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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 21 July 2018
24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 21 JULY 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Famagusta Regina Putting the work of Cypriot poet Kyriakos Charalambides into context DEAN KALIMNIOU Ours is a world based on speed and consumption, or rather, speed of consumption. Daily, we are assailed by messages telling us which products to buy, which stars to emulate, which fallen footballers to empathise with, which news to believe. And daily, we are assailed by the problems of the world, in easily digestible sound and vision bites, just enough to let us express our humanity to our peers by pressing ‘like’ on Facebook, while posting photographs of our shoes, or hashtagging a #feelingblessed on Twitter, just enough to let us believe we are being intellectual by watching pundits pontificate on socially progressive current affairs shows while practising mindfulness in yoga pants, just enough so we don't have to invest too much emotion in the terrible things that people do to one another in the civilised world. Just enough, to make us feel safe. As Cypriot poet Kyriakos Charalambides said in Rise from Sleep: "The eyes see whatever is an optical illusion./ All the rest are kept in the memory of the Gods." A cursory glance at what purports to be news, will reveal that there are currently 60 million refugees in the world. We are yet to figure out what to do with half a million Rohingas, a million Iraqi refugees, or five million Syrian refugees, except perhaps for posting a 'like' on a relevant Facebook post, summarising the sum total of our social activism, for all to see. In the meantime, we have no idea what to do with Central and South American children finding their way across the US border. Charalambides points out in The Third Dimension: "It's a shame then that we subject ourselves. To physical barriers; that we don't control/ every molecule that grows on the planet – look at the city, it is in agony." "War rises up on crutches from the ruins like a brother of the sun," Charalambides informs us in his poem Submission. Given the particularly dense humanitarian quagmire the world continuously finds itself in, why should we continue to care about Cyprus, and in particular Ammochostos, the city of Famagusta? I remember the first time I saw Ammochostos. I was in the refugee settlements of Deryneia, in free Cyprus, in the company of its last elected mayor, Andreas Pougiouros. Beyond the wire fence, barring us from the city, I saw, looming across the sand, a long array of concrete buildings slowly mouldering away in silence. In that part of the city, Varosha, time had stood still. Empty, unoccupied, hollow and dead. A parody of all of mankind's aspirations towards civilisation and high esteem for its achievements. There, on a balmy summer's day, while languidly sipping a frappé, was the entire human tragedy of the Cyprus invasion visually represented, by means of dignified decay of a ravaged and then abandoned queen. The words of Charalambides' poem Baton sprang to mind: "The city was asleep in her dream/ precious and alone,/ dissipating every associated evil/ felt that tomorrow would be better./ She wakes and sees black death before her." Facebook, of course, hadn't been invented then. Had it existed, chances are that this poem, and my evocation of it, would have been expressed instead, with a weepy face emoticon. Mr Pougiouros was pointing out to me the various plans he had made for the city. He spread his arms out lovingly, as if to embrace her, showing me which buildings were under construction, which zones, earmarked for tourism, were going to prove the most lucrative. One could see that, in his eyes at least, the city was a living, breathing organism, full of life, and most importantly, unsullied by the hei- nous events of those decades ago. "I adore imagination./ Seeing you and imagining that I don't see you/ fascinates me most," Charalambides mused in The Wind God. As the sun set, Mr Pougioros sensuously gestured to his Galatea as a veritable Pygmalion with his fingers, and called to her in a soft crooning voice. Charalambides once more insinuated himself within the silence of my contemplation: "How beautiful is man,/ sweet is the star that covers him/ day and night in cold and in rain/ who laughs and howls at the sun." It is for this reason, that there is relevance in Greek Australian academic John Milides' upcoming English translation of Charalambides' elegy to a city lost, but ever present: Famagusta Regina. The 'sand-shoved' city, as it literally is called, lingers, partially occupied, partially unoccupied, as a telling metaphor for the so-called Cyprus issue itself: always, if one believes the news, on the cusp of being solved, always awaiting a new initiative that will dissolve the dividing line between its free and the occupied parts but ultimately, elusive and illusory, leaving the victims of brutality to collect and safeguard the shattered shards of their erstwhile existence. Charalambides observes in A Magical Game: "Alas/ you assemble her/ among many fragments of various kinds./ One day, in her mass grave you found/ the hand of a child, and on another dayits head./ You assemble her and you identity her./ The limbs of ancient colossi are scattered …" When reading Milides' translation, we are reminded just how bound up our identity is within our soil. Charalambides may be an exile but so are we; dislocated from our topos, and exiled to the artificial realms of the cybersphere. Charalambides is a refugee from Famagusta. We are refugees from reality. We need an exile, to show us the way home.
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