Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Occupied Bear

(... or a Tale of Two Cities)

I'm back! - and with less than a month between posts which is much much better than my last gap of one year plus. I will tell you though that this probably won't be a super long post - for reasons which will become painfully evident. And, once again, please bear (!) with me as I start this off with a short history lesson.

Many years ago, there was an island nation called Cyprus. Over the years it was invaded and occupied by lots of foreign powers (because you humans are never satisfied with what you have - I mean, give a bear a cave and some berries, and we're happier than clams), but finally, in 1960, it was officially made The Republic of Cyprus after its Greek Cypriot community agreed to halt plans to unite with Greece and the Turk Cypriots agreed to stop their plans to partition the nation. Nicosia (or Λευκωσία, or Lefkosia, as the locals say) was made its capital. But just a few years later, tension & hostilities began to bubble to the surface between these two 2 communities.

Now it gets icky.

Nicosia was essentially divided in half with Greek Cypriots on one side and the Turk Cypriots on the other by the "Green Line" - so called because the UN official who carved up the city on a map used a green pen. Then, in 1974, there was an attempted coup d'état by Greek militarists who wanted to unite Cyprus with Greece which was really very silly because Greek Cypriots had agreed not to do this back in 1960. Turkey sent in its troops on the pretext of restoring the previously agreed upon constitution, but they did more than that. They effectively invaded the country, taking 37% of the island. Reports indicate that 4,000 Greek Cypriots were killed (killed in their own country!) - 4 times the number of Turkish Cypriots killed, and it is estimated that 1/3 of Greek Cypriots (200,000) were essentially made homeless and refugees in their own land while about 1,000 Turkish Cypriots found themselves on the wrong side of the line.

In 1975 the Turkish Cypriot community declared the creation of the "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus" on the part of the island occupied by Turkish forces, and 8 years later they proclaimed themselves the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Of course, the TRNC is totally illegal and not recognized by the UN or pretty much anyone else. No country flies into Occupied Cyprus apart from Turkey as the TRNC has no legitimate status in the world. It makes me sad that almost half of the island is occupied by a foreign power. Maybe, back in the 70' s, if Cyprus had been overflowing with oil, the world would have cared. (The UN cared: and sent in International Peacekeepers, but really - what's changed?)

Needless to say, the Bipedals and I were in a quandry about visiting Turkish Nicosia. Would we be condoning the illegal occupation of a foreign power by crossing the Green Line? After all, I had my reputation as a Freelance Goodwill Ambassador to consider. In the end, we decided to visit Real (i.e. Greek Cypriot) Nicosia, and decide once we got there. As you can see from the very top photo, peace is something valued highly in Cyprus. The peace mosaic and bench (an excellent place for engaging in deep thoughts) sits on the Greek Cypriot side of the checkpoint. That made me happy and sad at the same time.

We decided to cross because my bipedals realized they had Turkish lira on hand and my Male Bipedal wanted a beer. These days, it's quite easy to cross the Green Line - you just need a passport (or UN credentials in my case), but the Turks are not allowed to stamp it. Because they are not a recognized sovereign nation (except by themselves), the TRNC police stamp a piece of paper which you have to hold on to. Of course cameras are a no-no at the checkpoint, but here I am (photo, right) on the Occupied Side, which doesn't look a whole lot different from the south side, except it's in really rough shape with lots of bombed out and derelict buildings.

There are a few places to see on the northern side: namely beautiful churches since converted into mosques, Turkish baths, small neighbourhood mosques (and some very nice Ottoman architecture), and lots and lots of photos of Atatürk, but you'll not see photos of any them in this post because *a certain someone* forgot to recharge her camera battery the night before, so our photo-taking was done very very selectively - in other words, photos with Yours Truly were vetoed. (Anyone interested in applying for the position of Female Bipedal Attendant, please e-mail me at I got one throw-away photo (above left) - a milk sop really - at a small tavern where we stopped so I could get my bearings (bearings!). Notice I'm the one with the map.

I would add that on the way back into Real Cyprus, where our passports where checked by internationally recognized border guards, there was a UN sign that stated that some 100,000 Greek Cypriots are still missing, their fates unknown. Turkey has been asked to assist families in locating (probably) the remains of their loved ones - but Turkey has refused to comply. You humans disappoint me.

As a parting note, I'd like to direct your attention to the photo, up to the right: as you can see, it's a flag painted on the Kyrenia mountains. Well, it's a bit more than that. In fact, at 74,824 meters squared, it's the biggest flag in the world (as in the Guinness Book of World Records big!), and it's also the flag of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus which overlooks the Greek side of Nicosia. At night, the Turk Cypriots even light it up. You can imagine how much the Greek Cypriots love that! Talk about salt in an open wound (or a big permanent middle finger in the air as my Female Bipedal observed, but I'm not that crude). But really? - a giant in-your-face flag of the Occupying force? - honestly, there are times when I don't think you humans can suck any more as a species - but then you surprise me *again* and *again* and *again*.

Monday, September 26, 2011

GB Rises from the Dead

... well not really dead. More of an involuntary hibernation.

I can't believe it's been more than a year since I've last posted, and as much as I'd like to blame a certain "some one" (well, maybe I will ...), I know that it's been a tough year for that certain "some one". That along with a few misadventures along the way have conspired to put my correspondence on the back burner. For a brief period I began looking for a replacement - not for my two bipedal attendants as attendants per se - but for the one who claims to be a writer. It turns out that the work ethic in these parts make her look like a Puritan, so I'm stuck with her for the time being.

In any case, last month I took my bipedals to the island of Cyprus (this series of misadventures regarding the female bipedal did make me feel a tidge sorry for her - bears are nothing if not compassionate). As a Canadian bear (I started my career as an International Fashion Model with Canadian designer Alfred Sung), I always think of Cyprus in terms of the Turkish invasion of the island in the 70's and their occupation, as well as the Canadian peacekeepers who went there. It must be the freelance Goodwill Ambassador in me, but I'll save that for another post.

West of Syr
ia, east of Greece, north of Egypt, and south of Turkey, Cyprus is only an hour and a half or so from Kurdistan, so it was the perfect getaway for me and my attendants. But humankind (and bears) have been mucking about Cyprus - the 3rd largest island in the Mediterranean (my favourite sea!) - for over 10,000 years. It's also been invaded, conquered, and ruled by foreign powers such as the the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Venetians, the Ottomans, the British, and the Turks, to say the least. In fact, independence didn't come until 1960. Why you humans can't be satisfied with what you have and insist on taking what isn't yours defies logic. You'd never catch a bear doing that.

Cyprus has several famous sons but one of the best known is Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (just to distinguish him from the other Lazaruses). I guess he isn't so much a famous son as a famous ex-pat (like me). Legend has it that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus decided to pack up (probably lots of nasty associations with his home town, being dead and all for four days) and move to Larnaca. I can't say that I blame him. he became a bishop and eventually died (again) and was buried in the church which took its name from him: Agios Lazaros (that's me at the church, top left). Some 1200 years ago, his tomb was found and on it was written "Lazarus, Bishop of Larnaca. Four days dead. Friend of Jesus." That pretty much sums it up, don't you think?

We spent some of our time hopping about the
island, but today I'll just talk about Larnaca. Embraced by white sands and turquoise water, Larnaca - the 3rd largest city on this 3rd largest island in the Med - is also very close to a salt lake, and if you're lucky, you can coordinate your visit to be with the flamingos that winter there. We weren't so lucky. But we did find some in town (above, right) although I'm pretty sure flamingos aren't normally blue and purple and yellow, but as a former international fashion model, their sense of colour and panache were quite pleasing to my eye.

Because Larnaca is a former Ottoman (the empire, not the footstool) town, there is a mosque near the Turkish quarter known as the Grand Mosque (Buyuk Camii, above left). Like lots of Ottoman mosques, it used to be a church (Latin Holy Cross Church in fact) but was converted into a mosque. Some 5 kilometres outside of town is the tomb of Umm Haram who was the Prophet Mohammad's foster mother. She apparently died there while accompanying the Arab invaders in the 7th century. We decided not to make the trek out there because we wanted to go to the beach that day. We pretty much went to the beach every day. The female bipedal was pretty fragile.

Next to the mosque stands a fortress (above right) which looks over the Mediterranean. If I were to build a fortress – or a tree house for that matter – that’s exactly where I’d build it. Guidebooks will tell you that it was built by the Ottoman Turks in 1625, but ask a Greek Cypriot and they’ll tell you that it was actually built more than 200 years before that by Jacques I de Lusignan (who would go on to become the sort of King of Jerusalem) and rebuilt later by the Turks. The British used it as a prison and we saw the execution chamber where people where hanged. It made the grey felt on my arms stand on end. Although there isn’t a whole lot to see, you can wander about the inner garden and look at menacing cannons that probably killed a lot of people.

As I mentioned earlier, we spent a great deal of time at the beach. For 6 euros a day, you can rent two beach beds (I had to share) and an umbrella, and swim, sunbathe, or watch the three thousand planes landing or taking off (the airport is only 4 km. outside of town). My favourite beach bed provider was George’s (below, centre). If you go there, tell him Grey Bear sent you.

Across from the beach are dozens of bars and restaurants and most will deliver to the beach. It was so wonderful being back in the land of customer service. My favourite was a hole-in-the-wall kind of place which made excellent tzatziki and served very cold beer. Life doesn’t get much better than excellent tzatziki and very cold beer. Unless you tossed in world peace and respect for the environment and the acceptance of not wearing white after Labour Day. My male bipedal was thrilled to try two Cypriot beers: Leon (as in lion – grrrr!) and Keo. Interestingly, last year, Keo was featured in an American porn film, much to the consternation of its largest shareholder - the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. What I want to know is how did the Orthodox Church of Cyprus find out?

In fact, I found that a cold Keo helped in mapping out our time in Cyprus. I have much more to talk about and now that I've (velvet-)whipped my female bipedal into shape, it shouldn't take a year to keep everyone posted. As a closing note, it bears noting (bears!) that I need to thank everyone for all of your e-mails, letters, cards, text messages, and skype-calls. You're all so kind to be concerned about me, but as you can see, I have resurfaced from hibernation mode - risen from the dead like Lazarus !

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

GB Gets Hydrated

While in Athens this time around, I insisted that the bipedals get out of the city for a day. I mean, I love museums and all but every once in a while you need to kick back and feel the sea breeze blowing through your flannel. So we headed down to the port of Piraeus and hopped on a ferry heading to the Saronic Islands, which lie between the Saronic Gulf and the Argolic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. (That was for the geography-challenged among my readership.)

We visited three islands that day, but for the sake of time and space, I'll confine my observations today to the island of Hydra. Hydra (pronounced ee-thra) is about 37 nautical miles away from Athens - I don't really know what that means - but getting there took about 3 hours of sailing through clear azure water peppered all the way with small islands. By the way, the name Hydra comes from the Greek word for water (there were a lot of natural springs there in ancient times) and not from the name of the 7-headed monster which Hercules slew. (That's for all of you mythology buffs among my readership.)

Hydra has been on the map so to speak since the second half of the third millennium BCE. That's an awful long time. Historically, we don't know too much about the island apart from who invaded it and when - at least until the Ottoman period when it (and its shipyards) began to prosper. It's a small island and never had a huge population, and was often depopulated due to invaders and plagues and marauding pirates. Fortunately, our ferry wasn't attacked by pirates. I wasn't too worried, but you never know how far those Somalians are willing to travel for booty (hopefully not my booty!).

In the 19th century - thanks to the prosperous sea captains and sailors who lived on the island - Hydra played an importa
nt role in the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. Sadly during the Second World War, it was occupied (again) and many people died of starvation. Poor island.

Nowadays things are looking up for Hydra. Tourism - mainly day trippers from Athens - is the island's number one industry which works out just fine because the island is gorgeous. The whitewashed houses of the hilly town of Hydra hug a deep harbour of sparkling aquamarine blue - it's paradise! Townspeople must think it's paradise too because they've made their little white town a green town: all motorized traffic is forbidden (apart from garbage trucks and a fire truck). In fact, visitors to the island are greeted by a taxi stand of donkeys and mules. Locals pretty much walk everywhere because the town itself is so compact, or use 4-legged transportation. A word of warning: you have to watch out for the donkey "exhaust" on the ground!

I must admit that it was pretty hot on the island (not Iraq hot, of course), but I still found myself needing to stop by the little tabernas which lie here and there to cool off and re-hydra-te myself (hee hee, that's a little bear humour). Seriously, staying properly hydrated is not a laughing matter - especially under the Mediterranean sun. I don't know what your problem is, but you humans are chronically under-hydrated. Don't you love your kidneys?

Anyway, most day trippers hang out on the waterfront which I find odd because the best of the town is found by following the back alleys which wind up up up from the harbour. Of course, because of the heat you just have to stop and have a drink - to keep hydrated. It really is important, you know.

There are beautiful churches and the mansions of sea captains to see, rocky beaches, a museum and even a giant chess board. (I was tempted to have a game or two but, in all honesty, I was the Alfred Sung Chess Champion for three years running among the other models I worked with when I was an International Fashion Model, and I don't like to show off.) And if you like cats (bears love cats), the island is virtually overrun with cats basking in the sunshine, doing nothing much but waiting for the fishing boats to come in. They're also fed well by the townspeople, so I think they have it pretty good. How people treat stray animals says a lot about them don't you think?

Eventually we had to leave, with our ferry bound for the islands of Poros and Aegina. Thanks to my highly-tuned investigative skills (as a freelance Goodwill Ambassador, you have to be very intuitive in order to sniff out corruption and stuff), I noticed that at the ferry's bow (that's the front for you landlubbers), there were deck chairs set up. And no one on them -imagine! So for the rest of the day, when we weren't on dry land, we cruised the Aegean with a front row view. Not only that but I managed to convince the bartender to serve us on the bow (that wasn't too hard because he had already recognized me). What a life! I keep telling the bipedals that this could be their lives too if they just developed a better work ethic. Until then, they had better keep buying those lottery tickets.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Grey Bear Navel Gazes

As many of you correctly guessed from my previous posting, I was recently on holiday in Greece again with my bipedal attendants and my god-bipedals. What a great time we had! While there we all took a road trip (bears love road trips) to the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (or Delfi, or Δελφοί) on Mount Parnassus, which just happens to be the centre of the universe. I know what you're thinking: Grey Bear! - the centre of the universe? Really? Yes, I know that the Turks claim that the centre of the universe is in Istanbul, but it's true! It's in Delphi!

According to legend, the god Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth, an
d they came together at the spot which would become Delphi. In fact, an omphalos (or belly-button monument) was raised to mark the spot! The Turks only have a stupid pillar.

The site was once associated with a female oracle - the Pythia - who uttered the prophesies of the Python, a snake god who lived beneath the navel. But according to one tradition, the sun god Apollo killed the Python, ensuring that the Pythia would work for him instead. My female bipedal attendant went on and on about this representing the dominance of male-based religious cults over female ones, but I wasn't really listening to her.

Delphi was important for other reasons - you could say that it wa
s the world's first truly diversified visitors' centre: there was something for everyone. Besides the oracle, it had its own games (second in importance only to the Olympics) - the Pythian Games - every four years. You can still see the stadium (below left) which was built in the 5th century b.c.e. (and remodeled in the 2nd of our era), but those awful whistle-blowing security guards won't let you do any laps there.

There's also a lovely theatre (
built in the 4th century b.c.e.) just up the slope from the Temple of Apollo (below right), but you can't go in there either. I didn't even try. In any case, this also made Delphi different from the other pan-hellenic games: it had mousikos agon, or music contests. I guess it was something like Ancient Greece's Got Talent.

But back to the oracle: this new and improved priestess (or sibyl) - at least in Apollo's opinion - and now known as the Delphic Oracle, was the most important oracle in the ancient classical world. From the 8th century b.c.e. onwards, people needing answers - or good musical theatre or a spot of track and field - came to Delphi, although never in the winter. Perhaps she went south for a few weeks. After many plunderings by the Romans (can you say Nero?), the site was finally shut down in 390 c.e. by Emperor Theodosius because he felt it was anti-Christian ... duhhhh. Christians can be such killjoys.

Anyway, the priestess was always a 50+ year old woman
(there was a fear that a young woman might run away with a dashing pilgrim) of good character who was selected from among the peasants who lived nearby. At its peak in popularity, there were three Pythias on the payroll at Delphi, two working in shifts with one as a back-up.

The priestess sat in a cauldron or the pan of a tripod which was suspended over an opening in the earth (probably caused by seismic activity). This must have been very uncomfortable and scary during earthquakes. Whether it was hallucinatory drugs or natural
gases (ethylene, benzene and methane - pee-yoo! - have been suggested) emanating from the ground beneath her (some said that the fumes were from the decomposing snake-god - but how long does it take for a snake to decompose?) or the laurel leaves she chewed, she would fall into a trance and channel Apollo's answer to the question posed by pilgrims. Priests stood nearby to interpret her utterings and mutterings. It must have been like playing telephone.

Kings and paupers and legendary characters like Oedipus all came to the Temple of Apollo to consult the oracle on matters ranging from waging wars to affairs of the heart. Ritually purified and wearing
laurel branches, supplicants (whose order was determined by throwing lots) had to bring an offering of some sort, and while the minimum payment was a loaf of bread, those bearing a better gift got to jump the queue. Nothing's changed much in the world, has it? You humans always find a way to cheapen everything! Grateful pilgrims of means often set up statues and monuments by way of thanks. Needless to say, the oracle brought in a lot of cash for the priests who worked there and they even had to build treasuries for all of their bling.

Delphi em
its a very strong psychic energy (maybe it was the altitude) and while I was there I was drawn to the spot where the sibyl sat and communed with the god. And just as I felt the whistle-blowing security guards (just like the one on the Acropolis from my spirit of the Pythia - or maybe the god himself - take hold of me, I heard a sharp Tooooooooooooot!!!!, and saw a whistle-blowing security guard (like the one from my last visit at the Acropolis when I was called a "toy") tooting away and waving his arms. Whatever.

I'm not so sure Greece is a very bear-friendly country. I'd ask the Pythia myself about this, but they won't let me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Where is GB?

I'm on vacation (finally!), but where am I? Does the laurel-leaf wreath suggest anything?

Or how about another clue ...

Not yet? Check out my stylish feet!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Now I am Three!

I'm not really three - I'm actually 11 going on 12 but my daily regime of moisturizer and sunblock just knocks the years off of me ... anyway, today is the 3rd anniversary of Grey Bear-ology! I know that I've been eerily silent for the past few months but I have only my female bipedal to blame and my inability to just fire her (bears are such softies - especially Freelance Goodwill Ambassador bears). In fact, she hasn't written one lousy teeny blog since we came to Iraq (I'm in Iraq everyone!). To be fair, there have been a number of extenuating circumstances (including the theft of my camera), so I´ve tried not to judge her too harshly (she´s a bit fragile you know), but we're finally just starting to get things back in order, and I *should* be back blogging soon.

Besides moving to a new country, we have a new member in our family and a new addition to my staff. Below you can see me and my new friend Celeste. Isn't she pretty? The only thing more attractive than simple grey flannel is the minimalist pairings of black & white. Simple and elegant: just like an Oreo cookie!

As always, thanks to everyone who follows my blog & here's to another 3 years of travelling (with my bipedals - at least with the male one!) and writing for all of you. I'm going to go have a glass of champagne now - or maybe I'll wait until Spain beats Portugal in tonight's World Cup match. As the Spanish say ¡podemos! (we can do it!)

Wow - wouldn't that make a really nifty day for all of us!!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GB Shops: a Teeny Update

Apparently a little guilt (and a formal written warning) does wonders for my female bipedal attendant's ability to locate things she's responsible for. Behold ~ my Harrods' bear penny!