Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cyprus fieldwork: trivia; domestic properties' historical facts

Cyprus fieldwork notes extracts

This set of notes includes more general public commentary upon Cypriot society (and one upon the archaeologist's role in society), (out-of-date) considerations of what to focus my work upon and snippets from my day-to-day life (the trivia of the title), a feminist joke and an intriguing little back-and-forth between Jack Straw and George Lillikas; it does not include what my friends told me in conversation.

At 3.10am on the 9th of February 2006, I declared,
a breakthrough, at last! I'm glad my cooker's broken (though I suspect it's just out of gas). This evening, I planned to go to university to check my e-mails, come back, getting a kebab from the local takeaway on the way home, then go out again to a cafe to read or meet people.

When I got to the takeaway, the owner's son was at the counter and a German who worked in shipping was at one of the two tables; we exchanged pleasantries and I shouted a greeting to the owner, who was in the back. I started talking to the German, as the owner's son smiled at the fact that it was "an international cafe - here we have a German, an English; it is multicultural".

The owner asked me, "do you want wine tonight?" I answered, "I ought to go", but when he asked again, "do you want a little wine?" I gave in, "if I must", he laughed and fetched the wine. "It's good wine", he insisted, as if I were protesting.

We chatted about the differences between Limassol and Nicosia (which I put in quotes just to note that many, if not all, internationals refer to Lefkosia/Nikosia as Nicosia, while many, if not all, locals refer to Lefkosia/Nikosia as Lefkosia (or Lefkosha in dialect)) and the influence of organised crime in business and of business in the business of government.

He summarised [inaccurately], "half of the Cypriot government's money comes from shipping, the other half from tourism", explaining that that was why they were glad that "the EU's protected their tax exemptions on shipping until 2020, so it will continue to grow for the next fifteen years".

When I enquired, "and after that [when the tax exemptions are withdrawn and with the shipping business, a significant portion of the Cypriot government's income leaves] they're fucked?", he nodded, "yes".

He described Russian "businessmen" in Limassol, flashing their cash, "going to bars, ordering huge quantities", indicating a mountain of food and drinks with his hands, "but they never count their money, no matter what the cost", miming handing over a roll of money.

He did say that, "it isn't as bad as it was five or six years ago", but went on to say that, "they [mafia, particularly Russian mafia] are still doing it; they still have lots of money to wash and are coming over and buying all of the land, to clean their money, or getting involved in the [shipping] crewing business, running labour", adding, incredulously, "and the government allows it, it's even encouraging it!"

When we fell quiet, I turned back to the counter and waited to catch the owner's attention. I said, "when I'm able to understand, I want to hear your anecdotes, because I didn't understand yesterday", whereupon he waved me down and started.

He told me a few jokes, one about three men meeting St. Peter at the gates of heaven, with his employee (I'm not sure whether he's his son or not) translating those words I didn't understand (which were reassuringly few, making me comment, "maybe I didn't understand before because it was too fast")...

I... told him a story I'd heard, which was dependent upon a play of words in Greek. They really liked it and in return, the owner asked, "what pulls the boat?", getting his son to translate the word "boat" or "ship", when I recognised the joke. I replied, tentatively, "I heard, 'one cunt'..." and his son, through laughter, corrected me, "one cunt hair". It may be crude, but it is a feminist joke, which portrays women as stronger than men.
He reinforced this, saying that it was true, that women were stronger than men emotionally (if not socially) and physically (in terms of survival, not power).

I'm dropping out of my fieldwork notes and out of quotations, because we were having a personal conversation and they are friends; I included the greeting, because it was unimportant and the joke because it's a standard, but I won't include our conversations.
We continued in this vein, discussing our families; I shared an anecdote about my family that I only learned myself recently. There was some Classical music on the radio and when I asked what it was, he waved it away as "some Classical music". I told him I preferred rebetika - "Greek blues" - and he agreed, "me too!", before singing a minute each of about six songs.

We talked about Nikos Ksilouris after I misattributed a song to him, then "the factory", one of my favourite Greek folk songs (which he happened to sing); this got us back onto women and family, when I shared a family anecdote about my grandparents.
Recording what I was thinking about as I tried to write up my notes, I commented,
Great, now someone's talk of their own death has me stuck in a loop thinking about death, including, impressively reflexively, if not comfortingly, worrying that I will still suffer the very obsessive tendencies that are subjecting me to this loop now!
Then, I resumed,
Towards the end of our conversation, he mentioned history (which, given it's now past 6am, I will have to write up later) and I told him of my desire to work on a multiethnic history; anyway, he said he could help me and he and his friends could talk to me. A breakthrough!
At 6.30am, before I drifted off to sleep, I queried, "how did the city end up at the height of the walls or how did the walls end up at the height of the city? Was the tell or settlement or land around the walls excavated down (as it rises equally steeply on the other side of the "moat" or parks and football fields...)? Just curious.
At 10.35pm, I pondered,
maybe I should look at domestic properties after all; ... if I end up getting to do work as a human rights archaeologist of Cyprus, I [could] look at them as part of that.

I just wonder, because according to Leo Leonidou (2006: 6), Government spokeman George Lillikas, responding to a EuroNews report that (apparently) recognised the northern Cypriot government and discussed sales of Greek Cypriot properties in the North without recognising their illegality, "said the report was tendentious and failed to correspond to the terminology used by international organisations or to the historical facts (emphasis added).

Obviously, similar descriptions of the status of the properties abound - "stolen", "illegal" and the ubiquitous "occupied" to name but a few - but I haven't before seen direct or explicit reference to "historical facts" or the like.

Would it be human rights archaeology or human rights history, etc.? I guess it would still be archaeology, as long as I retain a focus on material remains, making use of historical records and writings.

According to Jean Christou and Alexia Saoulli (2006: 1), "British Foreign Sectretary Jack Straw has accused the [southern Cypriot] government of unacceptably using EU membership to solve the Cyprus problem and of deliberately marginalising the Turkish Cypriots".

George Lillikas, this time, only accused Jack Straw of "having twisted the truth"; so, unlike EuroNews's, Jack Straw's comments have not "failed to correspond to... the historical facts". The UK and Cyprus are locked in a battle over historiography! Lillikas and Straw evidently agree about the historical facts of the matter, but disagree over their interpretation.

Maybe, when I asked at 5.55am on the 8th of January, "would it be right to say that by perpetuating the economic privations of the North, the South is, if not engineering, then engendering, the conditions in which what it considers to be its own cultural heritage will be damaged and destroyed?", the British government would accept that it would.

Jack Straw observed that, "'because of their unhelpful approach towards the aid proposals for the north from the European Union, they are in my judgement seeking to marginalise the Turkish Cypriot community and not in any way to assist in their economic development', he said" (Christou and Saoulli, 2006: 1).
Sorry I left the "he said" bit in, but I wanted to have the full bit in in case I wanted to quote it in a different way where the "he said" bit wouldn't be redundant or ungrammatical and without having to trawl back through my notes just to find that ending.
Finally, to the takeaway/resturant owner's construction of Cypriot history. He asked me, "how long will you stay in Cyprus?" I replied, "I'll stay here for another six months" and added, "and, afterwards, I'll go to Turkey" - "Turkey?" - "Yeah" - to learn Turkish and work in Kurdistan, then, I'll return to Cyprus and I'll work in the North for four months".

I braced myself, but
he began to reminisce about Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot friendship and 1974 and then
he trailed off.

I paused, in case he wanted to say something else, but he remained silent, so I explained to him that, "I'm here to see what we can do to protect archaeological and historical places", but, unable to articulate my precise plans in Greek, I continued, "and I want to see if it's possible to write a history that" and myself trailed off.

He responded warmly,
telling me that he knew a lot about the history and that he and his friends, who spoke good English, could help me.
I think he appreciates my intentions, even if he doesn't know my plans, as, when I returned today and met the archetypal mangas, he told him that I was "pragmatikos", which translates roughly as "authentic".

When the mangas heard I was an archaeologist, he beamed a grin. "Yeah? I'm an archaeologist too!" - "Yeah?" - "Yeah. Everything you leave behind I steal!" I even got to witness his story-telling.
Christou, J and Saoulli, A. 2006: "Straw delivers Cyprus diatribe: 'Papadopoulos wants nothing to do with Turkish Cypriot side'". Cyprus Mail, 9th February, 1-2.
Leonidou, L. 2006: "CyBC could cut EuroNews links over programme". Cyprus Mail, 9th February, 6.

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