All you need
3/3 stories about Irish identity observed Northern Cyprus 2000 from a Dutch perspective
O’Conaill looked over the balcony. He owned an enormous house up in the hills above Bellapais in the Besparmak-mountains. What he saw beneath him was his daily, usual view, but he never got used to it. It was new and splendid every day. He felt like a crusader, watching the coast of Northern Cyprus where in many hours only one ship would arrive. Like the mediterranean sea far below, the beaches and harbours were deserted. The dry fields of the coastal area were left burning in the summer sun, helpless and unable to defend themselves against the continuous pressure of the heat-waves. But O’Conaill’s balcony was shaded by a roof, and profited from the slightest breezes that would circle around the tops of the Besparmak mountains. It was one of the happiest places to be in this part of the island.
Far to the left, he could see the remains of the castle of Saint Hilarion, built in the tenth century by the Byzantines who fled from the Arab invasions in the Holy Land that was so nearby this island. The castle had a great history, even in the most recent times, since it was located halfway the road from Girne on the coast through the Besparmak mountain-range to the capital Lefkosa in the middle of the island. It was occupied by a group of young Turkish Cypriot men in 1964. They fought for it in fierce battles, and won. Nobody took the castle away from them ever since, and it had remained a symbol of Turkish Cypriot resistance against Greek Cypriot domination ever since. But there was hardly anybody to visit and admire it, although it was one of the only historical places that was well kept and looked after on this northern part of the island where people worried about the things of the future, not of the past.
Nearby, below his house, O’Conaill looked down upon the abbey of Bellapais, an outstanding monument of early gothic architecture, a strong and secure place in an island that sometimes shivered with violence and hatred. Its peace enchanted the village of Bellapais and also O’Conaill himself who watched it from above. Sometimes in the evening, when the sky was lightened up with stars and the abbey was drowned in the flood of abundant yellow and orange illumination, he felt tears come up in his eyes. He was thrilled with the emotion of living here, living this place, more unique to him than any other place he had seen outside of Ireland. He was not a romantic man, though. He was reasonable enough to see that it was his business talent that had brought him here, that helped him to afford buying a house like this, that gave him an easy life on an island where most of the people lived a daily struggle for life because of the economical boycot the rest of the world had punished them with.
O’Conaill would have been a happy man, if he hadn’t felt lonely. He had this great house and this splendid view over the island and he had it all for himself. But O’Conaill was a man who liked to share. He had never really chosen to stand here alone on his balcony high in the hills. Somehow, it had been one of the side-effects of his lifestyle. To become the businessman that he was now, he had concentrated on just a few issues in his life. One way or the other he had forgotten to think about a wife, about children, about people who would live around him in a close and loving atmosphere. He had left his homecountry that he was fond of, because business opportunities were a lot better for him in the Middle East. Now he was almost the only Irishman in an island filled with Turkish Cypriots, Turks and English and he discovered that his identity was too unique to be lived with just whatever people around.
Like many moments before in these last months, his thoughts went back to Caitlin, the woman he used to love during the years before he left for Cyprus. His memory brought back the sweet smile on her face whenever she saw him. He could smell the perfume of her hair, and sensed again the softness of her body when she lay next to him in the field, on the beach, in his bed. He wondered again and again why it hadn’t come to his mind at the time to ask her to join him. Somehow he had been so full of all the opportunities that lay in front of him, that he didn’t realize he would wake up one day and be surprised where were the others.
Today the weather was more hot than all the days before in this summer. Here he stood again, watching the island around his balcony, thinking about his situation, he a man who had always managed to turn a situation to his profit. He looked again at the castle of Saint Hilarion and decided that it was time to act. If a bunch of young lads with more enthousiasm than experience could conquer a castle and hold it against all the odds, why couldn’t he change this feeling of loneliness that made him to suffer? He went inside the house to look for his mobile telephone, to wake up Ireland and the love he felt for his country deep inside him.
Sean was the first Irishman to arrive. A few months ago, Sean had made a good business-deal with O’Conaill to invest in the economical and financial magazine Sean wanted to start in Gaelic. By doing so, O’Conaill showed that years of business in the Middle East hadn’t changed his consciousness of Irish roots. Sean was happy and proud because of the ever existing firmness of the Irish heart. Now that O’Conaill had phoned all his old friends to pass by in Cyprus for the good old times’ sake, he had rushed to an aeroplane to show his sympathy and involvement. He smiled when he thought of all the trouble they had had to find Caitlin that O’Conaill explicitly asked for. She had disappeared from their circle years ago, but they dug up her address by playing the Irish special drums. She heard them and responded.
First, she didn’t want to join them, but as the phonecalls went on and on, she finally accepted the invitation although she had no time. She had become a rich woman, running her own business, living a life that no one of the old friends really knew any details about. Sean smiled at the thought of these two special people coming together. All of their friends were full of good hopes. O’Conaill had always been a nice guy and they would all do their best to give him a hand now that he seemed to express the wish to calm down the tempo of his life and settle. There are no better friends than Irish friends, Sean thought and he felt his blood become warmer with this feeling.
Sean was surprised to see where O’Conaill lived. The taxi followed the tarmac road up in the hills, untill the far-away abbey that had the shape of a fortress was close, with its fine gothic lines clearly visible. But then the taxi turned away from it, taking a small steep road with sharp turns untill they suddenly arrived on a spot with a clear view all over the area below. Sean stood there, astonished about the existence of a place like that and the fact that a human being can own it, while O’Conaill watched him from his doorstep, smiling. ‘Y’like the place?’, he asked. ‘Ta athas orm faoi teach deas’, Sean, who would only speak in Irish, answered from the bottom of his heart. ‘Tar isteach’, O’Conaill said, ‘ta failte romhat’. They hugged in silence, wondering whether their sudden emotion had arrived from the surroundings or from their friendship, or, maybe, from the combination of it.
They didn’t spend a long time together with only the two of them. In several days, the house got filled with thirteen other guests, Caitlin, Padraig and Maire, Seamus and Aine, Micheal, Tomas and Una, Mac Mathuna, Pol, O’Dochartaigh and Deirdre, and of course Mac Carthaigh, tough and silent as ever but somehow the only one who managed to have a bedroom just for himself in the house. All the others had to share rooms, for the house was big enough for all of them but nevertheless not divided into fifteen different bedrooms. Suddenly the house was filled with happiness, and there was laughter on the balcony all the time. The village of Bellapais was awakened in the night by the deep sound of many Irish songs rolling over the hills, touching the hearts of its inhabitants. Although they couldn’t understand the meaning of them, they felt the longing in its melody and recognized that it was a natural part of this environment.
They made plans for lots of activities. Tomas found out from a map that the walking path, leading across O’Conaill’s house into the mountains, could be followed all along the ridge untill the castle of Buffavento. He proposed that they should leave early in the morning, because the weather would be too hot later on. Mac Carthaigh refused, telling he saw the castle already on a trip he made before. He advised them to rent a car and go the other way around, because there was a road from the top of the Besparmak Mountains almost untill the foot of the castle, but all the others protested and promised to have an early night to be in good shape. Of course nobody had an early night and only half of the group was ready to leave in the morning. Tomas himself was left behind with a terrible hang-over and they had to find their way without a map. They got as far as the old chapel at thirty minutes distance above Bellapais. The sight of the island was even better than at O’Conaill’s house, but they were already sweating and panting and they had by then forgotten why they ever wanted to go into the mountains. They went down the road back to the house, proud that they saw a lot more than their lazy fellowmen who would only stay in bed.
Then Tomas wanted to go to Lefkosa, to do some sight-seeing. ‘We can’t return without having visited the capital, can we’, he said. Why not?, the others thought, but when Tomas was enthousiast, his eyes were shining and his cheeks got this reddish colour that would persuade everybody, so nobody dared to refuse. They all stepped into the taxis that Tomas ordered and followed him all the way to Lefkosa. As one of the taxidrivers advised, they started from the Saray Hotel. On its roof, the whole town could be overlooked, including the Greek part of the city. So they went to the roof – fortunately there was an elevator – and they saw the view: it was interesting and beautiful. Then they went inside for a drink in the bar, since one drink was included in the ticket, and they didn’t lack of money so they drank more drinks and in the end they thought it was too warm to do more sightseeing anyway and they had big fun and so had all the others in the Saray Hotel.
They did see the castle of Girne though. It appeared to be right around the corner of Shenanigans, the only Irish pub in town and their favorite place from the first day they were in Cyprus. They saw the huge Venetian walls and the shipwreck with 2300 year old almonds in it and a copy of a big prehistorical grave found elsewhere on the island (‘were these Celts?’, someone asked because in ancient times the Celts had been almost anywhere in Europe, but nobody seemed to know the answer). At least it was not so hot inside the castle halls but the beer in the castle’s café was quickly finished, so they were forced to leave it to go back to Shenanigans.
Five days of complete happiness had passed when suddenly Mac Mathuna realized that there was not any progress made between O’Conaill and Caitlin. He spoke about it with Pol and Padraig and they agreed with him that they should do something about it. They had not been invited for nothing! But it was not so easy to find a good idea. They quickly decided that it had to be done without most of the group present, and outside of the house. Whatever activity they could think of, was impossible because of the warm weather. Finally Padraig found a nice beach in a tourist book, Acapulco beach, with a restaurant at the seaside, sunchairs and thatched roofs. ‘Look here, there is even a neolithic site with round huts’, he pointed on the map of the book. Mac Mathuna nodded thoughtfully. That might be a nice start. Except from Tomas, Caitlin seemed to be the only one to show some real interest in visitings sites and things. They informed O’Conaill who agreed, then they asked Caitlin to join them the next morning, warning all the others behind her back that they were not supposed to disturb the project by any means, and better pass their day in Shenanigans. There were some angry faces (everybody wanted to be there, of course), but Mac Mathuna asked Mac Carthaigh’s opinion, and Mac Carthaigh told it should be done the way Mac Mathuna proposed, and since Mac Carthaigh was a descendant of Silken Thomas, who fought against Henry VIII because he believed Henri VIII had decapitated his father, they all listened to him and accepted a role on the second plan.
It was a twenty minutes drive from Bellapais to Acapulco Beach. Caitlin sat in the second taxi next to O’Conaill, who had put his arm around her shoulders. In spite of the heat, she let it there, but she didn’t show any particular reaction. O’Conaill smelt the perfume that was now so much closer than during the last months. He felt completely happy with all his friends nearby, with Caitlin’s smile back in his house, with the Irish songs that filled his empty heart with warmth and hope. He wouldn’t mind if not just Caitlin, but all of them stayed with him in the hills above Bellapais. Suddenly he couldn’t imagine to live with the silence of that house again. Without further thinking he bowed his head towards Caitlin and softly touched her neck with his lips. She sat silently for a moment, then slowly turned face to face with him and let her finger go over his cheek. Her black pupils opened widely to him and her smile was closer than ever, but then again she looked forward to the road. It was impossible for O’Conaill to guess what was on her mind and he understood why she had become the businesswoman she was now. He also realized that he had sensed that many years ago, that he had not just forgotten about her but once consciously decided that he didn’t need it, at that moment. But now, he felt more at ease; he could handle it. And he wanted it.
In the first taxi, Padraig sat with the map on his knees, although the taxi-driver had told him that he knew Acapulco Beach. He tried to follow the details of the road. Far above, he saw the strange mountainridge in the shape of a fist, that had given it’s name to the mountains here: Besparmak Daglari, Five Finger Mountains. When they turned left to the beach, a yellow sign pointed in the same direction, mentioning ‘Vrysi’. That’s it, Padraig thought, and looked again at his map. Indeed it was there, a little sign right in the middle of Acapulco Beach, telling that thousands of years before people already discovered this special spot on earth. But all they saw when the taxi took the large tarmac road inside the Acapulco area, was new, green and well kept. The contrast with others places of Northern Cyprus was quite big. ‘Here?’, the taxi driver asked, pointing at some buildings with a shadowed terrace. Padraig hesitated. ‘First we go to Vrysi’, he said, ‘put us down there’. The taxi driver looked at him in surprise. ‘Where?’, he asked. ‘Vrysi’, Padraig repeted, ‘the prehistorical village?’ The taxi driver’s mouth had fallen open with surprise. ‘Round houses? Old?’, Padraig tried again. The taxi driver didn’t like to say no; he would do anything for his guests. ‘Here are the houses’, he answered, trying to look as enthousiast as possible, ‘there is good food and drinks and nice beach’. His enthousiasm dropped when his guests didn’t react. Tourists can be very difficult people. They can have problems in profiting from the beauties and happiness in front of them, just because they want something else. They have that in mind and keep it there, without flexibility, thus spoiling their holidays, to go back and start working again, longing for the next year’s holidays, always hoping that those days will be better. The taxi driver sighed while Padraig stepped out of the taxi with the map, trying to get an answer from the second taxi driver. That driver was as much attached to hospitality and service as the first one. So he had a long and serious look at the map, although he had never studied one in his life. He was not going to disappoint his guests by telling he couldn’t read it, would he! He nodded slowly to show his deep concern with their wishes, then took the map from Padraig and walked into one of the buildings, waving that all they had to do was to wait: he wouldn’t return without a solution.
They waited more than ten minutes. The sun burned on the immobile taxis. Without the air being moved by driving, they started to sweat immediately. Is that good or bad for love?, Mac Mathuna puzzled in the first taxi. He tried to look in the mirror to be informed about the latest situation, but he didn’t see enough to come to any conclusion. Then the taxi driver showed up again, happy and completely sure of himself. He smiled, moved his arm full of authority, knowing that they would all follow because now he was the master of a secret none of the others knew anything about. He was the man who was about to save the happiness of these tourist’s day. He passed the first taxi, and followed the tarmac road up to the hill. He stopped at the restaurant there and told everybody that they had arrived. They had to walk around the restaurant: at the other side, on the cliff above the beach, they would find the round houses they were looking for. He nodded and bowed proudly. He was going to remember this place; if this was what tourists wanted, he could bring other tourists here: why not? He was still smiling when he drove back all the way to Girne.
Meanwhile the tourists walked around the restaurant and indeed found the old walls of prehistorical round houses, built on top of a beautiful cliff. Wouldn’t that have been dangerous for their children?, Maire thought practically. They had to be playing outside, since the houses were very small. But there were no answers to be found: no signs, no explanation, nothing. The place was neglected. Some of the walls had crumbled, others were supported by beams in a way that could only postpone their final fate to fall down and be destroyed. But the chosen spot was fabulous. From the cliff, they had a perfect view over the bay and the sea. Living here, one could simply sit on the doorstep and thus enjoy the world around. They stayed a little while, then turned around the restaurant again and walked down the tarmac road to the beach. O’Conaill put his arm again around Caitlin’s shoulders. The others watched it, doing their best to make the impression they were ignoring it. Caitlin seemed to smile; at least they hoped she did.
They had lunch under the thatched roofs of the terrace at the beach. They were not the only tourists there, but it took them some time to find out what language the others were speaking. In the end they understood that most of the others were Germans. So they made no contact with them, staying with their own little group. They had a rest on the beach chairs, then Caitlin and Maire went swimming while the men had another drink. After swimming, Caitlin and Maire lay down to dry their swimming suit (half in the shadow, half in the sun, not to get a sun-stroke). There was some silence in which everybody seemed to have a nap. When they woke up again, O’Conaill and Caitlin found themselves alone on the beach. They smiled carefully. The air between them was thin, almost vulnerable with shyness. Some fear could be felt, since tenderness can be so difficult to live for businesspeople.
They talked about their common past in Ireland. They didn’t need to speak long. It was a very strong bond that was ever present, even if they hadn’t seen each other for years. O’Conaill took Caitlin’s hand and together they walked to the tarmac road, in search of a taxi. Hours later, they found themselves back in O’Conaill’s bed, feeling each other’s body, soft and satisfied. Crickets announced loudly that the heat of the day was over. Sounds of the village wove over the hills and the balcony into the house and the bedroom. Every now and then the sound of a car entered, or a barking dog, or somebody shouting to attract the attention of a child or a friend. In the peace of the falling twilight, O’Conaill caressed Caitlin’s skin and covered it with kisses. They entwined their bodies with the strength that is not from muscles, but from deep recognition. More that their bodies, their souls were renewing the embracement. Then they heard a sound that was definitely not from the outside, but from the inside of the house.
O’Conaill sat up immediately. All the friends had gone to Shenanigan’s. They would spend the night elsewhere, far from the hills of the Besparmak Mountains. Someone must have taken his chance because he thought the house was empty. O’Conaill wrapped a bath towel around his hips and grapped the pocket lamp that was always under his bed because the electricity in this country could stop working every minute of the day. Caitlin sat up too but he pointed out that she should stay in the bedroom. Again they heard sounds, definitely made by a human, definitely from within the house. O’Conaill lifted the pocket lamp and stepped out of the bedroom. Slowly he moved through the halls of the house. He climbed up the staircase and turned around the wall when suddenly Mac Carthaigh appeared, on his way to the bathroom on the first floor. Mac Carthaigh looked at O’Conaill’s towel, and his raised pocket lamp, full of surprise.
O’Conaill was too embarrassed to laugh. He felt stupid and irritated. ‘What the fuck are you doing here’, he whispered. ‘I am taking a shower’, Mac Carthaigh answered, calmly waiting what comments O’Conaill would give about that. ‘You’re supposed to be in town’, O’Conaill said, ‘all of you’. ‘Well I’m not’, Mac Carthaigh said without any further explanation. O’Conaill watched him, his whole face showing a question mark. He didn’t know how to react. ‘You invited me, remember’, Mac Carthaigh said. When O’Conaill kept silent, he added: ‘I am not in your way. I will take a shower and have a nap. Don’t worry’. As O’Conaill stayed put with his mouth wide open, Mac Carthaigh entered the bathroom and closed the door carefully. All O’Conaill could do, was to go back to Caitlin who waited for him in the hall downstairs.
‘What was it?’, she asked. He was almost sure she overheard the conversation, but she would never show that and he pushed back his uncertainties to answer her. ‘It was Mac Carthaigh’, he said, ‘I thought they all left to go to Shenanigans, but he somehow stayed in or returned all by himself’. Caitlin laughed and somehow this laugh was more real than all the others he had seen today. ‘None of you changed, did you’, she chuckled, ‘he was always like that, and so were you’. Like what, O’Conaill wanted to ask, but he didn’t. When they were young, her sudden joys could make him feel uneasy. Fortunately he had learned something in his life: he didn’t need to understand a woman any more to enjoy her company. ‘Do you still love me?’, he suddenly asked. He was scared by his own directness, but now there was no way back. She responded immediately and simply: ‘yes, I do’. They sat down on the bed for a while, just looking at each other. Then Caitlin cried and again he didn’t ask any question. He just put his arm around her and helt her untill she regained her natural calmth. ‘Will you marry me?’, he said softly. There was a very long silence between them and somehow that was okay. He was still holding her in his arms, smelling her perfume, her body, her intimacy. He was afraid to loose her again, but yet, whatever her answer was going to be, it would be good between them. This is balance, he realized, I have come to a point where life is no longer a thing to be conquered or obtained. He helt Caitlin more closely, to make her feel how deeply he cared for her.
‘Maybe, one day’, she finally answered. He thought about it a long time, then urged her to continue. She hesitated, looking for the right words. ‘Is it me you want, or your friends? Do you really want to meet me, or are you just filling a gap in your emotional life, here, far away from your home-country, where nobody lives like we did? Am I a unique person for you, or just part of an old world you have been missing desperately?’ She lifted her head to look right in his eyes. Again her black pupils were very wide, receptive for his reaction. His body was thrilled with an emotion that he had rarely given way to in his life. He couldn’t speak and started to make love to her, slowly and so full of longing that she cried again and at last begged him to come in.
It was their last evening in Northern Cyprus. All the friends sat on the balcony of O’Conaill’s beautiful house, overlooking the island, knowing that they had to get up at four o’clock in the morning since the very few Northern Cypriot flights that existed, all started in the very early hours of the day. The sky was dark, but stars were twinkling and many sounds from below prooved that people and animals were more awake in the relative coolness of the night than in the heat of the day. ‘Now what?’, Mac Carthaigh asked, looking at Caitlin and O’Conaill. He was the first one in days who dared to bring up the subject. This was a group of very good friends. They had already shared a lifetime, but they were all shy and hesitating about bringing intimacy into spoken words. O’Conaill took Caitlin’s hand and kissed it. ‘I will come back to Ireland’, he said, ‘I have found out that that is where my heart is’. ‘And then what?’, Mac Carthaigh insisted. Nobody else than him could have insisted. ‘I will work and so will he’, Caitlin said, ‘we will meet each other a lot and see what happens’. All the friends were thinking these words over. Mac Carthaigh finally nodded his head, as if he approved of what had been said. It made the friends to laugh and the crickets to sing more loudly and O’Conaill to go into the kitchen to bring more Guinness. Suddenly he learned to live the moment, and somehow that was all he needed.
© Copyright Grethe van Geffen, Baron Press Amsterdam
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