More than reality
1/3 stories about Irish identity observed Northern Cyprus 2000 from a Dutch perspective
Mac Carthaigh sat in a big chair under the Pakistani Night Tree that spread its flavours around the gardens of the hotel. The heat of the midsummer sun made those who had the courage to walk over the Northern Cyprus roads suffer, but Mac Carthaigh let his soul rest in peace in this unusual high temperatures, and his body followed the wisdom of his soul. Far away from Ireland, his homecountry, he felt easy nevertheless, for the rhythm of the Turkish Cypriots was somehow familiar to the sound of his own intimate heart-beat.
He had come here for a short business trip but it took more than one day to activate a Cypriot. He had pushed and hurried during the first days of his arrival, without provoking any reaction at all. After that initial experience, he suddenly let go. Deep down he discovered an inexpressible connection with the earth and the air of this NorthernCypriotState, where silence is rarely broken by the sound of aeroplanes, since the rest of the world likes to forbid its docile, ignorant inhabitants to enter this side of the island. How could some two hundred thousand Cypriots be a threaten to the billions of other world citizens? This isolated country that was large in spirit and empty like his own, had the stability of character Mac Carthaigh had known in the fields of his native region from a very young age. Here, emotions and passions were woven away and softly spread around by the mountain breeze of the Besparmak. Only the ups and downs of Turkish economy could destabilize the daily coming and going of the infinitely rolling waves that softly stroke the deserted beaches. Otherwise, nothing would disturb the character of this island’s nature. At first sight, the Cypriot people seemed to be complaisant, obedient even, to any force oppressing them. This is how they survived during many centuries of foreign invasions. Looking further than human eye can see – and Mac Carthaigh’s highly developed intuitive capacities made him sense more deeply every day – one would find a strong identity, hidden and taken care of like the dearest treasure that is concealed in a pillow, an ever present partner listening to the secret, soft loving sounds of the nights of its propietor. Mac Carthaigh felt like looking in the mirror and let his heart smile in the joy of this unexpected personal meeting.
So he sat down and looked around him where nothing happened and smelt the Pakistani Night that made him long for a woman. Instead, a Cypriot waiter showed up to bring him another Guinness. The Guinness was fine, perfect, exactly the way he liked it, but it didn’t calm down the increasing warmth of his blood that could only be silenced by that one precious gift the Cypriots would never give to him: the beauty of their wives and daughters, the softness of their skin, the warmth of their laughter, the heat of their most intimate receptivity. His thoughts considering these breath taking views, Mac Carthaigh decided it was about time to do something, no matter what, action, just time for action. In moments like this he knew he was able to do anything, although he was soft-hearted and proud; he had never even asked a woman to sleep with him. He was used to have the world at his feet, and to choose what he wanted. But he was not easily satisfied and it was time for a next step, and that time was now, today, this very minute. Mac Carthaigh was a man to stick with his decisions, nevertheless he wouldn’t exagerate. He was too Irish to hurry and leave half a pint of Guinness on the table. Quietly, very quietly, in order not to show to anybody that he was burning inside – Mac Carthaigh was not just soft-hearted and proud, he also was a tough guy and he liked to show that – he finished his pint and waved to the waiter to phone for a taxi. A local bus would have transported him to the centre of Girne every ten minutes, but why go by a local bus if one can go by a taxi? By now, several Cypriot taxi-drivers knew him by name and that was exactly what Mac Carthaigh needed in this country far from home. He shook hands with Kadir and stepped into his car. ‘Kyrenia’, he said with every English accent he could put into his pronunciation. Fortunately all the Cypriot taxi-drivers he met, spoke English. He was not the type to look up words in a dictionary, it wouldn’t have come to his mind that the Cypriots would say ‘Girne’ rather than ‘Kyrenia’. Mac Carthaigh hated the English identity, but somehow, somewhere, some of their manners had sneaked into his culture that he considered to be so different and unique. Just the fact that he never asked himself the question how the Cypriots would feel about this supremacy of the English language…
It was the least of Kadir’s worries. Kadir was an open man, a metropolitan, proud to speak his languages – not just Turkish or English but also French, Italian and Arabic – and he wouldn’t mind to speak English even during a whole day. If he could serve his client, he would happily do it. He especially liked Mac Carthaigh, since Mac Carthaigh was close in his silence. He could have been a Cypriot man and Kadir felt deep sympathy to him like to a friend he had known for a long time. He drove him rightaway to the centre of Girne, passing the huge building sites of some strange English optimists who decided to build a five star hotel out of a former shopping centre. By now it had become an on-going project for years, but Kadir strongly believed in it. In his eyes, short term success would never lead to any lasting happiness in life. But those stubborn businessmen, struggling and fighting to finish a hotel that they would call The Colony – who else than an Englishman could have invented that name! – they had the right spirit to create something that would last and make not just themselves, but many people happy. They already made Kadir happy. He loved to see foreign investors in his dear-beloved, but worldwide rejected home-country. He smiled in himself when he arrived at the roundabout immediately after the building site. There he just prevented a collision with another car, shouted ‘hey, hello, Metin, nasilsin’ through his window, and didn’t bother to pay attention to Metin’s sullen looks since Metin could not be consoled, he had some kind of life-pain from a very young age. Kadir slipped in one of the small streets that would give entrance to the paths going down to the harbour. He knew his passenger. Mac Carthaigh would not go any farther than half way down the hill, to Shenanigans, the only Irish pub in the city. They shook hands again before separating. Mac Carthaigh thanked Kadir for the safe trip, Kadir bowed and both of them were happy.
Shenanigans was full of people and noises. The temperature inside was as high as outside, in spite of four huge ventilators running at full speed. They could do nothing but spread the overheated molecules around and around by the wind they produced. Nobody seemed to care. The cool drinks and the joy of being together neutralized the inconveniences of the weather. At the bar, an Irish countryman shouted a warm welcome to Mac Carthaigh: ‘Do come in, o son of Thomas. Mac Carthaigh’s face didn’t show any reaction, but a close watcher would see his back straighten just some millimetres. The cry of the man went right to his proud Irish heart. People in the bar turned around, and watched him come in with curiosity. ‘What Thomas?’, an Englishman asked. He was truly interested, having discovered already that with Irish people, nothing comes the normal, logical but very boring way. Every detail could hide a story more interesting than the world of appearances. ‘Silken Thomas’, the Irish voice replied, so full of reverence that the Englishman understood he was not supposed to ask now ‘and who is or was Silken Thomas?’ He could have asked if he were Irish himself, but he wasn’t. However, his frequent contacts with Irishmen, combined with his deep curiosity, had taught him some clever tricks to find out what he wanted to know about. He certainly didn’t admit he was an outsider by asking them stupid questions, showing a contemptuous ignorance of the Irish identity. Instead he sighed in happy, deep surprise and said: ‘Silken Thomas? Really? You must be joking! How is it possible that we meet his own flesh and blood here warm and alive on Northern Cyprus!?’. ‘You wouldn’t believe it, would you’, the Irish man answered with shining eyes. He wove to the barman to order a drink for both the newcomer and the Englishman. They started to complain about the weather. Would the Englishman ever hear more about Silken Thomas? He knew he would. The world of the Irish is only discovered with patience and inner warmth. The Englishman had plenty of it.
More people joined their small group. The son of Silken Thomas was popular, although he hardly spoke. His inner peace was felt from a distance and worked like a magnet. In his surroundings there was always laughter, singing, friendship, life. Bernard, another Englishman, sat on a barchair next to Mac Carthaigh. That was not a coincidence. Bernard was a rich, established businessman from Liverpool. He was generally considered as a man who succeeded, but he didn’t realize it himself since he didn’t know what he was heading for. He never planned to be successful in anything. So he went on working and doing business without any idea where it would end up. He was always well informed, so he knew already for some time that Mac Carthaigh was a coming man in his business. When Bernard heard about Mac Carthaigh’s trip to Northern Cyprus, he decided to go there himself. Bernard felt lonely on the top. In Mac Carthaigh he recognized the grandeur d’esprit necessary to be the best in their field. If they could join forces, there would be no limit for their aspirations. But he had to meet him in an informal context. Nobody could approach Mac Carthaigh with a direct proposal. Bernard had to find a way to show his good companionship and build up a relation based on respect and solidarity.
Mac Carthaigh knew what Bernard wanted. Mac Carthaigh didn’t become a successful businessman by being less informed than the others. Here in Shenanigans, where Bernard sat next to him, his inner silence told him Bernard’s plans and he thought he should give it a good try. He respected Bernard very much for his way of working and for all he already achieved in his age, forty, ten years younger than Mac Carthaigh himself. And he liked what he heard about him, how he became an established man without being part of the English establishment. Mac Carthaigh wanted to be the Irishman that he was, but that was very difficult in the face of English traditions. From what he heard, Bernard had an open mind to the rest of the world. So Mac Carthaigh accepted the offer of Bernard to make a trip together to the castle of Buffavento, from where the whole island could be overseen, very early in the morning because of the heat.
Long was the road to go to Buffavento. Bernard had shown up at Mac Carthaigh’s hotel with an old Landrover and they hurried to the east of the island, the northern coast on their left hand, the mountains on the right side. The tarmac was shining when it saw the Landrover arrive, sweating under its wheels but happy to serve the foreign tourists who decided to step in the tracks of the crusaders. It led them from the coastal road up to the mountains. Besparmak, the Five Finger top appeared in front of their car. It was the fist of the Byzantine hero Dighenis who jumped over the sea to escape his Arab ennemies in Turkey but who never gave up, his fist still rosen to the sky as a threaten to those who might consider to pass the sea and follow him. Bernard told Mac Carthaigh this legend, laughing, interested in the fantasy of the locals for who this legend was like a reality in their history. ‘And they are not even Byzantine, moreover, they fought against them for centuries’, he added and smiled in sincere surprise. ‘History is more than just reality’, Mac Carthaigh said. Bernard watched him, curious. ‘What do you mean?’, he asked. Mac Carthaigh didn’t answer. Any of his words would be nothing but an intellectual drop out of a cloud of reasonable rain. Language could never explain the soul of a people. Bernard would only recognize it if he would listen with his heart.
Silence hang between them when they passed the top. Bernard felt that something was expected from him. He wanted to be a good friend. Mac Carthaigh was very close, but in the meantime a complete stranger. Bernard decided that his simple, straight sympathy should do it. He turned around a hill and took an unpaved road to the right, passing the bold, wild mountain ridge and overviewing the Mesarya plain on the left side. ‘All this was once a sea’, he said to Mac Carthaigh, ‘these were two islands, not just one. Nature made the land come up and connected the Besparmak mountains to the Troodos mountains to make one, big island with many different faces’. Mac Carthaigh looked in surprise. Far beyond the plain, he could see the Troodos mountains. Nothing indicated that there was a military zone in the middle of the plain, where it was impossible to pass. Most of what he saw, was another country with different people and a different language, but it was somehow unvisible. Everything was filled with the warmth of the day, with peace and silence. But Mac Carthaigh was experienced enough to understand that hatred could burst out in just seconds, releasing the pain hidden in the hearts for many years. He thought of a island that was torn unvoluntarily in two parts and nodded again to himself: history is more than just reality.
They passed red earth and stones, dry grass and olivetrees. The mountain ridge was absolutely deserted. No man, no animal, not even a bird showed it’s face. Old decayed signs showed that this was once a Turkish military area. It was clear why. Whoever helt this place, helt this northern part of the island. It was impossible to pass a well-equipped army that had settled on these strategic heights. But even the army was absent now, leaving the heights to interested visitors that would rarely show up. Bernard and Mac Carthaigh were alone when they parked the car under an olive tree at the foot of the Buffavento ridge. A small pyramide nearby indicated that this was a place where a plane crashed against the mountain. The names of those who died were written in marble, cold and lonely and forgotten. Mac Carthaigh looked at the castle on the top. Bernard followed his gaze and smiled. ‘Half an hour at least’, he said, ‘this is why I proposed to leave so early’. Mac Carthaigh nodded. He was not afraid to climb, but he was happy not to do that in the heat of the mid-day. They followed the path up to the ridge. Every five minutes brought them more exciting views over the plain and the ridges. Bernard indicated towns and villages, but they were half hidden in the mist of the earth’s sweat. Mac Carthaigh was happy with this physical exercise. He hadn’t found a woman yesterday. There were hardly any, on this island, except two or three who wanted to come close. They were hanging around in the bars of Girne, obviously on the run for some kind of past, eager to meet a man and grasp him with hands and feet, to be saved and taken care of at last. That was one of the only fears Mac Carthaigh had. He’d rather be burned from the inside than loose himself in a pit without a bottom. But, of course, he’d rather not be burned from the inside eather, so he put his feet on the rocks in a good tempo, and let go of his energy with relief. Bernard stopped and wiped the sweat of his face with a handkerchief. ‘Ouf’, he said and doubted one minute about the righteousness of the idea to climb a mountainridge together. It was meant to symbolize the start of a good business companionship, but the more he panted and wavered, the more he realized the shortcoming of his symbol. Nevertheless Mac Carthaigh didn’t seem to suffer. Bernard heard no complaint so far and he had good hopes that the breathtaking views were making a splendid impression on the Irish man. He knew that the very best was still to come. ‘You will be absolutely stunned at the top’, Bernard predicted. ‘Okay’, Mac Carthaigh said. He liked to see the world from above and took the last stairs lightly like a goat. The stairs looked quite new. If the crusaders could build a castle here, of course the Turks could make some stairs, he thought. Still it must have been a dangerous job, since the rocks were small and the slopes very steep. A thin path led between some walls and another steep slope. This was not without danger. To slip would mean to die. Mac Carthaigh watched his back, but there was nobody. Bernard had already reached the top, shouting that he could see most of the northern coast but that the mountains of Turkey, usually quite close, were invisible. When Mac Carthaigh joined him, what he saw exceeded his expectations. How had the crusaders found this spot in a capricious ridge of so many miles? They had control over the sea and the coastal area, over the slopes and over the Mesarya plain. Bernard indicated how they would contact the castles of Saint Hilarion on the west and Kantara on the east by smoke-signals; no enemy would ever approach without being watched in all its movements for a long time.
‘Isn’t this fantastic?’, he said. He looked at Mac Carthaigh’s face and concluded with satisfaction that he had managed to impress him. He showed him around, climbing over walls in delapidation, careful not to awake the venomous vipers these ridges were famous for. Mac Carthaigh followed, interested but irritated because of the noise and the unrest that seemed to have taken over in Bernard’s expressions. ‘These were built by Richard Lionheart’, Bernard said with growing enthousiasm, waving around the stones that once formed chambers worth a King. ‘Look at it, it reveals the greatness of a fighter’s heart. He just passed by, you know, on his way to Jerusalem, and whop, he takes the most beautiful spot of the mountain and it carries his memory forever’. ‘He didn’t stay to enjoy it?’, Mac Carthaigh asked. Something in Mac Carthaigh’s voice should have alarmed Bernard. ‘He sold it to the templars’, Bernard said laughing, ‘he sold it so expensive that the Templars had to ask enormous taxes from the Cypriots to pay him his money. Nevertheless, they couldn’t afford it and it was given back to Lionheart after a while, haha. He could have sold it again but he gave it to the Lusignans, who just lost their kingdom in Jerusalem. They made this island the richest place in the world that time’. ‘What about the Cypriots?’, Mac Carthaigh asked. Bernard didn’t pay attention to the question underneath. He just answered to what he heard, and shrug his shoulders. ‘They became serfs of the Lusignans’. ‘They didn’t become rich, they didn’t share in the wealth of the Lusignans, on the contrary’, Mac Carthaigh concluded. He closely observed Bernard who showed no interest at all. ‘I don’t think so’, he said and shrug his shoulders again. They slowly went back to the first walls of the castle. ‘You should see this’, Bernard said, pointing to a small door-way. ‘One might wonder how they survived up here in the wilderness, but they had their own water basins in the rocks’. He entered a room that was still quite complete. There were two big holes in the floor. Mac Carthaigh approached carefully. There was no protection around the holes. They were filled with water. He was amazed. Any tourist office in the world would prevent this kind of dangerous situations. He went outside to look for a stone, and threw it in one of the basins. ‘Quite deep, isn’t it’, Bernard said, ‘they must be enormous. This is a first class historical site and there is absolutely nobody to see it. Imagine the time of the crusaders’, he sighed, ‘people coming up and down the ridges, bringing food and clothes to serve King Lionheart and watch his asses while he sits and thinks, inspired by the splendid views to make his worldwide kingdom even bigger’. There was no defense against the sudden pain Mac Carthaigh felt. He had done his best, but he couldn’t keep it in it’s place. One small push was enough. Bernard fell into the water basin. His arms that were spread to indicate the extent of the world to be conquered, bumped against the brims of stone. One hand grasped the brim, looking for a grip but Mac Carthaigh kicked it inside. The water splashed around when it received Bernard’s body. ‘Are you crazy?’, Bernard shouted, while the walls around him repeated his words. He tried to make this whole thing sound like a joke, but something shivered in his voice. He seemed to realize that there might be no easy answer to his question, and that time would be running out soon. He could swim, but he couldn’t go on swimming and he doubted that, even if Mac Carthaigh would want to, he could draw him out of this basin. ‘Help me out’, he said and he tried to sound confident, but the walls repeated the word ‘out out out’ and made it sound desperate. Mac Carthaigh thought it was time to leave. Bernard heard his steps and made a quick decision. He knew he had made a mistake, and he was enough of a businessman to accept it without delay. He just didn’t want to die without understanding. ‘Wait Mac Carthaigh’, he shouted with his last breath, ‘wait and tell me why?’ Mac Carthaigh stopped and doubted for a few seconds, hearing why why why, then returned to the unprotected side of the water basin and bowed to make the sound of his voice enter the basin in the rocks. ‘The story of Richard Lionheart’, he said, trying to slow down the beating of his heart, that is the story of my people’. Then he turned around and left the room. ‘How do you mean, man, wait, Mac Carthaigh, wait, I don’t get it’. Bernard’s words covered the echo of people people people. There was a small pause, then another sentence: ‘he was fucking English man, not Irish. Man, what is wrong with you?’ Mac Carthaigh slowly went down the stairs, untill he heard no more you you you, over the path down the ridge back to the Landrover. His heart continued beating like a bat that couldn’t find a way out. He had a headache and his neck sent alarming stitches from his back to his brains. Only when he arrived at the car he realized that the keys would also be in the water basin. He considered his situation and decided to start the car by using the wires. He slowly drove his way back over the unpaved road, watching the ridges on one side and the Mesarya plain on the other. The place was stunningly beautiful, and still completely deserted. Although it was not even ten o’clock, the sun was already burning the island. When he reached the tarmac road, he headed for Lefkosa. There, he left the Landrover in a carpark, and walked to a terrace in the centre. The taxi that arrived was Kadir’s. Kadir smiled when he saw one of his favourite customers. Mac Carthaigh didn’t show any change in his face, but there was warmth in his hand when he shook Kadir’s. Kadir opened the door and Mac Carthaigh sat down. ‘Kyrenia’, was all he said. Kadir nodded and let him get used to the atmosphere in the taxi. Then he asked him why he was so early on the road. Nobody had seen Mac Carthaigh appear before eleven o’clock in the morning yet. Mac Carthaigh explained that he made a nice trip to Buffavento with Bernard, and that Bernard had to do some more business in Lefkosa.
Kadir left Mac Carthaigh in the same spot as always in Girne: the closest place for a car to Shenanigans. Shenanigans was already open, but not so full as the day before. There were some Irish men, and the Englishman and an interesting woman, too. Mac Carthaigh felt he really needed that, now. Only softness could make his heart come back to his senses, he thought. He ordered a Guinness, sat on a bar-chair and turned his back on the woman after having given her a spiritual glance of interest. If she fitted his desire, the air between them would become empty enough to make a fine meeting possible.
The Englishman doubted. He seemed to sense something that might not have been there yesterday. He was a curious man and wanted to know, but that is never without risk. He decided that this would be the moment and asked his question to Mac Carthaigh directly: ‘Who was Silken Thomas?’. Mac Carthaigh sat down in silence for a while, thoughtful. The answer came when the Englishman didn’t expect it any more. ‘He was one of my ancestors, in the sixteenth century. He fought against Henry VIII, because he believed Henry VIII had decapitated his father. He couldn’t win, so he was imprisoned and executed’. ‘He believed, how do you mean he believed?’, the Englishman asked. He bowed forward not to miss one letter of the answer. ‘Well, he didn’t’, Mac Carthaigh said. ‘He didn’t’, the Englishman, ‘do you mean Henry VIII didn’t decapitate his father?’, he asked. ‘Indeed, he didn’t’, Mac Carthaigh said. ‘So he died in vain’, the Englishman concluded. ‘No, he didn’t’, Mac Carthaigh said. The Englishman looked at him in surprise. ‘He didn’t die in vain’, he carefully repeated. ‘No’, Mac Carthaigh said. The Englishman felt that the door was now closed. Many questions whirled through his skull, but he kept them inside and sat next to Mac Carthaigh in silence. Nothing happened for some time. Then Mac Carthaigh lifted his head, watched the Englishman kindly in his face and then said, as to explain him something: ‘history is more than just reality’. The Englishman thought it over and decided he didn’t understand. He intended to write it down back in the hotel to give it more thoughts during the coming months. He passed to a lighter subject, asking why Thomas was called Silken Thomas. ‘Because he liked beautiful clothes’, Mac Carthaigh answered, and for the first time he smiled. His smile lit up the darkness in the pub, and made the woman decide to order another drink at the bar. There was no more air between them when she stood next to his bar-chair.
© Copyright Grethe van Geffen, Baron Press Amsterdam
All rights reserved