ME and Ophelia

Friday, March 19, 2004

And snails in Cyprus

Enoch's No Chicken Feet For You! brought back memories. I'm sure I have eaten them in the way he suggests, but now wish I could say I had not.

My father served 25 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps and we lived for 3 years in Cyprus during the Eoka troubles. My brother was born at the British Military Hospital in Nicosia. As a child living near Famagusta - 200 yards from the beach - my friends and I sometimes played with chicken feet. The fun bit was (gross when I look back on it) if you pressed the ankley bit, the toes would wiggle :)

Now I've just remembered where we got the feet. An elderly Cypriot lady, dressed from head to toe in black, lived in the house behind ours. Her name was Despina. From our balcony, I'd watch her chase chickens around the back yard. As soon as she caught one, she'd chop off it's head, drop the chicken and walk back indoors, leaving it to run around until it dropped.

Later, she would return to cut off its feet and pack the unplucked chicken into a large ball of wet mud. An old clay oven sat at the end of her garden. She'd roll the mud ball into the oven, heated by a bed of white hot burning charcoal.

At sundown, she'd open the oven door, roll out the mud ball and give it one karate chop. The mud would crack open into two halves with all the feathers stuck inside. The heavenly aroma was unforgettable. Because the weather was very hot, I would sit on our balcony, in a tin wash tub filled with cold water, and watch her do all of this. I was six years old.

Despina spoke not a word of English, and I not a word of Greek. Somehow we understood each other, and spent hours together. On warm dewy mornings, at the crack of dawn, I'd creep over to her house for breakfast. Together we'd collect snails from her lush garden and put them into a galvanised bucket filled with vinegar water. After boiling the bucket on her indoor stove, she would carry it outdoors, with chunks of unlevened bread gathered in her apron. We'd sit together on a bench in her garden, under her dreamy hanging vines heavily laden with black grapes (the size of plums) and, using a pin, ate the bucket load - while watching the sun come up.

Each day, Despina brewed fresh Turkish coffee that you could stand a spoon in. After drinking a cup, she'd do her daily 'reading'. And cried when she told us of our posting date back to England, even before we and the British army knew of our leaving.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 3/19/2004
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