A simple guide for
Iranian tourists in Cyprus
Short story by Ramin Ahmadi from the Fall 1996 (Vol. 40, No. 1) issue of "The Literary Review" -- an international journal of contemporary writing published by Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Part one of two:
Voice of the Lord upon the waters:
There is an island.
-- George Seferis, Salamis in Cyprus
The name of the restaurant is Locarno. Selling kabob and other Greek delicacies. Like any other little joint in the row of restaurants on Yermasuya Street. All selling kabob and other delicacies. In the sidewalk in front of all of them, a young smiling face, with broken English and Cypriot charm, tries to lure the tourists inside. But go to the Locarno Restaurant because she is going to be there. Besides, as soon as you leave giant old Hotel Lordos, Locarno is the closest and cheapest kabob joint. Just go through the rundown parking lot and once you get to the main street, take a left. Everybody tells you to go North. As if you are holding a compass in your hand. But you are only a bewildered tourist without sufficient time to search for directions. Do not forget that you must pass by the Whispers Club with large pink neon lights which stand out at night time. In the daylight it is silent and abandoned like the town and the tourists yawning the remains of their hang-over. It will not easily catch your attention. When you pass by the club, a few young men will try to interest you in their joint. But ignore them. At about twenty steps down the street, you will see the white and blue signs of Locarno. The blue reminds you of the beach and early morning sea. The Mediterranean water is a blue bordering on purple.
She will tell you that she always comes there and doesn't know why and you will probably ask whether she is one of the tourists. (I strongly recommend that you ask this question, since it will irreversibly change the course of your trip.) She will simply respond, "No I am not a tourist here. The tourists come to look at the sea and the rocks to discover a strange world. But to me, all this is familiar. This world possesses my past and part of me still belongs here." The waiter arrives at your table. A thin smiling old man who after taking your order will go to the back and put on a white apron and play chef. After you order, you will tell her, "But you have a heavy British accent. How could you possibly be a Cypriot?" (This is a natural question after all. Her Eastern looks and European manners pique everyone's curiosity.) She will respond, "One day in the remote past, the great emperor's navy landed at my beautiful beach. My great grandparents welcomed them with their trays of red flowers, herbs and olives. Offering their guests the best they had. We are a hospitable nation. The blond men, with their cold and frozen faces, looked down at these primitive and simple natives. They did not love us. But our beach with red and white sand and purple water was a gift from the gods. Our island belonged to Aphrodite, blessed with beautiful women. (When she says this sentence, you must focus on her face. Her long black hair, pouring on her half-naked delicate shoulders, her dark big eyes, in which the sea and the beaches dance, and her proportionate Eastern body all witness to the presence of Aphrodite on the island.) They lusted after our land and our women. They stayed and ruled us for years, making loyal servants of us. And once they were bored missing their home, they set out to the sea. They took a few of my grandparents to their home. This was how my father was born in the emperor's capital."
The old man arrives with your food and you watch the sidewalk as you eat. Constant flow of tourists; Irish, British, Finns and Swedes all attract attention. Young boys and girls, returning from the beach, towels on the shoulder, study the menus in the windows. When you are tired of looking at European sun-burnt faces and wet sticky hair and questioning eyes, you will look at her, and say, "Ann (because her name is Ann), you too are a tourist." I am sure she will ask you why you are telling her this. Maybe because she speaks English with a heavy British accent. Or maybe because her manners and dresses are not the least bit like the native girls. Why do you think of her in this way. And you say she is a tourist because a tourist is always running away from something. Always after a transient amnesia. A passing panacea, before returning to the cruelties of daily living.
Nicosia, like a typical capital, is crowded with dirt and trouble. Its only attraction for Iranians: home to a U.S. consulate. This embassy has a reputation for granting visas more easily. Waiting about on the benches, most of the embassy's anxious customers are Iranian.
Larnaca will be your first stop by the virtue of its international airport. But you will not stay there either. You will be bored in a couple of days. Larnaca, indifferent and lonesome, is the city of kiss and good-bye. You go to Limasol. You are a tourist and all tourists go there.
You can't take black and white pictures of this island. Life here is a shiny wet peacock, fanning its feathers in the sun. The purple water, red sand, nightclubs with big neon signs, yellow, green and pink, light up the night with their playful winking.
Start the night at Highland Cafe. Like all other cafes and restaurants, it belongs to Yermasuya sidewalk. At Highland Cafe, a young British bartender, eighteen at most, dances constantly. There are other cafes and shops with chairs on the sidewalk and loud music but you go to Highland Cafe because she is going to be there. In her usual corner, without the slightest hint of a smile. She asks you, "What are you running from?" You hesitate (You are not so quick to answer). You are Iranian and have learned not to reveal your inner self too quickly. You might be running from the state that violated your basic rights, or seeking refuge from war; maybe you have come to a safe place to finally see your family. Whatever your reasons, you will not tell her. You will tell her that you are running from her. Because you fear that you will get used to her sad and vulnerable presence. She will look at you with her usual frightened look, without a smile.
End of Part I . Click here for Part II
* The Literary Review
* Fairleigh Dickinson University
* THE IRANIAN Literature section
About the author
Ramin Ahmadi is a doctor of medicine who lives and practices in Connecticut. He has published his poems and short stories in Persian journals and is in the process of publishing a book of poems and a collection of short stories. He has edited and published a collection of contemporary Iranian poems from the 1980s. (Back to top)
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