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 Pedlar 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.
In the UK we have a lot of favourite board games that we play at home and some like darts and dominoes that are often played by the locals in pubs but we have nothing that compares to the ubiquitously played game of tavli in Cyprus.
‘Tavli‘ in Greek just means table, I learnt today, so relates to games played on a table and the familiar tavli board is used to play three games, ‘plakoto’, ‘portes’ ( backgammon) and a game of Turkish origin called ‘fevga’http://www.bkgm.com/variants/Tavli.html. On finding this information yesterday, it neatly answered a small query of mine; on recently starting to read a book called ‘The Venetian” by Lina Ellina partly set in the Cyprus of 1456, it mentioned a game called ‘plakoto’ which could be played for high stakes, the Cypriots love a gamble.The history of the games date back thousands of years as far back as ancient Egypt and has been played in variant forms all over the world. It is played with two participants each have chequers and the throw of the dice determines their moves around a board which consists of two halves. In Cyprus it verges on a national pastime and there are very few kafeneions that don’t sport a couple of men deep in concentration playing the game. I’m sure children learn to play the game at their fathers’ knee; I say father although women must play the game in Cyprus, it’s just that kafeneions are the public places where it is visible and those are the sole territory of the man commonly.
My father was no exception to this phenomenon and relished playing a usually lively game with my uncles when they visited. He would throw the dice energetically and bang down the chequers on the board to emphasise his decisive move, accompanied by loud exclamations whether winning or losing. He took up marquetry for a few years after retirement and one of the objects that he applied it to was a backgammon board. Sadly I didn’t learn how to play this absorbing game and I might find the time to learn, if I can find someone to practise with!
The board game of my choice at the moment is scrabble and a couple of friends and I enjoy an entertainingly convivial evening whenever we play. All these games ultimately are strategic if they are played in their fullest form, my two friends are extremely competitive. I don’t match up to their zeal and tactics in blocking trebles to win at all costs although I have learnt a lot from playing with them. I am a lazy player and I play mostly to enjoy the play with words , I would rather get a really good word down even though it might not get a brilliant score; I find it endlessly fascinating way the board pans out. I would rather open the board up and keep the game moving than agonise over strategy and ultimately winning; this doesn’t make me a challenging partner. Interestingly, on occasions when I tried to adopt the same tactics as my friends, we would just get stalemated as no one would move except say at a letter a time. My laissez-faire attitude causes a wee bit of friction with my partners on occasion, as depending on who is on my left gets the advantage of my generous gift of a treble opening and consequently the points. I have also noted that even by opening up the treble my partners have not necessarily always been in the position to take advantage of it so when it came round to my turn again I could! This is a sort of gamble you could say, both ways I win as the game keeps flowing. I would say a good thirty percent if not more of the game is down to luck, depending on what letters you pick up and what letters are on the board; the skill is making the most of what you’ve got. Even so there has been the odd occasion I’ve won.
A backgammon board from Lebanon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)