Lemesos Letter 4

The big heat is on us. It will get even hotter as June progresses into July, less than one week away. Thankfully, I will be gone three weeks later. It had been getting progressively warmer since my arrival in April. In those far off days I slept under a duvet, as well as a mosquito net and it was chilly in the evenings. One night away, in Paphos in the south west wind swept corner, in a friend’s house, I woke in the night, shivering. Blissful memory, as is those of the few rain showers that graced the odd hour in early May.

When I left for a brief spell in London, just under two weeks ago, the weather was brilliant, hot at midday, noticeably cooler at night, balmy in its caresses. I had stayed in Paphos again and the day before my German friend, Jochen, and I had bumped our way into the deep interior on his impressive trail-bike, following a still wet river bed for much of the way. We wore leathers and even when we stopped, we were not uncomfortably hot. Just thinking about that now makes me sweat.

When I got back to Cyprus, just five days ago, and left the bliss of an air-conditioned aeroplane, the humidity hit me like a wet blanket wrapped tight around my head. I understand a tiny, tiny part of the awfulness of waterboarding now: it felt like drowning. That first night back here in Lemesos , every breath taken as Iay on my bed was a effort. Airless, damp, dreadful, draining hours. ‘It’s pretty bad,’ my friend Lizzie said the next day. She was in the doorway dripping wet, shiny with sweat.

Well, the humidity has let go its grip, for now, but the heat is relentless and has its own method of oppression. It defines every part of the day, from before you are fully awake. Every morning I am aware of the sun creeping round the side of the house; I can tell how hot it is going to be. I am acutely aware of the heat in the house, sensitive to its nuances. Every available window is open, behind the heavy, and oh so, welcome shutters. Those shutters stay closed, of course, all the time now. Even doors remain open, day and night. We have reached the point where eating out on the terrace is a non-starter, even late in the day; just too hot. Friends who can are sleeping out on their roofs – where they have canopies and nets rigged.

Breezes – and there are a few – are of hot air. I have no air-con here, but I do have fans, blessed fans. The cognoscenti say I ought to have ceiling fans, gods of the upper air, for the best effect; my lesser, mortal kind suffice, just. I do not know what I will do when the temperature remains overnight in the high nineties, rather than the high eighties, as now. Sweat more, I guess, sleep less.

The heat means my day is organized around avoiding its awesome power as much as possible. I get up earlier and earlier, to get things done, then flop out, in the study, sprawled along a sofa. I used to go down to my local supermarket to buy some lunch; not any longer, far too hot. I have to remember to get lunches bought the day before in the relative cool of the evening. After lunch, every day, I am whacked out: uh, huh, siesta – and how wonderful is that. Later in the afternoon, I have to force myself to go out: to walk, to cycle, to rollerblade. It is a huge daily effort, psychological and physical.

My principle exercise remains riding. Simona and I start earlier and earlier, these days by eight, finishing no later than eleven. Last week we went high, searching for sea breezes – thankfully, we found them. But on the second occasion she decided we could go much further and neither of us had a water bottle. We managed it but, for me, the toll came later, at home, when I could not at first comprehend why I was so exhausted.

For those of you who do not ride, I need to explain that the rider does a lot of physical work on a horse, much more than you could possibly imagine as a spectator. Our horses, of course, work like Trojans and it is amazing to be on their backs as they gallop uphill for half a mile (we do that to give them more exercise and, incredibly, they can do it even in the heat). Because they are from Israeli stock they are very tough. (One of you ought to appreciate that.) Mostly Arab, with those beautiful dished noses, they sweat, too, but nothing like their riders. We have taken to hosing them down at the end; we’ll be joining them soon.

Out in the country the heat pounds down on us, with a beat like a kettle drum. It defines the landscape at this time of year, the green still holding on, but with more yellow than a month ago – the harvest is in and the fields are golden with stubble – and white and brown in the mass of exposed rock. White is everywhere, in the hills, on the paths we take, most of all in the quality of the light, which dazzles with its intensity, It is little wonder that Cyprus is home to so many artists.

In Lemesos the heat is both less and more. There is that breeze, fitful but sea-borne, so carrying the quality of cool air even as it ramps up the humidity. But the buildings concentrate the power of the sun. I burned my feet the other day stepping from the house to the outbuildings and forgetting to wear shoes; yes, that hot. That is the same heat, though, that means we pay no bills, year long, for hot water; that dries clothes from the wash in twenty minutes; and that helps to ripen the best tasting tomatoes, from the tiny garden here, I have ever eaten.

The big heat is here. Soon I will be coming home; and, as with the horses of Drapia, I already know how much I will miss all this.