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.


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