cyprus: escape to larnaka
Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on February 10, 2010.
My journal entries from that lonesome week in Cyprus are full of embarrassingly adolescent ramblings about a boy I had a crush on at the time. (Embarrassing because he turned out to have the intellectual capacity of a cave troll, while I assumed, for entire days at a time, that we didn’t talk about anything interesting because my German was still too elementary.)
For those around us Cyprus was the escape, the fantasy. I fled the beach for the page, dreaming up dates, jobs I would be hired for, books I would write, countries I would live in, languages I would learn—anything that would transport me for even a few minutes from my daemonic charges. The resort walls were not there to keep others out, no!, they were there to keep me in, and I was trapped there until an angelic voice would speak to me mercifully from above: “Now boarding flight 386 to Frankfurt International.” Oh hark how the herald angels sing!
While Franci became more and more aloof, Joseph became more and more doting. “Somebody has a cru-ush,” Janet sang at me across the dinner table, nodding toward Jo with her head. He looked up from the plastic car he’d been racing down the white table cloth and up at me. “Nikki, I have to poop.” I contemplated strangling her, smashing my wine glass on the table and leaping across the table, but the alcohol had already stunned me into placidity, an escape just as effective as my journaled daydreams. Instead I stood up and led Jo off to the bathroom.
My other escape was the small fitness studio where I ran on my plastic hamster wheel until blood had pounded every last thought out of my head. It was the one and, I am certain, only time in my life in which I will ever have washboard abs. So this is why people in prison end up with enormous muscles, I thought.
In two hastily taken pictures—”I guess I just want some sort of proof that I was really here,” I shrugged as I forced the camera into Janet’s hand—and the only two pictures of me from those ten days, my smile is a grimace.
The three of us slept in the same room, in the same bed; they were both afraid to take a turn on the small cot symbolically placed there upon our arrival and I refused to accept discomfort during sleep on top of the insults and the spit. They spread out, snored, kicked—there was no physical escape. Sleep, my most holy of rituals, was disturbed and cut off each morning too short. All that was missing was the yellow wallpaper, and I would have been ripe for a straight jacket and pills served regularly in little paper cups.
Halfway through the trip and with the theatrical grace that was quickly becoming her trademark, Janet told me to take a day off and go on one of the day trips the resort organized for the guests. As if giving me one day off in ten was a special gift she didn’t have to give me, but would, because she was just that nice. Technically it was illegal for me to work for eight days straight without a day or night off.
Technically. Some of my au pair friends were required to work hours like this all the time, and I was only being asked to do so because we were on a Greek Island. Maybe I never would have seen Cyprus otherwise, maybe I was the ungrateful little snot in this equation. Drink yourself numb! Cry yourself to sleep! Aldiana Cyrpus is perfect for everyone! The words took on a gruesome, futuristic tone, the way the would sound if I’d read them in Brave New World or 1984. And we would be leaving in two days. It was a tome I chanted until it became a prayer. “Two more days, two more days, two more days.”
My mother had wired me some money so that I could take a few interesting trips, and I signed up for Nicosia. Nicosia, I read, was the capital of Cyprus and a violent, tumultuous city since the 60s when it was first divided into Turkish and Greek sections. I could, an Aldiana barbie told me, pay someone to let me climb a ladder and peer over the wall at the Turkish side. (In 2008 a dividing wall was torn down in an attempt to symbolically create unity. Of course symbol and reality don’t tend to drink at the same bars, and the city remains “the world’s last divided capital.”)
But none of the other resort guests wanted to deal with tumult on their vacation, the trip was canceled, and I ended up on a bus to Larnaka instead.
How refreshing it was, to be out of the resort and away from my keepers! How refreshing to see a city whose architecture was influenced by eastern winds. My escape from Aldiana lent an exotic air to everything I saw. The man with skin like bark hunched over and between mountains of fabric in a tiny stone garage, the sandstone church and fort, the ragged tops of buildings that stretched out beneath the fort terrace and away from the graying sea, the Greek-lettered signs.
I wandered aimlessly through town, snapping pictures, inhaling my temporary independence like a fix-starved junkie. Little junk stores seemed as if brimming with treasure, alleys careened with sensual vines, and the old man sitting on the corner was most certainly a seer.
The town was everything that Aldiana was not: crumbling in places, pulsing, a little chaotic, alive. There was dirt and there was magic, there were real people filled with joy and sorrow and ambition. There were no hoses snaking the streets, and so there was little to green the landscape. There were most certainly poisonous spiders lurking in the cracks, and no one said hello to me pleasantly as I wandered down narrow streets.
cyprus: back to the place you’re longing for
Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on February 9, 2010.
The war started with a bruise. Franci became a bitchy little snot in a matter of hours, twisted my skin until it turned black when I told her it was bedtime, and ran screaming into the “kids’ disco” across from the clubhouse
The disco was set up like a regular disco, but with lower tables and non-alcoholic drinks. I walked slowly in after her, counting, breathing deeply, doing anything I could to keep the rage in my head and out of my hands.
“Franci, what you just did really hurt my feelings. We’re going to go back to the room now, come on.” That’s what I had planned on saying. But when she saw me across the room she screamed, “Asshole, stupid asshole, I hate you!”
I turned around and left without a word. The situation was beyond my control; I needed to get mom and dad involved or I was going to break into a thousand little pieces that no one would ever be able to put back together.
Jens and Janet were sitting at a round table in the dining room with Franci’s new friend’s parents, eating fresh dates and drinking wine. My voice was shaking as I held out my arm and explained what had just happened. “Do you see that? Your daughter just did that to me. Then she ran into the disco, and as soon as I walked in the door she screamed and called me a stupid asshole. She won’t listen to me. I need one of you to step in.” Jens threw down his napkin, disgusted.
“I’ll take care of it,” he assured me, “Meet me back at the room.”
I could hear Franci’s howls from across the resort. Jens had her by the ear and was dragging her down the path. “You acted despicably tonight. If you don’t cut it out I’m sending you home on the next plane all by yourself.” She screamed louder. “Do you want to go home by yourself?” She screamed louder still. I stood waiting at the door, and he dragged her in past me and ordered her into pajamas and bed.
When Franci refused to talk to me the next morning, Janet suggested I ignore her. I was glad for the break, but ignoring someone who doesn’t want to have anything to do with you in the first place seemed like an ineffectual strategy. Fuck it. And then there was one.
With Franci out of the way—she now spent her time with her new friend James, and since James went to the Dolphin Club, so did she—Franz Joseph was easier to handle. With two there was always one who didn’t want to do whatever I suggested which meant that in the end we did nothing but sit in the hotel room: them hypnotized by Greek television, me staring longingly at the beach out of the terrace window.
Joseph preferred the heated pool to the beach, so one afternoon we joined the older Cole children there for a swim. In the deep pool I insisted that he put on his swimmies. He screamed. I insisted again. So he hocked a big lugey and spit in my face. I picked him up like a surf-board, slung the beach bag over my shoulder and carried him kicking and crying back to the hotel room. Fuck the Mediterranean, fuck Cyprus, fuck all-expenses paid. Now I understood Aldiana’s other motto, the one that was constantly being sung on the television commercials, “Back to the place you’re longing for.” I couldn’t wait to go home.
cyprus: urlaub unter freunden
Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on February 8, 2010.
Au pairing isn’t a highly paid job, and The German Man dictates earnings: a 285 euro monthly stipend and at least one day off each week. The benefits are nestled between the lines—in the room, board, and health insurance the family is required to provide—and between work days, when the rich German matriarch announces one morning that you will be accompanying the family on their vacation to Cyprus.
A four-hour flight brought us from Frankfurt International to Larnaka International, and taxis brought us to the Aldiana resort where we’d be staying. The family, Janet informed me, would be staying in a suite located on the edge of the resort. The twins and I would be sharing a room just between the main clubhouse and the beach. I was not keen on completely dissolving the work/play boundary I meticulously maintained at home, but was willing to ignore the contractual breech in exchange for an all-expense-paid island getaway.
Aldiana is the German answer to Club Med. Book a vacation at an Aldiana resort and you can relax in a walled complex far from the messy cultural details of whatever country you are visiting (an irrelevant detail!) and socialize with your compatriots in your native tongue. I suppose this is the reason that the club motto is “a vacation with friends.” (Translation: “a vacation with other rich white people.”)
The Aldiana pamphlet says: “ALDIANA Zypern is perfect for everyone—singles, young couples, young children, and teens. The resort comprises a wide variety of sports, relaxation, and entertainment, all set amidst the beautiful coastal flora and fauna of Cyprus.”
Here another translation is needed: Aldiana Cyprus is perfect for everyone with money and for everyone too worried about security and/or xenophobic to bother with the actual country and people of Cyprus. Aldiana Cyprus is also perfect for people who think they would enjoy the “beautiful coastal flora and fauna of Cyprus” but aren’t actually prepared to deal with a desert climate.
But there is little that nature can do that Aldiana (cough, civilization) can’t take care of. And so dozens of hoses snaked the resort lawn, irrigating the Aldiana palms and the sparse Aldiana grass. As for the fauna, the poisonous spiders that would otherwise be inhabiting the landscape, an employee told us, are kept at bay with regular doses of insecticide sprayed across the entire property. Coastal flora and fauna indeed.
Greek travel propaganda had led me to believe that we’d be laying on white- sand beaches, but the beaches of Cyprus are gray, unspectacular in compar- ison perhaps, but beautiful and exotic to eyes accu- stomed to Jersey shore. That first day the twins put on their swimmies, I waded into the Mediterranean for the first time, and it was as glorious as it probably sounds.
In my former life I had been vaguely aware that resorts like Aldiana existed, but I don’t think I really believed in them. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny they were just pleasant little myths that worked well on television. Real people wouldn’t actually visit them. Why would they want to? You could save yourself time and money and travel to the German coast to the same effect.
The employees—sailing and diving instructors, bartenders and babysitters—were all generically good looking and insistently pleasant. If you passed an employee on the way to the beach he or she would smile and say hello. Always friendly, always polite. Failure to do so, I imagined, earned you a flogging from the boss. And that might ruin your tan. I imagined that nights they let out steam in the employee lounge, out of sight of paying guests, Dirty Dancing style. Welcome to the Aldiana bubble: polite, friendly, safe, pleasant, plastic.
If you were tired of tanning, you could take diving and sailing lessons, if you were tired of the Mediterranean you could take a dip in the heated indoor pool, and if you got tired of taking care of your children, you could send them to the Dolphin Clubhouse—the resort’s day care service. Jens, always wanting to play good cop, had promised me that the twins would spend the entire day there, leaving me free to do what I pleased. The reality was that the twins didn’t want to go to the Dolphin Club. They wanted to spend time with their siblings and their parents, and instead they were stuck with me.