Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Memories of Cyprus in June

I follow the man to the taxi, a little annoyed as I've missed the bus by minutes, and the cheaper shared taxi has stopped running too. A normal taxi from the capital to the coast is not as cheap as I'd like. 'Where you go?' the driver asks, a cigarette butt dangling from his mouth. 'Larnaca,' I reply. 'Sandbeach castle hotel, between the town centre and the airport.' 'You sure?' He asks, puzzled. 'I think I know all hotels, but this I not know.' I describe the location again, and add 'not far from the fishing port' for effect. 'We see.' He replies, revving the engine.

We drive through the outskirts of Nicosia in silence, him giving me the odd curious glance in the rear view mirror. He is measuring me up. 'You smoke?' he asks, and then adds 'I think no', before I have a chance to respond. 'No,' I agree, 'I don't.' I wonder why he is asking, then notice the sticker on the window, laying out the dos and don'ts of taxi driving in Cyprus. The things a taxi driver is obliged to do includes 'load and upload passengers' luggage'; 'always look neat and well-groomed' and, 'not smoke while passengers are in the vehicle.' I think I understand that he is testing the water to see if he can smoke, but too much time has passed to bring it up again easily, and anyway, I think as he lets out a throaty cough, it'll do him good. 'Ah, you mind when I smoke?' he asks, and I smile. 'No, that's fine' I tell him, deciding it is not up to me to feel bad for his health. 'You know, in Cyprus is not allowed.' he adds, slightly sadly. 'If you say no, I must say ok.' 'Honestly, I don't mind,' I insist. He smiles a toothy grin and lights up.

We continue a little way in silence then he asks me about my stay in Cyprus. 'Jus' work?' he asks, incredulously. 'But you see Nicosia? You see beach?' I explain about my one free day sandwiched between meetings and assure him I'm willing to return, next time for a little longer. 'If situation better, Cyprus is paradise,' he assures me. Unsure whether it is wise to get into politics, I just nod, but this encourages him to continue. 'You know? Before invasion, everyone live everywhere. Turkey Cypriot marry Greek, Greek marry Turkey. No problem. Then, army come, two thousand hundred people must to leave the North and come here. Before, lots of Turkey Cypriot live in South. They exchange with Greek in North. No more here.' I make a noise which I hope expresses my dismay and comprehension of his frustration. 'But we all the same!' he adds emphatically. 'We all Cypriots.' Trying not to be waylaid by an interest in why he should have mastered Cyprus-Cypriot, but not Turkey-Turkish, I nod my agreement.

Tiring of politics, he points out landmarks. 'Here is big new buildings. You see? IKEA, Carrefour, Zara. They all building building building.' Then he looks at the bright side. 'But we have good road now. To Larnaca, to Pafos. Everywhere we drive safety and no traffic.' His idea of driving 'safety' is to chundle along in the fast lane of the dual carriageway (the A2, but not as we know it) until someone comes up fast behind him. He then takes his time moving over to let them pass, and gets right back in the fast lane. If he is lighting a cigarette at the same time, it can take him an extra couple of nerve-wracking seconds to get out of the way.

Nearing the exit to Larnaca, the driver remembers he doesn't know where we're going. 'What is called hotel?' 'Sandbeach castle' I repeat, then take out my guidebook, to check that is the hotel's exact name. It is. He spots the book and asks, 'you have phone?' I nod. 'Yes, you give phone and I ask how we get there.' I read out the number and he dials, one hand on the steering wheel. 'Hello?... hello? ....HELLO!' he starts, and then he lets out a torrent of Greek, gesticulating wildly and shouting into the phone. The tone is aggressive, but not angry and he finishes with a chuckle. 'Is fine!' he says, catching my worried glance in the rearview mirror. 'You right, between centre and airport. But I take you show pretty street. You not visit Larnaca yes?' I shake my head, explaining my time in Larnaca so far has amounted to half an hour on the beach, the sun setting behind me.

The road gets smaller, and we are stopped by traffic lights. he lights a third cigarette. 'This main Larnaca street.' It is unremarkable. The sea is visible in the distance and we trail slowly behind a long procession of cars, all taking the scenic route. We meander past stalls selling cheap toys and clothing, the sea on our left, rows of palm trees trying their best to hide the ugly blocks of hotels on our right. The driver sighs with impatience and looks back to me. 'I sorry, you see is not my fault.' He shrugs. 'Is ok? Is no problem?' 'Don't worry' I say, genuinely appreciating the rare chance to gawp at the burned flabby tourists buying cheap plastic crap. 'It's nice to see this.'

We pass groups of stragglers, returning from the beach, dressed in swimming costumes and towels, arms full of buckets and spades, loungers and blow-up floats. The beach still looks inviting, with its umbrellas and palm trees. The sea is glistening blue. The driver notes my approval. 'You know? Cyprus beaches all clean. All blue. You know? The EU? They give all beaches blue flag.' He is triumphant about his beaches. Then he is slightly sheepish. 'Well, not hundred percent, but 95 I think. Nearly every beach clean. Is not like this in Greece. Greece beaches only 70. Turkey beaches 50. Not clean like Cyprus.' I smile and he sits back in his seat happily. 'You come back. Two weeks in sea, you understand how clean is beach.'

We are almost at the end of the promenade, and the palm trees have petered out. There is now a clear view of the restaurants displaying photos of the food they have on offer. I find that very off-putting, along with the gangs of bald beer-bellied Brits that are generally frequenting the joints, but try to stop being such a snob and make appreciative noises, for the driver's sake.

'Here they start fish taverns' he says, after pointing out McDonalds and then a couple of restaurants he has tried and liked. 'Your hotel is close. We go now.' We drive past more blocks, some housing cafes and restaurants, others over estate agents. I point out the hotel and he pulls up beside the front gate. The meter has been ticking away, but it is still only as much as I had budgeted for. I hand over the cash and ask for a receipt. 'Sure! Sure! I always have receipt. The others, no. But I always have. You need another? I give this but I can give two! You want?' After assuring him one was all I needed, I thank him and he wishes me a nice evening.

I'm glad I missed the bus.

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4:08 am  

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