Nicosia

•July 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

24th and 25th July. Yesterday I trekked down the streets to the Omeriye Mosque. Directly opposite is a hamman (bath house). These things are institutions in the Middle East and I was SO looking forward to my very first hammam ever and to whatever happens to you there – which I imagined was being stripped naked, pounded with a serrated metal mallet (the ones used for tenderizing meat), fed through a pair of rollers reminiscent of those on gigantic pasta makers, then having my bones realigned by a 16 foot tall masseuse.

Unfortunately it was closed for renovations. Am I destined NEVER to experience a real genuine Middle Eastern hammam? (Did you know that the Arabic word hammam can be used interchangeably for ‘toilet’ bath’ and bathroom’ the same way that the word ‘bathroom’ can be used in English?) I squibbed out in Amman, Damascus and Aleppo in 2009 and 2011, despite the fact that after working on the archaeological dig at Pella, Jordan beforehand, I was dusty and dirty through and through and really, really needed whatever cleansing treatments centuries of Middle Eastern culture could dish out. I’ll just have to put the whole hammam thing on my ‘to do’ list.

Back to Northern Nicosia today, where they sell enough rip-off designer handbags and jewellery to make you very broke for a IMG_0947[1]very long time. I dragged myself away after telling myself I did NOT need more than one handbag, let alone ten, or fifteen. Gosh, I could wander around these streets for ages, checking out the restored market places and mosque miniarets.

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Nicosia

•July 23, 2013 • 2 Comments

23 July. Three cheers for Nicosia, or at least, the old part of the town. It’s a flavoursome layer cake of Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman and modern, an unbeatable combination of twisty turny atmospheric streets where sleepy cats seek refuge from the heat in shaded corners and old mosques around the corner from sleek streets selling Gucci. Where’s that side alley where you can find that shop owned by an ancient proprietor where hidden underneath all the antiques is that ancient Venetian map showing the way to hidden treasure…..look, this paragraph started well but what a cliche-ridden douche-bag it’s becoming. Sorry.

Cypriot PotteryI’ve just come from the Cypriot Museum, which has a fantastic collection of…well, just about everything discovered from Cypriot archaeological trenches up til around 500AD. LOVE that jewellery. And the pottery! So appealing! All those concentric circles and periods like ‘Cypro-Geometric’ and ‘Cypro-Archaic’.

Until relatively recently, I simply didn’t get this ancient 162919_1572040464305_867616_npottery thing. It wasn’t until I was working as a volunteer on an archaeological dig at Pella (Jordan) in 2011 that the lights went on in my head. I unearthed a really nice piece of Middle Bronze Age high class wear (not the whole vessel, but what’s called a ‘diagnostic’ piece, meaning large enough for the dig artist to DRAW the whole vessel) that I had some insight into why some archaeologists spend their whole PhDs analysing the glaze, colour, type of material used and just about every other pottery thing you can think of, then regaling others at parties for hours about what those concentric circles on the rim really mean. The piece I unearthed was from a vessel so pretty that if you painted and glazed it and displayed it in a giftware shop in Double Bay in Sydney, someone would buy it as a really nice gift for a very dear friend. Then I realised, that, you know, maybe 4000 year old pottery wasn’t boring after all.

Nicosia, or Lefkosia, is Europe’s last divided city,a reflection of the division, since 1974, between the Turkish and Cypriot parts of the country. It’s split by the so called ‘Green Line’ and in 2003 for the first time since 1974, citizens of both sides were allowed to cross the Line, and go shopping, visit the Northern beaches and cities, and in some cases, catch up with old neighbours and friends they hadn’t seen for 30 years.

So today I crossed the Green Line to check out Northern Nicosia, which a waitress in Paphos assured me, was well worth it. And so it was, until the midday heat did me in and I crept back cross the checkpoint and headed for my hotel off Ledra Street. Mosques, twisty turny laneways that go nowhere in particular, alleys which if followed, abruptly terminate the noise of traffic, motorcycles and tourists. Partially restored Byzantine and Venetian buildings. Bargaining, silverware and long coffee pots. But not as good as the Old Cities of Damascus and Aleppo, which would both easily win Olympic Gold medals in Gorgeousness. That is, before the bombs and the miles and miles of weary traumatised refugees and yet another shitfully destructive civil war, as if the planet hasn’t seen enough of them already.

Polis

•July 21, 2013 • 3 Comments

Bougan19 – 20th July. Bussed it to Polis, on the coast, north of Paphos. Very good idea. Slower pace, nice beach, lovely accommodation at the Bouganville Hotel Apartments. Despite the name, not a Bougan in sight – unless you count the hoons driving at breakneck speed down the road to the beach. Although Cyprus is by and large a safe country, apparently its accident rate is very high. Easy to see why. Young, hairy chested, and male. Not many speed limit signs around. What does that add up to? *Insert sound of revving engine here*.

Polis is the site of the ancient kingdom of Marion, foundedPolis Beach in the 7th century BC. The archaeological museum here has a collection of great decorated pottery excavated from around the area. Buying a bottle of water in town, I chatted with the shop proprietor who told me that basically around here, if you dig down, anywhere, you’ll find stuff. I remember being told the same about Rome by one of its residents when I was doing my European vacation thing in 1996.

This dig down and you’ll find stuff thing was proved spectacularly true recently at a local coffee shop called Costa’s, as I discovered last night over drinks chatting to some Brits. Some of them were staying at my hotel, as they did every year, because they like it so much, and one couple had, like large numbers of other Brits, relocated to Cyprus to live here permanently. Being now effectively locals, they had become familiar with the town and its stories, and relayed one to me about the proprietor of Costa's who was doing some renovations. Scarcely two seconds after the first spade had been sunk into the ground, someone stumbled upon an interesting cache of good quality Marion pottery. Many vessels were intact or mostly so, and had what it takes (and don’t ask me what THAT is) to impress archaeologists who specialize in Cypriot pottery/history/whatever, who were by all accounts thrilled. It turned out that some vessels were from Rhodes and may have been a gift from there to the King of Marion. How about that. Most of the pottery is now on display at the museum. I had only been in the place a couple of hours and I had already ferretted out a good story about Polis and its ancient history! Costas Corner

Today, at the recommendation of one of the Brits, I walked Baths of Athe paved path from the Polis camp ground west along the beach to the fishing village of Latchi. Dehydrated and hungry, I wolfed down an English Breakfast (code for hearty, fortifying and laden with carbs) before catching the bus to the Baths of Aphrodite. This natural pool and grotto was where, legend has it, Aphrodite bathed after entertaining one of her many lovers. Lots of nature trails depart from around the Baths. They look good, but will have to wait for another trip to Cyprus. I can’t venture too far afield by myself, and it’s so bloody HOT – the wrong time of year for taking on a big strenous hike. However, the beach here looks *sensational*. Will I have the energy to jump on the bus tomorrow and make a special trip back here simply to float around in the Mediterranean when I could to it at the beach at Polis just as easily? You’ll just have to wait for the next gripping instalment.

New ImageAs I type another Bougan has just broken through the sound barrier speeding down to the beach. Sigh. Slow down, friend.

Paphos

•July 17, 2013 • Leave a Comment

16 – 17 July. I’ve heard that apparently Canberrans can be deficient in Vitamin D because it’s cold and us pale public servant types are so tied to our workstations, churning out Senate Estimate briefs and other Big Important Things, that we don’t get out enough to frolick in the sun. Yesterday (16th) I think I totally replenished my Vitamin D supplies, with enough left over in reserve to keep me going for several years, on a cruise down the coast from Paphos. I think I assumed that, being an Australian – everyone KNOWS how hot and fierce the sun is there – I had a magical immunity to sunburn, and all the Brits and Russians and other Northern Hemisphere pansies may need heaps of sunscreen – but not me, the big tough Australian girl. The result was a sense of shock when at the end of the day I glimpsed myself in the mirror. Ah well, at least I don’t look like a pale public servant type any more.

Thankfully today (17th) was cloudy in the morning, giving my sunburn a chance to recover as I hoofed it yet again down to the IMG_0919[1]harbour, stopping on the way at a site with the tongue twisting name of ‘Hrysopolitissa Basilica and St Paul’s Pillar’. On display are the remains of a 4th century Christian basilica with large mosaics still visible. Wow. Gotta love those humungous great big mosaics with the twirly whirly decorative motifs. Off to the Archaeological Museum, and more decorated pottery than I could poke a stick at.

Paphos

•July 15, 2013 • Leave a Comment

IMG_0908[1]14 – 15 July. A couple of days at Larnaka, then to Paphos. Feeling real chilled, after having explored the World Heritage Site ‘Tombs of the Kings’ up the road from my hotel. The Tombs of the Kings site is a complex of underground rooms and chambers used as tombs in Greek and Roman times from around 300BC to 300AD by wealthy and high-status residents of Paphos. IMG_0903[1]

The entrance is the busy ‘Tombs of the Kings’ road, and the whole complex is adjacent to the beach. As soon as you enter the noise of the traffic is muted and replaced with atmospheric distant sounds of waves and crickets and cicadas and the wind rustling in the olive and cypress trees – and occasional dopey pigeons, who had taken wholehearted advantage of the nesting opportunities in the complex. (When the tombs were built, the pigeons must have thought all their Christmases had come at once. Thanks, humans, for gifting these beaut nesting places to us!) Gratifyingly, there weren’t too many tourists around. Those that were, were probably thinking ‘gee it’s great – not too many Australians around’!

IMG_0904[1]It was easy to imagine I was back in Petra. The rock rooms, recesses and chambers were eerily like those carved out by the Nabateans in that unbeatable place.

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Hoofed it a couple of kilometres in the heat down to the Paphos Harbour and the Archaeological Park which features some impressive mosaics from Roman times. Gee, I have to say, the Romans loved their mosaics. Even after a couple of millenium of weather, wars and looters, they turn up all over Europe and the Mediterranean, often in prime condition. And they must have taken so frigging long to FINISH.

I can just imagine some poor mosaic craftsman in Roman times, going through his third mid-life crisis and really, really over his job, thinking “Holy Jupiter. Just got this huge commission from the Emperor Honorius for one of his country estates down at Tivoli. The floor size of this thing won’t be much less than that of the Colosseum. I have to do a double border around the edge, with squiggly wiggly lines and a repeating pattern of fish within the double border. Then in the centre, the Emperor wants a depiction of the Sacking of Troy, FFS. I AM SO SICK OF THIS! IF I SEE ONE MORE PIECE OF TESSERAE (fancy name for a piece of mosaic) I’M GOING TO PUKE!”

Or: “I labour away creating these bloody things, and all people do is walk on them! The Goths and Vandals are coming through in a century or so, give or take a few years, and you can’t bloody well tell ME, they’re going to tippy toey across my mosaic trying not to kick a piece of tesserae out of place! What an unbelievably meaningless job this is! As if in 2000 years time, people will be looking at my mosaics full of appreciation for all the work I put into them!”

Cyprus 2013

•July 13, 2013 • 2 Comments

11 – 13 July. Welcome to my blog. These posts will be about my trip to Cyprus in July/August 2013, partly to work as a volunteer on the archaeological dig at Idalion, (coordinated by Lycoming College, Pennsylvania), and partly to lounge around on the beach and do nothing interspersed with occasional trips to historical sites.

In terms of human occupation, Cyprus pretty well goes back to the year dot. It was a major exporter of copper in ancient times (very handy for the Bronze Age, as you can imagine, bronze being an alloy of copper and tin) and Cypriot pottery turns up everywhere in the region.

But before my Cyprus adventures, my stop over in Abu Dhabi deserves an honourable mention. The plan was to spend a day sight seeing before overnighting in Bahrain, and flying to Cyprus the next day. I arrived with my ears ringing with the piercing squeals of three toddlers under the age of four who were directly behind me on the flight from Sydney and were pissed off, to put it mildly, with the idea of being cooped up in a plane for 14 hours with a bunch of strangers. (Fair enough.) I walked out of the airport terminal into heat. and I mean, HEAT. I had heard whispers around town that the Middle East gets, well, a little warm in the summer. But the words ‘heat’ and ‘summer’ are redundant in the context. Imagine being beaten over the head with a feral blowtorch and you’ve pretty well got it. Wow. I wondered how the hell I was going to cope digging in Cyprus if the heat was going to be anything like this.

I also walked out into Ramadan, one of the major festivals of the Islamic calendar. It’s traditional at this time to give to charity and undertake other acts of generosity, and to fast between sunrise and sunset. No eating and drinking in public is allowed between those times. I drank bottled water and crammed peanuts and cashews, purchased at a newsagents at the airport, into my mouth in secluded corners and in the lady’s toilets.

Before sunrise it’s traditional to participate in a meal called Suhoor, and after sunset, a banquet called Iftar, usually a buffet with an emphasis on traditional Arabic/Persian cuisine. The Abu Dhabi tourist publications were full of advertisements for the Iftar buffets offered by the major restaurants/hotels in town, and let me tell you, they looked mouthwatering. I can imagine they would be especially mouthwatering if you had been fasting all day.

With its population of ex-pats, it appears that, like Christmas in some respects, Ramadan is ubiquitous and not just for Muslims.

I’m afraid what with the heat and the jet lag and the absence of cappuchino in my life (due to Ramadan all cafes and restaurants were shut) I only lasted half a day before I fled back to the airport, paying extra $$$ for an airconditioned taxi as I couldn’t bear to wait around for a bus getting the remaining moisture sucked out of me. (And may I say right here that the bus and taxi drivers were considerably more pleasant than I would have been had I been fasting. I would have been ready to rip someone’s leg off by about 11.00am.) It was enough time to check out the Central Market (a modern reproduction of those unbeatable Arabic markets, but sadly, not the same as the mesmeric Damascene and Aleppo ones) and for me to glimpse the shimmering white mirage of the Sheik Zayed Mosque, which makes the Taj Mahal look like something built with Lego. I wanna come back one day and see the inside.

And that leaves one question.

WHAT IS IT WITH THE MIDDLE EAST?

It’s dusty, it’s dirty, sometimes dangerous, everyone speaks a different language, and the summer heat is like a feral blowtorch. Yet as I waited for my plane out of the place, I was thinking: Must come back here in the future. In Ramadan. I’ll hole up in a nice hotel with a pool and fast all day. Then after sunset I’ll participate in one of those Iftar buffet banquets. And just think! Ramadan start with the first sighting of the crescent new moon. How romantic is that? I wanna see that mosque. And how about all the other places in the Middle East I haven’t seen yet? I’ll bet my house would look nice with some Arabic handicrafts.

Thankfully the Cyprus heat is a lot more pleasant.

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The land remembers

•April 17, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I grew up on a farm in between the tiny township of Ellerslie and the slightly bigger township of Mortlake in the Western District of Victoria. Until the age of 14, I attended school at St Colman’s Primary School (120 kids) and then to Mortlake High School (approx. 200 kids).

Now I’m a public servant, walking the walk and hopefully talking the talk. After more than 20 years I’ve learned about a five per cent ability to hide my country girl ways and to not say what I think straight after thinking it. But that’s another story.

On Tuesday 16 April I attended Indigenous cultural awareness training offered through my Department. The topics covered were numerous and eventually swung around to the early history of colonial conflict between white settlers and the Indigenous people. At that stage one of my fellow attendees spoke up and said when he was growing up in his local country area, knowledge of 19th century massacres of Indigenous people by white settlers – including the murder of whole tribes and family groups by poisoning, shooting, and other methods – was common knowledge and had often been spoken of in his childhood.

I spoke up too and said that similarly, in my local region, the inglorious history of first contact between European settlers and Indigenous people was known and would crop up in conversation from time to time when I was growing up. I confirmed that people definitely weren’t proud of this chapter in the history of the area, but there was no attempt to deny it and that there was a sense of shame about the massacres and murders that had taken place.

I asked him where he came from originally and he said it was from the Western District of Victoria. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘me too.’

At lunch I approached him and asked him whereabouts in the Western District he hailed from. ‘Near Darlington’ he said. (just up the road from Mortlake). ‘Really?’ I responded. ‘I grew up in between Ellerslie and Mortlake!’

It turned out that Bryan and I had gone to school together and I had been in the same class as his older brother.

We chatted and shared information about the history of the region. I knew of local massacre sites that he did not know of, and he knew of some that I didn’t.

I mentioned to one of the course facilitators that the whole thing was quite a coincidence as although I occasionally met people in Canberra from my general area in Victoria, I had never met anyone that I had gone to school with here ( not surprising seeing the small enrolment size of St Colmans when I was there). The course facilitator replied that it was equally unusual that two course attendees such as Bryan and I were able to speak with authority about the history of European settlers/Indigenous people in our local region, as in most cases the dreadful massacres and murders in other parts of Australia and not been spoken of and had been hushed up and the course attendees were gobsmacked to learn the extent of them as they had not given sufficient attention in our history books. In our case, there had been sufficient local knowledge and European oral tradition for the stories to make their way into 2013 and into an Indigenous culture awareness course for Canberra public servants.

The book ‘Blood on the Wattle’ (Australian massacres of Aboriginal people) was recommended by the course facilitators as being an excellent reference for the events in this period of history. I have heard of two others: ‘A Distant Field of Murder’ (about the impact of Europeans on the Indigenous people of the Western District in the 1840s) and ‘Scars on the Landscape’ ( A register of massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803 – 1859). Looks like I’ll have to order them so I can see if the murderous events Bryan and I have heard whispers of have found a voice in these books.

If not, maybe I’ll write my own. Or at least get the stories that I know, and that other people from my local area know, down on paper. No-one lives forever. And when people die, their stories die with them.