The holiday makers lie broiling in the Mediterranean sun. Bronzed bald headed muscle men stride past mounds of bright reddening flabby granddads; slender brown bikini clad beauties strut their flat stomachs past roly-poly grandmas sunbathing topless like obscene beached whales; jolly families initiate their children in the delights of swimming pools a brilliant turquoise in contrast with the greyer blue of the warm sea. Around them the smiling staffs of the four and five star hotels fronting the beaches serve endless gallons of drink and mountains of fine food.
Behind this frontage of Gerald Scarfianesque indulgence lie cheery shops selling sun cream and car hire, holiday homes and retirement villages. They are but a mask for the malls behind are empty, shops littered with sun-bleached ageing pictures of unsold dreams, façades over empty windows advertising gold for sale, speciality leather ware and unwanted digital cameras.
At night the cafes are busy and families stroll along the front, but the dark windows of the newly built apartments reveal unlet and empty properties. A drive into the surrounding landscape, rapidly becoming an urban sprawl, reveals handwritten for sale signs, half-finished buildings with the dust of ages forming on their uncovered skeletons. Weeds grow around bleached signs advertising retirement villas that may never now be built.
Many development signs are in Chinese, as the island, desperate for investors to bail out its largely bankrupt construction sector, offers any Chinese moneyman with half a million Euros to blow, Cyprus citizenship if he buys a villa. Is this perhaps an entree into a Euro passport?
Some hotel groups, perhaps more cautiously run in the past, are growing and investing, but development sites right on the seafront are surrounded by forlorn decaying hoardings carrying sun faded images of turquoise pools, advertisements for never to be built spas whilst some hotels operate with loans that can never now be serviced. The television is filled with solemn faces talking about new insolvency laws as Eurocrats dictate terms for the slow crisis recovery the island struggles to achieve.
For many in the hinterland life continues as before, rooted in the land and self-contained. Newcomers fleeing crisis in Greece do not find unequivocal welcome and I hear of Greek incomers being victimised – a far cry from the post-independence ENOSIS (Union with Greece) politics that perhaps contributed to the destructive Turkish invasion and the continuing illegal occupation of the northern half of this partitioned island jewel.
I was in part brought up on the island and my return was a holiday my partner insisted I take. She has watched me working away without a real holiday, and saw taking me back down memory lane as a way of forcing a pause in my working life. So for a week I have watched the package tourists in this popular destination, meals and entertainment included, as in a close encounter with aliens. Despite staying in over 200 hotels in the last ten years I have never been a packaged guest before and the days I have enjoyed have been those driving away into the mountains, and indeed seeking my own past.
Cyprus has all the ingredients that could make it a jewel holiday destination. Invaders have left their marks – Phoenicians, Hellenes, Romans, Crusaders all left castles and colonnades, tombs and tessatiles whilst a kind nature has given grapes and bananas, melons and honey, warm seas and sandy beaches. Man is the corrupting influence, one religion against another (with the same god too perhaps?), greed and selfishness overcoming and destroying community, dividing perhaps irreparably, what once was an island that inspired poets and writers, film makers and dreamers.
I didn’t find much of my past. Changed and ‘developed’ away, only a few indicators remain of my childhood images, crumbling into dust. Later today I will fly home to a UK that seems slowly to be breaking apart riven by fools and conmen, where guilty men live wealthy lives unpunished for the pain they have inflicted on many. Cyprus may be a sad remnant of my own remembered past, but I gain no joy of my own country as I look forward to its continuing decline at the hands of unworthy men and women.
Perhaps I shouldn’t take holidays…
For more follow me on twitter