Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 17)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 25/09/2022Back to Blog
This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real.
Cyprus – Summer 2021
Zena was sitting in the cafeteria of the Larnaca airport, taking her coffee. It had been a fortnight since she came to Nicosia and seventeen days since she came to Cyprus. What she understood was that she did not have enough time to assimilate impressions, meet people and learn information. The more she learned, the more she felt she did not know. Today she had come to the airport to pick up Alexis, who was coming from Australia. But his flight was delayed, and this gave her time to reflect on the days that had passed and to put her thoughts in order.
Her great friend and supporter on this route were Eleni. Soon after her arrival in Nicosia, she met the parents and the rest of Alexis’ family members. They were staying in Strovolos, another suburb of Nicosia, not far from her hotel. Their house was in the core of Strovolos, that is, the traditional center, where the houses were detached houses, built next to each other, from the beginning to the middle of the last century. It was very picturesque for her when she was welcomed one evening in the courtyard of their house, under the lemon trees of their garden.
Nicosia is very hot in the summer compared to the seaside towns, but in the evenings it is cool. A pleasant breeze was blowing, and as it smelled of the jasmine they had in their yard, Zena felt she was enclosed in a hug, in another era. Their dishes were all traditional Cypriot, moussaka, stuffed vine leaves, halloumi, watermelon and in the end a juicy galaktoboureko. Their company was very pleasant and with them Zena began to understand the Cypriot dialect and to speak Greek herself.
Alexis’ grandmother, Mrs. Myrofora, told her about her village Marathovounos. She told her that it is in the plain of Messaoria, the largest plain of Cyprus, that is, where in the years before the invasion of 1974, almost all the grain of Cyprus was cultivated. Their village was large compared to other villages. It had almost 2,400 thousand inhabitants. In addition to farmers, the inhabitants were also stockbreeders. They had a lot of sheep, goats, cows, poultry, and oxen. They made halloumi and other cheese products and sold them. It was an affluent village.
-Now it is inhabited by settlers from Turkey, she told her. Most of our houses were demolished and in their place they built a large mosque. Part of the village is a camp of the Turkish army.
Zena began to feel interested in learning about the modern history of Cyprus and being informed about the invasion of 1974. In the world where she grew up all this sounded surreal and of another era. However, her time for now, was divided between excursions to get to know the city of Nicosia and actions related to the purpose of her visit to Cyprus: to learn as much as she could about Zenovia and the property she inherited.
Accompanied by Eleni, she walked the streets of old Nicosia. Here, within the historic city center, the houses low, the streets narrow, the wooden doors with the metal frames that one could read on dates such as 1900, 1910, made Zena feel that she was taking a step back and found herself 100 years ago.
A city surrounded by walls built by the Venetians to protect it from the Ottomans. But they failed. In 1570, Nicosia fell, and large massacres took place. The Ottomans remained rulers of Cyprus until 1878 when they sold it to the British. In 1960 Cyprus became an independent State, with a given constitution and guarantor powers Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey. The gaps left by this constitution were the cause of the intercommunal conflicts of 1963. Since then, the golden recipe has never been found that restores the coexistence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Turkey, with the excuse given to it by the status of guarantor power, invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974, after the junta of Greece organized a coup d’état against the President of Cyprus Makarios. Since then, the country has been divided in half, the Greek Cypriots expelled from the northern part and refugees to their homeland and the Turkish Cypriots trapped in the northern part, by the Turkish army and mingled with tens of thousands of settlers brought by Turkey to change the demographic character of the island.
This was the short, modern history of Cyprus that Zena had learned, from Eleni, while strolling around the old city, and observing the circular, symmetrical walls with the eleven heart-shaped bastions, half in the north and half in its southern part. And in the middle the green line. A horizontal dividing intersection that includes a beautiful area and shopping streets, once full of life. Now, everything is under collapse. A region without an identity. An engraving in the center of Nicosia that separates Greek Cypriots from Turkish Cypriots. An artificial divide up in such a small town! No matter how hard both Municipalities tried, they did not succeed in persuading the Turkish army to allow the restoration of the buildings, which are collapsing more with each passing day.
-Has there ever been anyone who tried to unite this city? Zena asked Eleni.
-Few years after the war, there were two enlightened Mayors of Nicosia. Lellos Demetriades and Mustafa Akinci. The first mayor of Nicosia and the other mayor of the occupied part of the city. These people tried to realize a common vision and work so, that when a solution to the Cyprus problem is found, Nicosia can function as a unified city. And they succeeded to a large extent. They created the Nicosia Master Plan, which operates in both sides up, to this day.
-And what are these people doing on now?
-From what I know, Lellos Demetriades* – who was older – is now ill and has ceased to be the active man and the brilliant personality he was in the past. Mustafa Akinci was for 5 years president of the Turkish Cypriot community, from 2015 to 2020 and then we had placed many hopes on him for a solution to the Cyprus problem. Great efforts were made on both sides, so much, that we had believed that the time for a solution had come. Unfortunately, everything has foundered and since then our politicians have been blaming each other and of course Turkey. Then, with actions by Turkey, Mr. Akinci was not re-elected. Great damage for the resolution of the Cyprus problem. Such people are rare.
All this information had confused her, and she understood that this country was not just beautiful with a glorious historical past. It was a deeply wounded place, with an uncertain historical future. Of course, she understood nothing in depth, she was sure that a lot was hidden beneath the surface and a lot was played at the international poker tables, where nations are nothing but playing cards in the hands of unscrupulous players.
Thus, she thought to leave the matter, for the time being, and enjoy the city of Nicosia, which outside the walls exudes something modern, but it is still small compared to what Zena knew. It has, counting the suburbs also, about 200.000 – 240.000 inhabitants. However, it is not lacking in modern architecture and ambitious constructions. On the outer side of the walls, a multi-stories building has been built to the design of the famous French architect Jean Nouvel and just opposite, at one of the exits from the old town, the bridge of Eleftheria Square accompanied by the homonymous park that extends in the moat. All this, designed by the company of the famous Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid**. The park includes gardens, water elements, jets, dining areas, an outdoor theater and a well of light, which at noon on the first of October, lets the light descend vertically to a point in the heart of the project, under the bridge, where glass objects reflect it, marking the day of the creation of the Cypriot state. A technique used by the ancient inhabitants of this planet to celebrate light and honor their gods
Zena knew about the internationally renowned Zaha Hadid, who even though she herself died in 2016, the company she created in London still promotes and builds works in the style that she first presented. Buildings, mainly made of white concrete, that flow, move and curve. Besides, her work is also known in Australia. The twin towers on the Gold Coast, the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport, the Mandarin Oriental in Melbourne and perhaps others that Zena is unaware of, are works of her company.
The project in Nicosia was nearing its end and despite the reactions that initially existed from the residents, for its very modern form, the result seemed wonderful, and its acceptance was increasing.
-Wherever Zaha Hadid’s works are being built there are reactions, Zena told Helen, when they discussed the issue. But in the end, the cities that acquire them remain, with an architectural monument that will be discussed by many more generations.
-It is the proximity to the old that alienates people.
-And yet the old expresses its time and the new its own era. There are both to narrate the evolution of history through the centuries.
-Yes, you’re right. Nicosia is an architectural mosaic of the conquerors who passed through here. Byzantine monuments, Venetian walls, oriental mosques, British buildings and now a modern project that aspires to lead Cyprus to the world of the future. None of the previous ones copied the other. They all put their own identity and stamp. This is what the modern city does today. It does not copy. It is synchronizing.
All this turned to Zena’s mind as she waited. She understood that this journey was keeping for her much more than she expected. She had also her original goal: To find her roots.
-This seems more difficult than resolving the Cyprus problem! She thought. How is it possible to discover the secret of Zenovia at a time when there is no natural evidence to search for. Her house has been destroyed and as far as I know she left nothing else behind.
These thoughts tormented her on the nights she was alone at the hotel. In the end she decided to ask if there was still the bank where Zenovia had the money left to her by Demetrios.
-The continuation of that bank, I believe, must be the Bank of Cyprus, Eleni told her. But what shall we ask them for? From what you have told me, your grandfather Evangelos had closed the account, that Zenovia had with the bank. Is it possible to find something after so many years?
-I don’t know. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. I will ask for an appointment with one of the bank’s directors, lest we find something that escaped to my grandfather.
-I have some connections with the bank, and I will try to put you in touch with the right person. You know, here everything works like that. You will have to use your connections to achieve your goal. Otherwise, it cannot be done!
-Don’t worry. That’s how it is everywhere. Few are those who help because it is their duty. Usually, people must have an interest to be helpful.
-Thus, Eleni had made an appointment with Mr. Ioannides, one of the bank’s directors. The appointment was for the day after tomorrow. They could not leave Nicosia before this meeting took place.
At that moment she saw on the arrivals table that Alexis’ flight had arrived.
-It will take some time until he comes out, Zena thought. In addition to having to wait for his luggage, he will also have to go through the process of PCR tests for Covid and wait for the results.
She decided to send him a message, when he is ready to notify her to go to the Arrivals. Suddenly, she came out of the world of Cyprus and felt great joy in the prospect of seeing Alexis. He was her partner, her companion, and for the first time in her life she felt that she was seeking the warmth of his presence. And as much as she did not want to admit it, he would help her get out of that mess she had gotten into.
Her meeting with Alexis took place in an explosion of emotions. Both were incredibly happy to be together after so many days. For Zena it was a realization that this man was very important – but very important, for her. She was truly in love!
During the return trip, Zena was constantly talking trying to inform Alexis about all the events of the days that preceded. Although they also had been communicating by phone, face-to-face contact created other channels of understanding.
-Nicosia was a revelation to me, she told him. Cyprus, from a beautiful island for holidays, with a long history, was presented as a place with modern unresolved problems and deep wounds. I felt it very strongly here.
-That is a fact. Especially in Paphos, which you visited, but also in Limassol and even in Larnaca, you do not meet the separation of Cyprus. In Nicosia it is there. It’s the Green Line, it’s the destroyed houses you can see behind the barbed wire. But above all, it is the fact that Nicosia is not a tourist city to celebrate lightheartedness and ephemeral carefreeness. Here, life is in touch with reality.
-With Zenovia’s property did anything happen? Did you learn anything new? In relation to Mr. Nicolaou, what do you think of doing? I do not intend to leave it that way. Such behaviors are unacceptable.
-The house of Zenovia does not actually exist. It’s just ruins. I saw the photos that Eleni had taken. I don’t think we’ll find anything there. Of course, now that you have come, we will go to see it together.
-Regarding the secret of Zenovia, I have asked for an appointment with a person in charge at the Bank of Cyprus, hoping that something grandfather Evangelos may have escaped, we can find it now. Which is very unlikely, but it doesn’t hurt to try. My appointment is the day after tomorrow.
-As for Mr. Nicolaou, I have thought about going to the police. This is what a lawyer, Eleni’s friend, advised me. The aim is not to blame him, because we have no concrete evidence, but the involvement of the police will frighten him and leave us alone.
-I can help with that too. An old, good friend of my father’s is a senior police officer at the Police Headquarters, and he will know how to handle the case. You know here everything works that way. Using connections.
-I know. Eleni has told me so, too.
-With your lawyer, Mr. Neophytou, what will you do?
-When we go to Paphos, we will go through his office together, I will sign the papers I have to sign, I will pay him and terminate our cooperation. I will appoint another lawyer. Eleni’s friend seemed good to me, but we’ll see. There is no need to decide immediately.
It did not take long for them to arrive in Nicosia. After the necessary procedures, they ended up in the hotel room. Being apart for over two weeks, one thing had made clear to both. They wanted to be together all the time. Alexis’ oriental temperament forced him to always be on the side of his beloved, and Zena’s liberal views were shattered when she discovered that she was much happier with him, than alone.
-Together we will find the solution, Zena told him the next morning they woke up. I’m sure.
Photo: A part of the moat of Eleftheria Square
*Lellos Demetriades died on the 9th of April 2022
** Elefheria Square in Nicosia was disigned by the Cypriot Architect, one of the directors in her company, Christos Passas.