Bitter Sweet

English: Bellapais Monastery inner court, Kyre...

English: Bellapais Monastery inner court, Kyrenia, North Cyprus. Author: Atak Kara (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished reading that great classic ‘Bitter Lemons of Cyprus’  by Lawrence Durrell. I have managed to go all this time without reading it and  suddenly, inexplicably I was gripped with the desire. My sister had a copy with this very same cover on her bookshelves which I looked at for many years and vaguely felt that I should one day pick it up and read but resisted thinking it would be a bit too intellectual for me and dusty; not from lack of attention to the domestic chores but in its writing. I had read Gerald Durrell’s book ‘My family and other Animals’ about the Durrell’s lives on Corfu when Gerald was young which I enjoyed immensely, GD writes in a very light and humorous way, I somehow felt his brother would be a bit more heavy going. About a year ago I was given the talking book version on tape which made a long car journey seem to pass in a flash.  bitter-lemons1It was time to get the real thing in my grasp and read it, I finally retrieved a copy from the library a few weeks ago. To my delight it was full of the most beautifully poetic descriptions of the scenery and people around Bellapais near Kyrenia in a time when the island was still a sleepy backwater. Written in 1952 when Cyprus was a British protectorate after the Turks had relinquished power as part of an agreement  in 1878, it gives a picture of an island woefully neglected by its rulers, lacking in many modern amenities and infrastructure as well as a very limited education system. It conjures up a time of innocent  and welcoming hospitality. Cyprus was just starting to get regular tourists and Durrell expresses his distaste at seeing these incongruous foreigners trespassing into his idyll. A sentiment I think a lot of us will sympathise with but ironic when we are indeed the tourist as well.

The descriptions of the magical area around the Abbey perched high up on the Pentadaktylos range of mountains with spectacular scenery, brought back memories of my visit there many years ago pre 1974. My family like many visitors fell in love with that region particularly Lapithos. Kyrenia was always a particular favourite of the British who frequented its picturesque horseshoe-shaped harbour, surrounded by ancient buildings and dominated by the castle with its origins dating back to Roman times. Being so close to the capital it was also a very popular haunt of the Cypriots to spend some leisure time. There is no other place like it on the island and this made it even more of a tragedy when it was out of reach after the invasion. Now at least it is possible to visit and I’m eagerly looking forward to the day when I can see it once again after the book has whetted my appetite.

English: Bellapais Abbey

English: Bellapais Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The book also has a darker side as it relates the rumbling times leading up to the organisation of EOKA stemming from the rising tide of public outcry for ENOSIS and the lack of early constructive response from the British which might have saved a whole lot of trouble. Easy to see in hindsight of course. Durrell’s employment within the local British government offices at the time gives a valuable insight into the painfully slow machinations between Westminster and Nicosia and lack of up to date intelligence and thus awareness. The book ends with Durrell’s departure from the island as things get more entrenched and progressively uglier as all conflicts inevitably do.



A Weaving Wonder

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I received a beautiful surprise today, the postman delivered this purse sent by the weaver Rolandos in Cyprus. I’d interviewed him for my book and sent him a complimentary copy.As a token of his appreciation he made me this purse. Isn’t it fabulous?

On the packaging it describes it thus :-

“This herringbone technique, known since prehistoric times , is applied in the weaving of this piece, following the patterns of traditional Cypriot fabrics.

The fine weaving of such fabrics called ’twilled kyparrissota’ or ‘blocked’ during the 19th and 20th century AD put the  now occupied areas of Karavas and Lapithos on the map, making them known for their woven silk fabrics.

Lemba Pottery

My cousin Androula introduced me to Lemba Pottery. She has acquired quite a few fine pieces over the years from the gifted master potter George Georghiades who owns the pottery with his wife Sotiroula.

George’s father was a potter in the famous Lapithos region, the traditional home of pottery on the island before the Turkish invasion. George has studied both traditional and modern techniques and the shapes he utilises in his pottery reflect archaic forms of simple elegance. They have an ease and flow of line that I personally find very pleasing to the eye.

On my last visit to Cyprus I wanted to purchase some of his beautiful small bowls which I had seen on my first visit, a perfect size to use for soup. I found the colours very appealing as George uses colours that reflect the sea and the sky, so very appropriate for someone who lives a stones throw from one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in Cyprus. Whenever I use this bowl I take great pleasure in the grace of its lines, this adds another dimension to the enjoyment of my meal.

Many years ago I used to attend a pottery evening class and one of the things that fascinated me  was the glazes. Most glazes use metallic oxides and these can be a real adventure to the inexperienced as the results after firing can range widely but that was the fun of it. George uses glazes to great effect producing a richness of colour that adds yet another element to entice the senses. I love the mug I bought on my last trip as this demonstrates the metallic tones that can result, this one a verdigris colour.

He also produces some very lovely jugs, these ones a reflection of a shape used in antiquity.

The one I had to buy though has a much more utilitarian shape but one I love for its pleasing rotundity. Every detail you can see reflects the attention to detail that each piece is given lifted by the creative use of the glaze.

Traditional potters in Cyprus would use the local earthenware clay which chips very easily,  George uses a stoneware clay from Europe which results in a much more durable article. Traditionally potters would use a low kick wheel, where you sit low on the ground and use your knees or feet to turn it. George uses a modern electric wheel and a huge gas kiln to fire his pots.

If you are in or near Lemba or plan to visit in future please pay George a visit, he is just around the corner from the fantastic Lemba Art College, more of which next time. Meanwhile enjoy the virtual tour of some of his wonderful pots here.