by Mona Savvidou-Theodoulou
As published in Volume 8, NO 4, Dec. 2011
To Maria and Sylvia
I enjoy travelling. I can’t think how is it possible not to, since it is my means to diminish time and at the same time a way to transform each place to a time machine, that enables me to explore the era of my choice. Travelling is the threshold of eternity and a sojourn in immortality. I travel to replenish myself.
When I travel, I get rid of every excess, I free myself of any kind of engagement. When I travel, my emotions are fully awoken, they get into orbit and come to life just like in a musical fugue, from pianissimo to crescendo. They exist. When I travel, I am totally involved.
I sit at the same table with Fernando Pessoa outside A Brasileira café, gazing at the statue of João Almeida Garret, the poet and writer whose name adorns Rua Garret, the famous shopping street in Lisbon. Even the neighbourhood is called Chiado, bearing probably the nickname of the poet António Ribeiro. I cherish the images of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos at Belèm. Here, at this church, the columns are chiselled to look like palm trees, accompanied by exotic birds and navigation tools.
There, I first set eyes on Vasco da Gama’s grave, just opposite the one occupied by Luis des Camões, the monocular poet who recorded the epic of the great Portuguese discoveries.
A favourite place for artists, café A Brasileira in Largo do Chiado, has an Art Nouveau exterior, while its interior is decorated with gilded mirrors. In the same way, caffé Florian at Piazza San Marco in Venice, was the favourite place of Lord Byron, Dickens and Proust. Caffé Pedrocci in Padova, venue of the 19th century Italian intellectual revival, used to be open 24 hours a day, with its upstairs rooms available for lectures, concerts and exhibitions. In the same city, Giotto painted the frescoes of Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni) with the lyric cycle of Christ’s martyrdom and with images of the warrior saints, as tomb sentinels.
After theatre, I ponder over the play, recalling the pleasure of the performance, drinking aromatic tea at Zonar’s café on the corner of Panepistimiou and Voukourestiou, in Athens. At the same time, I enjoy a glass of Prosecco wine with fresh peach juice, the cocktail named after the opera composer Bellini, by Giuseppe Cipriani who invented it at his bar on Calle Vallaresso, on the Grand Canal in Venice. Frequented by Ernest Hemingway, the bar consequently bears his name, “Harry’s Bar”.
I recall, that I chose to sit in the painter Pissarro’s favourite seat, at the coffee shop on Place du Tertre, in Montmartre. Behind me, there was a copper plaque on the wall demonstrating the particular seat as being a Parisian sight.
I cannot forget the treasures of Palacio de Mafra, in the Library of Mafra Palace, on the coast of Lisbon. The rachitic, middle aged guide, acting favourably towards us, opened the doors to the library and let us in. I could describe it as a huge domed temple, with a multicoloured marble floor and wooden rococo shelves made of white, exotic timber, laid with forty thousand leather- bound volumes! There, I discovered the great Greek authors, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus. I even found a valuable first edition copy of Luis des Camões’ “Os Lusiadas”. The light reflections created an airy atmosphere. “As concerts take place here”, the guide went on,“ the bats which dwell in the open shelves, disturbed by the sound of music, often fly over the audience”. “Bats?”, I wondered. “How do you think these books have managed to survive moth attack throughout the ages? Bats eat moths”, she said, taking down from a shelf a little box with two dead bats lying on some cotton wool inside. That was ample proof! “These are the ones which get crazed with light and music”, the guide said, pointing at them.
All these thoughts and much more, are born and called back to mind, because I sit “On the waterside”, the reading room of the coffee shop “Enaerios”, gazing through its open windows, at the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed, here is a reading room, on the waterside of my city.
The sea embraces us lovingly with every imaginable sky shade, while we travel, patrons and readers, books in hand. We travel in the bay of Limassol, sheltered from the scorching sun, which makes everything around us look intangible, watching the wooden pier with the dedicated, amateur fishermen of the Olympian Coast.
The landscape flows, the golden-plated sea reflects in her mirror, beating beneath our feet, since the coffee shop extends in the water. In the old days, the sea used to smell of wine, because of the barrel rinsing of the nearby ETKO winery. As a child, I often thought of the sea, as blood, crimson as it was from the wine.
You may think that all this is irrelevant. Nevertheless, Vasilis Michaelides, our national poet, had spent many years of his miserable life in the no longer existent poorhouse of our city, on the other side of the coastal road, just opposite the same landscape, on the waterside. He had been photographed standing in the entrance, wearing his straw hat, a fugitive angel. His eyes had been gazing at the same landscape.
Every poet gazes at the sea within him, either on his own, or being in the company of others.
At the coffee shop “Enaerios”. The area and the coffee shop took their name after the aerial railway, which travelled from the tallest mountain of Troodos to the coastal warehouses, with its wagons laden with the local black gold -carobs as well as copper- to be loaded on cargo ships and exported to the other side of the world, during the last century. Nowadays, the coffee shop “Enaerios” stands exactly where the warehouses holding the harvest and the ore of the land of Cyprus, used to stand.
Poets travel. Limassolians take a break “On the Waterside”, carrying the moments at “Enaerios” throughout their journey .