the cypriot green line

Turkish Cyprus 2_2012

Crossing the border was easier than we thought it would be. No long queues, no stern, intimidating soldiers. We stopped at a small, white kiosk. No window separated us from the guard within. Smiling, friendly, he let the two American tourists stamp their own passports. I overestimated the amount of force necessary; in my passport, the dark rectangular stamp of a country recognized by only one other nation bled red ink onto the other page. Once across the buffer zone, we were in a different city, a different world–and yet, the same city, the same world. Nicosia. Lefkosa. The last divided city.

We meandered: through an arch we found a folk crafts center and market, with wares aplenty but the courtyard quiet, empty. I looked down, saw a nazar embedded in a step; a charm against the evil eye. Nearby, a cat washed its face. It ignored us, too engrossed in the methodical lick, rub, lick lick, rub to give a passing stranger any notice. Ahead, in the gaps between buildings, we saw the spire of a minaret. We turned our steps and made the mosque our destination. As we wandered the streets, we wondered about the political impact of our tourism. Is curiosity acknowledging the sovereignty of another state? Should we have studied the events in 1974 before crossing the border? Should we only visit countries that we know something about?

No, and no, again. The same spirit that inspires our wanderlust, that piques our curiosity, is the same that fuels our desire to learn and to understand.

Photo: Selimiye Mosque in Lefkosa, Northern Cyprus.

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st peter’s columns

St Peters Columns 2009

The rains stopped; the cobbles are drying. A November chill lingers in the Mediterranean air, not what you were expecting. Italy brings up images of baking cobblestones and bright sunlight and eating gelato as it drips down the cone into your hands. That is Italy in summer; in autumn, the rains come, you see the ancient city in a different light. You wonder: how old are these stones? If these stones could speak, what would they say? Would they speak of the miner who dug them out of the earth? Of the mason, who shaped them, who put them where the overseer commanded, to create the structure the architect designed? Would they speak of the soldiers’ blood spilled in their shadows, of the children who picked pockets during the Pope’s speeches to the masses? These stones have seen the world, for the world has come and stood at these columns’ feet. A German priest, sick with the hypocrisy of the church. A tourist from America, with a plastic light saber in his backpack. A Japanese tourist, viewing the Basilica through the lens of her camera. A child, falling, crying as every tired child has cried since the beginning of these stones’ memories. The stones see who comes to pray, who comes to see, who comes out of boredom or curiosity or piety. If the stones could speak, what would they say? Would they cry for Abraham and weep? Or would they stand silent as the stones they are?

Photo: St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy.

sunflower tea

1001 nights of summer

A step inside, off the bright, busy street and into a dark corridor. Before your eyes can adjust you are moving, down a spiral staircase into a small room brimming with cushions and low tables. On the tables, candles, flickering the shadows of teapots on the walls. You order tea. When the tea comes, you pour it over the rock sugar in the bottom of your cup. The tea is golden, a hypnotic blend of black and green tea and sunflower petals. No words can describe the flavour, and yet, you can never forget the taste. It is the lazy gold of a summer’s afternoon, distilled into a cup of tea.

Photo: 1001 Nights of Summer at Same Fusy in Warsaw, Poland.