No Bitter Lemons in Cyprus

No Bitter Lemons in Cyprus

Aylin Öney TAN -
No Bitter Lemons in Cyprus A few kids are dancing in front of the stage. There are elderly couples strolling, babies dozing in strollers. Students are happy taking a break before the finals. Some youngsters try to secure their places to have the best spot for the concert which is about to start. There are even some that situated themselves on rooftops. Suddenly the full moon reveals itself behind the veil-like wave of thin cloud. There is peace in the air. And happiness. Saturday night at Girne harbor life is happy, as happy as it can be!

The other day, when it was the day for full May moon, the harbor of Girne in North Cyprus hosted a festival. It was packed with people. Old and young, kids and grandparents, lovers and singles, they all clapped hands to the music of Murat Dalkılıç, a Turkish pop star. The concert was right at the heart of the harbor. Many admirers chose to have a seat in the bars and restaurants lined along the marina, and raised their glasses to celebrate their “Rakı,” the “not-so-national-anymore” Turkish drink. The concert was for the occasion of the Rakı Festival, organized by the Mey group, but it was not a ticketed closed event; on the contrary, it was free and open to the public. One thing must be clear: Rakı was not given out free or sold openly in streets during the festival, but it was promoted only in the restaurants with special menus. The concert was one of the many events to enliven the harbor and it surely did so.

The Northern Cypriots are Turkish and they are Mediterranean. They also bear typical characteristic of islanders. They contain happiness and sadness at the very same time. Life is slow for them. They enjoy their slowness. They are happy people that enjoy life Mediterranean style with family. So everybody was at the event, grandchildren and grandparents together, with young couples, lovers, students. This was no gathering of crazy bunch of alcoholics as the government back in Ankara would think of them. One could not help thinking about the severe restrictions regarding the sale and advertising of alcohol passed by the government in Turkey. For the folks back in the parliament, Cyprus has been a lost case for long, but if they ever saw this event they’d be freaked out by the herd of infidel alcoholics and give away the island straight away. The distorted perception of seeing anyone who enjoys the company of a drink as incurable alcoholics is the norm of the ruling party in Ankara. For them morality stops at the first sip of a drink, or alcohol as they prefer to refer to it. The mentality that sees anybody that enjoys a casual drink as an alcoholic is a totally twisted way of thinking but there seems to be no question about that for those totally “moral-in-quotation” parliamentarians of the ruling party. With that in my mind, I see the northern part of the island more lonely than ever, isolated in the eastern Mediterranean separated from Europe politically, situated close to all those Middle Eastern countries, and obviously not as close to its only ally Turkey as in the past.

In Northern Cyprus, alcohol is ridiculously cheap and Turkish tourists tend to load their luggage with as many bottles as they can carry. Cyprus is a destination for tourists who enjoy gambling. Once it used to be for shopping when imported goods could not be found in Turkey, but now the only shopping seems to be narrowed to cheap liquor. Tourism is the only way out for Cyprus; all of a sudden I realize that the lonely island can now be a destination for those “insatiable alcoholics” of Turkey. A festival like that will never ever happen in Turkey with the new law, as alcoholic beverage companies will also not be allowed to sponsor events where their drinks can be sold, such as concerts, gourmet festivals or food events. The moon is in full swing and glows over the tiny minaret overlooking the harbor. If the law would be relevant in Cyprus, it would not be permissible to serve alcohol in nearly half of Girne harbour as there is a mosque within 100 meters. As I climb up the stairs to get away from the concert crowd, I pass by a “Türbanlı” (Headscarfed) girl. She was enjoying the very same atmosphere of Rakı Festival, chanting along with those “infidel alcoholics.” Suddenly I bear a slight hope for the future. Even if Turkey is stepping towards intolerance, there may still be hope for the future of Cyprus. This painful land of bitter lemons suffered a lot in the past, and still suffers from isolation, but here people sustain, and carry on.

The full May moon is considered to be the birthday of Buddha. It brings peace to the world. Perhaps it was the magic of Buddha, or maybe was the cheerful clink of the glasses, but there was something surely magical about the full moon. It shone like a huge bitter lemon on the bay of Girne and sprinkled a dust of hope over the people that sang, danced, enjoyed life together and drank happily ever after!

Fork and Recipe of the Week

Cork of the Week

According to the new restrictions to be applied soon on the press, in the near future, there might not be any ‘Cork of the Week’ section in this column,. We, as Food & Drink writers, may not be able to name brands let alone utter the words like wine, beer or rakı. My suggestion for this week is not an ‘ayran’ brand, as the Prime Minister would like, but ‘rakı’, the drink formerly named as national. Go for the  premium and choose Ala, whose name, meaning premium, implies a lot. Altın Seri/Gold Series is aged in oak barrels that give a slightly yellowish golden hue to the traditionally cool white drink, or go classic and stick to the good old Yeni Rakı.

Fork of the Week

The fork of the week is again from Cyprus. The national cheese Hellim/Halloumi is not only a cheese type, but a life style here. Go for the small producers, and seek for sheep’s milk hellim. The cooperative produced ones are the ones to go for as they are produced by the labor of many small producers. Cypriots love their coriander and I find grilled hellim delightful with a bit of drizzled local olive oil (karayağ), crushed coriander seeds, chopped coriander leaves, and of course, with a squeeze of bitter lemon!