Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Land, the Saints, the Sea

Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand 

differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or 

determined by the will – whatever we may think. They flower 

spontaneously out of the demands of our natures – and the best of 

them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well.

Lawrence Durrell – Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

Caves and rock formations near Cape Greco, Cyprus

Some say that life is more like a circle or a spiral than a straight 

line, and that when we are older we become more like we were 

when we were very young. I was on the bike the other day and 

thought about how much I enjoyed cycling as a child – I remember 

the wonderful feeling when I could finally balance unaided on two 

wheels. Even now I sometimes deliberately focus on that feeling of 

balance, the awareness of the many and varied muscles used for 

this quite miraculous balancing act. I still enjoy it so much. Such a 

sense of freedom.

Today was the first day this year in this country, when I could cycle 

in a sleeveless top and shorts, enjoy the breeze, the waves of warm 

air and then cooler air in the shade. It was not as hot as it had been 

in Cyprus, where I was lucky enough to spend a week last month, 

but there, it was so hot that the first day when I went out on the 

bike I'd forgotten how fiercely the sun could burn my 

unaccustomed skin. So my first excursion was shorter than I had 

intended because of the intense heat, and the cycle paths had 

hardly any shade. On the second day I plastered myself with sun 

block and wore a long sleeved shirt.

The first journey was to Cape Greco, a promontory on the south 

east, then I followed the road, and cycle path, further north, to 

Konnos Bay.

Cape Greco

Although there were plenty of gorgeous flowering bushes and small 

trees, even the occasional palm, by the path side, the bushes were 

so small and the sun so high in the sky, that there was hardly any 

shade. When I reached a patch, I would stop for a while and drink 

some water, so most of the photographs are of friendly and 

welcome trees. The earth is dry and rocky, the plants spiny and 


Cape Greco in the distance

The following day I took the road north to Paralimni, then 

branched off east on a minor road, which led to the church of the

Prophet Elijah, perched on the top of a hill. I parked my bike in the 

shade of a tree in the car park, and climbed the steps.

All the trees are wrapped in colourful wish ribbons.

After climbing down I had a coffee at the small café beside the car 

park. There was a lovely atmosphere to this place, no tourists, no 

inflated prices, only one other customer when I was there, a local 

person who stopped for a sandwich. Run by a friendly middle aged 

couple, this café was shaded by trees, serene and unpretentious, 

tucked into the rock at the foot of this vivid little church.

On the way back I noticed another little church by the roadside. 

Dedicated to Saint Pantelimonas. There were no cars parked beside 

it, and no one inside either, though the door was open. Among the 

paintings of the saints, I was struck by one – or two rather – in 

particular, who wore turban-like headgear. Surely this is what 

people wear in hot countries, at least in this part of the world but I 

didn't remember seeing saints, disciples, or even Jesus himself, 

depicted as wearing a turban. Would he have worn one? I'm no 

scholar of dress in Biblical times, but I find it strangely exciting to 

see these people with haloes round their turbans.


Cyprus emerged from the sea, from volcanic lava, dried with time 

into bubbled rock and at the sea-edge, these hollows are filled with 

warm sea water, washed by tides, over and over. There are caves 

hollowed out from the shore. The soil is dry, the land is bony, the 

shrubs flower magnificently, and there are few trees. You notice 

this, cycling in the hot sun, needing shade. You notice it in the 

blessed shade of eucalyptus and pine, planted round the church of 

Saint Pantelimonas (the all-compassionate). A truck in the nearby 

field, trailed by a cloud of pinkish dust.

This landscape seems to have leapt inside me, settled there. 

Someone asks me why and I don't know. Its stoniness, its aridity, 

has gripped me. The few trees are all the more magnificent when 

you reach their shade. And, any direction you go in, you would be 

bound to reach the sea, its clarity, its changing colours, pale blue, 

turquoise, deep blue and that purple that Homer must have been 

referring to, when he called it 'wine-dark'. Sometimes smooth as a 

reflecting mirror, sometimes stormy.


three sea horses said...

Great photos, lovely to read a bit about your visit to Cyprus. The two turbaned men especially intriguing. I immediately wondered if they really all wore turbans but were changed into halos later .. hmm .. probably a bit far fetched!

dritanje said...

It's possible that depictions of turbaned saints are quite common and I just haven't noticed them before. But it just feels so appropriate. Whether or not, the atmosphere of the church, and around it was very special. I really want to go back and explore other parts of the island and get to know it better. When it's a bit cooler.

The Solitary Walker said...

Just had a cursory look around the Web, and I think there's some stuff on turbaned saints, but hadn't the time to delve deeper...

... but, more importantly, what a delight to cycle a little in the untouristy parts of Cyprus, Morelle! I must get a bike and start cycling again (you've prompted me on various occasions in your posts...)

Loved the Durrell quote.

dritanje said...

Thanks for looking up turbaned saints solitary walker, I too must explore when I have time, and there isn't right now.
I do hope you get a bike especially as I think you live in a fairly flat area? Well you see I'm not a furiously sporty type, I much prefer cycling on flat land. Would certainly recommend Durrell's book on Cyprus, if you haven't read it already.It might make you want to go there too! There are some great walks I want to explore when I go back in a cooler season.