjoy life.
Speaking of coffee, when my relative read our fortunes (see photo), she predicted for my mom “a social gathering at a table, which will be a very pleasant and joyous event.” Which is just like every visit to Cyprus, for us — followed that’s how long it takes to fit into my clothes again because, unlike New Yorkers, Cypriots don’t walk. We drive even the shortest distances, and would maneuver our cars through the supermarket aisles like a giant drive-thru if we could.
And then, peering into my mom’s coffee cup, she directed my dad to bring us back every year.
About the author: Alex Christodoulides is one of those push-me-pull-you creatures known as a dual citizen. When not at home in New York City (where she is a freelance writer) or in Cyprus (where she is a freeloader taking advantage of her relatives’ hospitality), she is probably dreaming of a trip to someplace where vaccinations are required and Fodor’s fears to tread.