September 18, 2006
I have come to realize that what makes a Greek appreciate “rocks” is age. That is, the person’s age and not that of the rocks. I toured Greece in high school, like most of us do, and went from one ancient ruin to the next. Needless to say, when you’re a teen out and about in the summer sun in Greece, touring ancient ruins is not at the top of your priority list. By the end of the trip we (I am using we because this sentiment was expressed by pretty much the entire group) didn’t want to see any more πέτρες (and for those Cypriots out there: ρότσες). By now, you may be thinking that I in fact, have no culture; that I give Greeks and Cypriots a bad name.
College came along and I must confess that when I went home to Cyprus during the summer I would end up (and still do) taking friends (ξένοι) to visit the Cyprus ancient ruins! They were and still are impressed by the age of the ruins. I think I was suffering (note the past tense) from a pandemic condition, the insignificance of the familiar. You see, I grew up going with my γιαγιά (grandmother) to church on Sundays and I would wonder why tourists came to see my church.
To me it was and still is my neighborhood church; however, tourists were fascinated by the fact that St. Lazarus church is over 1,100 years old, built by Emperor Leo VI in the 9th century on the site of St. Lazarus’ tomb. The tomb of St. Lazarus is inside the church under the main altar. As kids we would go to see the tomb with our dad as we were too scared to go under the church by ourselves – it was dark and it smelled funny. My friends in college were also impressed by these facts and so I started to reconsider my attitude toward my land’s “rocks.”
I was in Cyprus during the summer, three years ago, after the North opened up its borders. I went to visit my grandparents’ village, Davlos, near the Kantara castle. Kantara castle is on the Pendathaktilos Mountain range, built 2,068 feet above sea level and is more than 1,000 years old. I used to go to the castle as a kid and search for hidden treasure in its ruins; none was to be found. Now, I realize that the treasure is the privilege of visiting it and being among the myriads whose lives it touched - from the Byzantines to the English to the Franks to the Venetians to the Turks….
(You can read more about the Kantara Castle by visiting http://www.kypros.org/Occupied_Cyprus/dhavlos/kantara.htm.)
I stood at the entrance of the castle as the sun was setting. I had never experience such pure silence before. I touched the stone walls of the castle that were built one rock at a time so long ago. The stone walls felt cool even though the sun had been beating down on them all day. I saw a lizard crossing the path outside the entrance to find refuge in a nearby bush. I thought of all the people who had walked this path, of all the people who had touched these old walls, and of all the people who will.
It may be embarrassing to admit that it wasn’t until three years ago that I finally realized or rather appreciated what amazing stories ancient ruins hold and what amazing stories they could hold.
If only they could talk to tell their tales. Since they can’t, it is up to us to tell others of their tales.