Nicosia rooftop by Eleni Philippou.

October 2013

Dear sister,

I have been in my new home for about three months now. In many ways, it reminds me of our Cyprus, of the winding cobblestone streets in the old town and the familiar faces you keep bumping into. The strong Levante wind creates wild paintings with clouds in the sky and many people surf here. Who knew the little Andalusian town of Cádiz was a surfing hub?

I’m not one to dabble with surfing — you know me. I am more of a let’s-chase-the-sunset kind of gal, and that I do almost every day. The sunsets here are pure magic. They are the most beautiful I have ever seen. They have a deep orange, golden glow before they melt into that little crack between the ocean and the sky and the clouds turn into shades of pink and violet.

We usually catch them at the beach near our apartment, right behind the grand Cádiz Cathedral, and yet recently we found a private little nook just for us — our rooftop.

We spend most days up there, having lunch under the sun, sipping tinto de verano in the evenings and losing ourselves in philosophical conversations until dawn. These rooftops have welcomed dinner parties, stargazing, and even the occasional waving to those on neighbouring terraces. One of my most favourite rooftop activities though is people watching. People going about their ordinary, daily chores is nothing extraordinary but watching the town from above is. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it fills me with great wonder and curiosity.

Pay attention. I remember my university professor quoting Susan Sontag’s commencement speech at Vassar College and one day as I sat on my rooftop, it all made sense.

It’s all about paying attention, she said. It’s all about taking in as much of what’s out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you’ll soon be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.

Being up there makes me pay attention to life going on, instead of letting it pass by. A bit like observing ants navigate their wonderfully intricate systems. How come we never spent time on our roof back home in Cyprus? It’s spectacular! Some rooftops in Cádiz are more put-together than others, with tiles and tables and such. Mine is rather basic with a red floor on which we laid a thick carpet to sit on.

When you visit me from London, I’ll take you up there and show you the vistas. The vistas steal the show. They’re not grandiose but there is something about looking at the city from above that is mesmerising. The lines of clothes set out to dry, the sundown, the urban horizon that the tips of buildings create, even the antennas are fascinating to observe. I can’t wait to explore our Nicosia from way up there.

I have to go now. I’m meeting a friend for a flamenco show down the road and I need to shower before the hot water runs out. Hope this letter reaches you soon.

Besitos,

Your favourite human

***

June 2014

Dear sister,

It’s been a while since I’ve sent you an actual letter in the post. We Skype and WhatsApp but you know how much I love these handwritten notes. There is something quite romantic and nostalgic about them. I guess I haven’t been feeling so in love with life since my move back to our little island. It’s great to be home but I miss the Spanish sunsets, the Levante messing up my curls and the vistas from my rooftop.

There are hardly any rooftops to climb on in Nicosia to catch the views or stand above the city for a while. I keep looking for them. I went up to the rooftop of our building the other day and the trees of the Pediéos river crossing the town looked happy to see me. But I didn’t stay long, the water tanks and satellites take up most of the space and there is little room safe for me to lose myself in. I looked around while I was up there briefly and noticed that all of the other rooftops in our neighbourhood were also occupied with large white containers and antennas. As if they were reserved just for them. They should talk to the Spanish roofs and sort something out.

I came back downstairs and resorted to our apartment balcony, the closest above-the-city space I could find. It was peaceful. I could hear the birds chirping. Why don’t we ever sit outside here?

I’m going to have dinner on the balcony tonight, I decided! And I did.

I remembered then why we don’t spend so much time on our balconies here. Finding that sweet spot during the day when it’s not too hot, too humid or too chilly can be quite the challenge. Do you even remember the last time you sat outside on our veranda? There are only a few months a year we use it and within those months, at only very specific hours when the temperature isn’t too high.

...

Sis, I got caught up in life’s errands and left your letter unfinished. We are deep into the summer now and you know what that is like. The weather has already started to feel unbearable and it is only mid-July. It’s better in the evenings and I usually go for long walks in the old town, to its coffee shops that hold onto a bygone era’s charm and the Byzantine-style homes we’ve always dreamt of owning. Or are they Neoclassical? I’m not sure, there is such a mix of architecture here.

I walk between the old shops, wave to the friendly faces and sometimes I tilt my head back and lift my gaze upwards. I look at the majestic limestone balconies on the first floor of the old buildings, with their twirling Greek-style designs and curved rails. I look out for the dates carved into the entrance doors to see when the houses were built and sometimes, I notice rather peculiar things when I look up like chairs pinned up on the walls. How did they get there and for what reason? It’s strange but these details fill me with a wonderful sense of curiosity.

Often, I feel that there is a whole city that lies above us that few have known. It makes me wonder what lies above our heads. What life hides in the city’s upper levels? I realised that I have very little knowledge of how my hometown looks from above. Of course, its 11-gates emblem is now embedded into my memory after seeing it all over town but I crave to witness its urban horizon, its terraces and vistas. Like I did in Cádiz.

Sometimes I envy the birds, even the pigeons, that fly above it and rest momentarily on rooftops.

Once I found myself on a rooftop in the heart of the city. It was one of the very few semi-public rooftops in the old town, the upper level of a museum. It was divine. The house tops rested side by side, palm trees stuck out from behind them, church domes, minarets and new skyscrapers glazed the horizon. In the distance, I could see the mountains and the cypress trees were happy to see me again.

The streets of the old town that I know so well intermingled and the Green Line that divides my town was no longer a constant reminder because it disappeared. I breathed in the air of the city from above and carefully stored it deep into the branches of my lungs so that it never leaves me.

So, remember to look up sister, wherever you are. Look up to where the balconies proudly reside holding onto century-old tales, where the city’s symbols quietly sing, and the details of the town’s history stand tall, saluting all those that notice them.

Look up and go even higher. The vistas will embrace you.

With love,

Your favourite human