Jessica Eve Watkins
23rd June, 2014
I’ve been staying at the Cyprus College of Art for almost a week. I share my days and nights here with nine artists, fast becoming new friends. We are mostly lonesome travellers, shuffled up and backpacked, with stories to tell. I like that I’m not the only person making this journey alone.
The College was set up by the late Stass Paraskos in the Seventies – a wonderful man who has created a mad monument of mod-roc animals, mosaics, and colour popping sculpture. The place has a freedom about it that only comes with the absence of grades, exams, and extortionate fees. We have little agenda here – just a desk space, a shed to sleep in, and encouragement to create. Margaret, daughter of Stass, is now in charge, and her attitude is so impressively laid-back I should congratulate her.
I share my whitewashed shed with a lizard, and count myself lucky. The girls next door spent an evening screaming and banging a cockroach with a slipper. There are tales of snakes whose venom gives you mere minutes from bite to death. I’m in the habit of bending down and checking under my bed every night, just in case.
I love the place. I love the simplicity of my bare walls, single bed, empty shelves. I pick a bouquet of unfamiliar flowers from the concrete yard and place them in a tin by my mirror. Bringing the outside in. The light doesn’t work, so I live out the evenings with candles.
I’m in love with the four-minute walk between our art studios and sleeping shacks. The view from the road is impossible to inhale without feeling bowled-over lucky. The land drops away below the road, loping off in a torrent of undergrowth; a leafy, vine-matted monster, triumphant over all previous human existence. I imagine falling into the foliage and never finding my way out again. Rhododendrons of Cyprus, fierce cactus blades, wild clinging vines, dried snake skin.
Where land meets sky is a belt of shining blue ocean. The sun sets over her every evening in a fiery melting haste. We swim in her clear water most days, wallowing on rocks, sketching the Euro-tourists as they pose in thong bikinis and sun hats. The leathery skinned sun loungers, the strip-malls and concrete all-inclusive hotels that line the beachfront feel a world away from our messy, dilapidated school. I breathe a sigh of thanks to return to this haven of wilderness.
There is a taverna, concrete and sign-less, sitting halfway between the studios and living-spaces, looking like a large unopened house. The flatscreen outside broadcasts the World Cup, and is the only give-away that this place is open to passers by. We spend Sunday evening drinking goblets of chilled red wine in the courtyard there. Talking about sex and our love lives. I relax, we all relax, and speak freely, bond together, laugh raucously. At last, some peace in this head of mine. Lakis, the one-armed bartender, and his wife Kula ply us with plates and plates of free food. Halloumi, fresh salad, salted cucumbers, rye bread, moussaka, and ribs for the meat-eaters.
At night I sleep alone and wake up with sweat pouring down my chest and legs. There is no heat like this in the UK. I toss around and light a candle, read a few pages, and fall into dream-ridden sleep for another few hours.