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World conference on culture
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Niki Marangou


In Conferences often we hear speeches and we then go home and little has changed. I have a practical suggestion for this conference as I believe that it is important, in conflict areas to attack small problems and try and solve them.

I am going to read to you a short story, very short indeed about a library in Famagusta, the most important private library of the island which contained a big number of manuscripts and books from the 15th century to the present. It specialized in descriptions of travelers who visited the Levant. The library belonged to Demetrios Marangos, who died a few years ago, without ever being able to find out anything about the fate of this library. The area where the library was, is uninhabited since 1974 when the Turkish army occupied the town of Famagusta. The whole town has been a ghost town for the last 24 years and from time to time various rumors come up about the library, that the books have been transported into an old church, or that they are stored in a basement and the like.

My suggestion to the conference is to pass a resolution about this library, so that its books can again be accessible and read both by Greeks and Turks on the island.

A layer of sand

I often used to spend Easter or Christmas vacations at uncle Mitsos’s house in Famagusta. Mitsos was my father’s younger brother and due to my grandfather’s persistence he took over the family’s timber business. The truth is that Mitsos never really wanted to become a merchant. His ambition was to study philology in Paris or Athens, but grandfather would have none of this. The feud between them came to an end when my father, at the time a third year medical student at the University of Vienna, threatened to give up his studies and take up himself the family business.

This seems to have had a sobering effect on Mitsos, who conceded and enrolled as a business administration student in Paris. Strolling through the Parisian antiquaries and literary discussions were a relief from the boredom caused by his business studies. When he got his degree, he returned to Cyprus, took over the timber business, became a member of the city Council and married aunt Beba a Greek from Port Said in Egypt.

The house they had built was one of the first on the Famagusta seafront, together with Evangelos Loizou’s shack, the nautical club, the English club and grandpa’s house by the beach, which later became a gambling club named The White Tower.

At a time when the beach had not yet been filled with hotels, refreshment boots and jukeboxes, theirs was an immense house, with a huge veranda, a white colonnade leading to the sea, where we often had Sunday lunches, milanaise rice, roast and salad decorated in the middle with a rose made of tomato peel, or at other times, in winter, in the blue panelled dining room with Paul Georgiou’s paintings in blues and ochre. It is those paintings that I scrutinized in the evenings when they went out, the watercolors and etchings in the corridor, my uncle collected from Parisian and Alexandrian antiquaries, where two or three times a year, he devoutly deposited the business’s profits, or I went into his own room, that was filled with books and periodicals, with a small lamp clipped on the pages of the book, so as to shine only there, next to the bed that was narrow and ascetic with a brown blanket, while aunt’s bed was wide with feather pillows and laces. At other times in the evenings or the mornings when aunt was still sleeping or out shopping, I used to go down to the library where Mitsos had put together all his passion for philology.

The library was oak paneled with heavy silk orange curtains, filtering the light. Historical and literary books were gathered there but mostly descriptions of travelers on their way to the Holy Land, the Levant or Cyprus, some were written on parchment with old dates, I had learned to read the Latin dates "Venice 1687" "Viaggio da Venetia al Santo Sepolcro", those older ones had their own particular smell. Many books he sent to Athens for conservation and binding and they came back with designs on the leather and gold letters on their backs.

One day, going through the books I came across one with small designs, pale blue and brown, palms, meanders, balconies decorated some strange poems, I had just entered high school then, I felt a secret pleasure in reading them so that it became a habit every time the house emptied to go down to the library and read those and no others, then I started to copy them in an exercise book, at first word for word, then I started changing words and eventually considered them my own writings.

That’s how I started to write. Some years later Mitsos gave me the book of Cavafi’s poems, it was the first edition printed in Alexandria in 1935 every page designed by Takis Kalmouhos, this is also the only book that was saved from the library. Since1974, when the Turkish army entered Famagusta, we never found out anything about the house, or the books, the only certainty is that the area has not been inhabited, surely the veranda will be overgrown with weeds and the books, if they are still there, will be covered by a layer of sand.

Niki Marangou

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