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© SOTT.netThe ever stylish Mr PG arrives in Cyprus
My name is Guinn. Penn Guinn. Upon leaving my familiar environment of ice-cold Antarctica, I was determined to travel around the Earth in search of clues of the miraculous: that, as yet unidentifiable but eternally present spirit of the creative universe that resides above and below, within and without, permeates and penetrates all, but alas! is invisible to the untrained eye. But such a task is not difficult for one of Aptenodytes Forsteri genus such as I, who in the aforementioned inhospitable surroundings learned to distinguish, from an early age, the thousand different shades of white.

And so my seeking has led me to awareness enhancing journeys through the coastal Tel Aviv, the Italian Apennines, the French Riviera and Hendaye, the English Countryside. It was while spending some time with elderly British folks in my last travels that I heard about the island of Cyprus: a small troubled place shrouded in mystery, intimately connected with the birth of the Greek Goddess of Love and the birth of the Christian Orthodox church. Following some preliminary research, it dawned on me that both Aphrodite and graceful Mary would need to be dressed à la mode in order to fit in in modern day Cyprus. Not that I care too much for appearances you see. But wishing to blend in with the crowds, I spent the winter at my chilly home awaiting the unappealing molting of my pelage to take its course before setting off for the sunny island. Come springtime, all dapper in my new velvety plumage, I was ready for my next adventure!

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© SOTT.netEven an avid world traveler with innate navigation skills could use a map once in a while
According to the historical data I gathered, in 1974 there was an invasion of Cyprus from neighbouring Turkey, which resulted in the occupation by Turkish military forces of one third of the island. Given my overly busy schedule, I decided to focus my visit on the island's capital, Nicosia, a city fated to be crossed by a green line separating it into two communities, the Greek Cypriot (GC) and Turkish Cypriot (TC). The sad truth is that the island has seen too many conquerors throughout the years. Οne can find traces of a range of civilizations in Cypriot culture, the indigenous dialect, its cuisine and architecture.

In view of the fact that no other nation except Turkey recognizes the occupied North, I arrived in the GC section, with plans to pierce through the dividing line and observe both populations. Luckily for me, a recent opening of an old street that spans through both communities made my plans trouble-free, thus my dagger, flash light and camouflage garments remained unused. On a sunny morning, I found myself entering the Venetian walls into the old town. After walking for about a kilometre, I found myself in front of the so-called green line. There, a sign written in Greek, English, French and German informs the visitor: Nicosia, the last divided capital in the world.
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© SOTT.netThe end of Ledra street in the Greek Cypriot section marks the beginning of it in the Turkish Cypriot part

I showed my passport to the police officers to let me cross, and while in line I realized that both TC and GC were showing their passports in order to pass from one part to the other. What a peculiar arrangement within one's own country!
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© SOTT.netLedras street, its name spelled here in Greek English and Turkish, was nicknamed The Murder Mile by the British colonists during the 50's, due to the frequent attacks their troops encountered here by the Cypriot freedom fighters
A Walk In Occupied Nicosia

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© SOTT.netFollowing the signs in the Turkish Cypriot sector

I found the TC section of the city to be much quieter and less populated than the GC section. The Gothic cathedral of Agia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) impressed me by its size, (no wonder it took 125 years to build!) but was never actually completed due to constant occupations and wars. In 1570, when Nicosia was (yet again) captured by Turks, it was turned into a mosque and the frescoes that decorated the interior were painted over. Today it is known as the Selimiye mosque, and continues to be an architectural ornament on the heels of Pentadactylos Mountains.
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© SOTT.netBelow: The oldest Gothic cathedral in Cyprus build in 1200 and dedicated to Agia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), was turned into a mosque in 1570 under Ottoman occupation. Top: Surrounded by my beautiful friends outside the Selimiye mosque, as the cathedral is known today.

Something I had heard about this island is that, for the most part, TC and GC lived peacefully alongside one another and each respected the other's religion before the invasion in 1974. While that generally holds true for certain villages and small communities, the big powers of the time wanted the two communities to remain divided and would incite nationalistic sentiments to excite them against each other. For example, when the British took over the government of Cyprus as a protectorate from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 to turn it into a Crown Colony in 1925, it served their own interests to keep the TC and GC fighting each other. Otherwise both communities would have joined together to fight the invading Queen's army.

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© SOTT.netIn Ataturk Square i came upon the Venetian Column, which i was told marks Cyprus' "Ground Zero!"
With thoughts such as this I entered the square where Cyprus' so called "Ground Zero" lay - which bears a totally different meaning than the famed Ground Zero in New York: it is from this spot that British Marshall Lord Horatio Kitchener in the early 1900s measured the island and prepared its first detailed topographical map.
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© SOTT.netA bird's eye view of the capital taken from the Greek Cypriot part showing Pentadaktylos mountains in the back, with a Turkish Cypriot flag engraved on it and the er... provocative inscription below it: "I am proud to be a Turk"

I kept walking under the bright sun with heavy thoughts in my mind. You must understand that in the subzero temperatures of my homeland, life is deemed as sacred and counts a great deal. The human beings however do not seem to appreciate it. They are ready to take each others' lives simply because their religious leaders tell them that their God is so much better than all other deities, or if their political leaders convince them that their skin colour or claim to the land where they were born makes them somehow more speshul than all other peoples. In the deep waters where my race spend much of their time, we know instinctively that predators lurk in the shadows ready to turn us into their next meal. What happened to human beings and their own instincts? Why can't they smell the subhuman predators under the mask of the spiritual leader or the party leader, then protect themselves and, most importantly, their chicks, from a gloomy fate?
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©"I am proud to be a Turk", reads a label below Kemal Atatürk's statue. A friend is shown here lending me her hand, since i begin to feel lightheaded under the bright Mediterranean sun

When I saw Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's statue - the founder of the Turkish Republic - with his quote below it, "Ne mutlu türküm deyene (I am proud to be a Turk)", the same inscription that was provocatively carved on Pentadaktylos mountains, mocking the GC refugees who can see their villages on the mount slopes, but know they cannot visit them, I began to feel really dizzy. Was it the sun, the strong wind that had begun to blow, my empty belly or my leaden thoughts on the inconsequential vanities for which human beings fight and loose their lives? I don't know. But a newly found friend helped me stand next to Monsieur Kemal for a photo shoot; he is after all an important figure for the Turkish nationals. The same friend later escorted me to what appeared to be a health-provider service, and I was given the "kiss of life" by a kind young man who used a small plastic pipe to blow breaths of fresh air into my tired body. Feeling much better, I stopped at a local bar where I treated my friend to hot chocolate, and hoped to indulge myself in a glass of the local wine to help restore my normally ruddy complexion. Unfortunately, only wheat nectar was available, to which I have an aversion.
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© SOTT.netA kind service man is coming to my aid, bumping some fresh air into my lungs

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© SOTT.netOK, i feel much better now. Could i have some wine please? Only beer? No, thank you, no evil wheat nectar for me!

Outside, the sun was reaching its Zenith so I ventured onwards with my tour of the city, selecting a different check point from which to leave occupied Nicosia and enter the so-called Free Zone. But how free is it really?
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© SOTT.netHaving entered the Turkish occupied sector through Ledras Street, i come out via Ledra Pallas check point, named after the - now UN occupied - hotel featured in the background.
The Adventures Continue In "Free" Nicosia

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© SOTT.netContinuing my journeys on a "train"!

For a city that saw much fighting and colonisation, the word freedom is displayed remarkably often - in every corner you turn to be precise. In the main Eleftheria's square (Freedom Square) a fun little red train appealed to my weary feet. It dropped me off at the statue of Freedom, a striking sculpture situated over the Venetian walls, that depicts Freedom as a female figure standing tall and commanding the release of those imprisoned. The prison gates open and the people eagerly come out into the light.
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© SOTT.netAbove the city walls stands this sculpture dedicated to Freedom, as she stands on top and commands that the prison bars be opened and the peoples be freed

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© SOTT.netThere's few things more beautiful than the expressions of people who are finally free again... but not too likely to soon see it in real life, i marvel at the dexterous carvings

Musing on the divisive state of affairs in segregated Nicosia, the Cypriot poet Kostas Montis captured the islanders' present fixation on freedom in a poem entitled Standing In Front Of The Cage's Open Door:

Where are the wings of freedom now, where is the desire?

It is the same poet who urgently exclaimed on paper:

The only solution, Lord, is for you to make it that the bullets don't kill
Because without fail we will continue shooting

The "free" Cypriots, those residing on the Greek sector of the city, are apparently immersed in materialism, a solution they adopted as a defence mechanism against seeing their helpless condition at the hands of sinister forces, and thus relieving them of the responsibility to ever act for change.
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© SOTT.netThe ever busy and shop-laden Ledras Street

The Ledras Street is now toppled with all kinds of shops and remains one of the busiest streets on the island. My consumer-impulse was tickled, I must admit, when I saw a Pokémon balloon, but I found the strength to resist and remained faithful to my mission to survey the city and pass unnoticed. On this point, my big nose and dark colour were not much unlike the facial features of the locals, and my "velvety coat" gave me the appearance of a rather chic fellow indeed!
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© SOTT.netHow odd would I look holding a Pokémon balloon?

To evade the consumer's urges, I slipped into the narrow picturesque streets of Laiki Geitonia (Traditional Neighbourhood), restored by the municipality to its original neoclassical architecture, and now a popular tourist destination. Retaining its romantic atmosphere of bygone eras, Laiki Geitonia is a safe haven away from the noise and pollution of the city (materialism in Cyprus is also expressed in the fact that it has the highest number of cars per capita anywhere in the world!) even while lying deep in its heart.
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© SOTT.netStrolling around in the picturesque Laiki Geitonia (Traditional Neighbourhood)

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© SOTT.netMore from Laiki Geitonia...

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© SOTT.netOK, feathery pal, where can one get some decent meal of fresh fish?
A grey parrot, who immediately befriended me, whispered to me where I might seek a decent meal of fresh raw fish. He also indicated that Nicosia had a bunch of churches worth visiting. Furthermore, without seeming pompous, he matter of factly informed me that the island holds top place in the world as the nation with the most churches per square foot. Feeling inspired, I dragged my feet to visit a few of them - there were just too many! - accompanied by my Grey friend who volunteered to film my pilgrimage.

The church dedicated to Archangel Michael (Tripiotis Church, as it is known by the locals) was built in 1695 in a Franco-Byzantine style. Across from it lies the Saint Savvas church, and further down, the Phaneromeni church, the biggest temple in town, which was built in 1872. A marble mausoleum lies in its back yard, which contains the relics of bishops and priests executed by the Turks in 1821, when a pan-Hellenic uprising occurred, ending 400 years of Ottoman occupation. The results were favourable for the Greeks, who ultimately retrieved their land and freedom, but Cyprus had to wait, and still does, for its long sought Freedom to arrive.
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© SOTT.netStanding in front of the Venetian city wall, built in the 1560s

My resting place lay in the outskirts of Nicosia, where I came out through the city walls, built by the Venetians almost 500 years ago, which encircle the old city and are adorned with eleven heart-shaped bastions. Beyond, the city expands outwards, wearing a modern face of tall glass-and-cement buildings, broad roads and traffic. I hurriedly skipped this part, as the sun was already heading westwards. Far from the hectic capital, a field full of bright yellow daisies had my name written all over it. (No joking here! I swear it spelled P-E-N-N-G-U-I-N-N!) I asked the gracious flowers' permission, which was granted me, and rested for a while among their sweet smelling stems. One thing that my homeland misses, to our loss, is the beautiful plant-organisms called flowers.
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© SOTT.netResting among the brilliant daisies

Many wars in Cyprus were fought in spring. I could not conceive fighting amidst this blooming splendour of nature. No member of the Aptenodytes Forsteri could do so and neither could a human being. But there exists a subspecies of psychopathic being that can and does conceive of such barbarity: their only "creativity" lies in painting the earth red from the blood of the innocent; their "intelligence" lies in creating myths and stories that divert the gaze of humanity from the Truth of the situation, the Truth of their reality.
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© SOTT.netLooking over the old city of Nicosia as the day fades away, contemplating the colours of dusk, the walls, the hearts, and everything in between

Alas, my trained eye can not only distinguish the shades of white but the shades of darkness too. I had just spent my day amongst two communities of people who have so much in common, yet psychopathic ideologies keep them walled and forever separated. And I could see the walls that surround Nicosia expand further and wider to captivate the hearts and minds of the people; in the Middle East, in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. These walls are built in the dark, while people are asleep and the constructors are working in silence, so that humans never realize what is done to them. Will humanity wake up to reality before real walls fence them in? Would falling stars be bright enough and loud enough to arouse them from their slumber? A Penn Guinn can't help but wonder...
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© SOTT.netIt’s been a long day and a bath is in order. Let the water cleanse the pollution of the city and the depressing thoughts away.

Optimism however, can always be partially retrieved with a relaxing hot bath. As the water washed my blues away, a brighter thought lightened my mood: down through the ages of the sorry history of this planet, there have arisen seekers of Truth and Dragon Slayers. Their selfless actions and arduous work might have not changed the course of the world, but it is they who illuminate the dark passages of history, revealing to others the way out.

Long live the Dragon Slayers!

Saint George the Dragon Slayer
© SOTT.netSaint George the Dragon Slayer: Icon on the monastery of the Holy Cross, outside Nicosia