Living in Cyprus - March 2001

March is probably my favourite month in Cyprus. At first I missed the beauty of an English spring: here there are no crocuses or daffodils, because it's not cold enough for bulbs.  No primroses either. However there are other delights: bougainvillea coming into bloom once the sun comes out for longer each day; petunias, which bloom faithfully through the winter, until the heat of May finally kills them.  

We pick the last of our oranges, then the tree is covered with the most heavenly smelling blossom.   And we can still buy huge, juicy oranges in the supermarket, for about 30c per kilogram (in US terms I suppose that would be about 30c per pound.  I don't know if that compares well with US prices, but it's very inexpensive compared to UK prices of oranges).  We generally buy a 5kg bag, and then squeeze them with our electric juicer to give fresh juice.


Lent begins in March, usually - if not the end of February.  Cyprus has Orthodox Christianity as state religion, and Lent is taken very seriously.  It starts with 'Green Monday', a public holiday, where traditionally everyone gets up early to clean the house from top to bottom, and then goes on a picnic. They eat breads and salads, and 'halva', a Cypriot sweetmeat, but no meat: for the whole of Lent, nearly 6 weeks, meat is forbidden to Orthodox believers.

Of course, many people ignore this tradition, and meat is still available in the supermarkets.  However we try to be sensitive to our neighbours, so we don't have barbecues during Lent.  A pity, in a way, because March is often the perfect month for a barbecue - perhaps 20 degrees Celsius (68F) during the daytime, and not unpleasantly cold even overnight.  There may be some rain and colder weather before the heat really sets in, in May, but March is much more likely to be warm and dry than earlier months of the year.

cricket in the back garden, which is still greenWe were pleased to have my parents visit for a fortnight this month, so took time off our home education. Still, Grandpa helped the boys' sports education by playing several games of french cricket - and even an approximation to real cricket, as much as is possible with three players, in our back garden. Not helped by the ball vanishing many times into the trees and long weeds, but enjoyed by all.


Meanwhile, we continue with our daily hour of gardening.   At least, for me it's about an hour and a half, for my sons about half an hour.   Still, progress is beginning to be clearer.  There are definite patches of grass that could almost be called 'lawn'.  There aren't quite so many weeds up to shoulder height.   I do a bit of pruning to get rid of dead wood on the orange tree, and try to remember to knock snails off all the trees every morning.  I've never seen so many snails as we have here, and they seem determined to strip the leaves from all our citrus trees.  There aren't enough to make much difference to the bigger trees, but there are four smaller ones which have only just begun fruiting this year, so I make an effort to remember to knock the snails off the trunk before they can get to the leaves.    We did try using snail pellets at one point, but it barely made a dent in the number of snails.

The garden seems to change every day.  The pomegranate trees, which fruited in September, and were bare until a few weeks ago, are now covered in small, reddish leaves.  This is the only tree I know whose leaves start red, and then turn green in late summer!  We are also watching our loquat trees eagerly: this fruit was new to us, but is sweet and delicious in its short season during April.  Loquats look a bit like apricots, and taste a bit like plums. At the moment they are small and green, but early in April will begin to go yellow, then orange.   We've found that if we pick them while they're still hard we can cook with them, using them in place of plums for desserts, although as each one has at least two or three large seeds, they're quite a nuisance to prepare.


The proud builders of a sandcastle at Kiti Beach, March 2001Although we don't go to the beach very often at this time of year, we do usually take our visitors out a few times, and particularly like to visit Kiti beach.  One sunny day we took my parents there, and my father worked with the boys to build a good sized sandcastle. 

Mulberry trees and mosquitoes

Another thrill was seeing the first leaves on our mulberry trees.  These have been bare for two or three months, but at last there are signs of new life. The only real problem with March is that the mosquitoes start appearing again as soon as the weather gets warmer.  Not that they carry malaria here, but their bites are itchy, and their buzzing can keep us awake at nights.   Netting doesn't seem to be available easily, and what a nuisance it would be to have nets on all our windows anyway.  We try to eat a lot of garlic, since we're told that it tends to keep mosquitoes from biting: the Cypriots rarely get bitten, and certainly we don't get nearly such bad reactions to bites as we did at first.

We keep in a selection of lotions to soothe bites, particularly for visitors: an anti-histamine for the bites that swell up, a cream with mild anaesthesia for the really itchy ones, oil of lavender for the regular ones.  We're getting quite good at swatting mosquitoes with our hands, and overnight, when they're bad, we run little electronic devices that take insecticide pads.   These are very effective at driving mosquitoes away, although some of them smell over-powering.  But after a night of being awoken every few minutes by 'ZZZZZZZzzzzzzz' around my ears, I’m prepared to put up with a smell!

Late March

Before the clock change (to Summer time, or 'daylight saving') on the last Saturday of March, dawn is around 6.00am in Cyprus.  I usually wake around this time, sometimes helped from my sleep by a cat or two asking for breakfast.  I love the early mornings, when there's still a chill in the air, the world looks clean, and everything is peaceful.

Until, that is, the drum band rehearsals begin. Cyprus has more parades than anywhere I've ever known:  they celebrate national days and other events, and most of them seem to be either in Spring or Autumn.  On April 1st is the national Cyprus day, when all the schools and Scouting organisations dress in uniform and march along the sea front and various of the main roads, accompanied by drums.  And they practise these drums for weeks beforehand.  One of the schools is near where we live - they don't usually start their rehearsals until about 7.30am, but other groups apparently practise before that time.  So the peace is shattered, and anyone who wakes up with a slight headache will probably have a full-blown migraine by mid-morning.

We had great excitement (?) the other day, just as we sat down to lunch.  Sophia, the cat who hunts more enthusiastically than any of the others, appeared in our living room with a snake.  She threw it up and down a few times, presumably to try and persuade it to move, so she could stalk and catch it.  Thankfully she had already managed to stun it, if not kill it, and it made no move by itself.  We kept away while she was trying to reactivate it, but when she decided that perhaps she should eat it, we crept a little closer to check the markings.  We've been told that most snakes in Cyprus are harmless, little white or black ones.  But there are also adders (vipers) which are as poisonous as they are anywhere else in the world.  This snake looked - as far as we knew - like an adder.  Long and thin with a v-shaped head, and diamond markings down its back. 

We waited until Sophia had eaten the tail half of the snake, hoping that it would not harm her in any way to do so.  Still, at least we could guarantee that it was dead.    When she left it alone for a few minutes, we (or rather a brave friend who was having lunch with us!) took the barbecue tongs, picked up the remaining snake gingerly, and deposited it in an empty bag, which I then sealed and put in the outside rubbish bin.   So much for that snake.  But it's alerted us to the danger that there may be more snakes, perhaps in our garden amongst those long weeds which we've been pulling daily, often without even wearing gardening gloves.  We'll have to be more careful in future.

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