March 13, 2012 marked my last full day in Cyprus, and also the first (and only) time I have visited a mosque- the Selimiye Mosque in north Nicosia. The building used to serve as a cathedral, which explains the Gothic architecture in the photo above. This strange history is repeated elsewhere in Cyprus (and indeed could be a metaphor for the island itself), but to me it represented a beautiful (if troubled) fusion of spaces and traditions. The vaulted ceilings and absence of seating combined to create a single chamber that was remarkable for its vast emptiness. The carpet was plush under my stocking feet while stained glass windows dappled pastel light on the walls. The air inside was cool and a bit musty as if the interior of the building featured its own climate, independent of outside. It was an enriching experience and rewarding to see a degree of preservation and adaptation at play in the building’s use.
On this day in 2012, I took a field trip to North Cyprus with 3 charming ladies, each old enough to be my mother or grandmother. Our first stop was the Ruins of Salamis where I was transfixed by this parallel group of Muslim women. It was very windy and their skirts and headscarves were billowing just enough to make an interesting photo. I followed them for a ways as one of them approached the walls with a handful of wildflowers. Why had they come to leave offerings at the ancient walls?
If the Buffer Zone is ever demilitarized, swept for mines, and opened to all (which I am predicting, without much supporting evidence, will happen in my lifetime), it’s going to be an awesome piece of wilderness to explore-hopefully one that is supported by some ecological, environmental, and commemorative initiatives like the European Green Belt project. There is, in fact, a silver lining that comes with sealing off a chunk of land to humans for a generation or two.
This picture was taken very near the BZ from the Turkish occupied north.
When I got on the bus from Morphou/Güzelyurt to Lefke on this day last year, I noticed that the dials on the dash were all marked with Chinese characters. Wild. Here are a few short sketches from the cramped ride:
Before we left, the driver hauled two spare tires into the front seat, buoying the confidence of all my fellow passengers.
We also got a new driver for the outward journey-a young, slick looking guy with sunglasses and extremely short, spiky hair which emerged only from the highest altitudes of his head.
We stopped on a dusty road to pick up an old man carrying bags full of milk, bread and newspapers. 50 meters later, we stopped again for a guy with mullet and his three kids, all of whom were forced to sit on the floor. They got off at the next stop. The man’s windbreaker puffed up in the breeze and I forgot entirely what decade I was living in. He herded his daughter with a gentle hand on her knee-high shoulder as his son lagged behind to examine a piece of garbage. He was squatting down to grab it when the bus groaned and rolled away.
At this time last year, I was couchsurfing with a university student in Morphou/Güzelyurt, North Cyprus. Her tiny flat was in a student village right next to campus directly above a bar called Beer Time. She and all of her friends were from Turkey. When I asked their opinion on the Cyprus problem, one of them told me point blank, “we are the invaders” between long drags on a cigarette. But it was hard to imagine that my new friends possessed any sort of malicious intent toward the island of Cyprus; their attitude was more like an apathetic shrug. They were similarly unfazed by the parallel strips of light illuminating the Buffer Zone to the south as we walked down a winding hill to another student watering hole.
A year ago today, I went for a walk in the North. I recall eating a Turkish pizza for lunch on a patio in the pale but warm winter sunlight. I was told repeatedly, all over the island, that I was visiting Cyprus at the exact right time of year. A month earlier, and it would be too cold and rainy. A month later, and the lush green hillsides I had been admiring would be parched by summer heat. They were right, the weather was excellent during my stay-the best of my entire trip.