The Secret of Elements

Kyrenia’s Legend: The life and time of Costas Catsellis

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This deeply engaging biography, accompanied by a wealth of archival photographic material, recounts the story of Costas Catsellis, a man whose achievements will be forever etched upon the history of Kyrenia, Cyprus. From his humble beginning in this forgotten corner of the vast British Empire, to his ambitious journeys across the Atlantic Ocean to the land that promises everything: America.

Author: Rina Katselli more info

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This deeply engaging biography, accompanied by a wealth of archival photographic material, recounts the story of Costas Catsellis, a man whose achievements will be forever etched upon the history of Kyrenia, Cyprus. From his humble beginning in this forgotten corner of the vast British Empire, to his ambitious journeys across the Atlantic Ocean to the land that promises everything: America.

There he learns the art of cooking and gambles away a fortune in the stock market, before volunteering in the US Army during WWI. His journey continues with his return to Cyprus with dreams of having a family and leaving his mark on his beloved Mediterranean coastal town of Kyrenia.

After the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922, progress for Kyrenia ground to a halt. Everyone lost hope for a recovery except for one man, who knew that his fate and Kyrenia’s were intertwined. Catsellis’ determination to develop the Sea View and Dome hotels transformed the town into a booming tourist centre, lifting the town out of economic decline.

Fate, however, was not finished with Costas Catsellis. He lost everything once more and became a refugee in his own country after the 1974 Turkish invasion. Although the fruits of his labour remain under occupation to this day, he will remain known in history as the Legend of Kyrenia.

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Chapter 1

Afternoon Tea with my Daughter-in-Law

Kyrenia, 1964

Early afternoon, north veranda; the sea across, I am watching the waves. They are born, they flow, they grow, they rise, they fall, they vanish – each in its own way, never two alike. Millions, billions of waves, century after century, each with its own shape; the sea never repeats herself.

But I… every day at this time, with a strong tea served on the table next to me, one of a kind in Cyprus, a special order for my hotel from Ceylon via England, delivered in large tin boxes. The metallic teapot is not like the old ones yet, heavy and silver-plated, it still bears the emblem of a lion holding the flag with a large calligraphic “C.” I am C: seventy-six years old, over the hill, nearly out to pasture…

What hill? What pasture? Everything’s upside down: the hill, the pasture, the country, my children, my grandchildren, my employees… I have given most of my employees a leave of absence; the few that are still here, at the hotel, have nothing to do. They talk amongst themselves in low voices, with their arms folded and with fear coiled inside their eyes. Many Kerynians pass by the hotel to hear and discuss the latest news; all with the same gaze, all of Kyrenia is afraid. I am afraid! Who am I to say that I have lived?

“What you’re asking for is so boastful. And it’s not like I have lived such a grand life!” I tell her.

“You’re not the one to judge that!” she says sharply and sits down across from me.

continue...

The waiter arrives with a large teapot for four people, milk, a clean cup, cake – everything ordered by her before she came to sit here with me. And she is determined! Milk pitcher in hand, she begins preparing her first cup; she can drink tea, one cup after the other, until dawn. She is in mourning and the black clothing only emphasizes the intense rosiness of her cheeks. I am looking for a way out, but how do I evade her?

I avoid looking at her; I worry. Worry has always been my bread and butter. But to worry about a thing like this…? World War II: Anxiety, insecurity, fear, but the whole world was in the same boat then. Countries destroyed, cities turned to ashes. Our small corner of the world saw the least destruction. What destruction? Nothing happened here! Only the volunteers saw action, some 37,000, and not all of them on the front lines. During the last world war, even if the volunteers represented one-tenth of the population of Cyprus, we did not feel like this; there was a tenacious collective resistance in the air from so many nations, which believed that their citizens were sacrificing themselves for freedom and high ideals. Now everything is upside down and those same countries are not supporting us; they will not even speak up for our independence to help restrain Turkey that is hell-bent on grabbing our land. What is their position? Do they support us? No one knows what’s going to happen, no one speaks openly. Suspicious things! I tell her that the Americans surely want Turkey to invade our country because they expect to get a foothold here as well, because of NATO. The British, on the other hand, also support the Turks because they resent us for ousting them, even though they maintain two army bases on the island and hold Troodos for themselves, having set up their enormous spy radars there. I ask for her opinion but she keeps at it, notebook and pencil in hand.

“So are you going to start at the beginning?” she asks.

Something firms up inside me but then retracts again.

“What on earth do you want me to tell you?”

“Your life story from the beginning!” she says sharply.

I sigh! Before all this trouble began, I was sure of everything. I liked the idea but now with everything upside down and with her sitting there insisting teacup in hand… Her determination raises some certainty inside me that melds with fear, confusing me, making me flush, leaving me tongue-tied.

“Can we start, Father?” she asks and sets down her teacup.

She calls me “Father”! Her father Stavris, the son of Kyriakos Lordos, a big tall man, has been dead for over a year –assimilated at the cemetery’s entrance (first grave to the left) in the company of his father. His shouting is no longer heard all the way to the port. His bicycle, which tilled the roads and outskirts of Kyrenia for years, lies rusting and abandoned God knows where, and the white dog, which always chased after him, dead on his grave from sorrow.

“But you have already agreed… Come on, Father!” she pleads with me and smiles, while preparing her second cup of tea.

I did agree before the unrest but now my mouth refuses to open; it won’t be pried open even with a knife. I don’t want to do this! What I do want is to have my hotel full again, to barely keep up in the kitchen, not to have a moment’s rest. I don’t want to sit around recounting my life story! What life? The life that, because of this situation, is about to be dragged down the river along with the entire country? All my guests are gone and I, with my hands tied, find no peace, like the waves of a stormy sea during a fierce tramontane. And at night, the threatening lights of the Turkish warships a living nightmare… I watch them for hours; without work, I feel rested. I do not even need the three hours of sleep that would normally be enough for me in twenty-four. Wide-awake with no way of burning up anxiety even for a little while, during those twenty-two hours that I am awake of the twenty-four. And now, after tea, I am idle and restless like the waves of the sea… No, no, the waves are working; they are enriching the sea with oxygen, giving life to marine plants and creatures. The waves are at work as always; I am the one sitting around with nothing to do. This is hell! Having already finished her second cup, she smiles at me while pouring her third.

“When were you born? Do you know?”