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BERNOUME; Easter in Cyprus

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Colette Ni Reamonn Ioannidou

Colette Ni Reamonn Ioannidou

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You’d have to be a body without a TV, radio or newspaper in Ireland last month not to know that Cyprus has had the legs cut from under it by the money powers, collectively and politely called the troika. Also known by those whose short and curlies they have financially painfully tweaked, by a series of less polite terms. Very few have been unaffected by the deals drawn up with these giants. However, when you ask friends or acquaintances how they are managing, they’ll reply with the shrug of the shoulders typical of most Cypriots and say, bernoume – we’re getting by.

March was as dry as the mouth of a camel that hadn’t seen an oasis in a month. The sun shone, blossom bloomed on fruit trees, winds rattled and tore at everything in their paths and, to add insult to injury for asthmas sufferers, they carried on their bullying backs red dust from North Africa. April, in which the Greek Orthodox Easter is this year celebrated, flowers under the delightful weight of lavender ‘paskalyes’, which the dictionary gives as ‘lilac’ trees, though not the same as the ones we know at home. Paska or Lambri (“Bright Day”) is Greek for Easter, so the blooms are bang on time. It is also showery and, as we are prone to the tail end of what gives further up in Europe, it is chillier.

Being Irish and baptized Roman Catholic, Easter usually sees greetings in card form from Ireland and by text from Cypriot friends, while the RC celebration takes place at the other end of Europe, wishing me happy Easter. They do that out of courtesy even though they know I celebrate the Cyprus Easter. My children and grandchildren are baptized in the faith of the land they live in. Andreas and I figured they could choose their own religion when they were older. They still consider themselves Orthodox. Both branches of Christianity have pretty much in common on such major feasts. There’s no Ash Wednesday’s penitential finger print on the forehead, but the Cross is kissed on Good Friday and, even for one as removed from religious slavery as I am, there is a lot to enjoy during the church rites of Holy Week. The purple covers icons in my local church as it covered the Stations of the Cross in Howth’s church of The Assumption.

One event I love is the Good Friday dressing of epitafios (the intricately carved wooden bier on which lies a crucifix) with flowers. That bit of flowery extravagance has been curtailed this year. Even florists are taking a cut. Then in the evening it is carried in procession through the streets around the huge church. Lambraja is a custom now conducted under strict supervision. It entails kids of high school age gathering wood and creating a bonfire on which an effigy of Judas is burned as fireworks fly and explode. Wood is in short supply these days and last year over enthusiastic wood scavengers actually invaded gardens for summer furniture and fencing. At times the fires become rather too big, so they and their source material will be scrutinized by the authorities. Firecrackers have been forbidden because they have torn fingers from some of the kids playing with them, but they are still available via the unscrupulous. However, we still have harmless sparklers!

After Easter Saturday’s midnight mass it is a joyous thing to stand on my balcony and watch people walk or drive by fervently carrying ‘do fos’  (the light) from the church towards their homes. This light of Christ will be carried through each room in the house while the words Christos Anesti (Christ has risen.) are murmured. When you crack the dyed-red, hard-boiled eggs on each other after Easter Sunday lunch, the same phrase is spoken and answered by Alithos Anesti (He has truly risen.) That still moves me no matter how often that ritual is acted out. The red on the eggs is to signify the blood of Christ.

This year, some supermarkets are making a point of advertising price cuts to ‘help out’ during these times of crisis when prices are usually raised. Newspapers warn to check sell-by dates and packages for signs of damage on special offers. The Easter candles that will be held during the lighting up that celebrates the risen Christ are on sale as well.  Pretty ribbons curl around the long stems of wax and they are being snapped up – as usual, even though the more decorative ones (with the same skinny base) cost over seven euro each.

We will observe another death of a kind here this Easter, the death of apparently effortless full and plenty to be endured by some sections of the population (for some of us used to scraping by, cuts are just business as usual). But of one thing I am sure. My son’s mother-in-law will bake all the usual buns and breads (of which the Flaouna* is the most delicious for me – it has no Irish equivalent) and she will arrive in her car at my door to pass on a pile of traditional goodies, salty and sweet, to share with my daughter’s family – she knows I don’t bake anymore. And my daughter’s friend Sotera will bake for her to share with me similar homemade Easter goodies.

That is how Cyprus gets by; people help each other, share with each other and offer what they have. We, in our way, share what we have to give. We did it after the Turkish Invasion of 74, we’ll do it again. Bernoume!


*Flaounas are a fantastic culinary invention. They are bread but much more than bread. The dough is folded in triangular fashion over a filling of thick rich goat cheese created especially for the breads that erupts in golden splendor above the base when finished. They are sprinkled with sesame seeds and baked to a crisp, mouth-watering brown. Adding dried raisins is an option. Once you acquire a taste for them, forget any diet you are on and enjoy!

Anyone who would like the recipe let me know.


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