Thursday, February 24, 2011
ON THE GREEN LINE
I was in Cyprus, in a bare boards pension right on the green line separating edgy Turks from edgy Greeks in Nicosia. I would cross the line, going through an opening in a wall there, nod at the Canadian or Irish UN soldiers, who never nodded back – on to a big cheap meal, heavy on red meat and very cheap wine, and sometimes then on to one of the more depressing, by world if not small island standards, red light districts. In the day I would sometimes roam about the more functioning Greek side of Nicosia, my only contact there usually being with foreign cult people – Moonies or Children of God proselytizers who for some reason congregated here. I never did see the Moral Re-armament people who were said to be all around.
Jeff Price, old drinking buddy, appeared in Cyprus. He was about to switch from his job with the Baltimore Sun in Beirut to the same thing in Jerusalem. He had to go by way of Cyprus because Arab countries would not clear planes for Israel. We connected on the morning after his arrival and a man at an outdoor coffee stand looked at us, shook his head, and poured us morning brandies. I saw Jeff off, going from the vagueness of the Levant into the hands of the Israeli’s at the El Al section of the airport – who did everything so fast and efficient, checking everyone for bombs or weapons or evil intentions, that you could hardly see how much they accomplished to stay alive in a part of the world where so many people wanted to kill them.
I got drunk one night with a vibrant Canadian journalist wife I knew from Cairo. I don’t know what I said to her or did, but when I called the pool at her hotel the next day, and called again and again, she would not come to the phone
At the same time I was avoiding an Australian couple, friends of friends, who drank hard and seemed always on the verge of splitting up, and had a teenage daughter who smiled like a warm hearted, freckled Madonna and kept the family going, despite her mother’s penchant for swarthy Greek men. I was ashamed of myself for feeling relief that they were Australian, not English, for if they were not English, it seemed, I could let my guard down.
They had introduced me to an amazingly smart and trim English girl who worked as a D.J. for the Cyprus radio station. I was in a coffee pace with a Moonie I could not get rid of when she came in to tell me she was canceling our date for that night because she was going back to England soon and this was no time for new relationships.
The horoscope column in a little English language daily in Nicosia spoke to me each day about what I should expect at home with loved ones and in the office with co-workers.
Since I was alone most of the time, I thought of many other places – romantic times as in living on the side of the acropolis in Greece or on the river in Bangkok, abandoned times in Bangkok too, and Taipei, wonderfully dangerous times in Haiti and Beirut, Cuba and Laos, and while going overland all the way across Africa at the time of the Congo troubles and up a great river into the heart of Borneo where headhunters were on the march. I did not think about the family I had come from, only a little about past girlfriends, and I did not think at all about what were branded on my brain as happy young days in the White Mountains of new Hampshire.
I was too broke to go around to the Nicosia Flying Club, though I knew everyone there for I had come over from Beirut to get my pilot’s license in Nicosia a year ago. It had been handed to me by Nikos, the co-owner of the club, where you paid to learn how to fly before being checked out for your license. Nikos gave kickbacks to Michelle Abboud at the Aeroclub de Liban in a deal whereby Abboud flunked people taking their written flying tests in Lebanon and told them to go to Cyprus. Nikos was also the official inspector who checked you out for your license, and in addition he ran the control tower at Nicosia’s small international airport, where hijackers had been known to set down for refueling. I didn’t go to the club now, but I did go to a party given by Milton, who handled flight instruction with Nikos and was also part owner of the flying club and worked as an air traffic controller in Nikos’s control tower. The party was outdoors at night at a for-profit place Milton owned that was the first old folks home in Cyprus, a big old tile-roofed building with a walled garden. Folding chairs were in an oblong pattern in the darkened garden, with men all together on one side, the women all together on the other. No one speaking much and then only to others in their segregated side. Milton, would go around, apparently treading softly because some of the old people beyond the garden still had their hearing, moving from person to person with a bottle of scotch that had a stopper in it with a replica of the Brussels pissing boy statue. As he poured, the whisky came out the boys penis and each time people receiving their drinks snickered.
I went to outdoor movies and I used the American propaganda library for reference. I was being supported by an American manufacturer in Beirut who asked me to ghost write his story of being on one of the planes recently hi-jacked by the Palestinians. I had gone quickly to New York on Lufthansa, the airline he had been hi-jacked on and that because of it gave him unlimited free tickets. While in New York, while getting the hijack book project moving, I also put together the start of two plans for new books of my own – one that was a publisher’s idea about American ambassadors, the other my idea, a book about American expatriates making them more interesting then in the ways they were usually presented.
While in the American library in Nicosia I looked through an article about the guy who had recently shot George Wallace. He had all the signs of a potential assassin, according to academic studies. He was alone far too much of the time for it to be healthy. And, moreover, he spent his time quite happily in countries, like me here in Cypus (or Greece or Thailand or Egypt) where he did not speak the language. I was reminded of the time a doctor had given me a drug that was incorrectly labeled as being for alcoholics.
Once I got wildly drunk, even for me, on the Turkish side, where the restaurant I went to had thick purple wine that tasted like prone juice. I was throwing up all night at the pension, where the board walls were thin. So all this was heard by the others staying there, who that night had been soft-voiced members of yet another group out to bring peace to this part of the world, a Canadian Quaker delegation trying to help in places so uninterested in peace as Greek Cyprus, and Maronite Lebanon. The next day the Canadians were kind to me, almost indulgent. I seemed to be just the sort of unenlightened person they were looking for.
Later in the day, feeling better, I laid down in my bare room here on the green line, turned on a radio, listened to a BBC play about young Indians in love, drifted off hearing words of, of all unlikely people, my distant mother saying “ It’s time you had a really good rest.”
It felt as if she were seeing me off, as gently as possible, into my death. This was in 1973 when I was very old. 39.