Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Lapta and the Mountains

In North Cyprus, near Kyrenia/Girne, (remembering that a friend asked if I could make it clear what country or region I am writing about). Notes from my journal.


Up in the mountains.
The day's plan woven out, elaborated, changed. Well, it was more an idea than a plan. To visit and explore the village or small town of Lapta, then from there to go back to the main road, follow it west to the Hotel Sympatie and find again the little path leading to the splendid walkway beside the sea. But instead, after walking along the looping roads winding uphill through Lapta, quite by chance I come across a mountain trail. 

Lapta the lovely! The place to be! A village, with few signs of tourism – just a very faded sign with a picture of Aphrodite – holiday rooms to let – its lettering so old and crumbled-away that it's possibly from a former era.

Oh! The call to prayer echoes off the mountains. Rises, circles, pulses, sounds like more than one, but it's an echo, I think.

The past may be a foreign country, but the mountains are another time, another season and a different perception. Not foreign. A sharpness of focus. So much is tuned out. Your attention wakes up. The rooster calls, the doves or pigeons on the church tower, cooing in the sunlight. The clink of a hammer. The yellow leaves of a fig tree.

The mountain tops are becoming wreathed in mist.

The quiet of the houses. One bend after another, up and up. I'm so glad I took the dolmus, the mini-bus, which came along just as I reached the road into Alsançak village, to the town centre of Lapta.  A good place to begin walking.

Three women drinking coffee inside a building with a window screen door. One opens it, comes towards me, smiling, says a word I don't recognize. She repeats the word and points uphill. Clearly that's where I have to go!

Up and up, then the road ends in front of a couple of houses, but there's a muddy little path. I decide to take it, past a cistern, come out onto a square and there's a sign saying there's a walking trail. 

I hadn't gone far before the trails forked, but the signpost was not very helpful.

I followed the trail that went uphill and here I am, in the mountains, a view out over all the houses, Girne in the distance, still in sunlight, but here, clouds shroud the mountains.

The pink earth, the pine trees. 

I walked for about 4 hours. Though at least one of these hours was spent walking back down and losing the right road, there were so many curving and twisting little roads, I went much too far west and had to walk back. Just about collapsed at the only café at the 'town centre' full of men playing cards. But no choice. Had one of those sticky sweet circles and a Cyprus coffee. The grey-haired man (dressed in black of course) noticed how I gulped down the water and brought me more. Then I had to ask for the toilet – at least there was one.

I take another dolmus to Kyrenia/Girne. A very nice driver who spoke a little English. When I got off in the town centre, I had to wait before crossing a narrow road, while a car tried to turn, and this, and the mud and the broken paving stones and the puddles and the gravel and the hooting of a klaxon, all so reminded me of Tirana and the feeling of knowing this place now, feeling at home here and comfortable, there was that unfolding wings feeling in the chest, unfolding and rising, oh so good. The Post Office is closed but the Tourist Office produces maps, when asked, of walking trails (but not the one I discovered today).


Dolmus back from Kyrenia to the road end, where almost all the traffic disappears, and there's a 15 minute walk in the quiet, starry darkness.

That thin moon smile, just tinged with bronze, low in the sky and on the other side Orion lies down, in a bed of pine needles, gazing at the slender fingers of the mountains, counting out the aeons, and remembering the sea and how it felt, to be lapped and washed over, and over, turning into ocean underwater dreams.

I passed a cricket on the dark walk home. I stopped to listen to it, sing a cricket lullaby.

The dolmus driver sounds his horn in the evening rush hour traffic, a tail-back at the roundabout. People call out their destinations and he pulls in, the door grinds open. He flicks a coin or two of change to the proffered fare, swings out into the traffic as the door limbers up and yawns and lets out a breath of protest, closes, and someone sounds their horn and he calls out – some Turkish informality no doubt – then stops, winds down his window, some excited talk passes between him and the other driver and after their discussion which I do not understand a word of, the only words in Turkish I know being lütfen (please) and mersi (thankyou) and I cannot say I hear them in the conversation, still, perhaps because she is a woman he lets her go in front of him – for these men despite their macho shouts and swagger, have a tenderness for women.

Like the man in the
café where there were only men sitting at the outside table playing cards, but I was so tired from a long walk in the mountains, then back down through the winding layers of village streets, branching off like an abundant tree, and so getting lost, that I would have sat down on the pavement had the pavement with its sloping patterned bricks transformed itself into a waiter offering a tiny cup of thick sweet Turkish coffee.

The man with the salt and pepper hair saw how I gulped down the water perhaps noticed how I sighed at the first sip of the coffee, burning my fingers on the white china cup with its tiny handle. He brought me more water and bared his teeth at me which was more frightening than his first stern look as I sat down.

The evening cats come as I sit out on the balcony, picking black salty olives from a plastic cup. They make their presence known by throaty yowls. But the tortoiseshell has settled herself on the table, made of woven faux canework. She seems content to be companionable. Then scratches her ear, jumps down and exits the pool of light around the balcony.

I say thank you to the grizzled man, thin, straight-backed and self-contained. He nods his head in acknowledgement.

Something about this small exchange spirits me back in time. Or – an older time rises up, a warm infusion in God's mild-mannered brew, breathed on, like some original creation. We bask in the reflected pleasure of our Creator, don't we? We long to feel the sunlight fall on us, hear the pine trees whisper – all is exactly as it should be, here, where it all began, where Aphrodite walked out of the warm sea and thought – in some language or another – oh, in Greek of course - I am!  εíμαι!

And there was no time then, that was still to come so she did not then think – I belong here, it was all-at-once – this I am! - so singular – and at the same time, something like – so this is where I am and though I see these things around me – this light and warmth these sea waves, these rocks these twisting trees, these ribbon-rippling trunks and shivering grey-green olive leaves as if fallen from the sun itself – they are not separate from me, they are also who I am, so this is where I live and breathe and have my being.

This is how and where love came to be, in this recognition – self and other – this essential one-ness, no separation.
So it began and – as we drop time's curtains, fold them away – so it always is.

Time's sequential ways are lulled asleep. Light on mountains, pine trees, and the yellow leaves of the fig tree, 

the black olives on the olive trees, the solitary cricket and the slender smile of moon, the ginger cat, who purrs and wriggles, jumps into my lap in a frenzy of delight, the lemon trees, the circle of pastry, dripping oil and honey onto my jeans, the cat circling, purring, chewing the end of my pen as I write, the grey-haired man who brings me extra water – are all one, all here and now, like our dreams, like God's dream as he blows on the surface of this sea-in-the-centre-of-the-world and that first breath is still the one that ripples over our skin.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

A Walk with Silence

A bright and sunny day, after several days of cleaning, shopping, cooking, eating then recovering. I pull out maps and look at possible trails to follow. Just to step outside into sunshine feels like a liberation. And there are so many wooden signposts I come across that I change my plan and follow a different path. From the Flamingo Bridge (aka Leaderfoot Viaduct, which you can see here) near the Eildon Hills I follow an uphill track. 

This view of red earth and the pointy hill and the long shadows of the trees has an 'elsewhere' feel to it, so it seems to me. It reminds me of somewhere else, and I often find this with landscape, one place resembling in some way or evoking in another way, a different place, perhaps a distant place, encountered in some other time or story. These days I enjoy these linking feelings, connecting different places and experiences, continuing the narrative that we both create and discover, and mixing it with a sense of anticipation. 

Further on, a line of planted beech trees lean into the slope of the hill. 

Near the end of the track I take a narrow downhill path, which I haven't explored before. It has turned into a little river, from the recent rains. 

It ends at a main road, with an underpass, and then becomes the sedate and level path of a former railway.


On another longer walk, after a short bus ride I take a path along a huge and swollen river. It has wandered out into fields, a river that seems to have lost its sense of direction, spreading out to cover the roots of trees, that stand now oddly stranded, surrounded by water, bare branches waving, trees turned into islands, gesturing to other island trees.

The path then comes out onto the main road, and runs alongside it, for a couple of miles. Between the path and the hill, new ponds surround and reflect the trees. 

There's been quite a bit of traffic until I reach a small village, with a shop (closed) and a pub/hotel. I pushed at the door. It was stiff, but it opened. There were no other customers inside. I asked for a coffee, to sit outside, in the sunlight. A fire glowed in the fireplace, surrounded by tiles. I asked for a flat white and received a large mug, topped with deep foam. But I felt lucky to get any kind of coffee at all, and especially lucky to be able to sit at a bench outside in the sunshine.

From there, I took a narrow back road, where only an occasional car passed and the sense of silence was welcome.  The road went uphill. Little rivers seeped out from the grass verges and ran alongside them. When a car passed, I either had to walk through the rivers or go onto the verges. I think about the assumptions that car drivers seem to have, that they have the right to take up space on the road. You do not see a car pulling in to the side of the road because a pedestrian takes up space. If I'm on a bicycle, car drivers can be considerate and slow down. But a pedestrian? Usually cars sweep past without slackening speed.

When the road crests the hill, the rivers vanish. A view out over the next valley and the next series of hills, includes a hillside of windmills. It's when I'm walking downhill that the silence takes on substance, wraps itself around the landscape and me, like a cloak. I walk downhill, astonished at the sensuous and tangible nature of this silence. When a car goes past, the silence is not erased, only thinned out, or it retreats a little, it is still present, and thickens again around me, like foliage which has been parted and once it is let go, it springs back into its original position. I think about the nature of silence, and it is not something I often think about, perhaps because it is so rare an experience and even then, transient and fleeting. Usually. But today I re-encounter the strength of it, its muscularity and – in a sense, its purity. Even though it might contain some distant birdsong or some murmur of flowing water, that is still silence. 

The most  profound silence I ever experienced was in the south of Albania, on a pot-holed road with no cars, with mountains all around and only the occasional sound of goat bells, which carried in the still, clear air. Perhaps silence is not the right word. It is more a vibration of the air that is not distorted by any mechanical sounds, no low humming of electrical pylons or masts, nothing but the quivering of growing things, grass, bushes and trees, the pulsing of the mountains, their stones and bushes, all being warmed by spring sunshine, the sap glimmering in buds, the pushing of leaves and blossoms against branch and twig and bud all of which looks so delicate in its unfolding yet is a force that transforms valleys and hillsides and trees, and gives us the scent of orange blossom, lime, acacia, jasmine. Or at least, in Albania it does.


Dhermis, southern Albania

I was intending to follow this back road to where it joined up with the main one where I could then get a bus home. But before reaching the end, a wooden signpost pointed to a path going in the other direction, which would bring me back more or less to where I started.

So I followed this, with a view over the delta'd river, before it bordered a wood of Scots pines and spruces. It then emerged into a more tailored path. At the side of a metal 5 barred gate, there was a wooden fence with a very narrow gap which I took to be a kind of stile for slim people. But when I tried to climb this, I decided it was more likely to be for dogs to jump over. In the end I climbed over the gate. A little further on, I came to a surfaced path which was clearly very close to the path where I had started. Instead of following the path, I went on through the trees, thinking it would be a short cut. And so it would have been, except that there was a high wall between me and the path. But there was a fence, with a fence post close to the wall. The last obstacle consisted of thorn bushes draped over the fence. Once I'd negotiated these, and stood on the fence post, I cleared the wall and jumped over the other side, back onto the riverside path. And just a mile or so further on, I walked back up the track to the main road, just in time to catch a bus back home.