Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 14)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 04/09/2022Back to Blog
This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real.
Cyprus – Summer 2021
Zena was on the plane flying to Cyprus, studying once again the letters and text that grandfather Evangelos left to her father. It was the last flight of the route, from Dubai to Larnaca airport
During the months that had passed, she had read everything many times and in her mind she had created such a clear picture of their lives that she thought she knew them. It made a great impression on her that although almost all the texts, except for the letters of Zenovia, concerned grandfather Evangelos, the central figure was Zenovia. The effect of this woman was riveting in everyone’s lives, even after her death.
In the continuation of his text, Evangelos talked about his wife, Antigone, but this sweet and kind woman seemed to be lost in the vortex of time and events, while Zenovia stood proud and dominated even today, in her own life.
Grandfather Evangelos wrote, somewhere:
When I returned, my son, from my mother’s funeral in Cyprus, I realized that I was now alone in the world. My family would end here if I didn’t get married to leave Zenovia’s genes to future generations. Then I remembered Antigone. She was the only one of my old admirers who hadn’t got married, after my financial ruin. I even knew that my mother kept correspondence with her. Thus, I went to see her. She had also lost her parents and was alone.
When I decided to marry her, I was sure she was the most ideal woman in the world for me. She is so affectionate, loving, supportive and a good mother. She does not have the potential of Zenovia, which is not at all strange, because my mother was a phenomenon, but I am happy that I chose her. She is for me the best wife in the world, and I believe for you too, the best mother.
I, my son, was late to get married because circumstances did not allow me to do so, in the way I had lived. It would be good for you to marry younger so that you can have many children and perpetuate the genes of Zenovia, but also of my wonderful father, Demetrios, who was the best person in the world.
Here Zena always wept. She was thinking of her own father who from his twentieth years was orphaned by both of his parents, when in that accident they were killed together, and he had to take over the cotton business on his own. Before he could understand well what was happening, the national revolution took place in Egypt and nationalized the cotton factory he had in Alexandria. At such a young age he had to start from the beginning. How could he think about getting married?
So, matured too, probably by mistake, gave birth to her. And he named her Zena, the name of his grandmother, not his mother, as was customary. Now Zena was almost forty-one years old and until recently she had never thought about marrying and having children. Her acquaintance with Alexis had now changed this perspective, as well as the reading of all these letters, which had created in her the desire to leave offspring. Something that, two years ago, would have been completely utopian.
At that time the air hostess passed to distribute the meals and Zena tool off her mask to eat. Throughout the trip everyone had to wear a protective mask, which they took off only to eat. The lady next to her, around fifty, with a kind face, did the same and smiled shyly at Zena.
-Are you going to Cyprus? Zena asked her in Greek
-Yes, I come from Paphos, and I had gone to Melbourne to attend the wedding of my sister’s daughter. It was done in a very close circle, due to the pandemic. Very tiring trip.
-Yes, you are right. Twenty-two hours on a plane is not a little! And the worst part is that we must wear this mask as well, all the time.
-What to do? The circumstances are difficult. Are you going to Cyprus?
-Yes, I am also going to Paphos. My great-grandmother came from there, but for me is the first time to visit the island. May I ask you something? I have read my grandfather’s letters and sometimes the city is called Paphos and sometimes Ktima. Which is correct?
-Let me explain. Paphos is an ancient city of Cyprus. The name is associated with the goddess Aphrodite, since Paphos, was the name of the mythological daughter or son of Galatea and Pygmalion. Also, Pausanias and Homer mention, as the founder of Paphos and Palaipaphos, Agapenor, Arcadian King of Tegea, who after his return from the Trojan War founded Palaipaphos, today’s Kouklia village. When the Franks came to Cyprus in 1192, the area of the city of Paphos was renamed as the Royal Estate (Ktima), and for this reason, until 1970, it was called Ktima. Now it is officially called Paphos.
-Thank you. Very enlightening information. Could you repeat the names for me to look about them, later?
-Let me write them to you.
Maria noted on a piece of paper the names mentioned about the name of Paphos and gave them to Zena.
-Thank you very much. Do you live in Paphos or in a village in the district of Paphos?
-I live in Yeroskipou. It is a municipality just outside the city of Paphos. You know goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty in ancient times, is said to have been born on a beach in Paphos. You can also see the location if you want now that you will be there. Some associate her name with the word “aphros” which means foam of the sea and the verb “dyomai”, that is, I emerge, but modern scholars consider it paretymology (false explanation). She is a Middle Eastern deity who spread to the Greek world through Cyprus, that is why she is said to have been born here. Her name is foreign.
-You know a lot of things. Are you a philologist? My partner is a philologist. He taught me to speak Greek.
-No, I’m not a philologist, but I read a lot. I like to study the history of my country. Let me tell you something else since we have caught on this issue. My village, Yeroskipou, took its name from the words “ieros kipos” that means Sacred Garden, because it is said that here were the sacred gardens of the goddess Aphrodite. Her temple was a little further down, where today is the village of Kouklia. One can see the ruins of the temple that existed in antiquity. It was the most important worship center of the goddess in the entire Greek world of the time. People came from everywhere to honor her.
-What you are telling me is magical! I feel like I’m going to take a dip in the past by stepping foot on this island. By the way let’s introduce to each other. My name is Zena, Zenovia, that is, Vassilopoulos and I am a journalist.
-My name is Maria Stylianou, and I am a simple housewife who likes to read a lot.
-Oh, I’m so lucky to have met you. But let me also ask you something else. Do you see all those letters that I keep and read all the time? My grandfather left them to my father. Most of them refer to my great-grandmother, who was called Zenovia and came from the village of Statos. This woman between 1916 and until 1930 when she died, had set up a kind of business to export Cypriot weavers initially and other items later, to Alexandria and elsewhere to help the poor girls of Paphos. Do you know anything about it?
-No, I haven’t heard anything. It is possible that with her death this operation stopped.
-You know, my great-grandmother was an incredible woman. She married at an early age to a cotton merchant from Alexandria and while she was an illiterate village girl, she was educated and helped her husband in his business. When he died, she came to Cyprus and set up this business to support needy girls to secure an income.
-I haven’t heard anything about it, but I do know that at that time poverty was indescribable. People were indebted to loan sharks and often lost their properties because they could not pay. If your great-grandmother did something to help, well done to her.
-And one more thing. In some of her letters to her son, she refers to a girl who had a strange name. A! I remembered. Her name was Andrianthe. This girl, then, seems to have been a very capable weaver and not only that. She could make Cyprus sweets, jams, and everything you can imagine. She wanted to expand the business to other products, and it seems that she had convinced my great-grandmother. They had even managed to export to London. Have you heard anything about her?
-No, I haven’t heard anything. I believe that after the death of your great-grandmother, it would be very difficult for these girls to continue exporting. They did not have the right connections and neither did they have the freedom of movement. Your great-grandmother must have been very dynamic and fearless to achieve, then, what you describe.
-Yes, I too have been impressed by her actions. It’s her own story that brings me to Cyprus. Do you know anything about Statos, her village?
-Yes, of course. It is a small village in the mountains of Paphos. You should know that the district of Paphos is basically mountainous. It is there that mainly vines are grown. This village, around 1966 – 1969 suffered large landslides due to rainfall. Thus, the government was forced to transfer the residents of the village, but also of a neighbor village to a hill above. The new village was named Statos – Agios Fotios, as were the names of the two villages that were united. In the old village, where your great-grandmother came from, there are only ruined houses. You shall visit it, I guess.
-However, I must confess to you that for the first time I have had a conversation in Greek. Two years ago, I hardly knew any Greek. But after the death of my father and my acquaintance with Alexis, my partner, I began to learn, to read the letters that my father left me. I am thrilled that I can understand what you are saying and you also to understand my Greek.
-Your Greek is fine. I thought you’ve been talking Greek all your life.
At that time the air hostess passed to collect the empty food trays. Zena and Maria wore their masks. Maria closed her eyes to rest, and Zena looked out of the window. They were passing over a desert. Endless expanses of sand and in the middle a straight road continuing for kilometers. Every now and then you could see a car crossing it.
-What a monotonous landscape! Zena thought.
Then she remembered when she visited the famous monolith Ayres Rock, in the desert of central Australia, which, when the sun beats on its surface at sunrise and sunset, the metals it contains are activated and shines red. The area is considered a sacred site of the Aborigines and has now been renamed to Uluru Park. She could never forget the emotion that filled her when she saw the spectacle.
-All places have their beauty, but above all their sanctity, she thought.
Once when she had gone to a tribe on some islands of Asia, an old sorcerer priest had told her.
-People, in the old days, used to listen to the sound of the earth and then decided where to build their temples. Now they build them wherever they find an empty plot of land.
With these thoughts Zena closed her eyes and fell asleep.
When she reopened them the landscape had changed. They were now above the Mediterranean Sea. Deep blue and islets thrown like pebbles in the waves. Glamorous beauty.
-It is the Aegean Sea, Maria told her. In a moment we will see Cyprus.
Zena’s heart was shattered. So, from above she would see for the first time the homeland of her great-grandmother. She felt a thrill that she could not explain. Soon the pilot announced the arrival of the plane at Larnaca airport.
-Zena looked almost greedily, and Maria explained to her:
-What we are seeing now is the Karpasia peninsula, now occupied by Turkish troops. That one, that is just seen, is the Akamas peninsula. In a short time, we will make a round and land at Larnaca airport.
She noticed that the coastlines of Cyprus were smoother and straighter than the islands previously seen in the Aegean Sea. Soon, the descent of the aircraft began, and as Zena was looking at the land approaching, she could single out the houses, the cars, the green plantations, and even the people who were going to work. On the other side was the blue sea. The waves that were bursting on the shore were not huge like those of the oceans she knew. Everything was on a smaller scale.
-A lilliputian place, she thought. Which gives birth to great people!
-We have arrived; Maria told her. I’ll give you my phone number and you can come visit me whenever you want. I will be very happy. Do you have a way of transportation to your hotel, or do you want me and my husband, who will come to pick me up, to give you a lift?.
-Thank you very much! I couldn’t believe that before setting foot in Cyprus I made a friend! I have rented a car and I will take it from the airport. I will use the GPS and find my hotel. It is called Elysium. It is just outside Paphos towards a village called Chloraka.
-Wonderful! Yes I know it, it is one of the most beautiful hotels in the area. You will enjoy it. And for any difficulty you call me. The distances here are very small. Nothing to do with Australia and everything you knew.
-Yes, I know it and thank you very much! Meeting you was a great luck for me!
The exit from the airport was not so fast because all passengers had to take a PCR test and only when the results were negative to leave. Otherwise, they would have to quarantine. It was a tedious process, but it had to be done.
Before she left, Zena said goodbye to Maria and promised her that she would call her. After picking up her car, a Toyota Prius, she turned on the GPS and set off.
The time was 11 in the morning. The heat had already started but inside the car there was air conditioning, and the atmosphere was very pleasant. She turned on the radio and Greek music filled the space.
Zena drove, humming the rhythm of the music, and at the same time sorted her first impressions of Cyprus.
-The airport is relatively small, but perfectly modern, she concluded. Cypriots are light brown to brunettes of medium stature. Young women, even though they do not possess the tall bodies of the northern countries, have that charming femininity, which captivates men. Was Zenovia looking like them too?
She concentrated her gaze on the road and continued her trip. The journey began. Where will it lead her?