I haven’t written in a while. The events in Cyprus (and beyond) in the past few months have left me disillusioned and confused. The elections and subsequent economic collapse in Cyprus, and all I see and hear around me made me want to keep my mouth shut.

Cyprus became a topos of European and global neo-liberalism, with us Cypriots being sold out, squeezed with special measures and the privatizations (oh that holy grail) which are coming. Also the quick sale of our newly found (if found) gas reserves to the lowest bidder to balance the books. All this is followed closely by the ultra-right that’s spawned in recent years, coupled with the uncertain and hesitant Left of AKEL. The crippling bail-out, neo-orthodox, neo-hellenic (more than the Hellenes themselves) taliban of this ‘island of saints’, the neonazi groups and football fanaticism in the mix. 

And then June came, and brought with it the latest installment of the occupy movement-the resistance of our friends in Istanbul against something which looks very much like what we have (in miniature) in Cyprus. A conservative, autocratic government which is none the less fully committed to the neo-liberal agenda. Too much oppression-the people couldn’t take any more, they exploded into rage. Violence, blood, death and destruction, but also solidarity which brought together mortal enemies: fascists and leftists, fans of the three big football clubs of the city, covered women and tattooed women. All together, united against the irrational, against the combination of the elite’s greed and the conservatism which wants to ban people from kissing in public and having a drink.

I hope and wish that our friends in Cyprus will follow suit. Time to shake off our own establishment, the sterile politics which is based on fear; the fear of the Turk, the fear of the contamination of our ‘pure’ bastard race, the fear of loss of the Greek language. The Greek language which in Cyprus is spoken very badly, like a cheap imitation of an already cheap variety spoken by the mass media of Athens. The loss of our language is the result of the fascist push for the ‘preservation’ (imposition) of another, supposedly more homogeneous language.

It is also time to shake the establishment of a conservative, ethno-centric education which cultivates hatred, conformity, obedience, compromise, the acceptance of state-sponsored violence and the idea of the elite.* Let us shake the moronic (and repeatedly catastrophic) attachment to an equally bankrupt nation which is an even worse dead-end. We wanted Enosis and they sent Grivas. We wanted closer relations, they sold us their worthless bonds. 

Time to see things more clearly, without the lens of fear. Bankers, developers, priests, politicians and business people (some of these coincide) put their hands deep into the pocket of the hard working people on Cyprus (not just the Cypriots) and take away all they can. And then they feed them football, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, fear and insecurity against things which aren’t real threats, but which serve only to distract them from the things that do destroy them every day. And this is nothing new: it’s just the modern iteration of an old story.

I leave you with 2 videos from the goings on in Turkey. The first is Duman’s very touching anthem of the revolution (click on the Vimeo icon for lyrics in English)

Video 2:


* Thanks to Rage Against the Machine for the inspiration

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Christmas, time of happy consumerism, but not for all

image of a homeless man in a Birmingham underpass

Homeless man in an underpass in Paradise Circus,  Birmingham (click photo for Flickr link)

During the last year, there was a chap, homeless, sitting in the arcade next to Aldi and the other shops. Every time I passed from there he always greeted me with his drunken and gravelly voice: “all right mate?” “fine mate thanks, you?” “I’m good mate”. And as I was leaving, loaded with groceries: “see you soon mate” “you too mate” “look after yourself” “and you mate”. I didn’t even know his name. He was a man chewed and spat out by life, probably an alcoholic, if not also on heroin, full of tattos, wasted. But always courteous. Many times I thought of giving him something, but the always warn you against giving money, in case it is spent on drugs or alcohol (he always clutched a can of Carlsberg Special Brew).

Sometimes I thought of asking him if wanted me to buy him something from the bakery, something to eat in any case. I always had a feeling of guilt, because our society-this supposedly developed society with its sense of superiority-leaves such people of the margins rot on the pavement. I have a reasonable job, paid relatively well, a comfortable and safe life, and he sleeps rough. I never took that extra step though, to ask him if he wanted anything, to go beyond the initial and formulaic “hello mate”.  Perhaps because my own financial and social conditions make me insecure too, just like so many of my social class.  Perhaps I was feeling too apprehensive to open up with someone with whom I had potentially very little in common.

Last Monday, when it was a freezing -6 the night before, he was found dead behind the church (oh the irony).  This passed largely unnoticed, apart from some comments on my area’s Facebook page. In the mean time, we’re all busy spending like mad, buying toys, books and food as if the apocalypse is looming. It’s fucking unfair.


The photo was taken with my old Zenit EM on black and white film.

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Origin of social classes, by Eduardo Galeano

Cultivation of potato, yucca and other tubers. From Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615/1616). Click on image for the link to the manuscript online

In the earliest of times, times of hunger, the first woman was scratching at the earth when the sun’s rays entered her from behind. In an instant, a baby was born.

The god Pachacamac was not at all pleased with the sun’s good deed, and he tore the newborn to pieces. From the dead infant sprouted the first plants. The teeth became grains of corn, the bones became yucca, the flesh became potato, yam, squash…

The sun’s fury was swift. His rays blasted the coast of Peru and left it forever dry. As the ultimate revenge he cracked three eggs on the soil.

From the golden egg emerged the lords.

From the silver egg, the ladies of the lords.

And from the copper egg, those who work.

Eduardo Galeano,  Mirrors

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Cyprus travelogue: Bellapais Abbey

Click on the photo to see more

Κυπριακά δαμαί

Our second day trip was to Bellapais Abbey. If you regularly read my blog, you’ll know that the history of the island is a great passion of mine. I had only seen Bellapais on  framed posters/photos which lamented the loss of the occupied north, two-dimensional and meaningless if you had no knowledge of the space. I always wanted to visit it, so I set out one morning with the family. We crossed north from Ayios Nicolaos (4-mile point). This was the first time I’d been to the north in my dad’s car, so I had to buy insurance. I went to the insurance ‘cabin’ at the crossing. There were two Turkish-speaking Cypriots, a man and a woman. The man addressed me in Greek-Cypriot, while the woman was preparing breakfast. As I was supplying the man with the vehicle details (pick-up truck, empty shotgun shells in the back, all sorts of agricultural tools in the passengers feet, a tonne of dust), I was also observing the woman. She cut cucumber, tomatoes, halloumi, and then, to my surprise, took out a can of ‘polipif’ (the Cypriot word for ‘bully beef’, but actually used for canned pork, luncheon meat etc). I know that many Turkish Cypriots are not generally religious, and some probably eat pork. However, if eating pork is an insult to the prophet, eating ‘polipif’ goes beyond the insult. For me, this was another confirmation of our shared post-colonial culture, since it was the British who brought us ‘polipif’. In the UK, very few people still eat it, as they have access to real meat nowadays (although I do spot the old granny buying corned beef by the slice). In Cyprus it’s part of the culture, eaten with halloumi and water melon.

We slowly made our way to the Famagusta-Nicosia motorway. Only by taking this route can you possibly comprehend what Mesaoria actually means. Although us historians are fully aware of it as the bread-basket of Venice (and partly Istanbul), seeing it in all its glory, vast and flat, full of hay bales, is quite something.

A great problem I have every time I visit the north are the new names of villages. This attempt to erase the history of the space by changing place-names infuriates me. In the Ottoman sources, all villages and towns had names which were either a simple transliteration/pronunciation of the name in Turkish (Kyrenia/Girniye, Lemesos/Limesun,  Morfou/Omorfa, Lapithos/Lapta) or a translation of a particular feature, such as Değirmenlik (=place of many mills) for Kythrea, a village with a total of 36 flour mills. The changing of place-names with other, irrelevant (but ethnically loaded) names is nothing short of barbaric. As if it’s not enough to have lost the historical memory of space, we also lost the place-names so that we have no realistic point of reference (There was a feeble attempt to ‘Grecify’  some names in the south a few years back, which failed). Google Maps has both versions of names at the moment.

We finally reached Bellapais. I cannot adequately describe the beauty of this medieval space, another sample of the wealth of the Frankish Kingdom of Cyprus. The monastery appears fortified, perched in the bosom of the Pentadaktylos mountains. There are many symbols of the Lusignan kings, and Catholicism as you’d expect. There are also other pieces of evidence: a marble Roman sarcophagus somebody must have hauled from somewhere else, and on its stone base are carved two stars of David-who knows where they came from?

It goes without saying that around the monastery you have the usual tourist traps, but also-as someone pointed out too late-the house of Lawrence Durrell, author of The Bitter Lemons of Cyprus.

I left Bellapais feeling troubled. The rich medieval heritage of Frankish-Venetian Cyprus (the last Crusader kingdom, no less) is not adequately promoted (or celebrated), as it does not sit in with the island’s nationalisms. This feeling was reinforced during my visit to the (brilliant) Medieval Museum in the Limassol Castle-something I’ll be describing shortly.

We slowly got on to the road back to Famagusta, with the sun on our backs, baking the plains, and the place-names burning a hole in me.


More photos

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On a day like today in the history of Cyprus

Nothing happened today in the history of Cyprus. That is to say, nothing happened which the fathers of our history thought worthy of writing about, from Herodotus to Bustronius  all the way to Kyrris and Papadopoullos. No king was crowned. No conquerors landed. No archbishops were executed. No dragomans abused their power. No Venetian merchant had a blazing row with their French counterpart. No temples were built. Nobody staged a coup d’etat. No goddesses were born, no saints martyred, nobody received 39 lashes.

On a day like today, as on every day in history, the peasant woke up at the break of dawn, to toil with the land (their own or their lords’), the slave gathered the cotton and chopped the sugar cane, a woman gave birth under a carob tree, and many more died at birth. Another woman had to marry the one her parents chose (or the one that was left available if she was poor). On a day like today, the tax collector priest or agha came to the village to bleed the peasants dry. On a day like today, the Cypriot labourer carried, cut, fixed, built, bought and sold for the glory of those whose names history did record. On a day like today, the Roman slave in the Skouriotissa mine died from the fumes, from exhaustion, from beatings. On a day like today, the CMC miner of Skouriotissa had to buy the more expensive imported grains, because the British colonialists had an empire to consume their products. On a day like today, three lads from the union were beating up a scab. On a day like today, the Cypriot language survived because the mother spoke it to the child. The Church did not save it, because on a day like today (just like today) it was too busy counting the Venetian ducats, the hyperpyra, the kurush and the Dutch dollars, and had no time for nation-saving or such crap.

On a day like today, nobody rebelled for freedom supposedly. On a day like today, people made up songs and jokes to mock authority and subtly get their own back. On a day like today, a peasant was quietly threshing his wheat and barley away from the village threshing floor, to avoid the taxman. On a day like today, somebody walked miles to go the fair or the town market to sell their halloumi, timber, perhaps a goat or a sheep. On a day like today, the locust landed and ate the crops, the plague landed and ate humans. On a day like today, the monastery bought another little piece of land, the usurer got another one for free. The middle man lent money to the cotton producer on unfavourable terms by force so that he could gain super-profits.

On a day like today, the grand and powerful wrote their names and put their coat of arms onto buildings those without a name had built. On a day like today, a neighbourhood had a feast because someone had slaughtered a pig. On a day like today, somebody thought of using tripe to wrap sheftalies. On a day like today, somebody had a shit and used a fig leaf to wipe his arse.

On a day like today, life went on without fanfare, without the knowledge of the glorious anniversary. When you spend your life bent over, you have little time to worry about posterity. You worry about feeding the mouths, not dying of starvation or cold, not encountering the bands of bandits/rebels/invaders/tax collectors/priests as they descended to squeeze you or slay you. Isn’t this what history is? Why are we concerned with anniversaries, the notables, the elite? Because they were always the only ones who could write, and so they wrote about themselves and their friends. Nobody wrote about Lougrou, Yusufis, or the other anonymous who led heroic lives struggling to just live.


This post also appears in Cypriot here

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Searching for history and memory in Ais Serkis and Limnia

Studying a 17th c. Italian manuscript, I stumbled across this phrase: “bisognava andare con / tutta la gente in un villaggio chiamato Santo Sagi dove era un / palazzo di Mustaffa Bei” (we had to go with all the troops to a village called Santo Sagi [Ais Serkis/Ayios Sergios] where there was a palace of Mustafa Bey). Because of the date of the document, it means that the ‘palace’, probably a large mansion, was Venetian. The village of Ais Serkis is currently in the north part of Cyprus, its inhabitants displaced in the conflict which ravaged my country in the 60’s and 70’s. Its name was changed to Mormenekşe by those who try to alter the island’s ethnic character by force.

I thought of going there, just to see if there was anything that would fit the description of a ‘palace’. Needle in a haystack, but “seek and you shall find” as the saying goes. An old British map also identified something called ‘Hadjipantelis House’ in the village of Limnia, practically merged to Ais Serkis. Who knows? I went with my brother. On the way to Limnia we saw 1-2 interesting buildings which we earmarked for the way back. In Limnia we found an interesting church, which I later recognized as Ais Yorkis (St. George). It was interesting, and it had a very peculiar figure of a man on its eastern wall. I had never seen the like before. The church was in a bad state of repair, and a sign saying “Mormenekşe sağlık ocağı” (Ais Serkis Health Club). Opposite was a ruined house with an interesting entrance. In the front, a barbecue. There was nobody about, very few people at best, all of them settlers from Turkey. A beautiful girl-with a headscarf-said hello.

Ais Yiorkis, Limnia (St. George)

Figure of a man, St. George, Limnia

House entrance, Limnia

We carried on. We stopped and photograph the Ais Serkis church and the Sunday school, both thankfully in good condition. On the way out of the village we stopped at a ruined house which looked like it could have once been important. Two stories, with arches, it looked like a wealthy house but was also a mess. I got off the car. My brother sensibly stayed in the cool of the air conditioned car.

There was a dog tied up on the side. I walked around him carefully, just out of the reach of its rope-I didn’t want to get bitten! I went round the back and saw the beautiful arches. I tried to enter-the house was full of dogs, tied up or locked up behind wire fences. Somebody was using the house as a dog-house. They caught my scent and started barking like mad. I took a few steps back, photographed it and we were on our way.

Ruined house in Ais Serkis

A bit further there was a small church, in an awful state. I thought of asking the locals, but the only people there are Turkish settlers nowadays, at least from what I could tell. Then I realised the true cost of the uprooting which took place. When people left their lands, where they had their roots, we also lost the historical memory relating to the landscape. The people who live there, or indeed in the former Turkish villages in the south, don’t have a relationship with the space which spans centuries. The legends and tales of the place were disrupted suddenly with the population movements. What if the refugee from Ais Serkis recounts the old tales to his/her grandchildren? With the change of the physical, geographical reality, the old tales are no longer relevant to the space, they will be lost. Working in the valleys of Atsas or Solea in the past, I found that the stories told by the locals had as much value as the more scientific data from the ground or historical manuscripts. In the villages which were cleared by this forced displacement or genocide, the testament cannot be gathered as easily, and will most certainly not pass to the next generations, simply because they are no longer relevant. This is another tragedy.

A few years ago I met an old man from Ais Serkis. In London.

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Slideshow from Cyprus/Φωτογραφίες που την Νήσον

Press the bottom right button for full screen video/Πατήσατε επί του κομβίου εκ δεξιών δια προβολήν πλήρους οθόνης

Μπορείτε να δείτε πιο πολλές φωτογραφίες στο Flickr, πατάτε δαμαί.

More photos on Flickr, click here.

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Faith schools, hypocrisy and class aspirations

The most depressing thing I heard in the last few weeks was this: some people I know started attending the Catholic Church, with a view to having their child admitted to the Catholic School in the area (not strictly very near their house). When I say ‘started attending’ I mean that these people were not particularly religious before. In fact, the mother is/was a self-confessed atheist.

What drives people to abandon their values and subscribe to a religion for the sake of ‘better’ education is simply class aspiration. Some faith schools (including the one in question) have excellent results. Parents who are ambitious to the point of dictating and directing every step of their children’s lives are drawn to this. A faith school is a guarantee of success, supposedly.

So, when a self-confessed atheist sends his/her child to a faith school, the message they send out to the world (and their child) is: “it’s OK to be hypocritical and an outright liar, if this will guarantee you success”. Also, “it’s OK to belittle and insult other people’s genuine beliefs by using their faith and place of worship as a means of achieving individual success”. “But the school is good, what does it matter that it’s Catholic?” you’ll hear them reply in defence. A school run by the Catholic Church which has been turning a blind eye to child abuse? A school run by the same Catholic Church that has been preaching against condoms, therefore playing an active role in the spread of AIDS and other STDs? What does it matter that the institution running this school is a backward, conservative, homophobic and corrupt? What if their values and principles go against the trends of modern society? What if their institution is led by an ex-Nazi? “Their results are good, their students succeed”. Would you send your child to a Nazi school? I am sure that a Nazi school could be as successful as any other. Does it matter that the principles of the organisation that runs it are a bit iffy? What does it matter if the agenda includes mass deportations and genocide? Not one iota if Junior gets great results and ‘succeeds’ in life. The message you have given Junior is that it’s OK to do dodgy things in an attempt to succeed. Lie about your religion. Kill a Jew. Pat yourself on the shoulder, you’re a successful member of society.

My greatest gripe is that I, as a taxpayer in a secular country, help fund these institutions which operate on the basis of discrimination. These institutions discriminate against people who are not religious. According to the same logic, I could start a school excluding religious people-I bet that would cause a reaction, would it not? Apart from the fact that discrimination is illegal (and this should apply to schools), why is the taxpayer funding this?

What drives all this is middle class ambition (or ambition to be middle class). It’s not just with faith schools. It’s with any school that has ‘good results’. There is a type of people who lie about their address, sell their houses and move elsewhere, cheat, lie and pull strings in order to get their children into the better schools. Because, as they say, their children “deserve the best”. No they don’t. They deserve something decent, middle of the way, normal, OK. Because everybody’s children deserve the best, but only a few can have it. And for every child of the aspirant greasy-pole-climbers who drive their huge cars to school runs because the school is too far for their precious to walk, there are at least 10 who go to a ‘not so good’ school (ah, euphemism, that most British of traditions). They don’t deserve the best, do they? As far as the middle class is concerned, everybody else can burn in hell (or in Nazi ovens).

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Dakos, or koukouvayia (which means owl) is something I learnt to appreciate in Crete. The reason I made it (apart from nostalgia and flavour) is that last night, with a bit of leftover dough I had from making pizzas I made a small bread with poppy seeds. Unfortunately I forgot to take it out of the oven in time so it over-baked and became really hard.

Basically, Dakos is made using double-baked, very hard rye or barley rusk (in the naval sense of the term). This is called paximadi (παξιμάδι/ποξαμάτι) in Greek or peksimet in Turkish. I suspect it’s also some kind of bruschetta. The recipe for dakos comes from Crete, although it’s probably made elsewhere too. You take one of these rusks (I used my super-baked bread) and place it in a bowl. Grate some nice and ripe tomatoes (they must be nice otherwise don’t bother). Spread these on top of the paximadi, including the juices. Add finely chopped spring onion, oregano, salt and pepper and plenty of olive oil. The juices and oil soften the paximadi so you can enjoy it with a fork. If it’s still a bit hard you can use your hands! In Crete they also add fetta cheese or even olives in the mix, do whatever you fancy. Enjoy it with a nicely chilled glass of zivania or raki.

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Baked plaice with tomatoes and parsley

A very simple recipe and a healthier alternative to frying the fish.

Ingredients (for 2-3)

4-5 fillets of plaice
a few fresh tomatoes
1 onion, cut in rings
2-3 cloves of garlic, thickly cut
Olive oil
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

In a baking tray drizzle some olive oil and add the onion and garlic. Lay the fish fillets (skin side down) on top, and then make a layer with the chopped tomatoes and the parsley. Drizzle some more olive oil, salt & pepper and bake in 220 degrees for 30 minutes. Simple and tasty!

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