Lemesos Letter 2

No one knows I am here.

Let me rephrase that a little: when I arrived five weeks ago the immigration official at the airport desk looked at the outside of my passport and just waved me through. None of that sinister scanning, you now get in the UK: the hard stares from passport to you and back again. Welcome to fortress Britain.

Since I have been here only the local pay as you go phone company may know where I am – if I turn the phone on.

And you know what? It took me a while to clock this. There are no CCTV surveillance cameras in the streets, or on every building you pass. No sense of urban ‘demos’ fear: not any, which once again, considering the occupying army in the north might be seen to be strange. I’ll return to that in a minute.

Other personal delights in Lemesos: no jet aircraft noise of any kind; we are well clear of flight landing and take off paths in this part of the island. In fact, hardly any aircraft of any kind pass overhead at all. (There is this crazy Russian, whom I am trying to meet, who has fixed a hang-glider wing to a GRP boat hull, along with an engine, and who flies along the beach at about 100 feet; wicked.)

Hardly any sirens split the day – or night – with howling relish. I’ve hardly seen a cop, bar the couple measuring out the distances on a road where there had been an accident the other day. From feeling that I am on a permanent tv set for Spooks, back in the Great Wen, I have slowly come to remember what feeling free – from noise, from crowds (even in central Lemesos,) from the anxiety of the ‘terror threat’ – was like. It’s here on Cyprus. You poor souls, about to experience a giant advertising campaign for the world’s security and military industry, cleverly disguised as the London Olympics, are about to get ‘threat anxiety’ in spades.

The sense of freedom in not confined to one dimension. When I go riding with Marisa, Anne, Simona and Hilary (sorry, couldn’t resist that bit), as I now do for up to six hours a week, in two morning tranches, we ride with or without hard hats, as we please, across country where there are no signs saying ‘no horses’ (you have to be a rider in the UK to appreciate that bit). Actually, generally, we see no one at all and, where we need to use the country roads, almost no vehicles.

I know what you are thinking: typical reaction from an in-comer to a sun-drenched isle, full of fun and, for me, very few cares. Cyprus, you are mouthing, is – to adapt Somerset Maughan – a sunny place for shady people. It is certainly true that there are some highly dubious deals going on here. If the Russians are blamed right now, they have a long history of Cypriot venality to work with. The banking system (the Cypriot part) is horribly over-exposed to the Greek (to whom they lent almost their entire reserves a few years back). Enosis (union with Greece) still is used by the mainland Greeks to shaft the Cypriots; one example where they are out-manoeuvred.

The politico-military state of the island ought to mean we all live here in a state of high alert, constantly under a real terror threat, borne on the wings of those 30,000 Turkish troops in the north. Forty per cent of this island is occupied, the Green Line marking the boundary and policed by a very few UN troops from places like the Argentine and Ireland. In fact, the Turkish Cypriots are anxious to find a way to re-unit the island.

The Greek south is generally against it. It would be too easy to say that that is because, with the invasion in 1974, the Moslem ‘problem’ was solved, by enforced ethnic cleansing, Turkish Cypriots being sent north, Greek Cypriots south. But, in the most obvious way, it was.

If you believe, as do I, that the west is already engaged in a low-intensity war with militant Islam, on the march all over the world, then Cyprus is in a state of having a frozen, but clearly marked, front line. We know where they are: the central point is, they are not here. It’s been another revelation, to be free from having to see in the streets, those black beards, those black threatening cloaks, the women hiding behind the all-encompassing veils. It is the menace of a religion that shouts out it is different, wants to be different and that, in the bleeding-heart of liberal democracy, you have to put up with it. Not here, you don’t; the mosques in Lemesos are shut up, decaying, as good as dead. No one here wants to go back to the 15th century (according to the followers of the prophet, this is 1433).

So, you may have a glimpse in all this that living here – for me – is a becoming bliss. The ex-pats I already know here – Brits, Germans, Swiss, Romanian – just say ‘see, what have we been trying to tell you?’ The Cypriots just laugh; they laugh a lot.

Gotta go: Marisa wants me to try out each of her happy, boisterous brood of largely Arab stock, so that’s five more to go. So far, the anticipated heavy heat of summer is holding off, the weather remaining in the upper seventies, with stiff sea breezes, which means we can ride up to midday. We generally start about 09.30; what larks, in every way.