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Magic Moment in Mathikoloni Village

I can still do it you know. They say you should never go back. Yes, but it’s not hard for me to conjour up moments in places like this: places that first exercised their magic on me so long ago. In fact, when we first stumbled on Mathikoloni, back in 1987, we thought its ruined structures were unique. Later we were to discover that abandoned villages were everywhere in Cyprus: the original Apsiou, Athrakos, Choletra, Mathikoloni, Vretcha (The Place that brought  Grief): the list is endless. It stretches back through time to the ancient cities, Kourion, Amathus, Kition and Lapithos and Idalion: back again to Choirokitia, Akrotiri and other traces of the Stone Age scattered about the island.

Already we had got to September, 2015. The ruins of Mathikoloni were behind me, the new village out of sight further up the road, though the church still in use, was in view, proudly surveying the ruins at the top of the hill. There are various reasons for the abandonment of so many villages, and indeed larger settlements in Cyprus. They range from land slips to urban drift, to political factors (along the Green line and of course, Varosha). Mathikoloni was abandoned during the particularly severe winter of ….? which exposed the weakness of its foundations. Other villages abandoned, for similar reasons,  at the same time include Evretou and Korfi. The latter actually suffered a land slip that destroyed a few houses. In all cases the situation was so severe that the inhabitants had to take refuge with relatives or even in temporary camps that were set up to  tide people through a winter when snow fell on the Mesaoria. Later government money became available for the relocation of new villages on more stable locations nearby.

So this was Mathikoloni revisited for the umpteenth time. I was sitting on a backside-shaped rock, eating my sandwiches by the side of a rustic road, feeling contemplative, even philosophical – well Okay, drowsy and maybe a bit sentimental. The irritations caused by a few flies couldn’t detract from the warm November sun, or the carob trees framing Kyparisha and the rest of Limassol Forest in front of me. I watched the occasional tiny car far in the distance crawling up the switchback road to Dierona.  In a detached way, I indulged  myself in reliving other moments the details of which were, I dare say, rosily inaccurate. Even so, this sure as hell beat staring at a  computer screen for hours on end.

Yes, the thriving new village of Mathikoloni, is now in commuting distance of Limassol and with that awful winter a one off of the past, the new village encroaches slowly back onto parts of the old site. Caution. New houses have appeared near the forest road up from Akrounda and, guess what, the weather has already got into a concrete enclosing wall built on the unstable marls of Mathikoloni.

I haven’t been there recently, but I wonder if the new house built near Korphi  on similar foundations, continues to list in obedience to the rules of gravity.  September and the clours of autumn were starting to appear in the terraced vineyards, reminding me of that magic moment I experienced a few years ago in Pitsilia.

Big OakYes, the Royal Oak was bigger. Not all that much bigger, but the spread of its massive boughs, the weight of which eventually tore it apart, was greater. I doubt whether its girth was much more than that of its surviving cousin (8.60m). In any case, understanding how that measurement was done, defeats me, such is the tortured structure that supports this leathery 800 year old leviathan. Leviathan, yes – leviathan hints at the animation that seems to lurk in its elephantine limbs. This massive organism, does have a presence, a kind of benign animal watchfulness. It seems a hoary receptacle for the centuries of wisdom it has accumulated. Fanciful, I know, but try a picnic in the shade of its massive boughs. Take a snapshot, or sketch the wrinkled mass of its trunk. Its magic will reach out to you, reviving the times, the people and the events it has seen. It was a mature tree long before Lala Mustafa Pasha ruthlessly ousted the Venetians from Cyprus in 1571.

When I last paid my respects, someone had removed the sign that used to be on the main Troodos Road, second right after the Laneia Police Station, coming from Limassol.  A few metres up the lane, though, the signpost indicating left onto an even rougher road was still there. This is oak country. High up on the mountain above Laneia is Agia Valana (of the Acorn). Oaks of all ages inhabit field boundaries and, under the giant dris her infant progeny struggle to survive in the shade of her massive crown.

It’s not too difficult to devise a stroll from here to the shaded streets of Laneia, home of artists and good food, just a kilometre away. The lane you turned off to reach the oak, leads directly to the village and alternative routes back to the main road can easily be discovered. The adventurous might even take to exploring the vineyards and farm track surrounding the giant tree, but this is best done after the pruning.

Kyrenia HarbourI seem to have discovered meditation. The transcendental kind? Maybe not, but at least it gets me off to sleep at the drop of a hat.

Not down on Dasoudi today, however. I was having a lazy stroll in late afternoon sunshine (cool day — max 15 degrees and snow on the Troodos) and was tempted by one of the benches facing the setting sun. The sea, both sight and sound, hypnotic and, having counted the ships in the bay, I started to let my mind follow its head (can you say that?) Next thing, ‘The Purple Headed Mountain’ was buzzing through my head like a pop song. Then it was, ‘He made their glowing colours…’ Half forgotten snatches of school assemblies. No, I haven’t got religion, but I did feel good (and maybe a bit philosophical, if not even assailed by feelings of awe. Dasoudi seems to bring this out in me — especially when the Russian goddesses are around. (No. I haven’t got religion!) Today the beach was sparsely populated: the odd jogger (one naked but for bathing trunks) the usual dog-walkers, baby-pushers, power-walkers and old women feeding sleek cats. Oh, and an ancient lady who could only manage two or three shuffling steps at a time, supported by her poor old husband and his oriental helper.

It said a lot; earth and ocean vast, but insignificant in Cosmic terms. Human beings, transient time-worms in the awful eternity of existence. But this one, sitting, sketching on a bench, looking into the setting sun, seems, in some way, able to encompass it all if only in his imagination.  I know, I know…megalomania, but it was a magic moment. I was almost tempted to a small KEO at the beach bar, but the sun was not yet over the yard-arm.

Oh what the hell! If Oscar Wilde was incapable of  saying no, why should I not succumb?

(From “Magic Moments in Cyprus”, coming out soon!)