LOOK! There! Aphrodite's birthplace!
It was near midday. We were standing on a high bluff on the coast road from Limassol to Paphos, on the southern end of the island of Cyprus. I looked somewhat quizzically at my friend Andreas. He is a college professor, an author, an expert in fluid mechanics, and a very smart man. He knows that Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was not really tossed up -- a piece of foam -- from the Mediterranean Sea at Petra tou Romiou, yet at least for a moment he indulged himself in a childlike suspension of disbelief.
It's not difficult to understand why. On Cyprus reality and mythology are continually bumping up against each other. Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, close to Turkey, the Middle East, and Egypt. Bartered for as it has been over the better part of 9,000 years, occupied, colonized, given as a gift from Antony to Cleopatra, Cyprus, together with its people, has learned to endure. The country today is little explored by Americans, although the British, the Germans, the Scandinavians, and lately the Russians are frequent visitors. I recently completed my fourth trip since 1989.
Cyprus is an island divided. The more southerly two thirds of it is controlled by the Republic of Cyprus; the northern third is occupied by Turkey. The division followed a Turkish invasion in 1974. The north is in a tourist sense largely undeveloped, a circumstance that has its own allure. Current regulations allow a person who is staying in the Republic of Cyprus to visit the north on a day trip, by passing through the United Nations-controlled gate in the capital, Nicosia. Because no country other than Turkey recognizes the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, it may be entered from outside the island only via Turkey. Anyone who does arrive this way, though, could be barred from entering the Republic of Cyprus later.