A Glimpse of the Past

Sugar cane worker in the rich field, vicinity ...

Sugar cane worker in the rich field, vicinity of Guanica, Puerto Rico (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

As I mentioned in my previous post Let’s talk Food I will be doing a talk/cookery demonstration  in February, my thoughts have now moved on apace and I’ve started to write down my main points of discussion. To give the participants a snippet of insight into what has influenced Cypriot food and culture to become what it is today we need to view the constant traffic of visitors over time and the fact that Cyprus has been constantly occupied by invaders throughout history up until very recently when in 1960 they gained independence.

Cyprus was  rich in natural resources, the richest was copper. The word for copper in Greek is Kupros and either the island was named  this because of the copper or the name of the island came to mean copper because of the abundance of the stuff in ancient times. In the Roman period Cyprus was the main source of copper  in the world. This is a little snippet I’ve learnt in my research for information to embellish my talk. Another fascinating snippette is that sugar was being produced on Cyprus from the 10th century.Quite remarkable really. The Arabs introduced sugar production techniques and set up sugar mills and refineries across the Levant. Sugar was an amazingly valuable resource worth more than its weight in gold. Sugar production ‘though was very labour intensive and needed a lot of irrigation and when the Venetians arrived in the mid 1400’s they decided to switch production to cotton which was just as lucrative and much less costly to produce.

From these exploits you can see that on Cyprus it was possible to cultivate most things due to its temperate climate and fertile soil.You would think with all these rich resources Cyprus would be a wealthy country but sadly the indigenous people did not enjoy any of the profits as they were no more than serfs or slaves paying heavy taxes and dues to the rulers.

When my aunt Eugenia came up to Treis Elies to share her recipes with us she made us many forms of pasta. These have been part of the traditional diet for centuries and I puzzled at this. When delving into the origins of pasta however there is no clear way of knowing where exactly it started. There is evidence now that it could have originated in ancient Greece. So either they could have brought it to Cyprus or much later the Venetians. Wherever the tradition originated  pasta in its various forms was eaten frequently:- macaronia, ravioles, trin, phides, tomachia, koulourouthkia all are made from pasta.

Well more next time now I’m on the research trail.

up_around_copper_harbor_07_m1_screen

up_around_copper_harbor_07_m1_screen (Photo credit: pntphoto)

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A Frisson of Excitement

That is what I get when something captures my imagination and I see an idea that has captured someone elses’. When events push us and the chips are down, all is gloom and doom around us, it’s great to see those daring souls who follow their star believing anything is possible. I visited Cyprus this year at a very stressful and confusing time when the banks and the Cyprus economy looked as if they were in meltdown. But the thing is even if the news spells disaster life goes on, it has to. People have jobs to do and standing still wringing your hands is not going to achieve anything.

What delighted me the most was the people I met who were following their passion. They had set up small businesses based on a lot of hard graft and love, the universal principle among them seems to be to support each other, not compete. offering a product /service  of value. Because of this they have high chance of thriving in the present climate.

I learned of two herb gardens, one in Larnaka Cyherbia http://www.cyherbia.com and one in Pano Akourdalia, Heaven on Earth Herbals http://www.heavenonearthherbals.com that I found truly inspiring. Although on different scales they are both working with nature and both get involved in passing on the knowledge of herbs to children. The conditions in Cyprus are  ideal for growing top quality herbs, the lack of water produces a very high concentration of volatile oil up to 33%. These are then used either dried in teas or distilled to use as balms and tinctures. Pano Akourdalia herb garden, Chrysoeleousa, is indeed heaven on earth, sitting in the garden I felt a huge sense of peace and the scenery is truly stunning in this part of Cyprus. I had paid a visit to this garden a few years ago when researching for my book and was disappointed to find it deserted but this visit I was delighted to discover it fully functioning.

The setting up of the garden was originally funded by the Laona Project which was conceived by the Cyprus Friends of the Earth. To quote”to demonstrate the feasibility of ecologically sound development in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the Akamas Peninsula and the nearby Laona Plateau. It ran from 1989 to 1994.   Securing the interests of the local people has been vital to the successful protection of this unique and beautiful region, so the Laona Project sought to revitalise the declining economies of nearby villages by introducing sustainable development.” The garden is based around the old schoolhouse which was restored and now serves as the main work area for sorting and distilling the herbs, as well as an organic and healthy cafe selling gluten-free cakes. I enjoyed a chat with Caroline and a refreshing and delicious cup of verbena tea along with a slice of gluten-free yummy cake. Harvested, dried, herbs were being picked over and the shelves were packed with jars of all manner of herbs. Caroline has clearly found an ideal spot to carry out her profession of master herbalist and naturopath and has a thriving practise.

Another very different garden is one set up by the Utopia group of young like- minded people who started a collective shop and cafe in Utopia collectiva Lefkosia.  Wanting to live in a healthy and sustainable way they also started a community garden on an old disused railway track in Kaimakli where they are starting to grow their own food http://collectivebahce.wordpress.com  This has produced a cohesion of community as well as getting them in touch with the soil and learning how to grow and cultivate; something very close to my heart as regular readers of this blog will know. My brother when he lived in Cyprus used to say you can just throw seeds on the ground and they start to grow without any encouragement, a fertile land indeed.

A different kind of community is being nurtured on Facebook by Heart Cyprus, another group of young people whose motivation was to draw Cypriots and Cyprofiles together in unity and support. This has now developed further and a new website has been set up with a more substantial idea of showcasing the best that Cyprus has to offer by collaborating with businesses to promote Cyprus as a quality destination. http://www.heartcyprus.com/. These may seem small ideas to some but small projects can grow and encourage others to start their own ventures which in turn generate not only income but  quality of life.

Encouragement

I just want to start by thanking those readers who have commented on my last post and sent me encouraging words. It is always nice to know that there are people out there actually reading my blog so thank you I really appreciate it.

When I wrote the last post I was suffering from very blocked sinuses  which seemed to have dogged me since my return from Cyprus. This of course caused me to feel a bit sorry for myself and consequently showed in my post; always a mistake to write when under the weather! But today I feel perkier and I have made some movement forward. Since my last post I have started to write a blog for a site called Cyprus News Report http://www.cyprusnewsreport.com and encouragingly my first post was rewarded with a gold star! This site targets the British expatriate community living in Cyprus and English-speaking Cypriots abroad and is run by a very talented lady called Sarah Fenwick who not only is a reporter but also a jazz singer http://www.sarahfenwick.com. She has lived in Cyprus some time and is part of a growing jazz and blues community there, check out her site and videos, if you like cool you’ll enjoy her singing.

English: Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, Londo...

English: Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, London. The image was taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1. Category:Buildings and structures in Haringey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve also been considering how to get involved in the Cyprus Wine Festival which is held in London at Alexandra Palace at the end of June. To take a stall is a bit beyond my budget at the moment and what would be much better is if I could team up with someone who is selling food and they agreed to sell the book along with their produce for a good percentage. The organisers of this long running festival, it is their 30th anniversary this year,  is The Parakiaki newspaper www.parikiaki.com/ a weekly newspaper printed in London for the Cypriot community in Britain. It has a small English section and they have kindly printed a few of my press releases, they are checking over the list of attendees to see if there is someone who may fit the bill.

 

Yesterday I also learned of a new site for artists and creatives to market themselves and their creations,  www.see.me, this was through a social marketing blog that I follow. It seemed pretty neat and free so I’ve created a profile and I’ll see if anything comes of it. The idea is that the community who register are all creatives or people who are like-minded, it has the option of acting as a platform whereby you can attract sponsors or customers or just a place to hang out. There is an option to upgrade which gives a lot more exposure and even this is a reasonable £40 or so a year. 

I’m also checking out some more Greek specific blogs that are written in English. So things are moving along even though it’s in fits and starts like a car on kangaroo petrol, it is actually moving.

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Another basket case

I’ve just watched this video via a link from Stroud International Textiles facebook page and was enveloped  once again in enthusiasm for the craft and it’s possibilities. So much diversity exists in creative basket weaving.

In Cyprus the basket making tradition is strong and in the past this was a highly versatile and much practised craft for making all manner of containers used in everyday life. Now, sadly there are fewer and  fewer  exponents of this once ubiquitous craft. The younger generations are not encouraged to take it up, and I’m sure they must think there are much more lucrative ways of earning a living. But what a shame it would be if the skills were lost completely, already the last man to make baskets out of twigs has gone from Kritou Terra.

Weaving is another craft that looked like it might be going the same way but, as already discussed in earlier blogs initiatives are now being put in place to invigorate interest in not only preserving the traditional techniques but also, just as importantly, instigating collaborations between universities in Cyprus and around the world to take an interest in the weavers and weaving techniques of Cyprus, so that innovation can take place and the practises are carried forward. I feel sure the same kind of initiatives can be put in place to re- kindle interest in basket making and get innovation going to produce some  exciting and creative products using the traditional materials and techniques.

Lace is yet another very traditional craft  of Cyprus and I was excited to see a poster earlier this week, again posted on facebook via Phitiotika, for an exhibition taking place at the  Lefkara Hotel  with the fabulous title of your ‘Granny can fly’,showing the results of a collaboration between local lace-makers  and craft-makers and artists from the UK, Romania and Bulgaria. I wish I could be there to see it. This is so encouraging to see these revered crafts being carried forward by the next generations in new ways.