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west with the night

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West With The Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers…I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book.”

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Not all of Hemingway’s words for Beryl Markham were as complimentary as the passage above. In fact, he found her to be most unpleasant, but he did not let his dislike of the author color his judgment of her writing. The book really is fantastic, and it made for a fitting selection as D prepared to leave Moldova. Not only is our next Foreign Service posting going to be back in East Africa, but also this autobiography takes place in a country whose landmarks and legends are familiar to us.

Only D wasn’t flying west when he started Markham’s remarkable book. Instead, he was headed to Cyprus, which lies south of Moldova. We had hoped to depart Chisinau together, but for reasons that are not worth explaining D was forced to remain for an extra week. Faced with the prospect of spending Labor Day weekend all alone in an empty house, D booked a ticket for the first convenient beach destination he could, and thus found himself in Larnaca.

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Located on Cyprus’s southern coast, Larnaca is fairly unremarkable. The island’s prime beaches are along its eastern shore, more than an hour’s drive away. The fringe of hard-packed sand that passes for a beach in Larnaca feels rather sad by comparison, but somehow this did not dissuade the crowds of visitors, who were willing to overlook this flaw in order to bathe in the unseasonably warm ocean waters that lap at Cyprus’s shore. An influx of Russian visitors has expanded considerably the island’s tourism industry. In fact, D had such a hard time finding a room that the only available beachside accommodations were ten kilometers out of town.

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D did make it into Larnaca to check out the sights — the fort, which in addition to a few rusted cannons also had a small museum with colorful ceramics discovered on the island, and the church of St. Lazarus, which was built in the 9th century over the reputed second tomb of Lazarus after Jesus raised him from his first burial ground. D also stepped into the town’s nondescript mosque. It was a tad too hot for sightseeing, but Larnaca is small; an hour sufficed for D’s improvised walking tour.

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It’s unlikely that Cyprus will be a destination high on D’s list of countries to revisit, but given that he wanted nothing more than to sit by the ocean and lose himself in a book for the weekend, it was perfect, especially since the book in question proved so engrossing.

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