The fact that the Troodos mountains, splayed unevenly across the centre of Cyprus, are both winter and summer resorts, gave them a quality that he appreciated. They had a calm and homely flavour to them – despite the fiercely orthodox churches and monasteries that, like great scars on the mountain edge, reared up against the sky – and an ability to change with the seasons and with events. Mount Olympus , as the highest peak at 6,401 ft above sea level, was disappointing for, contrary to the expectation of the presence of the gods, there was just an astoundingly ugly British radar station perched at the top. The first time he had been up there John had stood open-mouthed in his disappointment.
“Is this it?!” he had whispered in to the empty car, and his eyes had scanned the grey rocks and the barbed wire fencing around the two buildings on either side of him. There was virtually no sign of life – only a couple of British soldiers in khaki uniform that waited, silent sentinels, against the grey sky.
But in some ways this was a bonus. John was aware that the very presence of the British forces and the myriad tourists were part of the quality of the Troodos that made it special: for it had kept its own Greek identity and had changed very little, all the while soaking up the diversity of other peoples. Despite the radar station nature up here was utterly unadulterated and it was a haven for health enthusiasts, nature lovers, art lovers, poets. It could not be said that there was a breathtaking beauty to the mountains – for there was not – but there was a gentle loveliness and serenity.
The Troodos had first been “opened up”, so to speak, by the British during their century-long occupation of the island. In India and Africa, the mainstays of the now almost defunct British Empire, the British were in the habit of sending their men in to the mountains on leave, where it was far cooler than on the plains – or in this case on the coast – and they had simply carried this tradition over on to Cyprus. Although John made a point of avoiding the British – almost to the point of being paranoid about it, Pia felt – he recognized that their presence on the island over the past century and more was an advantage, for it took any kind of “native” edge off the place, making it an easy country for a foreigner to live in. It was an international island in some ways – oh, utterly Greek as indeed it should be, but also international.
Sitting now in the evening sun of his garden in Kelepetria, John now considered the island steeped in history that surrounded him. Stella was a total pagan and interested in nothing except dresses and gossip, and it occurred to John now that he’d love to explore the historical side of the island’s culture. He had frequently driven past Aphrodite’s birth place just off the back road between Paphos and Limassol, an uninteresting pebbly beach, but had never stopped. Names of places flit past his car window as he sped back and forth on business – Stavarouni, Kiti, Agios Munas – and they sounded exotic, exciting and hugely interesting. But it seemed that if he was not here up on the mountain with Pia he was always in a mad dash, often feeling frantic – far too frantic to stop and admire the Roman mosaics and amphitheatres cradled in the countryside about him. Getting to know Cyprus suddenly seemed intriguing.
This, however, posed a problem. With the tourists and the heat there was no question of going back down to the coast. On top of this, Pia had started to be occasionally violently sick and would be unable to stand the journey back and forth. She had been slightly queasy in the early stages of her pregnancy, but now for some reason smells seemed to upset her – the smell of wet paint, of coffee, of petrol – and she was sometimes so sick that he wondered how her poor body could stand the discomfort of the retching. He always cleared up for her, wiped her sweaty forehead, got her back to her bed till she felt better. Mercifully the smell of vomit didn’t bother him.
“You should have been a nurse,” she smiled weakly up at him.
“Well, I’ll be good at nappies I guess!!” he laughed.
He sat down next to her. Once she had been sick she invariably felt better straight away. Within half an hour she was her old self again, humming quietly under her breath and pottering about the living room. She avoided the kitchen but was pleased to sit outside with John. Maps were spread out over the patio table, and books about gods and ruins.
“It’s daft of me to suddenly want to start exploring the history of the island,” he said, “but all of a sudden it is fascinating me.”
“It is very fascinating,” she agreed.
“I’m always dashing past,” he continued, almost to himself, “I never take it in.”
“Cyprus is steeped in history. I’ll explore with you.”
She put her feet up on the chair opposite her, keeping well in to the shade. She was still pale.
“If I feel all right tomorrow we could go to the monastery at Kykko if you like,” she added.
Pia’s mother came round with a herbal remedy for sickness. It seemed to be a kind of tea which she brewed up in a little saucepan in their kitchen. Pia drank it obediently while her mother explained to John how to make it.
“These are linden leaves,” she said, handing him a brown paper bag full of dead leaves. “You crumble them up like this –“ and she demonstrated with her fingers, “and put them in the teapot. Pour boiling water over and leave to brew for ten minutes, no more.”
As she spoke she retrieved a mug from the shelf above and settled a small silver strainer over it. She poured the steaming liquid in.
“Add honey,” she said, “a good two spoons full of honey. Honey gives strength and energy.”
She stirred the mixture vigorously, glancing at John out of the corner of her eye to check he was listening.
“She must have some every day till she feels better,” he was told.
“What is it? Linden? I mean – you never know …” he was dubious about this mediaeval concoction.
Pia’s mother laughed at him.
“Oh, you modern people!” she exclaimed and didn’t answer.
Catherine Broughton is a novelist. Her books are available on Amazon and Kindle, or can be ordered from most big book stores and libraries. Catherine Broughton is also a published poet and an artist. For her entertaining blogs about her tyravels around the world go to htttp://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk, as well as short stories and hundreds of sketches.