[ilds] Still smiling on Aphrodite's island

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Mon Jul 2 10:57:55 PDT 2007

Did our listserv's recent invocation of /Bitter Lemons/ and Othello call 
forth this article on Cyprus? 

Here is to all things "austere and merciless."  CLS


*Still smiling on Aphrodite's island*
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 02/07/2007
The world shunned Northern Cyprus, but its beauty endures, says Stephen 

I arrive at "a Sea-port of Cyprus" as did Othello, in a cracking storm. 
In Kyrenia, torrents cascade down the steps leading to the quayside, as 
a fuller blast shakes the battlements of the massive fortress above the 

British influence still lingers in Turkish Northern Cyprus, but it is 
fond tradition rather than the crass parody that blights the Costas. It 
is found in driving on the left, in English signs on official buildings 
(and "Car Boot Sale" placards), in the familiar cylindrical postboxes 
(albeit in unfamiliar bright yellow, as pictured right), but never more 
so on than in the weather on this particular day.

As stranded Cypriot fishermen look glumly out over thick coffee, it is 
the British - expats and visitors alike - who delight in this return to 
their traditional watery element. Wading through the gales in sensible 
rain gear, they wear a look of satisfied resignation, almost gleeful 
nostalgia for Bank Holidays immemorial. The locals don't really mind. 
They know the sun will return - and soon - for an average 300 days each 

Richard the Lionheart started the trend for British visits to Kyrenia 
(known to locals as Girne) in 1191 by forcibly capturing the castle. 
Today's visitors pay for their real estate instead. The balmy 
temperatures and tasty prices bring them flocking, and the friendliness 
of the locals keeps them content. Why crusade when you can happily co-exist?

Northern Cyprus is experiencing a boom. Unfinished buildings gaze 
longingly at their artist's impressions, aspiring to the glossy finish 
of the sales hoardings. While some may be due to overextended 
developers, others are romantic homage to a local custom whereby parents 
build a home for their son over a period of several years before his 
marriage. The bride's folks get to furnish it. With new houses come the 
creature comforts: a new championship golf course of lush green among 
the olive and carob trees, and luxurious hotels, such as the central 
Colony with its casino and limousines.

There are so many places to eat that a chunky restaurant guide has been 
published. As villas replace olive groves, Cyprus is well aware that its 
charm can be spoilt and has new building controls in place.

But until the politicians act, nothing can be done about the sad waste 
of a city like Famagusta. From the Palm Beach hotel terrace stretches a 
crescent bay of hotels, every one empty since the 1970s and partition. 
Farthest away is the St George's. At a distance (and that's the only way 
you can see it) it resembles its namesake in that other torn city facing 
it across the eastern editerranean, Beirut. The island's most renowned 
hotel, the Ledra Palace in Nicosia, now houses UN peacekeepers in the 
Green Line buffer zone.

*Whatever the politicians do (or don't), the people know they are on to 
a good thing on this beautiful island of Aphrodite, and just get on with 
it. Lawrence Durrell in Bitter Lemons describes the shady "Tree of 
Idleness" beloved of the languid locals. Outside the spectacular Gothic 
Bellapais Abbey, competing restaurants fervently but amiably claim the 
tree as theirs. Centuries of mingling at this Mediterranean crossroads 
have produced numerous cultural collisions.
French cathedrals carry slender minarets and make modern-day mosques. 
There are Verigo grapes, named by a Turkish child who misheard British 
troops pronounce them "very good". And at remote Kantara, beneath a 
Venetian fortress clinging to limestone crags, Halil welcomes you warmly 
to lunch in his pine-shaded restaurant with an East End "Awright?". In 
Nicosia, the colonnaded courtyard of Büyük Han, a caravanserai for 
Anatolian merchants turned poorhouse, is once again a craft centre with 
café. The lemonade is home-made and pastry is freshly rolled on marble 
to make hellim böreg\u02C7i, wafer-thin toasted cheese parcels.

Details captivate: the "eyes" to ward off evil emblazoned above doors 
(as pictured above right), on babies' shawls, or on the lavender bags on 
hotel pillows; the Lefkara lace patterns designed by da Vinci (who also 
beefed up the fortifications during his 1481 visit); the three 
door-knockers in Ottoman Nicosia with different tones to announce men, 
women and children; or the coded coffee signals of courting couples, 
sweet for "hello", bitter for "goodbye".

Rich colour is everywhere. Midway between the cathedral mosque and 
Othello's tower in Old Famagusta's golden-walled city is Petek 
Pastanesi, an Aladdin's cave of pastries, sweets and cakes. There is 
colour, too, in the ancient Roman mosaics of Salamis, whose ruins you 
can still clamber over. It may not be archaeological best practice, but 
there is the real thrill of touching the past that is lost at red-roped 
museums like Pompeii. Tantalisingly, the political climate keeps a vast 
area still unexcavated and even more lies under the waves of Gazimagusa Bay.

Roads vary, but all are passable, though the Karpas Peninsula merits an 
off-roader to see the deserted beaches where turtles lay their eggs in 
May, which hatch in July. The roads across the Green Line have also been 
passable since 2003, so North increasingly meets South.

Back in Kyrenia harbour (pictured above left), the muezzin's call to 
evening prayer floats over the White Pearl Hotel and the Hotel British. 
On the quayside, wooden tables are matched by wooden working boats - no 
surfeit of gin-palace fibreglass here - and at night there is symmetry 
as people dine at café table and on deck. Swallows swoop as the dusk 
settles and lanterns glimmer. Aphrodite would still, its troubles 
notwithstanding, be pleased with her island.

Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://lists.uvic.ca/pipermail/ilds/attachments/20070702/410ab63c/attachment.html 

More information about the ILDS mailing list