"Flipping through Larnaka's pages"
I’ve known Costas Mannouris for a long time. I like the way he writes, especially the characters he creates; characters that are always on the verge between destruction and salvation. Costas has always been fascinated by this strange balance. “Isn’t this how real life is?”, he says with a smile, then whispers to me as if sharing his first ever secret, “To love a city is a wonderful thing, because she will never abandon you”. I take note; the reference is from his theatrical play “Non-Event Calendar”. How fitting that on this warm afternoon I’ll have the opportunity to discover Larnaka through eyes that see the extraordinary in the ordinary...
We meet outside the Municipal Gallery, at the beginning of the coastal-pedestrian street Finikoudes. Costas reveals that he’s already in the process of writing a piece about an upcoming exhibition, a tribute to the Cypriot artist Evros Evryviades. It’s an important chapter in the city’s cultural history. After a brief exchange of pleasantries with Gianna, the gallery’s curator, Costas invites me to carry on. “I will first take you to Paul’s Coffee Roasters”. This is where he always begins, lovingly walking the same route daily from Finikoudes to Tourkomahalas. He has made a habit of dropping by his favourite hangouts along the way, allowing his writer’s imagination to inject new, vibrant colour into familiar scenes.
We pass by Zinonos Kitieos Street and reach a point where it intersects with Ermou. The beating heart of Larnaka exists at the crossing of these two arteries. “It resembles an open-air mall”, with shops, cafés, bars and souvenir shops lining refurbished arcades (Q City Centre and Kizi arcades). Costas is relieved by the fact that, despite its modernization, the center still retains the atmosphere of a large neighborhood, where “people exchange morning greetings with a jasmine flower”.
Coffee as rich as poetry
Arriving at Paul’s Coffee Roasters, snuggled deep into Armenikis Ekklisias Street, we are greeted by the owner Pavlos, a graphic designer by trade turned coffee savant. “This place has a beautiful aura”, Costas tells me, and I can sense it within the establishment’s soothing colour palette and hand-restored furniture, the latter the work of Pavlos’ father, Mr Agathoklis. Costas spends his mornings writing here. I ask him to reminisce on something he penned inside this space. After a short pause he responds, “Even if the chairs remain empty, they cannot be saved from time”.
I ask him if writing was always something he did. “I always admired one’s ability to write, and it was my goal to do the same”. Costas originally studied biology in the US and Athens. “Eventually my background in biology found its way into my writing” he explains, pointing at the cover of his soon to be published book, “Evening Biologies”. The title is fitting given the time, place and energy at the start of our early evening stroll. Even the smell of coffee has assumed a poetic essence.
We return to Zinonos Kitieos Street to stop by Glykolemono, an all-day restaurant and one of the city’s oldest buildings. Though recently renovated, its 20 year history is still evident in its mosaics. One entire wall is filled with pizza boxes, all hand decorated by various local artists. “You can write something of your own on one of these”, I tell Costas. He smiles mischievously. Pierides Museum, located further down the same street and housed in a colonial-style building from 1815, is Cyprus’ oldest, private museum. Costas often visits. He’s enamoured of buildings with storied histories. The Kition Club, just across from the museum, is another. Once used to host royalty during the 19th century, it is currently being renovated into a multipurpose arts center.
Departing Glykolemono, we head off towards To Kafe Tis Chrysanthis, located in the old market. “It has incredible sandwiches and amazing crepes, but I am nuts about its carrot cake”, he confesses. However, the café-bar Kleidi, only a few meters away on Konstantinou Kalogera Street, is where his instincts as a writer become lost in the eclectically random decor. It’s a tiny place that looks as if it was pulled straight out of a fairytale. Annie, the owner and an avid collector of antiques, has decorated the space with her acquisitions. “This explains everything”, I tell him, eyeballing an old, white lace wedding gown draped upon a door. Costas takes me by the hand and pulls me toward the backyard. According to him, it is here where “I encounter many of my heroes absorbed in their own secret thoughts”.
Ayios Lazaros Square
Moving from the fairytale setting of Kleidi to the imposing Ayios Lazaros Square, we pop into Lazaris BakeryBar. “Here, everything is made fresh from scratch”, says Costas. “If Cypriot breakfasts made traditionally are what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place”. Then we are speeding up towards the Ayios Lazaros church, one of Cyprus’ oldest and most beautiful churches. “I usually come here during sunset. I love looking at it while it’s brightened by the orange sky, pondering silently on the many thousands of prayers absorbed by these stone walls”. With these whispered words echoing in our hearts, Costas and I continue our stroll.
We head towards the Old Market, one of Larnaka’s trendiest bars. Alexis, one of the owners, shows photos from the annual party hosted in May. Apparently one of the city’s most talked about events, “It comes second only to the Resurrection ceremony as far as attendance is concerned”, Costas chimes, unveiling his unique brand of satire as we march towards the picturesque Tourkomahalas.
“I’ve loved neighborhoods since I was a child”, he says, referring to those places which he believes are imbued with a solid, aesthetic identity. He’s inspired to search them for stories inevitably hidden behind every closed door, or to eavesdrop on women’s gossip dripping thickly from the balconies at dusk. For him, Tourkomahalas is a writer’s treasure trove. We pass the Kebir Mosque, just across from Larnaka’s Medieval Castle, and continue down picturesque little streets. We walk, taking in the white-washed houses, one next to the other, their pots overflowing with geraniums, and the wrinkled faces of their residents. At Prigkipissis Zehra Street, Costas reveals that this street once inspired him to write a script. His fascination with Tourkomahalas is obvious. I see it in the way he observes and absorbs everything around him, and I can sense his mind whipping every scene into a vivid story. Time passes unheeded and we eventually slip down a narrow street. Like two thieves in the night, laden with “gems” of pure experience and in need of escape, we make for the palm-lined coastal road.
When the noise dies down
We sit on large, stone benches, observing the flow of pedestrian traffic. The whole is framed from behind by the sea, silent in its motions, the ships on the horizon balanced between earth and sky, and from above as speeding planes paint their contrails across a red-tinged canvas. “Please give me one more of your poems, one befitting this ‘painting’”, I finally ask of Costas. Procuring paper and pen he writes, “Late at night, when the noise of the streets has died down, and the slightest sounds from all the houses have gone silent, when one can almost hear water moving through the leaves, I weep for all the things left undone”...