Alyssa and Brad offered to take me to the capital of Cyprus. Nicosia is the last divided capitol in the world, half being Greek Cypriot and the other half Turkish. Not something you see every day. Again, things are just so, so old here. Nicosia has been the capitol of Cyprus since the 10th century and has been inhabited non-stop for 4,500 years. I wasn’t sure what to expect but honestly it was less imposing than the airport in Nice, France. In Nice, security people barked orders at you and there was a gang of roving military personnel, their automatic weapons at the ready, eyes constantly moving over you, your baggage, the corners of the buildings, the doorways.
In Nicosia, we parked the car on the Greek side, meandered a few winding streets through storefronts and cafes, and got in line behind a Russian tour group, their leader dressed in a tight blue dress with a hat befitting the Kentucky Derby. There was a small, inconspicuous building where I showed a bored, sweaty man my passport. He tapped a few keys on his computer and waved me through to the next building a 100 meters away where we repeated the process for the benefit of the Turkish side. You can have Greek coffee on one side and Turkish coffee on the other side. Never mind that it’s the same thing, you have to call it the right thing or risk ruffling feathers. The point is, there was nothing even remotely exciting about it. I didn’t even get a stamp in my passport.
Now we were technically in Turkey. The food and the people all seemed more or less the same, but this side of Nicosia was markedly poorer as evidenced by the disrepair of the buildings and relative lack of auto traffic. We spent a few hours, poking around the markets, looked inside a mosque, had a coffee, commented on the extraordinary cat population. (It’s the same on the Greek side. Apparently no one told the cats they are in two different countries. They seem to come and go as they please.) People don’t seem to keep dogs in Cyprus. Not that the cats are pets, but they live unmolested and they are everywhere! We took a rest and sat down at an outdoor cafe to have gyros and watch the old men smoke and sip their strong, sweet coffee and look as the short, stout old women swayed down the narrow streets in their dark-colored house dresses, straps of their sensible shoes cutting into their swollen ankles. The sun is merciless here and nothing happens fast. You walk a bit. You sit a bit.
One of the highlights was the opportunity to see a couple of the Whirling Dervishes perform in a mosque. One hears the term from time to time, but what is that really? From my limited understanding, it is a type of meditation and ecstatic worship performed by Turkish Sufis. Ok, so there’s a difference between the Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus for you. No Dervishes on the Greek side. There is music and the men spin and spin and spin. I don’t know how they don’t fall down or even stumble. The funny hats represent the gravestone to remind us of the transient nature of life. The hands are held in a way that represents good will and peace. Everything means something, but I’m afraid I’m not up on it all. It was hypnotizing and meditative to watch them spin. Beautiful really. From their faces, they seemed to be somewhere else far away. I was sad when it was over.
The reasons for the division of Nicosia are many and varied. I pondered this as we chewed on sticky, sweet pieces of Turkish delight as we meandered the twisted alleyways through the markets back to the Greek side and the car. At least for today they seem to be managing a peaceful coexistence. Whatever happens with Nicosia, I hope it retains its worn charm and peaceful demeanor.