Cyprus Place- Threads That Connect

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This could be the title of this site in a way, the title ‘though came from a road name I came across in Rye, Sussex last week. It seems I can’t go very far without coming across something that connects withCyprus.

My good friend Gill of Paisley Pedlar920675_514306348604435_2064644349_o fame who I’ve mentioned in previous posts, and I had another of our jaunts last week, this time to take a look at Rye. It is a town that has a very long and interesting history spanning over a thousand years. It is an Antient town of the Cinque Ports  which was an association of five sea port towns along the Kent and Sussex coast; set up by Edward the Confessor, its aim was to improve and fortify the  sea defences  of the English Channel against  invaders. Rye, a late addition was  an important trading harbour probably the most important of England in medieval times. Today this is difficult to visualise as the sea is two miles away due to the vagaries of weather and waterways. I don’t know why there would be a place named after Cyprus in this small coastal town, it seems like a quaint backwater now but if I sat in an old quiet spot and meditated it wouldn’t take much imagination to carry me back to those times of bustling activity with sailing ships arriving from far flung corners of the trading world.

Cyprus was under Venetian rule from 1489 −1571, the Venetians were great merchants  and at that time England had greatly expanded and was a major exporter of wool and trading with the Middle East so I’m sure there was trade between these countries, it isn’t too far fetched to connect Rye with that time and possibly ships coming from Cyprus.  I recently finished reading ‘The Venetian’ by Lena Ellena http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15701151-the-venetian  a fascinating read that covers a lot of detail of what it was like living on Cyprus at the beginning of this period of Venetian rule, certainly no picnic for the Cypriots. The Venetians were beginning  to establish cotton production on Cyprus at that time to replace the more costly production of sugar, who knows Cyprus could have sent cotton to England!

 

Towards the end of our brief sojourn in this delightful historic town,we visited an emporium selling all manner of goods connected to cloth and the sewing thereof. Quite a fitting finish to this piece as its name is Merchant & Mills and ties in nicely to the theme of trade and merchants past and present. My friend Gill is a sewista and introduced me to this company, I was right in my comfort zone as soon as I set foot over the threshold. It had in stock some really good quality cottons and linens that were just calling me like sirens to buy them; it was tough but I resisted. There were the accoutrements of dressmaking and tailoring all around and memories of my father’s tailor’s shop came drifting into mind. Card patterns hung from a nail and tape measures, tailor’s chalk and twine were all lined up neatly. I will return when I am in need of any of the above,  if not to this shop then certainly the virtual one.

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A Fruity Little Number

My Good friend Gill just can’t seem to get enough of this Revani recipe….

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Getting something new is always exciting, even when it is a new oven.  Yesterday I was the lucky recipient of a shiny new oven to replace my old one which had blown the main oven element for about the 5th time, and lets face it, there are only so many times when a repair  is the better option and this was not one of them.

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My shiny new oven

Once my husband had installed it, the question was “what to cook in it?”  Normally I would have just made the evening meal, but we had a substantial lunch out, so my new oven sat gleaming for a bit longer.  Today I decided I couldn’t wait any longer so I decided to make a cake.  Now a nice new oven  should really be christened with a special cake, and what could be more special than a Revani, recipe courtesy of my…

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Still a Basket Case

I have long been a basket case and wherever I find them I hone in like a fine tuned radar.

What is it that attracts me? For one thing the variety of shapes, sizes and colours that can be achieved with a few rushes , grasses or canes. In fact any pliable cane or twig can be fashioned into a basket. Evidence of hard caned baskets have been found on Cyprus dating as far back as Neolithic times which I find mind-blowing. Who first thought of weaving strands of plant material to make a container and what a clever chap or chapess they were?

This craft  exists all over the world, I love the colourful baskets of Africa and France particularly and recently bought a beautiful and very colourful basket from a stall at a local garden fair in the centre of Chichester. Butternut baskets imports them from Northern Ghana Africa and what a time I had choosing! I eventually plumped for a crimson and green pattern and now use it to store bread, perfect as it allows air to circulate. This weave is very tight and the grasses used are fine similar to the talaria baskets used to make cheese in Cyprus. In Cyprus traditionally they used a very open weave string like tray which would hang from the beam to store their bread these are called tapatzia .

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In Cyprus baskets were made for many purposes and there were even baskets made with openings in the top to allow transportation of fowls to market. On my recent trip I went in search of a tsestos which are particularly made in the Paphos region using straw bound into a rope like strand and wound round, decorated with colours and  patterns. I found a very attractive small one for sale in a shop in Platres along with a small, shallow hard caned basket  with handles as well as a nicely round shaped talari.

I also wanted to venture to Akrotiri where I knew there were basket makers still working. It was a hot day when I made the journey and it was a longer journey than it seemed on the map. I didn’t find the woman who made the baskets but I discovered the delightful baskets that she had made in a garage next to her house. There were some dinky little talaria and other colourful small baskets made with the same material but in a different shape to what I had seen before. These baskets were half the price to the ones I had bought in a shop in Platres but then it had taken me an hour to get there and the cost of the petrol so I  consider them both a fair price.

Here is a fabulous short l film on basket making in Cyprus :- http://www.cyprusonfilm.

Find out much more about basket making in Cyprus in my book ” Androula’s Kitchen-Cyprus on a Plate”

Baskets

Baskets

More Greedy Italians

Amalfi Coast Italy 6

Image via Wikipedia

I of course had to see what those cheeky Greedy Italians were up to this week after last week’s pursuit of the traditional Italian woman. This week they ventured to the Amalfi coast, with those breathtaking views of verdant hillside precipitously running down to meet the glittering azure blue sea. This is where Gennaro grew up and he showed he hadn’t forgotten the skills he used as a boy for diving for fish from the sea bed, from which Antonio conjured up a quick and tasty shellfish linguini.

What struck me with this episode is how closely it resembled my sentiments about my journey to Cyprus in search of their culinary heritage. The bounty of nature is the same as in Cyprus, Antonio and Gennaro revelling in the freshness of juicy peaches and apricots just picked from the tree and not even bothering to pick the grapes off the vine before gorging on their black lusciousness. Lemons hanging profusely from the tree hanging over their terrace where Antonio rustled up a mouth – watering  lemon tart, if only I could have passed my hand through the telly and taken a slice, it looked so good.

In the 1950’s this area as with Cyprus, was very poor and they made do with whatever nature provided and wasted nothing. Necessity is ever the mother of invention and that certainly goes as far as inventing delicious food out of simple ingredients. These families, as with Cypriot villagers, kept, chickens, pigeons, goats and pigs to fatten up and eat. Pasta was eaten at the beginning of the meal to fill hungry bellies when there was possibly very little meat to go round in the second course if any at all. They ventured even further south to Naples,this is the birthplace of the pizza the now famous fast food. These regions ate what was known as”poor man’s food”  and the irony is that today this food is popular the world over and indeed turned into a cuisine that is served in  5 star restaurants. But as Gennaro says, when the ingredients are this fresh and eaten in these surroundings you couldn’t wish for anything more.

Silk in the 21st century

Yet another fantastic video from TED. Silk has been around for millennia and yet now the scientists are coming up with some mind blowing uses for this ancient material in the present day. It seems the uses are endless, throw away cups that are biodegradable, uses for storing information and drugs that can be placed in the body even for making screws that can be used to screw together fractures and then eventually disintegrate. How exciting that nature can provide scientists with imagination, materials that can be utilised in such a diverse way.

In Androula’s Kitchen I discuss the more well known uses of silk as a thread that is woven to produce a shimmering fabric. I live in hope that the once universal cultivation of silk worms, will once again become common in Cyprus to provide a new breed of silk weavers to join Rolandos. On my research trip to Cyprus last year I went to visit him in his studio in Lefkosia, Rolandos has studied the samples of old silk in the museum archives of Lefkosia and made a determined effort to learn the techniques which produced such fine examples. Cyprus was once renowned throughout Europe for its fine silks and the practice has gradually died out, the last time  silk was produced was in 1960’s. Rolandos alone at present is looking to revive this tradition and I look forward to viewing his new creations on my next visit.

Two Greedy Italian Cooks

I was watching a new cookery series on telly last night called “Two Greedy Italian Cooks” which I found both very sweet, very Italian, very funny and very sad all at the same time. These two famous Italian chefs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo go in search of that  legendary Italian female  who is a fabulous cook and homemaker. Antonio is doubtful she still exists with most women going out to work with little time to cook and indeed they came across plenty of young unmarried women who know nothing of cooking and were not particularly bothered; although Antonio was of the opinion that unless you can cook you will not find a husband  (hummmm?) What do you say to that? The men were bothered of course and in one cafe  where they were chatting to a group of young women and one solitary male who was bemoaning the fact that he missed home cooking as his partner worked very hard and had no time to cook so (sigh) he had to cook. One young woman had the audacity to say that wouldn’t it be lovely to find a young man who could cook for them? Now it didn’t seem to occur to  these two greedy cooks, that they were, indeed, capable of cooking a lovely meal for the hard working girls and surely instead of expecting the women to take sole responsibility for cooking a family meal that they could promote  both the men and the girls learn to cook “lika mamma used ta make” after all that is what they did. “Lungo la parità live” or in English, long live equality I say!!!

They were very relieved to see that a cookery school has been established which teaches women how to make pasta, The Awaiting Table, in the south of Italy. On visiting this… well who should they see but one of the hard working young women they had spoken to earlier who couldn’t cook for toffee and had obviously decided after Antonio’s pronouncement, she had better buck her ideas up and learn to cook that pasta or she will be left on the shelf along with her bag of flour.

However, I agreed  wholeheartedly with Carluccio’s sentiment that “cooking for someone is an act of love.” I love cooking for others, not all the time mark you but I certainly get a kick out of it.

My grandmother passed her knowledge down to my auntie who cooked along side her when she was alive and I was privileged that she gave my cousin Androula and I a master class in how to make pasta the Cypriot way when I visited last  May to gather information for my book “Androula’s Kitchen”. I am pleased to read on the Awaiting Table web site, that the traditional Italian way to make pasta is identical to that which aunt Eugenia showed us, using just flour and water and a very long rolling pin.

Oh Publisher, Publisher wherefore art thou………

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This blogsite is all about my journey from writing ‘Androula’s Kitchen’ my first  effort, to getting published. It is a journey so many have done before me and so many are doing as I write. The easy part is writing and putting together the whole package of presentation, a really fun part, but then the path ahead becomes a little hazy and confusing. There are so many hopeful writers out there  and so many paths to choose from once you have written. Do you get an agent or dive straight in and find a publisher? I started looking for a publisher in Cyprus for two reasons really, one,  I thought they would be more sympathetic to the material of the book and two I thought this might be simpler as there is much less choice. Indeed as far as I am aware there is only one publishing house functioning in the manner that we would expect in the U.K. the norm is more on a self publishing basis. It is a very small country  the market is much smaller and so therefore are the profits I guess.

I was  hopeful, as very early on the one publisher showed a keen interest in ‘Androula’s Kitchen’ and I couldn’t believe my luck, they were negotiating a book distribution deal in the UK at the time of me approaching them, a vital part of the deal for both of us. Sadly a few months further down the line this deal fell through and they were unable to secure another. So this left me with the rather more difficult task of wading in and finding an agent in the U.K. Or should that be a publisher??? For better or worse I’ve started with a search for an agent purely because there are fewer of them to choose from. The list of publishers and their requirements is a daunting one which I might yet have to work my way through. At the moment I have taken advice from a writer’s web site and started with a list of 10 agents to whom, a few at a time, I’m sending an enquiry with link. It will be a slow process as they all get many submissions a week and have a respond time of between 6 and 8 weeks, but it’s better than doing nothing and sticking all that work in the metaphorical drawer and forgetting about it so I can move on to the next project. I’ll just have to grit my teeth and get on with it however long it takes.

It is a task though, I have to admit ,I find every excuse to avoid, and time seems to march on inexorably. As I look out of the window the daffodils are nodding and the sun is out beckoning but my head must be forced to bend over the keyboard and plough on. Ahh publisher, publisher, wherefore art thou…..?

The Streets of Paris

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I enjoyed making the book Androula’s Kitchen so much that I have got the bug. So when I went to Paris Last week for a few days break I made sure I took a lot of photos so that I could make a short photo book with them. There is something very satisfying about editing and choosing photos and placing them in a book.

Paris is a city that presents the amateur photographer ample opportunity to take photographs that can’t help but look artistic. Every turn and  every corner you are given buildings, people and views that just speak of chic, street chic.

I saw so many snappily dressed young men, not in scruffy jeans hanging round there nether regions looking as if given the least opportunity they will fall around their ankles and are only hanging on by sheer strength of will.No these young men wore stylish casual trousers and  snazzy shoes with  non matching but well cut jackets in interesting looking fabrics, finished off with  jaunty scarves. How refreshing. I feel sometimes walking around London that it is inhabited by people with absolutely no interest in clothes. It’s not even about fashion it’s about an interest in colour and texture and variety. So much drabness becomes depressing in large numbers.

Some of my personal passions are texture and colour and in this modern contemporary world I sometimes despair at the limited selection of colours and designs we are offered in high street fashion. There is so much grey, black and taupe I could scream ahhhhhhhhh! What happened to turquoise, blue and all the shades in between, dark reds and burnt oranges and purple? The colours in nature are so infinite and varied I puzzle at the lack of desire to translate these subtleties into fabrics. And what about shoes???? Of course if you have the money all these colours and every richness of texture is available to you and if I ever make the kind of money that would enable me to have this choice I would cherish the opportunity to explore the design workshops of unknown individual designers. We have a huge amount of design talent out there and I get to glimpse the creations occasionally just as an observer. But one day maybe………

Weavers Unite!- Cyprus on a Plate

Weavers at the Handicraft Centre weaving fythkiotika

I’m very excited …it doesn’t take much.

Today, while searching WordPress for other blogs relating to topics I cover in my book ‘Androula’s Kitchen’, I came across Phitiotika. It is a site set up by two British artists Maura McKee and Sarah Dixon, they both have connections with Cyprus and had a strong empathy with the weavers of Fyti who are struggling to keep their weaving traditions alive in a dwindling village. They, like myself, feel there should be a way to carry on the strong traditions and heritage of weaving in  Cyprus, through the younger generations by encouraging innovation and diversity.

Throughout the centuries Cyprus has had a reputation for fine weaving. Each region had their own specialities and styles. At one time their was an abundance of silk and silk weaving was commonplace. Each family would own a loom and the women of the household wove all the  linen needed for everyday life  including their clothing and bedding. Silk worms were cultivated, cotton grown and there were plenty of sheep to supply wool.  Silk is no longer cultivated and the weaving of silk has not been practised in Cyprus since the 1960s. Life has changed rapidly and people live different lives where there is no necessity to make everything themselves with mass production and cheap imports.

Fyti, in the Paphos region of Cyprus, has a very particular style of weaving which incorporates patterns of coloured wools. The patterns are mostly geometric and each weaver would make their own patterns usually telling a story. Maura McKee and Sarah Dixon are working together with The Laona Foundation to come up with a plan for conserving and recording the weaving practises of Fyti while setting in place  initiatives which will encourage Cypriot artists to embrace and improvise on this valuable heritage as well as academics, artists, textile collectors and weavers internationally, with the help of the internet. Sarah has experience of working on cultural and conservation projects in several countries. Their aim:

“The aim of this proposed project is to reinvigorate and recontextualise Phiti weaving, and to support Phiti weavers in their practice. We are setting out to catalyse a process of conserving and adapting tradition.”

You can find out more on their blog, the link is on the blogroll and join their Facebook page.

I wish them both every success in this endeavour as this issue is close to my heart.

WEAVERS UNITE!