Around About Town

Having G here with me is great… except I’m getting no work done! Technically, that’s okay, and it was to be expected… this is our Cornell Spring Break anyway, right? Problem is I was hoping to get a bit more done last week. I’m always too optimistic about what I can get done in 3 days with jet lag… then add in being sick, and yeah. Overly optimistic is all I can say about that.

So, what have we seen and done? Friday I dragged him to Ayios Sozomenos, which is the region I will be writing my dissertation on, to show him my beautiful Bronze Age fortresses! He was suitably impressed (they are pretty darn cool, I have to say) and greatly amused by my geeking out. These fortresses are so interesting, because really, no one knows a lot about them. A lot has been said about them, but none of it has been particularly interesting, and its been based on very little evidence. This makes it perfect for a dissertation – if I can add even a little more data, and if I can say something even slightly interesting, then I am contributing to scholarship!! Hurrah!

What was super productive about that trip though, is that there is a fortress that was excavated in the 1920s by the Swedish Cyprus Expedition, called Glyka Vrysis. Only the architecture was every published back in 1926, and although Sj√∂kvist published very nice drawings of the fort, he didn’t publish a map. He gives an unfortunately vague description of its location, and basically everyone for the past 50 years has been putting it in the same spot on a map, which I was pretty sure was wrong, once I became familiar with the area, and had read his report instead of just looking at everyone else’s maps. He claims that the fort was surrounded by a “small settlement” and was on the west side of a stream that runs through a gully between two of the big fortresses on the plateau, but that the fort and settlement are at the base of a hill with a cemetery on it. Sadly, this area bears very little resemblance to its state 100 years ago. There’s a massive sand-mining operation that has dug out about half the plateau, and shoved piles of tailings all over the place, and the stream bed has been almost totally obliterated by a large farm which has terraced the gently sloping ground where the stream used to run. Walking across those fields confirmed my fear – there’s nothing left. Not a scrap… its all fresh sandy soil shoved off the top of the plateau or trucked in from heaven knows where. However, once we were down in those fields, we could see a “hill” that wasn’t part of the plateau, and still appeared to be relatively intact. As soon as we started clambering up it, eureka! Pottery! White Slip, Black slip, some nice Red Polished III and IV, and even (the real prize!) a sherd of Red-on-Red… and then at the top, 6 huge looted tombs cut into the limestone scarp. Bingo. There’s the MCIII/LCI cemetery on a hill, so while the fort is long gone, I at least know where it was (and I was right, its not really anywhere near where we’ve been sticking it on maps for the last 50 years). So yay! I clearly need to have my sidekick in Cyprus with me more often if this is what happens in our first 24 hours….

Dinner that night was at To Steki, a yummy traditional Cypriot food tavern/restauraunt here in Nicosia. We went out at 8 pm, and the place was totally empty. I was afraid it was closed! And then when I saw there were staff inside, I was afraid they were getting ready to close. Oh, foolish, foolish girl! You’re in the Mediterranean!! We go in, and it turns out that 3/4 of their tables are reserved, and we’re the FIRST customers of the night. As we sat, several more couples and small groups without reservations showed up, and were seated in increasingly less ideal tables, and then the hoard started to appear right as we finished our grill plate. Guess we showed up at the right time after all!

Saturday was more adventures, this time returning (again for me) to Politiko-Troullia. It had rained pretty heavily the previous night and morning, and the site was a MESS, but the rain had uncovered some exciting stuff… looks like our destruction layer and room full of pithoi continued even further. Neat! I need to make sure they dig out the baulk between trench O and N… so many goodies, and I really want to know what was going on in that room.

Dinner that night was Syrian-Arab Friendship Club, with my friends Efythmios and Sam. Its one of the best restaurants in town, and has been for years. With 4 people we were able to get the meze, and basically we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore, and then we ordered coffee and custard on top of that. Good company, and good food, I was so full that all I could do when we got home to the Institute was lie in bed and watch Inspector Lewis.

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Getting Started is Hard To Do

Double-post today, because I forgot to publish my post for Wednesday, and didn’t write my post for Thursday, because this week got so exciting so quickly!

Thursday began awkwardly, by my utterly failing to remember how to get out of Nicosia and down to the village of Pera, where the Politiko-Troullia makes its home during the season. At 11, when I was supposed to be in Pera meeting one of our village contacts for coffee, I was instead totally lost in Deneia. If you look at a map, you’ll see why this is problematic – I was about 25 minutes from where I needed to be, and had nearly driven across the Green Line in to the north on accident. Yeah, don’t do that. I did it once a few years ago and the UN Peacekeepers were NOT thrilled. By the time I had gone back to Nicosia, gotten my map, figured out where I’d gone wrong, and made it out to Pera, Safronis was gone. I did get into the warehouse though, and got 15 (!) boxes of ceramics that need to be analyzed. I also stood around confused outside the closed bank where Ioanni, one of our other contacts works, trying to call him… when he came out and found me! Turns out no one has a phone signal inside the bank. Since everyone in Cyprus uses cell phones, this seems rather annoying. But, with his help I got into our other store room and fetched the tools I’ll need for the analyses and drawing. A big project like ours has so much equipment, the pile of boxes was quite daunting. I couldn’t find the photography equipment, but I’m sure its in there someplace, so I’ll just have to find it some other time, or leave the photography until the rest of the crew show up. I also stopped by the village grocery store run by our friend Eleni… she had good news, too – her son is getting married in June, so there will be a big village wedding!

On making it back to CAARI, my friend Sam, an awesome archaeology PhD student from Melbourne, Australia, helped me get all the boxes out of my car and into the workshop where I’ll be making my lab for the next two months. This was after I swept the place, which was TERRIFYING. The dust was literally 1/8 in. thick on the floor, so when I swept, even carefully, the air was so full of dust my eyes and my throat stung. There was much hacking and coughing, but I think the worst of it is out in the driveway now, and the workshop is certainly much more pleasant. We managed to fit all 15 boxes and the boxes of supplies on one bookshelf (they are, thankfully, relatively small boxes), and then we rewarded ourselves with delicious Italian takeout. Nicosia has always been a cosmopolitan city, but the food options have gotten much better (and more affordable!) in recent years. Tagliatelle with shrimp and coriander pesto for 9 euros! Huzzah!

The best part of my day, however, was driving down to Larnaca to pick up my friend who is visiting for a week. This is technically our Spring Break coming up, so I wasn’t planning on getting much done the next 7 days. Time for some adventure!

Culture/Body shock

My body suddenly decided to remember that this isn’t the right hemisphere, and last night despite valiant efforts to the contrary, I didn’t fall asleep until nearly 5 am. This wasn’t a huge concern, thankfully, as Wednesday was also a national holiday here in Cyprus. What were they celebrating? Greek Independence. That’s right, not Cypriot independence. Greek independence. It is a curious feature of Cypriot national identity, that a large portion of the population dreams of “re”unification with Greece. The problem with this dream? Cyprus, historically, has never been Greek. The closest it has actually come was the eleven years (333-322 BC) that it was part of Alexander’s Empire. This is, of course, not to say that Cyprus is not of Greek character. There were waves of Greek settlers to Cyprus starting probably in the 16th century BC with the Mycenaeans, that continued through the Classical and Hellenistic eras. Under Roman and Byzantine rule, Cyprus was part of the Eastern Empire, and so was of course “Greek” in language and religion. Its just the “Greek” political identification that isn’t particularly well historically justified. What Cyprus has been, historically, is Assyrian, Persian, Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Lusignan/Crusader, Venetian, Ottoman, and British. Cyprus’ period of unified self-rule itself only lasted 14 years, before the Greek Junta backed a military coup that instigated the Turkish invasion. The rest, as they say, is history, and as with any recent and bloody history it is understandably very touchy and sore, so better left for discussion on another day.

Anyhow, I finally crawled out of bed after listening to drums and cheers for the better part of an hour. I managed to yank on clothes and run up the road to discover what, to an American, was a rather troubling sight: A parade, celebrating Greek independence, that appeared to involve nearly evert school child in the country. School after school after school marched by in their uniforms… and I mean marched. White gloves, arms swinging, in a marching style distinctly foreign to Americans, and when I say distinctly foreign I mean, what springs to mind immediately is historical film clips of various fascist and/or totalitarian (German, Russian, Chinese, N. Korean…) armies marching in front of grandstands.

Each school was lead by an honor guard carrying front and center the school’s banner (most frequently featuring a religious icon of some sort) flanked by the Cypriot and Greek flags. Most schools had their own drum corps, some also had brass. There was lots of chanting, most of it related to Greek Independence, but more troubling was the large group of football supporters, carrying a giant Greek flag, and chanting about enosis. Troop after troop of girl and boy scouts (guides?) went by too. Curiously amusing to me were the young women who, if marching with their school, nearly universally had their hair artificially straightened and perfectly trimmed and often dyed pure black or highlighted with blond or red, while the Girl Scouts all had beautiful manes of natural curly dark brown hair. I suppose, as in the States, only a certain kind of girl stays a Girl Scout past Brownies!

After another hour or so of this the parade wrapped up, and I ran back to the Institute to make myself lunch, which was all well and good, but it was around about then my body decided it had had it with all the travel and messed up sleep, and insisted that I needed to go back to bed RIGHT NOW.

Hitting the ground running (sort of)

Tuesday was about as productive as I could reasonably have hoped for it to be, which in reality wasn’t very. I seem to be only slightly jet-lagged (hurrah!), so I managed to get to sleep around 1 and woke up around 9. Not too shabby, I thought! I spent the morning unpacking, and finally taking a shower. Apparently the institute has been having intermittent water problems. Sometimes (like last night) there’s no water pressure, and then sometimes (like tonight) there’s no hot water. These institutes, here and in other countries, tend to be in old British imperial period houses. They’re beautiful, but definitely getting rundown, and upkeep often outpaces what a small academic institution can reasonably afford to spend, so things tend to have to fall apart completely before they get fixed. In the case of CAARI, the big project this past year has been the construction of a massive addition to the library. It’ll triple the current size of the library, which we desperately need, but there’s one catch – no one would sell CAARI more land at an affordable price, so our new library is subterranean! There’s a giant hole where the garden on the east side of the building used to be, which currently has one floor, and soon will have two floors of a library built. Eventually the garden will be put back in and the new library will have skylights. I’m excited to see what it will look like, but the fact that CAARI has a massive empty parking lot to its west that we couldn’t afford to buy makes it a bit frustrating.

Anyway, I unpacked properly, which is nice… I’m not used to being here for long enough for it to be worthwhile, but I’m here for two months, and I have this room for at least 30 days, which is awesome, because it is easily the best room in the institute! Always make friends with the administrators… the directors may come and go, but the administrators will be here forever. In this case I’ve been coming to CAARI for 9 years now, and for years I was in room 7, which is the size of a closet! I’ve stayed in room 4 once (private bathroom, but you have a roommate), and recently I’ve been in room 2, which is great… nice size, nice light. But this time, I got room 1. Its huge. It has its own balcony and 12 foot ceilings. Its hard not to feel very colonial in this place, and I feel like I should be drinking Gin and Tonics. 10 am was morning coffee with the staff and the various researchers in the institute, which at the moment is really myself, a grad student from LaTrobe, and the Fulbright (from UVA) and her husband. I made the arrangements to get into the garage, which will be my lab for the next two months, but is currently being used as storage space. Oy. I also called our contacts in the village where my dig stays when we’re working in the summer, so I could get into our storage rooms. One phone number doesn’t seem to work (uh oh) so I may just have to track down the guy who runs the storeroom where we keep all our equipment on foot, but the other number got me through to the gentleman who owns the warehouse we use as out apothiki (Greek for warehouse, but its what Aegean and Cypriot archaeologists call the storehouses where we keep our equipment and non-valuable artifacts). However he was quite insistent that I could NOT come get anything out today or tomorrow, so Thursday I have to go have coffee with him at 11, after which I hopefully will have permission to actually get it and get our ceramics. I spent the afternoon reading, dealing with email, and contacting the museum (to get access to more pottery! Sherds! How I love my sherds!). Then off to Lidl, for the acquisition of groceries. The institute is self-catering, and the kitchen is perfectly adequate, but alas most grocery stores are too far to walk easily. Apparently there’s one not too far away now, but since I have a car for the next week I headed out to stock up cheaply. Apparently the long-lived Fulbright car is no longer in this world, so there is no other car currently here at the Institute. I foresee begging rides off my Cypriot friends in the future…

But then the exciting part of the day! I went out to dinner at the Berlin Wall 2, with my friends Tim and Efthymia. They work at the museum and they are just the most lovely, fun people. Efthymia knows the family that runs the Berlin Wall, so named because it’s built right up against the wall that divides Nicosia in half, separating the Republic from the occupied North. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it left Nicosia as the last divided capital in the world. Not a particular point of pride, but it certainly contributes to the current character of the city, though less-so now that the border crossings are open and more lax. We had mixed grill and lefchanicho (wine sausage, so good), and yoghurt, hummus, salad, and french fries. Delicious. I swear (and I’m Irish here, remember) Cyprus has some of the best tasting potatoes in the world! I kept Tim and Efthymia out past their bedtimes, as we went to the Weaving Room afterwards for another drink. Its called the weaving room, because it was, in fact, a weaving workshop during the Ottoman period. Its a fabulous stone building, and they’ve left the original wood balcony inside, and its filled with books and chairs, and serves cold beer, hot coffee, and delicious traditional deserts, all at a criminally low price. I predict this will make a good writing spot. Conversation was good, and roamed all over. I learned all about dynamics of modern Cypriot politics I never knew, as well as their association with the various football teams. In many ways it reminded me of the situation in Ireland… revolution, followed by a civil war that no one wants to talk about, but which had a serious impact on the politics of the next several decades. Cyprus’ experience is 50 years more recent though, so the wounds are still fresh.

Home Again, Home Again (or Another Year, Another Season)

With the turning of the seasons, so shifts the thoughts of the young archaeologist from those of books and dusty libraries to those of blue skies and pottery-filled fields. This year the season starts early for me (March! Who’d have thought??) and will run through the end of June. First two months, though, I’m here in Nicosia, at the Cyprus American Archaeological Institute, where I will attempt to divide my time productively between analyzing ceramics from the Politiko-Troullia project, studying tomb group and survey material from the area around Politiko and Ayios Sozomenos at the Cyprus Museum, and (fingers-crossed) getting some writing done in the library here at CAARI. I got in later and more exhausted than I had expected, so last night consisted of getting unpacked, eating a typically ridiculous archaeologist dinner, made of the leavings of previous visitors to the institute. In this case, a can of tuna and a can of sweet corn stirred together in a bowl. I kid you not, and before you say ugh, I’ll have you know I was introduced to this exact combination by the Bedouin (true story). They also did it with tomato instead of corn, and it’s surprisingly palatable. I didn’t have any flatbread to eat it with, but that’s alright. So today the excitement begins! I need to get ahold of some of the gentlemen in the village where the P-T project stays, so I can head out there and get into our storage depots. I need drawing supplies, bags, labels, scales… and of course, pottery!