A warm welcome in Cyprus

After nearly three months in busy Tel Aviv, I decided to make a short detour to Cyprus on my way back to Geneva. This was back in early July, and it’s now September; I’ve felt a puzzling resistance to writing about my time there: puzzling because this short Cypriot time-out is where I decided that I should follow my love of writing; puzzling because my lost sense of spirituality followed me there from Israel like a stray dog who’d claimed me as its owner. It was a week of importance. Perhaps I didn’t want to commit my thoughts to paper until these breadcrumbs revealed a bit more about where they were leading.

Hindsight has 20/20 vision, that’s for sure. Looking back, I can see that my energy was pretty frenetic in Tel Aviv, a city soul-mate to San Francisco. There’s a lot going on both socially and in the start-up space. While my big consulting project was on hold, I felt a sense of urgency to figure out how to make money working remotely; I was also trying to find a way to stay there before my 90-day visa ended. My weeks were filled with networking, ideation, business writing… but nothing stuck. As a non-Jew, I felt like an outsider despite everyone’s friendliness; as much as I loved this place, my heart knew that it wouldn’t be home. It was time to move on.

And so I landed in the charming port town of Limassol, Cyprus for a week. It was the middle of summer, excruciatingly hot, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d do there other than gather my scattered energy and swim in the invigorating, crystal-clear Mediterranean water, which I did nearly every day. The afternoons in July were too steamy to spend outdoors; I used that time to work in air-conditioned bliss, and re-emerged in the evenings to enjoy an open-air Cyprus dinner of fresh fish or flavorful meats, grilled vegetables and cheeses (highly recommend Karatello Tavern on the back side of the castle for exceptional Cypriot fare), after which I’d stroll the boardwalk with my camera.

I also made the nearly 2-hour bus journey from Limassol to the capital city of Nicosia, the last divided capital in the world. While I expected to stay mostly on the Cyprus/Greek side of the city, I found myself utterly captivated by the Turkish side and stayed there the entire day. The Turkish side is where most of the oldest buildings are, with the churches transformed into mosques and home to performances like the whirling dervishes. The street art is plentiful and at times extraordinary. And small but high-quality shops abound.

Be sure to check out Buyuk Han, a 15th century inn that has been transformed into restaurants and small artisan shops. I also enjoyed the whirling dervish show; despite the fact that the dervishes themselves are played by local young men in search of work and not necessarily spiritual enlightenment — one of them was the ticket seller, in fact — the setting of the old church and the back story made it worthwhile.

But the real story for me was back in Limassol. I quickly found myself learning how to make Turkish coffee at a little shop called Kaimakkamis in the locals’ part of town. The shop owner Irenaeos, befriended me, which I wrote about here. My morning espresso at Kaimakkamis became a daily ritual.

On my third visit, Irenaeos introduced me to another of the coffee shop’s patrons: a local artist named Paris who promptly took me under his wing and invited me to visit his home for dinner. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t venture solo to a strange man’s home, but I felt from him a benevolent energy; and besides, Irenaeos knew where I was going.

Paris is, simply put, a creative and spiritual force. Like Irenaeos he’s well traveled and speaks excellent English. He’s also a multi-talented artist, art teacher, creator of musical instruments, and an energy worker and healer. Now if you know me at all, you know that my bullshit meter goes off into the red zone at this latter sort of thing; I consider myself a refugee from organized religion, and while I admit the presence of something bigger — which I felt profoundly while in Israel (post on that to come) — my armored shield raises at anything too “woo-woo.” But something in me had softened after my time in Israel, and I was open.

We agreed to walk to the local fish market the next morning to select our main course. Here you simply grab a large metal bowl and toss in whatever fish you’d like to buy. When you’re ready to check out, just bring your selection to the counter for weighing and payment.

Paris selects our fish for dinner

On our walk through both the Greek and Turkish parts of town en route to the market, Paris told me a bit more about the creative history of Limassol; the exceptional street art on nearly every block bears witness to a deeper flow of creative energy here, one that I regret having not tapped into. If you’re interested in creative community, this interview with the founders of the cultural space Thkio Ppalies in Nicosia is worth a read.

After the market, Paris and I went our separate ways, Paris to his home and I to the well-appointed yet morgue-like co-working space where three other solitary entrepreneurs sat in silence, hunched over their computers. Not a word was spoken all day.

I arrived for dinner at day’s end looking forward to a social yet booze-free evening; I’d had more than my share in Tel Aviv. Paris’ living/dining room is an open-air oasis of lush plants, trees and flowers; the other rooms are all accessible from this central courtyard like petals around a stem. We dined on freshly caught fish by candlelight within this peaceful indoor garden, enjoying a long, rambling discussion about travel, art, photography, spirituality, Cyprus, and the meaning of life: everything I love to talk about.

We were soon joined by Paris’ dear friend, another healer and energy worker originally from the Ukraine; she brought a container of decadently creamy and flavorful ice cream, hand-crafted by an Italian expat who’d escaped to the laid-back living of Cyprus’ island life and started a now-thriving gelato shop just down the road. As the night grew darker, candles illuminated our conversation and the deeper soul truths of which we spoke.

My two new friends sharing a Reiki moment

It was late when I left to wander the dark streets to my AirBnB, but I felt safe. More notably, I felt expansive, peaceful and contented. Not only did I relish the warmth of being welcomed and accepted, but I also understood that these feelings were clues to myself: that instead of chasing belonging in a big city full of impressive job titles and Culture with a capital C, belonging caught me unawares in a little port town on a Mediterranean island peppered with artists, musicians, well-travelled expats, and believers that true happiness is found in our connection with each other and with something bigger… call it God, or, as I like to think of it, “All That Is:” a truth I’d always known, but had set aside as illogical and inconvenient.

I’m taking long pauses as I write about my time in Limassol; I feel a tightness in my stomach where an old sorrow had burrowed in to dwell for the past, oh, 40 years or so. I can see why I postponed the writing of this post. I’d lived in nine states by the time I was 12 years old; belonging was not a feeling that I could grasp for long. Over and over, it was taken from me… or rather, I from it. I learned at a young age to prepare for loss or simply avoid the potential for pain entirely: I still remember a drawing I made as a child of a radiant heart surrounded by fortress walls. The exciting sides of change — freedom and exploration — gave me something to run to instead of from, and the ache for belonging was set aside as a nice-to-have, like optional frosting on my adventurous cake. I’m good on my own. Right?

I flew away from Cyprus like I’ve flown away from every home I’ve lived: shutting off the flow of any emotional connection so that I could move unhindered to the next thing. And now, unpacking these memories, I wonder when I will visit Cyprus again. Whether the experiences I had there were simply clues to myself, like breadcrumbs to look for in the next destination, or whether perhaps I could be contented there. I’d convinced myself that Cyprus was too small for me; that I’d get bored. But maybe that was my fear talking.

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