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April/2004* 04/27/04

 

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The Goddess Aphrodite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along the Cyprus Coast

 

In Aphrodite’s Lap
Joyce Finn


There’s a rushing sound of water. My husband and I move away from the jeep toward the edge of the dirt track. In less than two steps we’re staring straight down a vertical drop. Andreas, our Cypriot guide and driver, laughs as we leap back from the precipice. He stoops to gather a sprig of lavender and hands it to me. The scent of the crushed flowers is breathtaking. The three of us wander back along the pitted road trying to glimpse the hidden waterfall, the source of the roar. I poke Charlie and remind him that if I hadn’t threatened to Velcro myself to his pant leg, we wouldn’t be hunting an elusive waterfall or be surrounded by purpling lavender and wild red poppies.

I knew, before my husband’s business trip to Cyprus that it was the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty. I knew, too, it was located in the eastern Mediterranean at the fulcrum of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Nothing more. With the certain knowledge that we regret most in life what we don’t do, I was determined that my husband wasn’t going to Cyprus alone and this would not be one of his typical business trips of airport to hotel and back to airport.

We arrived two days early to appease the jetlag gods and to sightsee. Like most tourists, our choices were to either hire a car at the Larnaca International Airport and drive in increasingly lost circles, or hire a driver as guide, translator, and interpreter. The Internet brought us to Andreas Philipou and his New Horizon Jeep Safari Company.

Although spectacular beaches flank Cyprus’ shores, it’s a volcanic island spined by the towering Troodos Mountains. Locals say it’s possible to ski Mt. Olympus in the morning and snorkel over reefs in the afternoon. From my first view of Cyprus, I could see how seductive this island had once been for successive waves of invaders and immigrants. With little effort they could crest the surf-less turquoise sea and parade across soft-breasted hills with their gentle slopes and sparse vegetation. Since 5,000BCE each successive wave of new arrivals layered their detritus of customs and artifacts on Cyprus, leaving behind one huge ethnographic museum.

We find our waterfall, a thin silver ribbon flowing from a deep cleft on the opposite side of a deep valley. Back in the jeep, we roll up the windows against the now chilled air as we continue higher into the hushed, pine-scented mountains. The dirt track we’re on is a pale tan thread frayed at the edges and interlacing heavy forests far below. We stop to let a herd of goats cross. How different life must be in the mountains from those in the coastal cities down below or even in the capital city of Nicosia on the central plain.

Yesterday after unpacking, we wandered into the old section of Nicosia, with its sun soft colors, nestling behind immense fortifications. The Venetians built these walls in the 16th century to repel invaders, but like many before and since, they were routed and driven out. It’s a place of cobbled streets, looming balconies, mosques and Byzantine churches, remnants of Roman aqueducts, and open air stalls. Heavily fruited and sweet-smelling lemon and orange trees line the streets. The newer portion of the city, beyond the old walls, is like any other with its high-rises, billboards, honking cars, and traffic jams as it sprawls toward the foothills.

Right now we’re in a traffic jam of goats. They saunter, stop, stare, shuffle, sway, and clump together, immobile, in front of us. The goat herder clambers into view behind them and shoos them onward and upward out of our way. Further along the winding back road, villages drape down mountainsides and monasteries wedge deep into the craggy folds or peer from neighboring peaks.

Later, driving down the mountains, we pass acres of new stubbled grapevines and the smell of fresh-plowed earth. Wine vats the size of double Jacuzzis lean against stucco walls or peek out from back gardens, many filled with cascading ruby-red bougainvillea or pale trailing honeysuckle.

Charlie, always the engineer, asks to see a copper mine. The Latin word cyprium is the root word for both the metal and the country, and both were derived from these famed ancient mines. With only two countries in the world named after metals, we can’t leave Cyprus without seeing one. Andreas brings us to a modern, open cut with the scars of active mining.

From the wedding cake tiers on the mine’s spiraling sides, we can see great swaths of iron once used for the red pigment on ancient urns, the long thin streaks of sulfur used for the yellow hues, and the pale verdigris, the green patina of copper. We poke over the ground for pyrite, fool’s gold, and for other intriguing lumps of variegated rock. At the bottom of the open pit is a small pond the color of dried blood.

On the way back to our hotel in Nicosia, we stop by the small foothill village of Lefkara, famous for its lace and silver designs. The women in the village have been producing their intricate designs since the Middle Ages. In 1481, when Leonardo De Vinci visited Cyprus, he purchased Lefkara lace for the Milan Cathedral and was so impressed with the artwork and skills of these women he designed a pattern that is still in use.

As we’re leaving, Andreas picks two lemons off a nearby tree, rubs them together and hands them to me. On the way back to Nicosia, I alternate between bruising the lavender leaves and rubbing the two lemons together. For us, these two smells will forever evoke images of Cyprus and its people. Isn’t that what travel is all about, to gather images and sensations that will resonate forever in our memories?

 


Joyce Finn




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