When you were growing up, was the tension between the Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus ever-present?
I was born and lived all my life in peace. There has not been fighting since 1974. Having said that, I’m very worried, because nationalism continues to build up, while the Cyprus conflict is getting distilled into a kind of hyper-conflict.
But I grew up in Limassol, on the coast. It’s much lighter there. You don’t see the barbed-wire line dividing the island, you don’t witness the separation. Growing up next to the sea results in a much more open, allusive, and abstract way of thinking, I believe. But also perhaps a reluctance to face the problem.
Another Cypriot city, Paphos, is the European capital of culture this year. How much did you perceive — during those ballet lessons, maybe — that Cyprus was turning west?
Recent Greek Cypriot desires of belonging never really matched with geography. The island is ambiguously located between the current constructions of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but there has been — especially through the project of “Europeanizing” and joining the EU — a conscious effort to turn one’s back to the Middle East and look towards the European prospect, whatever that is.
Aesthetically, these vain Cypriot efforts of belonging manifested themselves, and still do, through many contradictions. You can see how palm trees appeared and disappeared in certain historical periods. You know that even here in Greece, there was a political decision at the turn of the last century to cut down most of the palm trees. Athens used to be full of them. It had to look less “Oriental” at some point, which means more “European.”
Yet I have noticed a recent return, which is just as problematic. In Cyprus, palm trees are being reimported, from Egypt mostly, as decoration for the gardens of big mansions. The same with belly dancing, which seemed regressive and out of fashion at some point. It came back in the early 2000s as a western type of “Oriental dance.” They’re boomerangs, these efforts.