Thin green line

Posted by Darrel Bristow-Bovey on 22 July 2019

Our columnist Darrel Bristow-Bovey crosses a few boundaries in Cyprus.

‘You don’t mind cats, do you?’ said the man with the neatly trimmed beard. Behind him, two yellow-eyed moggies glared at me inscrutably.

This put me in a difficult position. I was standing in the doorway of his apartment with my suitcase and he was about to hand over the keys for a week, so I didn’t feel comfortable telling the truth, which is: ‘Actually, I can’t stand them. They’re annoying and crafty and lie on my keyboard when I’m writing and I wouldn’t choose to share an apartment with one of them, let alone two.’

‘Sure,’ I said, ‘that’s fine.’

‘You don’t have to feed them or anything,’ he said. ‘They get their food next door. This is Mr Hero, that’s Zombie.’

‘Super,’ I said. They eyed me. I eyed them back.

I was in Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus. From the window of the apartment I saw the town stretch away across the dusty plains to the Kyrenia Mountains and the five-knucklebone peak of Pentadaktylos. Here I was in Cyprus and everyone spoke Greek, but five minutes’ walk away I could show my passport and be in a different Cyprus, North Cyprus, where everyone speaks Turkish, all the way to those mountains and down to the coast. Since 1974 there has been a green line drawn under the top third of the island, turning it into two countries of squabbling cousins trying to ignore each other. That didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

‘This is the green line!’ I declared to the cats, laying out a border of sofa cushions. ‘When I’m on that side, you can be on this side. When I’m here, you buzz off over there.’

I have no confidence in cats to honour territorial demarcations or international treaties, so I backed up the cushions by closing the door that leads to the bedrooms.

Next day I drove down to the Baths of Aphrodite – a mountain pool in a shady grotto by the sea where the goddess of love was discovered bathing by handsome Adonis, who fell in love and drank her bathwater. It was gorgeous and perfect but in the shallow pool lurked a nasty freshwater eel, just looking for something to bite.

That night as I lay in bed, I heard the scratching of the cats against the door from the lounge. ‘You will respect the sovereignty of my state!’ I bellowed into the Mediterranean night.

The next day I met an old Greek man who told me about his house on the Turkish side that still stands, crumbling and unoccupied, where his family had to leave it.

I crossed into North Cyprus and drove up to Bellapais, with its beautiful Gothic abbey and groves of bitter lemon trees, and I played soccer using a grapefruit as a ball with some kids on the beach at Famagusta, where the waves from Syria roll up clear and warm and hollow.

The people were happy there, but they were poor and some of them remembered the days when everyone lived everywhere and Greeks and Turks were neighbours and drank coffee together in the town square under the Tree of Idleness.

I came back to the apartment and watched the spectacular Cyprus sunset washing orange and gold equally across north and south, and I thought about how many walls there are in the world, how so many came down and how so many are going up again, and I went to the other side of the apartment and opened the door and scratched Mr Hero under his chin. He purred and blinked at me. He wasn’t so bad really.

Then I closed the door again and went back to my peaceful cat-free lounge. The world doesn’t change in a day.

Image: Getty/Gallo Images

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