I drive my car on the peripheral road, a line, a highway arrow running through the mountains and the city’s western fringes. Scattered randomly, exhibiting gawky planning, a multitude of houses, small enterprises, warehouses, shops and showrooms are a testament to total lack of rhythm or organization. To the west, in the distance, the mountains carry the eye to the center, the island’s core. Unfolding across the new road is the river – a stream, to put it more accurately; Parthenis river has always been there, discretely channeling water to the sea. If you don’t pull over to have a look and observe the water and the rocks, if this is the first time you’re driving past this area, you just fail to see it; the road, along with other add-ons, have turned it into a pariah. Held in total contempt in this country, rivers are still regarded as places where trash and debris is dumped and polluting activities take place. Last time I was there, it only took twenty minutes for a really heavy storm to raise the river.
A few days after the storm, I walked all the way from Koris Yefiri to the sea. Erected across this elegant Geonese era monument, the uncompleted dam stands too as a marker, albeit as one of a dystopian future. A Balkan relic, a bureaucracy landmark, a barrier, a wall hiding mountains and raw nature. Spring is gradually blooming as I step on rocks and grass, follow the water, walk past the bridge. Further down, a sheepfold, waste, debris, filth. I make it to the peripheral road, stroll to the sea, walk as close to the river as possible. In some spots, the way rocks fall into the bed and water makes its way around mossy stones gives me the impression I’m surrounded exclusively by nature. Immediately though, purity vanishes; junkyards, makeshift open-air shops, remnants of orchards, newly built dwellings, cars. The more I approach the sea, the denser the structuring gets, with houses in Varvassi now being adjacent to the river. Drawn on the cement river bed, some graffiti grant the watercourse a slight hint of vivacity and contemporaneity.
Past the intersection and the traffic lights, the river drops out of sight, encased under the new highway, traveling along it before making it to the sea. What’s left then? Some remainders, a door and an orchard wall hanging mid-air, along with marks on the river bed alluding to an archeological excavation. Dispatching the final few meters that abound in puddles, rocks and rods, I make my way to Enoseos Avenue, reaching the sea, here, where the river meets it. A tiny aperture, a trifling jump, and the water that started its journey from the island’s core, calmly and silently, merges with the sea. I sit on the pebbles for a while, staring at Cesme and the skyline.
As people live through their own present considering it an eternity, they try to customize nature, to shape it to their needs – or at least to what each society perceives as needs. Some decades earlier, man-made constructions didn’t use to be so intrusive, occurring at a slower pace while incorporating local materials, thus thwarting damage to the landscape. But large-scale projects such as the dam and the highway get to transform it once and for all, and the ensuing structural changes wreck what’s existing, while failing to guarantee that these works will continue to be of any benefit to the coming generation. Our decisions and actions have to chime with the spirit and character of the land we live on, provided we wish to preserve some kind of identity and feel that we belong somewhere. “Urban planning activities and architectural interference should muster regional traits and bring them closer to people”, otherwise those interventions alienate the latter’s interaction with their land, ruin nature and prevent us from properly plotting our course.
I go back. It’s evening now; some walk or jog on the sidewalk. Most of them get to the point where the peripheral road turns for Koris Yefiri. Behind the dam, clouds are gathering above the mountains. Outside the sheepfold, two girls are trying to ride a moped. The sun has just set, I get in the car and feed into the peripheral road, lights are now on, the river disappears, it doesn’t exist unless you know it’s there.
I’m writing this note in late March, and it’s been twenty days after I walked across the river; the impression, though blurry owing to recent events, is still vivid in my memory. I can’t tell whether those people living nearby still go jogging or whether all of us, holed up in our apartments, are now just holding our breath.
Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris.