Sisters in Seattle

I was sad upon leaving Sarasota in January: sad to say goodbye to my family and sad because I hadn’t gotten to spend much time with Skye over my two weeks there. With a continent between us and only a once-a-year reunion, it was enough to make me tear up when it was time to fly out.

So Skye booked a trip to come out to Seattle for a visit. Unfortunately, Florida in March is much nicer weatherwise than Seattle, but at least it didn’t snow!

I picked her up on Friday night and we had plans to go out to a fancy club (her former favorite past time) but she was tired and after we came home and drank some pink bubbles, we instead went to Pioneer Square and met up with the fella I’ve been seeing at the bar where Nirvana apparently played their first show: the Central Saloon. It’s got a kind of seedy old school feel and I introduced my sister to my favorite cheap local beer in a can (the equivalent of PBR or Gansett on the East Coast), Rainier, usually served in tallboys. We had a couple and headed home at a decent hour, her day having been very long.

Saturday was spent exploring Pike Place Market and the shops on Post Alley, shopping for souvenirs and checking out the funky stalls and shops. Then we moved on to Pioneer Square, where we found some South Indian food (miracle of miracles!) for lunch and then did an underground tour.

In the olden days of Seattle, the downtown sloped off toward the Sound in a way that meant the streets were often inundated by the tide shifts and roads had massive potholes, large enough to lose a horse in! Logs cut from the steep hills above were skidded down to the water on what was colloquially called Skid Road. After a fire destroyed the city, they decided to build up the low lying areas and diminish the slope of the hill, but in the meantime, they built new buildings with two first floors: one for the interim before the ground was raised, and the second floor also equipped with a front door and storefront windows in preparation for the day when the new streets would be constructed.

We had hoped to dine at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, but it was all booked up, so we satisfied ourselves with a visit to the gift shop and then went to the bar at the Edgewater Hotel, which I didn’t realize was made famous by The Beatles and Zappa.

We met up with Sarah and went out dancing at Havana till we were done, then we followed Sarah to her salsa dancing club and watched her cut a rug in her element there.

We didn’t have much left on our list by Sunday, but we visited the Volunteer Park Conservatory and met up with Sarah for dinner and drinks. Somehow, I neglected to take Skye to the place where I work, The Triple Door, and instead we went to a place called Vito’s with live music and a swanky vibe.

Skye left the next afternoon and we made a few last stops before I took her to the airport to return to Florida and her family there.

I went back to work and back to trying to earn some moolah to make up for all we spent on our adventures.

I’m finally starting to feel ready to play music out again, after a few years of being rather retreated from the limelight. And I am trying to put my heart out on the market again, though it is hard to trust total strangers! Spring has started to unfurl her tentative shoots and sprouts and I again celebrated the Persian New Year, Nowruz. I had the day off, so I went shopping for the essentials: hyacinths, apples, dried fruit, an orange to float in a bowl of water. I found some fake pastel eggs at Target (perfect because I’m not that into real eggs lately) and Sarah and I each painted one for the hast seen table, which we set on my piano.

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The Nowruz spread on my piano!

Skye’s ex-husband brought back this amazing collapsing basket from Afghanistan and we used that to display several of the traditional items on the table: walnuts, garlic and figs. Sarah found us some sumac and I had some sprouting lentils ready.

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Sarah found a perfect recipe for a soup of lentils with pasta and spinach, combined with a yogurt and mint sauce – a traditional dish for the New Year in Iran. It came out really yummy, if I do say so myself!

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It was nice to have someone to celebrate the festival with instead of doing it alone. Funny to think what I was doing last year at this time: in Brooklyn, in the snow on the first day of Spring. And now here I await the awakening in the Pacific Northwest.

I love my tiny house, though it has recently been inundated with sugar ants from all sides. They seem to have decided to nest in the walls and crawl in to bug the shit out of me. Literally. God, they’re on me now. Die ants. Die. Sigh. What have they driven me to?

The sun shines weakly through the crack in my door, but it’s welcome – the end of winter at long last. Hopefully with the end of the rains my ant problem will also dissipate like the grey skies and the shadows of the past. I don’t want to let bitterness creep into my heart. I have always been something of a nostalgic, but I don’t want to be so backward looking that I neglect the present or the future. I sometimes feel that danger. So I must keep creating and moving and loving. Lately I keep thinking of the Chinese proverb: “If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.” This spring, I am garlanding my heart with green. I want to release the old flames that’ve burnt up and burned out. Those people I loved, those shining lights were sparks, not the sun itself.

I realized recently that my trip to the netherworld of myself and my psyche has scraped away so many layers of my external being that I must rebuild. It is a marvelous chance and a massive undertaking to recreate oneself. I have done it before, but it’s been a while. I recall how it feels. The pain and tenderness of new eyes, new skin. We Scorpions shed our shells to stay alive – to grow. Perhaps that’s partly why I’ve stayed single so long. It has been a decade of transformation for me. And it is hard to keep anyone close at such times.

But of course I don’t really ever plan to stop transforming. So here’s hoping I learn how to be with someone while I change!

All for now –

Love and miss,

Kira

The Refugee Crisis in Greece – The Human Toll

My post from last September about my time volunteering on Lesvos has had so many hits, I thought I’d write an update.

Since 2011 and the beginning of the Syrian war, I’ve watched the news with horror as the Syrian people lost their homes and livelihoods, their cities and heritage destroyed: their lives torn apart. I felt that we, as Americans, were responsible for much of the conflict and terror which led to the crisis and I wanted to do what I could to help. I doubted if my presence would make much difference, but I felt I had to try.

Last August, I found myself driving towards a dusty intersection on the Greek island of Lesvos. I was the only American with three other volunteers – two Danes and a Norwegian – and we were nervous. We’d never seen the so-called “parking lot” at Sikaminia, but we’d heard that just the day before, the growing crowd of refugees there had rioted and surrounded a transport bus in protest.

Boats had been arriving more frequently from Turkey as the Summer came to an end and there weren’t enough buses to get everyone to the camps near the capital in Mytilene. Sometimes the mayor of Mytilene would say the camps were too full and stop all buses from making the trip, leaving people stranded for days.

We rounded a bend, and suddenly there were people in the skinny road, lying on bits of cardboard or their brightly-colored life jackets. Toddlers wandered dangerously close to traffic and men and women were stretched out, trying to rest in whatever shade they could find. Their belongings were scant.

Shoes and socks sat drying in the hot midday sun, other items of clothes hung from trees or fences. Adults and children alike gathered around the one source of water: a spring-fed tap where they washed and brushed their teeth. There was no toilet or privacy. There were no tents or tarps for shade. It was a shocking sight.

This was nothing like the comparatively organized transit point in nearby Molyvos, where refugees had access to a decent-sized town and its amenities. Sikaminea is a tiny village with just a few shops and restaurants. Its main industry is tourism, like the rest of the Greek islands, but its secluded location in the mountains and normally pristine landscape had been radically changed by the influx of refugees.

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The waystation at Sikimanea – empty of people for once

Two volunteers were already there, attempting to group refugees in order of need and arrival. Each bus could only hold about 50 people so the volunteers – from France and Belgium – canvassed the crowd and used markers to indicate which groups would be first to board the next bus. They’d been working at Sikaminea for several days with little rest and no one to relieve them, so they were glad to have another group of volunteers take over. They gave us the battered map they used to explain to new arrivals where they were and where they needed to be. They gave us the lists of which groups should be first to board the next bus, and they left us in charge.

It was obvious in looking at the crowd of around 500 people – at least a third of them children – that not everyone was Syrian. Some groups looked Afghan, dressed in tribal clothes. When we talked to people, they told us they were from Palestine, Pakistan, Somalia, Iran and Iraq. There were old people and babes in arms. We set to work trying to see who still didn’t have a number indicating the bus they would be on. Suddenly, a bus pulled around the curve of hill above the makeshift transit center and tried to turn around at the intersection. The bus was paid for by Medecins Sans Frontieres, but the driver didn’t work for them – he wasn’t a volunteer or a doctor, but a paid driver.

We weren’t prepared for the mayhem that ensued and try as we might, we couldn’t convince the clamoring throng to back away from the bus. People began to rush the bus, paying no attention to our attempts to keep order. When the driver saw that the crowd was out of control, he shouted that no one would get on his bus like that. He locked the bus and walked into the village.

People calmed down a bit after that and we were able to reinstate a semblance of order, but it was too late. When the driver returned, he drove off without letting anyone on the bus at all.

It was only my third day on Lesvos and my fellow volunteers were similarly new to this. People would ask us, “Can’t we just pay for a taxi to take us to the camp?”

“No,” we would answer, and explain that it was against the law for any Greek to give them a ride until they were registered at the capitol city of Mytilene. Many of the refugees had money at that point in their journey and couldn’t understand why they were stuck at this intersection instead of being allowed to pay their way.

“Isn’t there a hotel we can stay in?” Some women were pregnant or had very small children. While some of the refugees seemed accustomed to a nomadic life, many were clearly city people and not at all prepared for sleeping on rocks under the stars. Again, we had to tell them, “No, it’s against the law for the hotels to take you till you have your papers.”

When another bus came, we were better organized. This time, we made sure only those marked for that bus boarded it, convincing everyone that if they tried again to rush onto the bus, it would simply leave with no one on board again. It worked and we were elated to wave goodbye to those passengers, their faces happy and full of hope. We knew it wouldn’t be easy for them once they got to the camps in Mytilene, and harder still after that, but there was no point dwelling on that then.

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Vilde escorting refugees to the bus

After the day’s last bus came and went, we had to figure out how to distribute food and drinks to those remaining. It was a daunting task in the dark. We went around in pairs distributing cups and juice (or milk for the children). We had bags of turkey and cheese sandwiches and boxes of fresh fruit, which we also handed out to the children first. Once everyone had something to eat, we distributed diapers and emergency blankets. Some of the refugees decided they’d rather walk to Mytilene – a distance of about 35 miles – than sleep at this cold way station with no shelter and little to keep them warm. We showed them the way on our battered map and gave them food and water for the long journey on foot. Those who stayed over night built fires to stay warm and we tried to keep them small and controlled, as the villagers had expressed concerns.

Each day at Sikaminia was the same: we would arrive in time to get everyone organized for the first couple of buses, which usually got there around 7 in the morning. Then we would hand out nutella sandwiches and fruit and pour cups of juice and milk for those who were still stuck there.

“Thank you,” they would tell us, “Shukran.”

“Are you with the Red Crescent? What group are you working with?” they would ask. “There is no group here,” we would reply. “We are just regular people who wanted to help.”

We’d heard that Medecins Sans Frontieres and the UNHCR had a presence in the camps, but other than paying for the buses to make a few trips a day, we saw no sign of them where we were. The Red Cross was even less in evidence.

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I’d come to Molyvos because I’d learned of a local restaurant owner there who was helping the refugees and, like the other volunteers, I just showed up at her restaurant and asked what I could do. Her name is Melinda McRostie and she and her family have been helping feed and clothe the refugees since they first began to arrive in Lesvos.

In the two weeks I was volunteering in Sikimania, we helped 400-800 people a day and sometimes more. If we could spot the boats coming in, I would take a car to the bottom of the steep mountain and offer rides to the women and children and the elderly. A few times, we got so many people in the little car that it could barely make it back up to the intersection. Sometimes their relief at having survived the harrowing trip would overcome them as we drove and the women would weep in the car, thanking me and thanking god for their safe passage.

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A group of new arrivals to Lesvos, helped by volunteers

Sometimes we had time to sit and talk with the people who were stuck at our little way-station. We would share cigarettes and talk about what their lives had been before the war. One man told me he’d walked all the way from Iran to Turkey and gone directly to the United Nations in Ankara. There they told him that there was nothing they could do to help him, so he spent the next year working in Turkey to raise the money for the smugglers’ dangerous trip across the Aegean. One person’s passage might cost anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 Euros. Another man had been a doctor and helped comfort and treat patients with what little medical supplies we had. I spoke with yet another man who had been an airline pilot and traveled the world, staying in luxury hotels in all the world’s major cities. Now he was sleeping on a roadside without so much as a proper blanket to keep him warm. Still, he helped us to translate and distribute food to others. These were not freeloaders or extremists: they were men and women with young children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, escaping from beloved countries which were destroyed by violence.

Now, six months later, the EU has closed its borders and left many thousands of refugees stranded in Greece – the last country in the EU with the money to handle such an influx of needy people. While other more wealthy countries, like my own, neglect to take in their fair share of these people, out of concern for our own security, the people of Greece have stepped up. The United States has offered to shelter only ten thousand refugees, while the mayor of Lesvos – a tiny island of around 90-thousand people – has committed to housing and caring for that same number.

While I questioned my ability to impact this massive, global crisis, the closing of the borders in recent months has meant that those I helped in August most likely made it to Europe, while those who arrive on Lesvos now will face a very different fate.

What I learned about the people seeking refuge in Europe is that many are educated professionals who just happen to be from countries where war made normal life an impossibility. These people are not our enemies, and yet the EU has now made a deal with Turkey – the same country that has been profiting off of UN money for the supposed housing of refugees, while sending newly registered refugees straight to the smugglers who then fleece them and wash them up on Greek shores. The smuggling of refugees is a billion dollar industry. Children have disappeared from detention camps and border stations, trafficked and traded like a commodity while the West shuts their eyes to the tragedy.

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A group of refugees who’d been saved from drowning, ready to go to Mytilene.

The group I worked with has since become The Starfish Foundation, which has scaled back its operations in Lesvos as the numbers of refugees arriving there has dwindled and focus has moved elsewhere. It seems to me that Turkey might be a place to volunteer, but those interested should do some research and perhaps contact the UNHCR to find out what areas might be next affected, as I did last May. Even people who’d come to Lesvos as tourists volunteered to help and made a difference.

I’m sure help is needed on the mainland, and it seems that most volunteer agencies have gone there instead of Lesvos. Eric Kempson of Lesvos is another passionate supporter and rescuer – he can be found on Facebook as well and might have some insight as far as volunteering.

I’m so glad I just showed up to help when no one was paying attention – I saw the best and worst in people, but mostly it showed me the human side of this very global problem. If you can spare even a couple of weeks, try to find the places in need now and offer your help. Two hands and an open heart are all that is required.

Love,

Kira

 

 

Athens and Istanbul – The End of My Journey

Since returning to the United States after my time volunteering with the refugees in Lesvos, I’ve been mostly obligated to get to work on the business of paying rent in New York City. I’ve also been able to pick up work on my memoir again, and I’ve made great strides since September, when the world turned and brought me back to this city, this sprawling metropolis of concrete and steel and human desire striving ever upward.

From pouring cups of “haleeb” for wet, frightened children, I went to pouring champagne for VIPs in the Lexus Lounge, for Fashion Week. I was too busy to reflect on how much has shifted in my life since last year’s fall fashion week, when the landscape of my life seemed new and magical – full of potentials that have since withered on the vine, disappeared altogether, like a mirage. I have a habit of confusing endings for beginnings.

While last years deaths (mostly figurative) were difficult veils to pass through, I can look back now and see what I might not have done, had things gone better for me, personally. Had I won my romantic dreams of love, I might have stayed contented in New York, wrapped up in relationship with one man, instead of going into the world and embracing the multitudes of desperate brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons – whose needs are far greater than mine in this life.

I am fortunate to have been able to afford the time and airfare to go to Greece, as I am fortunate to have been born to a financially and otherwise secure family in a country where, at least historically, human life mattered, and no one was getting killed as a mater of course.

I speak in the past tense, because I am not so sure these things are true of our country anymore, but I digress.

My last few days in the Aegean were spent sightseeing in Athens – it was my first visit there, and time was short, so I scampered like my skirt was on fire to see the National Museum and the Parthenon before catching a bus into the mountains to the northwest of the city, to visit the ancient sanctuary of Gaia at Delphi, where the Oracles made pronouncements and predictions since time immemorial.

Parthenon

Parthenon

The Erechtheion at the Acropolis

The Erechtheion at the Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

The Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum

The forested mountains and picturesque towns reminded me of the Alps as the bus wound around the skinny roads till we arrived at Delphi.

The village was very small and I quickly found my hotel, despite my lack of a map, Google or otherwise.

I dropped off my things and set out to explore the city, in search of dinner and water. Lots of water, as I was still dry as a desert from dehydration. Before I’d gone far, I met a local man named Dimitri, who took me down the street on his motorcycle, where we had beer and I devoured half a pizza and drank endless carafes of water.

The restaurant overlooked the steep, impressive mountains, the deep alluvial gorge dove precipitously below us. Dimitri took me to the sacred Castalian Spring, which was below the temple site, spouting into a rock basin before draining elsewhere. I filled up my bottle with the cold, delicious water and drank deeply.

In the morning, I woke early and went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the remains of the temples and dedications built at Delphi over hundreds of years. A friendly local pooch walked with me down the road to refill my bottle at the Castalian Spring.A large rock marked the place where the priestesses used to speak their predictions. A dome-shaped rock, representing the omphalos or world navel, sat nearby. I spent an hour or so exploring the site and the site of the nearby Athena temple before refilling my water bottle at the Castalian Spring and going to the museum. It was full of incredible pediments and votive objects I was lucky to see.

Omphalos at Delphi

Omphalos at Delphi

Delphi surroundings

Delphi surroundings

With a sweet kitty at Delphi

With a sweet kitty at Delphi

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Delphi – the stone of the priestesses

Moi at Delphi

Moi at Delphi – in front of the Apollo Temple

I checked out of my hotel and got my things before shopping for lip balm for my lips, which were dry and chapped to the point of cracking. I ran into Dimitri on the main street and he bought me a Greek coffee – thick with the grounds. Then my bus came and I headed back to Athens, driving the winding roads down from Mount Parnassus.

I had hoped to visit Eleusis, the ancient site of the mystery ritual that was popular throughout the region until paganism was outlawed and the temples destroyed. However, I learned that it was closed on Mondays, so I was thwarted. I got my things from my hotel and got a text from some of my fellow volunteers, who were also in Athens.

I told them where to find me and waited for them outside the hotel. Maya and Kristof – a father and daughter from Berlin – found me and decided to take a room at my hotel, which was only $25 euros. We caught up and smoked a few cigarettes before I got the subway to my new neighborhood.

I was staying my final night near the Acropolis in a hostel, where I thought I might meet some interesting people, and I was right. As I was at the front desk to check in, a couple came in and got a room.

I found my dorm and encountered a French girl called Lea, who spoke perfectly unaccented English – or close enough. We decided to go out later, and in the meantime I figured I’d do some sightseeing in the area. It was late afternoon when I wandered along the base of the Acropolis, in search of the Agora.

I followed my nose (though I had a map, in case of emergency) and found the Agora, bordered by a large museum on one side and a train track running in front. I wandered through the museum and the grounds in the burning sun. I located the Eleusinian temple, which was only foundation stones, and visited the Hephaestus temple, which was beautifully preserved – even down to the colors!

Hunger pangs clanged in my empty belly and I headed back toward the hostel, stopping along the way for souvenirs for my family.

Once back at the hostel, I feasted on cashews and a tin of dolmas and drank a beer in the courtyard. The couple I’d seen at the reception came in and we began conversing. The man was Dutch and his companion was Belgian. I told them about my experiences volunteering in Lesvos, and they listened with great interest.

The man told me that he was ashamed that he, a European, had not done anything to help the refugees, when an American had. It inspired him to do something.

Lea and I went out for drinks to a place recommended by the front desk attendant. I had a feel for the neighborhood now and we walked back toward the Agora and found the rooftop bar, with a view of the Acropolis, where we talked for several hours about our pasts and our upbringings. Lea and I had a lot in common, though of course I was older than she by a decade, since I’m long in the tooth, I suppose, compared to your average backpacker. Nevertheless, it was one of those meetings that makes you glad to travel alone, so as to facilitate encountering strangers.

We went back to the hostel to find the room had filled with my fellow Americans. I packed my things and got ready for the next day’s flight to Istanbul. Someone in the room had set an alarm that went off in the wee hours, interrupting everyone’s sleep – except the culprit, who just kept snoring. There are definitely downfalls to hostel life.

In the morning, I checked out and walked to a nearby square where I got the metro to the airport. While exiting the train, I ran into Kristof and Maya one last time. We said our goodbyes and I changed some money into Turkish Lira before going through security.

I arrived in Istanbul in the late morning and took the train to the tram to get to my hostel. My Greek phone could no longer help me, but I remembered the directions to find the hostel and managed to make it there. I was out of sorts after the crowded tram, in which a man had inappropriately brushed against me, but there were a couple of fellows at the cafe/reception who shared their lunch with me and improved my mood.

One was a Turkish guy, Baran, who the same age as me, and the other was an English chap called Charley, a bit older. They wanted to see my guitar, so I showed it to them and we took turns playing songs for each other.

The two of them were going to the Asian side of the city that afternoon and invited me to come along. Despite my lack of sleep, I said yes. When in Istanbul. . .

We took the ferry across to this other half of the city and walked to the house of some friends, a couple who received us with hospitality. They had two small dogs and a cat running around their sunny apartment. I was allergic, but happy to be with these friendly people and animals.

We took the dogs for a walk to nearby Small Moda Beach, and I brought along my guitar. As the sun set, we sat on the rocks by the water and performed songs for each other. They were a good audience, and some other friends joined us, so we had a bit of a crowd, all drinking beers and eating chips, talking and smoking and singing.

With Baran, Tuba, and Ali at Small Moda Beach in Istanbul

With Baran, Tuba, and Ali at Small Moda Beach in Istanbul

It was after 10 when we headed back to our part of the city. Baran and I went back to the hostel, where the fellow in reception invited us for a drink before we called it a night.

The next day, I was on a mission to see what I could of Istanbul: I took the tram across the Bosphorus and walked up to the Hagia Sophia – the famous former church and mosque that is now a museum open to all.

In front of the Hagia Sophia

In front of the Hagia Sophia

However, the line was huge, so I decided I’d come back around lunch time, when I hoped fewer people would be there. I visited the famous underground Basilica Cistern, leftover from the time of Emperor Justinian (and a pleasant respite from the hot sun).

The Blue Mosque - Istanbul

The Blue Mosque – Istanbul

From there, I went to the archaeological museum, which had a great section on Cypriot and Syrian ancient history.

After that, it was time for the Hagia Sophia, which was finally relatively easy to get into. I wandered around the cavernous, domed building, exploring its nooks and crannies. From there, I got lunch in Sultanahmet before going to see the famous old bazaar. It was a beautiful sprawling network of hallways will high, vaulted ceilings, full of stalls and people buying and selling, bartering and bargaining.

I made my way back to the tram and back to my side of the Bosphorus. Baran was waiting for me, as he hoped to record me playing music in a nearby cafe. However, it was not to be: I discovered I’d lost my credit card and went into panic mode.

Once I’d settled things, we got dinner and took it up to the top of the hill, overlooking the water and the lights of the city. There, we sat playing music and talking till it was almost 2, and time to turn in.

In the morning, I went to the beautiful old Cemberlitas hammam, to get scrubbed clean of the dirt that had been building up since the archaeological dig in Cyprus, and no doubt increased exponentially while I was volunteering in Molyvos. The building was beautiful: a tall marble dome covered the bathing room, a large heated slab of marble was dappled with circles of sunlight, filtering down.

I rinsed off with soap and warm water from marble basins and went to lay on the slab, enjoying the serenity and silence. I had the place to myself, until a woman came in to scrub me. I recalled my visit to my first hammam, in Morocco in 2012. A visit to the hammam is many things: it is about cleanliness, of course, but it is also a ritual performed before praying or religious holidays.

She used soap and warm water to cover me in lather before commencing to scrub me with an exfoliating mitt. My favorite part of going to the hammam is watching the dead skin appear as if by magic.

When the scrub was finished, I rinsed off and returned to sprawl on the warm marble slab for a bit before showering and getting dressed. I tipped my scrubber and headed off toward the hostel on the tram. It was a beautiful blue-skied morning and the Bosphorus was full of boats.

I packed up my things and had one last breakfast with Baran at the cafe. Charley joined up and we walked down to the tram together. I said goodbye to my new friends and headed to the airport.

That afternoon, I flew to Zurich for a long layover and took the train into the city. I had a bed at a New Zealand-owned hostel in a nightlife district only about 15 minutes walk from the central station. The glowering sky let fall its cargo of gentle rain as I made my way across the bridge and past the military grounds.

The hostel had a bar/cafe downstairs and after I checked in, I sipped my glass of complementary rose and wrote about my experiences in Lesvos. A band set up to play a concert and I stepped outside to smoke and ended up talking with a couple of locals about my trip and the refugees. They told me about conservative political views in Switzerland, making it sound not unlike Texas in its stance toward guns and immigration.

I had a few more beers (and a falafel from a nearby Lebanese spot) and chatted with people who came for the concert. Finally, it was time to retire to my upper bunk and get some sleep before heading home to New York the next day.

I flew back to the city on the fourth anniversary of my sister Erika’s death. September 4th is a date that will always have significance for me, though this year the end of my journey had to suffice to mark it, where in previous years, I drank pink bubbles, at the very least. But I think my volunteering also was something I did to honor her, in a way. I try to honor her by living.

My return to the city has been both easy and odd. It is the same old city, but I don’t feel like the same old me. Lighter somehow. Happier with what I have and more grateful.

As my birthday nears (it’s tomorrow!), I’m reflecting on this year and what I’ve gone through. I feel in some ways that I’ve skimmed over the waters of loss without getting pulled in, which is a considerable feat for a Scorpio. I don’t love lightly, and letting go isn’t easy. But I have evolved through change and pain and my perspective is different now. I understand myself better through the difficulties I wouldn’t have chosen to face. The earth must be plowed before it is planted. I hope this next phase will be about that fertility – that loss is behind me for the time. But time will tell.

To quote Casablanca, the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

All for now –

Love and miss

Kira

Copenhagen and Cyprus

It has been a whirlwind few weeks since I left New York for the “continent.” It already feels like years have passed, since I’ve been moving nearly every instant since I got off the plane in Copenhagen.

The first order of business was to see my beloved Nora in the city she’s now called home for more than two years. I arrived at the familiar and pleasant little airport and got myself some duty free wine and a metro ticket to go to Christianshavn, the cute little neighborhood where Nora lives.

The city is manageable and easy to navigate (not to mention, I’d been there before), and in two shakes I was at Nora’s place to drop off my bags and catch my breath after the transatlantic flight. She got off work and joined me, and we took a walk to nearby Christiania, where we enjoyed the blue-skied afternoon by the lake in the quirky part of Copenhagen – it was kind of squatted on by people in the 70s, making their own community, complete with schools and restaurants, a music venue or two, and the famous “Pusher Street,” where weed and hash et al are sold by men in masks behind camo shade awnings, protecting their identities, though it has been some time since the Danish government decided to just let Christiania be.

Christianshavn Canal with Nora

Christianshavn Canal with Nora

We met up with Nora’s friend, Louise (pronounced Louis-eh, Danish style) and rented a paddle boat to go out on what used to be the city’s moat. We drank wine and caught the last of the sunshine before heading back in and going off in search of sustenance (in the form of more wine – and cheese!).

The next day was Bastille Day, so Nora and I celebrated with more wine – how else? But first, we made a delicious leek tart thing for brunch and enjoyed it in the courtyard of her building (also the cutest little puppy was running around in there – adorbs!).

Leek tart brunch

Leek tart brunch

We had some lovely rose to celebrate French independence from the oppressive aristocracy and then we met up with a friend of Nora’s for dinner.

Bastille Day with Nora

Bastille Day with Nora

We had one more day in Copenhagen and we got fancy Indian food for lunch and met up with Jacob, my old financial manager from Snohetta – now on paternity leave after the birth of his second child. We had a lovely stroll around the city with him and Nora discovered that she actually knows his brother through work – Copenhagen is a small city, indeed!

Danish Architectural Museum - featuring my old company, Snohetta!

Danish Architectural Museum – featuring my old company, Snohetta!

We made a picnic, featuring some delish gazpacho made by Nora, but it was too windy to enjoy the out of doors, so we relocated our picnic to her apartment and a friend of hers joined us for a lovely repast.

Friday, we picked up a friend’s car and headed out of town. It was my first driving experience in Denmark, but I’d say I did well. We drove to a ferry and took it to the western part of the country – a seaside town called Aarhus.

On the Ferry to Aarhus

On the Ferry to Aarhus

Nora had booked us in a swanky place and there was a jazz festival happening in the city. We wandered around and found the Latin Quarter, where I had a lovely sparkling rose, which reminded me of my sissy, Erika, who was a sucker for a good glass of pink bubbles.

Sparkling rose in honor of my sweet sissy Erika Kupfersberger

Sparkling rose in honor of my sweet sissy Erika Kupfersberger

We tried to find the sculpture by the sea, which we’d been told was a must-see in Aarhus, but we only succeeded in finding the sea – so we had escargot (and of course more wine) from a little place in the marina.

With Nora in Aarhus

With Nora in Aarhus

First escargot in ages! (it was a bit too snaily for me)

First escargot in ages! (it was a bit too snaily for me)

At the Aarhus Marina

At the Aarhus Marina

Good thoughts

Good thoughts

We headed back into the downtown area and found a charming little corner bar where some fun jazz was being played and a crowd formed, people drinking local beer from plastic cups and enjoying the al fresco music.

The next day, we decided to drive down the coast instead of taking the ferry and we stopped at the Moesgaard Museum of archaeology and ethnography. We didn’t have time to see the exhibits, but the architecture of the museum was interesting and we did see the cool figures of different human ancestors, arranged on the stairs leading into the exhibitions. It was quite well done.

Moesgaard Museum - outside of Aarhus

Moesgaard Museum – outside of Aarhus

We drove back to the city, stopping for a quick lunch at an international food market in Odense, the hometown of Nora’s boyfriend, Anders. It was a sweet little town and we got yummy baked goods before hitting the road for Copenhagen.

My flight was that evening, so we had just the right amount of time to drop off the car and eat a little something before I got the metro back to the airport and flew off the next stage of my adventure in Cyprus!

final repast in Copenhagen

final repast in Copenhagen

I’d never been to Cyprus before, but it has long been on my list of places to see, and the plan was to spend a couple of weeks working on an archaeological dig in the middle of the island.

My flight was direct to Larnaca, but didn’t arrive till after 2 in the morning, so I planned to go straight to a hotel near the airport and spend the majority of the next day on the beach.

First morning in Cyprus - Mackenzie Beach

First morning in Cyprus – Mackenzie Beach

I awoke to a steamy day in Larnaca and walked up the coastal road to the city center, using the St. Lazarus Church as my guiding landmark. The city was sunbleached and rundown, but then the sun is a hard master in the summer in the Mediterranean. I found the church and peeked into the lowslung tombs, supposedly the second burial place of Lazarus – the same who was buried and raised from the dead by Jesus, according to biblical mythology.

St. Lazarus Church - Larnaca

St. Lazarus Church – Larnaca

I had a haloumi sandwich and the first of many Keo beers – the Cypriot beverage of choice – at a charming place called the Secret Garden, where I got some much needed shade.

the Secret Garden - Larnaca

the Secret Garden – Larnaca

I wandered through the winding streets of the old part of the city and saw an impromptu Greek-style dance in front of a local restaurant. I made my way to the shopping area to get some essentials for my dig and took a dip in the warm sea before heading back to my hotel at Mackenzie Beach.

I decided to have a cheese toasty at a local watering hole and a friendly kitten joined me, no doubt sensing my soft heart. I fed him bits of my sandwich and struck up conversation with a friendly English couple, who were familiar with that particular kitty, called Henry. I asked them about good places to stay in Larnaca after I finished my dig, and they invited me to stay in their spare room, which was nice of them, indeed! I got their info and gave them mine, and then I headed off in search of a taxi to Dali, where I was to spend the next couple of weeks digging up pot sherds et cetera.

I got to the accommodations for the dig, the Idalion Lyceum or Lykiou Idaliou, as the Greeks have it. We were staying in a gymnasium, which is usually part of a school, but in the summer becomes dig central for the team.

The view of Dali from our dig site

The view of Dali from our dig site

Heading to the dig in my sun gear

Heading to the dig in my sun gear

Idalion site

Idalion site

I settled in that night and erected my army cot. A girl called Erika – spelled just like my sister Erika – gave me the run down of the place and how things worked. The next day was my first day on the site and also the first time in ages that I voluntarily set an alarm for 5 am, as we had to get to the site early in order to have time to make progress before the sun became unbearable.

I was in a square that contained some of the oldest parts of what had once been a goddess temple. We troweled until it was time for breakfast, stopping for frequent water breaks.

At 11, we retreated to our shady gymnasium digs to wash our finds and have lunch before siesta time. Though I’ not normally a napper, I did get to the point where I would pass out at siesta time, if for no other reason than that the heat did seem to put me into a stupor and my attempts at writing were stymied by my sluggishness.

The two weeks passed quickly, though each day seemed more like two, especially with the nap in the middle. We went out in the little town, called Dali, where a surprisingly western-themed restaurant called Bonanza was the main attraction. That weekend, we took a trip to Amathous, one of the most famous goddess temple sites on the island, and one of the highlights of the trip, for me.

Pretending to take a group poo (in what were probably foot baths before entering the Roman portion of the temple at Amathous)

Pretending to take a group poo (in what were probably foot baths before entering the Roman portion of the temple at Amathous)

Large stone urn at Amathous

Large stone urn at Amathous

Amathous

Amathous

After, we went to Kition, another goddess temple left over from the Phoenicians. We had a visit to the Larnaca Museum and then went out to lunch on Mackenzie Beach.

We had a quick swim in the sea before setting off for the north of Cyprus – the Turkish side – where a group of us planned to spend the night on the farthest point of the island, where it’s quite close to Syria to the east and Turkey to the north.

We crossed the border at Nicosia and made it to Burhan’s by just before 10 pm – just in time to order food, which was desperately needed. We feasted on yummy nummins and drank cold Keos and then went back to our bungalows, where we managed to attracted some English boys and stayed up late into the night, bathing in water with bioluminescent plankton and stars shooting above us, through the Milky Way.

Sunset Mountains - Cyprus

Sunset Mountains – Cyprus

Our Bungalow at Burhan's

Our Bungalow at Burhan’s – the Karpass Peninsula

Friendly Donkey

Friendly Donkey

Turquoise water at the Karpaz

Turquoise water at the Karpaz

Posing at the end of the Island

Posing at the end of the Island

View of the Karpaz

View of the Karpaz

The next day we went to the farthest extent of the point, driving through the donkey sanctuary to the end of the island before turning around to cover nearly half of the island in search of the castle at Kyrenia, which had been built by both Venetian colonizers and later Lucignans (i.e. Frenchies). There was an amazing shipwreck which had been found in the 60’s near the ancient harbor, dating from the 4th century BCE.

Shipwreck - Kyrenia

Shipwreck – Kyrenia

Kyrenia Port

Kyrenia Port

We checked out the castle’s odd mannequins depicting medieval torture (fun!) before grabbing a bite at the picturesque harbor.

Then it was back to Dali to prepare for the next week of digging.

Making shade!

Making shade!

My square at Idalion

My square at Idalion

Sunset over Idalion

Sunset over Idalion

Riley puppy

Riley puppy

Cuddling foster pups

Cuddling foster pups

We had another fun trip the following weekend, this time to Paphos, the cultic center for Aphrodite and the home of the so-called Tombs of the Kings – Ptolemaic tombs dating from the time after Alexander the Great’s death, when the Mediterranean was up for grabs.

Tomb with carvings of altars

Tomb with carvings of altars

Tombs of the Kings - Paphos

Tombs of the Kings – Paphos

Nice peristyle hall - Tombs of the Kings

Nice peristyle hall – Tombs of the Kings

Doing my headscarf thang (it was the hottest!)

Doing my headscarf thang (it was the hottest!)

We saw some fabulous mosaics and visited a Folk Museum before the rest of the group went off to the beach and I went to Paleapaphos to visit the Sanctuary of Aphrodite.

Paphos Mosaic - Dionyus' House

Paphos Mosaic – Dionyus’ House

Paphos Mosaic - Theseus' House

Paphos Mosaic – Theseus’ House

Kellie in Paphos

Kellie in Paphos

It was a hot day, but I was enthralled by the site, much like Amathous, which were the two sites that felt the most sacred to me. I saw the large baetyl stone there, most likely revered as the goddess herself, as the worship of “Aphrodite” on Cyprus was aniconic until the Hellenistic period, when figures depicting the gods became common.

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Aphrodite Sanctuary – Paleapaphos

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Sacred Baetyl – the Goddess embodied

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Fanciest of the ancient Cypriot baths – Aphrodite Sanctuary

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Goddess pendants

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Standing stone – Aphrodite Sanctuary

At the Aphrodite Sanctuary

At the Aphrodite Sanctuary

The bus driver picked me up and I had time for a quick dip at Aphrodite’s birthplace, Petra tou Romiou, before heading back to Dali.

Petra tou Romiou - Aphrodite's Birthplace

Petra tou Romiou – Aphrodite’s Birthplace

That night a group was going to Agia Napa, a party town in the far east of the island, only about 45 minutes from Dali. They had room for one more in the car, so I went along, since I’d heard the beaches were amazing. We had a wild night out on the town and then a day recovering on the beach (and getting burned through the crystal clear water).

Dancing in Ayia Napa

Dancing in Ayia Napa

Ayia Napa party

Ayia Napa party face

We made it back to the Lykiou in the early evening and I had one more dinner out with my Australian friend, Kellie, before packing up the next morning to return to Larnaca and my friends there.

Lykiou silliness

Lykiou silliness

I said my farewells that morning at breakfast and then got my taxi to Larnaca. Andrew and Julie, the English couple I met at Mackenzie Beach, welcomed me into their spacious apartment and we spent the day chatting and then doing some light drinking at a pub or two before heading home to make dinner.

Andrew and Julie - awesome people in Larnaca

Andrew and Julie – awesome people in Larnaca

Today, they were planning to go to Paphos for dinner with friends, so they drove me as far as Kourion, which I’d heard was a great site, but we arrived there in the head of midday and just after they dropped me off, I realized I didn’t have my cell phone – I’d left it in their car! I got a ride down the hill from a sympathetic French couple and caught up with them, fortunately, at a beach club where they’d stopped to hydrate.

In the end we went to the Kourion Museum and then they drove me to nearby Limassol to catch a service taxi back to Larnaca, and they continued on to Paphos.

Tomorrow, I plan to go to Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, in order to see the extensive Cyprus Museum and do some shopping before I catch an evening flight to Crete!

Not sure how long I’ll be there before continuing on to other Greek islands and Turkey, but the next stage of the journey will certainly involve less hard labor – at least until I make my way to Lesvos where I hope to be of assistance to some of the refugees from the Syrian crisis who arrive on the island daily.

Well, more to come! Love and miss,

Kira