The book's twenty essays describe what it was like growing up as an outsider in Cyprus during the difficult years of the EOKA uprising against British colonial rule.
Author: Harry A. Mavromatis more info
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LOST EDENS: A CYPRUS MEMOIR
Twenty essays that take the reader back six decades to Cyprus’ painful transition from a neglected but peaceful British crown colony to a flawed Republic following EOKA’s liberation campaign.
A ten-year old outsider when he arrives in Cyprus from the US, the author recounts his teenage years on the island during this troubled period – growing up with his cousin Yiannos Kranidiotis, under the mentorship of his uncle Nikos Kranidiotis, both important actors on the Cyprus stage in the years that followed.
Informative and insightful are the author’s personal reminiscences of these two relatives, and his interactions with and recollections of Archbishop Makarios, for three decades the most important personality on the local and a prominent actor on the regional stage.
In addition to these high profile individuals, the narratives bring to life several less prominent people the author met and interacted with after arriving on the island, who accepted and influenced him directly. These include grandparents, teachers and secondary school classmates.
The author’s brushes with an Acropolis guard, the Bishop of Kyrenia, and his high school headmaster provide amusing asides. The volume concludes with perceptive comments about the causes of the Cyprus conflict and the author’s hopes for the future.
LOST EDENS: A CYPRUS MEMOIR
Interview with Harry A. Mavromatis
——–Read an Excerpt
The nineteen non-fictional, autobiographical short essay compositions that follow, are reminiscences, sketches or short accounts which indirectly detail my many year long journey from the time when, at the age of ten, I first came into contact with my Hellenic roots. Thus, this is not a journey that started as a mature individual’s conscious quest into his ancestors’ past, in order to learn from them, and in the process better understand himself. Rather, it began as a confrontation that resulted from my parents’ return, with their children, to their Cyprus homeland, after eleven years of married life in the U.S.
Half a century later, though my trip has not quite ended, I feel I am in a position to present a definitive account of at least some of its salient features. This is not a unique journey. Many people have gone through similar experiences. However, the accounts that follow, detail personal impressions resulting from the particular “clash of cultures” I encountered, and was exposed to. These experiences, though often frustrating and confusing, ultimately made my life richer, more balanced, and more meaningful.
In these essays, spatial and temporal coordinates are crisscrossed in a manner that may at first confuse the reader. But this is what we do in life. We simultaneously live in the present, dream of a happier future, and repeatedly attempt to rectify or compensate for mistakes we made, or were the victims of, in the past. In view of the above, and in the interests of clarity, there follows a brief biographical sketch which should make the interrelation between these essays clearer.
The journey that is responsible for the essays that follow began in late December 1950 when my parents, brother and I set sail from New York on the Nea Hellas. This very comfortable and spacious vessel passed the Statue of Liberty, crossed the Atlantic at a leisurely pace, briefly made port in Lisbon, entered the Mediterranean and ended its voyage at Piraeus, the port of Athens. There, we went to a hotel in downtown Athens, not far from Omonia Square. After a week, we sailed onwards from Greece to Cyprus on the Philippo Grimani. This Italian steamer was smaller than our transatlantic transport, but considerably faster.
My first impressions of Athens were very negative. This is not surprising if one recalls that Greece had just been through a disastrous decade. After resisting and repulsing the invasion of Mussolini’s cohorts in Epirus in late 1940, it was overrun by Hitler’s divisions that descended into Greece through Yugoslavia. It is well documented that the Germans reacted to the Greek Resistance’s sabotage, ambushes, etc., by victimizing the civilian populations of Greece’s towns and villages. When the Second World War ended in 1945, the Greek Civil War began and destroyed the Nation’s cohesiveness and unity, dividing the country down through the middle into Left, and Right. This fratricidal confrontation involved the Greeks unwittingly being duped into fighting a proxy war between the victorious western Allies on the one hand, and the Soviet Union on the other, and it took five years for the Right, with considerable American and British support, to defeat the Soviet backed Left. Atrocities were committed by both sides. Thus, many youngsters were forcibly separated from their parents and taken behind the iron curtain, to grow up in Bulgaria, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia; many people were summarily killed, their bodies disposed of by dumping them into water holes, etc. The Civil War had ended shortly before we landed in Piraeus, but its consequences were visible in the devastation, and abject poverty it had left behind, and its divisive consequences continued to plague Greece for another forty or so years.
I said above that my first impressions of Athens were very negative. I was only ten at the time and when I first crossed Omonia Square with my parents everything seemed very confusing. Vendors were trying to sell lottery tickets, fastened with clothes hangers onto wooden stands, to the passersby. These stands they paraded around the square, while tempting passersby into buying tickets, by repeating the huge sums that were there to be won, and the date when the next drawing would take place, all of which resulted in a tremendous cacophony. Though an exaggeration, the remark I heard a few years later, that half the Greeks are busy selling lottery tickets while the other half are busy buying them, was an apt description of what was happening those few days we spent in downtown Athens. Aside from the lottery ticket vendors, many beggars were circulating on the streets begging for alms, and a lot of people seemed to be arguing, or holding heated discussions. This was hardly a “harmonious” square, as its name suggested. There were very few taxis, a lot of police, and a general state of confusion, almost of pandemonium, the likes of which I had never before seen.
One of the afternoons we were in Athens, with my parents we visited a Cypriot activist who had been exiled by the British after the Governor’s mansion in Nicosia was attacked and burned down in 1931. This happened at the climax of a spontaneous demonstration by the Cypriots who by this time felt the British, having taken over the island in 1878, had betrayed them. Instead of giving it to Greece, as they had done with the Ionian islands, and had earlier offered to do in order to get Greece to join the First World War on the side of the Allies, they now seemed intent to stay on, integrating the Island into their vast empire. The activist we visited, and his family, had been forced to adjust to a humble lifestyle in Athens, but the years that had passed since he was sent into exile had not mellowed his attitude towards the British, whom he wanted to “kick out” of Cyprus. This was my first exposure to the “Cyprus Question”, whose various subsequent convolutions eventually transformed it into the “Cyprus Problem”, that affected my family and me, as well as most of the Island’s population directly or indirectly in the years that followed. With evident pride, he took us out onto his apartment’s balcony, and pointed out one of the historic hills surrounding Athens, namely the Acropolis. With somewhat less enthusiasm he showed us another hill, the Lycabitus, and the Hymetus, Pendeli and Parnitha mountains in the background. He was evidently very proud that from his apartment he could gaze at the Parthenon, which he described as a marvel of human creativity that harked back to Greece’s Golden Age – the period when Athens was the School of Hellas, with Pericles at its helm, who could boast in Thucydides’ account of his Funeral Oration, that he was presiding over the “School and pride of Hellas”… This was thus additionally my first lesson in the glories of Ancient Greece. Indeed, as my uncle Nikos, a poet, educator, and diplomat later explained to me, Modern Greece owes its very existence to this high point in human achievement. When the 1821 Revolution against the Ottomans was about to be crushed by the Turks, the major 19th century European powers (England, France and Russia), aware of their cultural debt to the ancient Greeks, and disturbed by the heavy handed way their revolt was being suppressed, intervened decisively at Navarino, and destroyed the Ottoman fleet, thus forcing the Porte to grant independence to the Greeks. Otherwise the Greek War of Independence would have been drowned in blood…
The other important activity we engaged in, while in Athens, was to visit the hill of the Acropolis. After all I had heard about the marvelous structure at its top a few days back, it seemed to me to be in a sad state of disrepair with all the columns, including those that were still standing, blackened by centuries of pollution. I therefore took a stone, scratched one of the columns, and to my delight its Pendelic marble was a pristine white just below the blackened surface. But my joy was short-lived. Noticing what I was doing, one of the guards started shouting at the top of his voice… Unwittingly I had been desecrating this ancient shrine…
When we reached Limassol, Cyprus’ southern port, in early January 1951, the boat could not dock at its then shallow pier, so we and our belongings were transferred onto small caiques that rocked us slowly shoreward for the last leg of our transcontinental sea trip. Limassol was a much quieter place than Piraeus and several of our relatives had come to the pier to see my parents after a lapse of ten years, and meet their offspring.
I lived in Cyprus for the next seven years, then went to the American University in Beirut for my undergraduate education, Princeton University in New Jersey for my graduate studies, and since graduating have worked at universities and research centers in the U.K., U.S., Europe, and the Middle East, but every year have spent some time in Cyprus, usually in the summer, and later, when I married a Greek maiden, in Greece as well.
The non-fictional accounts that follow are based on, or draw from real events I experienced during that seven-year period. They are mostly autobiographical even though in a few cases the names of the characters described are not given.
During these seven years in Cyprus, as one would expect, the first people with whom I came in contact and later interacted with most intensely, were our relatives. My maternal grandmother Polyxeni thus appears in several of these accounts (A Chest of Drawers, A Stranger in Kyrenia, Cousin Harry’s Jasmine Bush). My paternal grandparents, Charalambos and Theofano appear in three (My Paternal Grandparents, Father’s Village, Oleanders and Poplars). My uncle Nikos (A Special Mentor) and my Aunt Maroulla (The Golden Mean) each receive an essay, as does my cousin Yiannos (Cousin Yiannos behind the Political Persona) whose untimely death was a tragic loss for Cyprus and Greece. Equally naturally, since all seven years I spent in Cyprus I was a student, several essays involve secondary school experiences, friendships or student-teacher relationships developed there (Sunset, My Last Year at High School, The Flag, At Boarding School, High School Revisited). Finally, my brother (Bond between Brothers), and parents (The Letter), each get an essay devoted to them, or inspired by their experiences, and Kyrenia, where I spent my summers before it was invaded and occupied by the Turkish army, pictures in several of the accounts (Snuffing out the Candles, A Stranger in Kyrenia, Cousin Harry’s Jasmine Bush, My Parents’ Farm). This selection of essays concludes with a sketch of Archbishop Makarios, the chief protagonist on the Cyprus stage during the thirty-year period they focus on, and some final remarks.
December 1, 2009