Shirley Kay is full of passion for life. But that's not what makes her unique. Personal passion is something we all possess in one way or another; Shirley, however, likes to take things a step further. The 77-year-old has practically travelled the entire world in her lifetime and as she does so, she likes to write. In fact, she becomes so overwhelmed by the different lifestyles in the various places she visits that she is now the proud author of over 15 books on the many countries in which she has lived in.
Setting up base in the quaint village of Anogyra four years ago, it didn't take long before pen hit paper. This time round, she had an intense desire for others to experience her passion for days gone by, travelling back to a time when people lived in ways barely conceivable to us now.
Opening the doors of her lovely, stone-built village home, her enthusiasm for things of the past is more than apparent with part of an old courtyard converted into a beautiful hallway opening on to a sundrenched garden. Village life, she exclaims, is just about as close to paradise as one can get.
In a new book aptly named Olives & Lemons filled with colourful pictures, Shirley tries to describe what's left of traditional life; the practices, beliefs and physical environment that have been the essence of Cyprus over the ages. Having drawn widely from quotations by various characters she's spoken to and the great collection of old visitor's accounts of the island, her fascination on the subject can hardly be contained.
Shirley and her diplomat husband, Jolyon, first came to Cyprus in the late 1980s when their daughter and her family were posted to Episkopi. Enamoured by the old villages in the surrounding area, they soon bought a house in Anogyra, which served as their holiday home until 2007 when Shirley and Jolyon settled here permanently. In more than two decades visiting and living in Anogyra they witnessed dramatic changes affecting the village life that inspired Shirley to write this book.
"When we first came here there were lots of people riding donkeys but I tell you, nowadays you have to really search for it! I did recently find a man and wife in Sotira who get around on donkey and another one in Pachna but that was about it," she says. "About 15 years ago I also took a picture of a man wearing the old traditional vraka just walking the streets but it's hard to find that these days. When we first came here this was an old world village - now only the elderly live according to ancient practices."
The book writing project here in Cyprus began two and a half years ago when Shirley set out to discover more about village life beyond the confines of Anogyra. "Villages were obviously the places to start off as in the past over 80 per cent of people lived in them. Only the minority lived in the towns." As Shirley talks about her work it becomes apparent that she holds a strong hope that the age old world of Cyprus village life will not be irrevocably lost.
And how exactly did she come up with the name for the book? "It was simple really, most of the village houses have an olive tree and a lemon tree. They're also the main ingredients in Cypriot cooking so I thought it would be a good name."
Have a flick through the publication and you'll come across pages dedicated to the role of men and women in the village through the times, information on food and festivals, the structure of village houses and their colourful courtyards, the natural environment, myths and beliefs, churches and monasteries, and the list goes on.
With a knowledge of basic spoken Greek, Shirley enjoys a good banter with locals, often in their home environments. "I really wanted to find someone making cheese at home the old fashioned way. I visited one old lady who told me that they used to hang out anari outside their houses in their stockings!" One day the author also set out for Kilani village where someone told her that a man lives who still uses Oxen for farming. But her search was to no avail as neither man nor Oxen were anywhere to be found. "I often pursued various people's leads about old traditions that they thought were still alive but actually where nowhere to be seen," she explains.
Apart from hitting the road on a great number of days out, Shirley's research involved worming through tons of old books written by people who visited Cyprus in the past. As for the pictures used, many have been taken by the author herself while others where handed over by friends who happened to have just what she was after.
Hoping that her book will appeal to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, those who get their hands on a copy may come across snippets of information they never knew about the island. "Quite a few Cypriots in the village have already bought the book and one archaeologist was surprised that there were things she had no idea of that I've written about," she says with pride.
"I hope people that live here and haven't had the chance to get to know the island will read the book as well as tourists who might be resting in hotels and don't get out and about to see very much. Oh, and Cypriots who see some of their grandparents ‘funny old habits' and don't think any more of it, all those ancient beliefs that some people think are batty just like I thought my mother's old beliefs were!" What with the number of village houses that the younger generation are now renovating as holiday homes and the recent surge in popularity of agro-tourism, Olives & Lemons may well be right up their street.
Olives & Lemons is available at Moufflon and Kyriakou Bookshops
21 Nov 2010