Monday, August 27, 2007

N is for Nicosia

the city in which i was born.

nicosia is the capital city of cyprus. it is also a divided city, the only divided capital city in the world. in 1974 there was a turkish invasion. the turkish government occupies a good part of the northern side of nicosia, and about a third of the island altogether. it is a sad state of affairs.

my papou (grandfather) lived in nicosia and i used to stay in his house when i visited cyprus. my yia yia (grandmother) died shortly before i was born, but my papou eventually remarried a stern but charming swiss woman named marcelle.

marcelle was not very nice to me when i was a little girl. and that is just what she called me, "the girl". we started to connect when i was college age. for what ever reason, she decided finally that she could relate to me. we would have these great enraged conversations about how badly women were treated in cyprus. marcelle loved to complain. she also started to tell me things about her past, about her experience of WW II, about boarding school and her first marriage. she'd always been such a mystery to me and i was so incredibly thrilled when she opened up.

i loved staying at my papou's house. it was knocked down shortly after he died and there is now an apartment building there. it saddens me to the core.

his house had a terracotta roof, and two little balconies on the second floor. there was a wonderful succulent garden all around the house that marcelle watered faithfully. french doors opened out from the dining room onto a veranda covered in grape vines. oh how i loved to sit on that veranda with their pet stray, "kitty", and read my enid blyton books. the house had a winding wooden stairwell and stone floors that i would touch my cheek to on hot hot cyprus summers. it was a simple house really. but i loved it so much.

olga, my friend from a very early age, lived next door. her bedroom faced the guest room i slept in. we had a secret code with lights and would flick them on and off at each other in the evenings. last summer when i visited cyprus and spent and evening with olga in nicosia, tashi and olga's daughter daniella immediately connected. they had a roaring good time together and olga and i laughed at how it reminded us of ourselves together at that age.

my grandfather was the oldest person i knew. he fought in both world wars. his voice was raspy, because he'd been mustard gassed. he was a man of few words anyway. but when he did talk, he had some incredible stories to share. oh if only the clock could be turned back. . . he ended up suffering from alzheimers disease. every morning he would go to the bank and insist that the clerk give him his money. every morning. there was no money. one time when my mother (his daughter) was visiting him he said to marcelle, "who is that russian lady sitting there?"

i still have three incredible uncles that live in nicosia. one is a journalist, one is a painter and one is a photographer. they are endlessly fascinating and a total hoot. i also have one hunky cousin who lives there. he is bachelor beach boy. my aunt and other cousins have all left cyprus.

i could gush on and on, but for now, here are a few more things that nicosia is to me:

the most delicious mouth watering souvlaki, fresh grilled and tucked into warm pita bread with tomatoes, cucumber, onion and parsley

ledra street, a pedestrian boulevard, where you can buy expensive european shoes or a starbucks coffee

the old medieval wall, where galleries and fancy eateries are housed in the gates

museums of ancient greek artifacts and beautiful contemporary paintings

a new city of really bad urban planning

an old city of tiny streets and beautiful old row houses

divided. barbed wire. soldiers with guns. the greek flag. the turkish flag. the cypriot flag caught in between. people on both sides suffering due to their government's poor choices

not far from the sea. it's an island after all. not far from the mountains either


Amy Young said...

Zoe, I loved this piece! I could feel it and see it, of course living on the Med, much of it sounded familiar. But your tales of the characters made them come alive and so interesting. Thanks for sharing it, and introducing me to a new, previously unknow city.

Anonymous said...

chicken spots :)