Last week the Heaton Moor Jazz Appreciation Society held its customary Christmas lunch at the (Glen) Miller and (Benny) Carter restaurant. The event is the closest most of us come to having a ‘work’s do’ these days and, though the company cannot be said to be as diverse as you might expect at your average party, the very fact of its homogeneity is in itself a celebration of a sort. This year our Glorious Leader, Peter ‘Lucky’ Lloyd, conferred jazzy nicknames on the rest of us and I found myself sitting next to the newly-dubbed Pete ‘Cannonball’ Aspinall and opposite Dave ‘Jelly-Roll’ Rigby. “Just call me Zoot”, I was able to quip.
Having thus dispensed with the seasonal celebrations, my partner and I landed the next day in Pafos, Cyprus, at the start of our customary migration from the tedium of Christmas musak. Yes, Christmas does happen abroad, but it’s easier to shelter from in places where you don’t know anyone.
Now Cyprus, as you will know, is a sun-sea-and-sand holiday destination but, when our family lived here from 1958-60, such pleasures were the reserve only of the British Armed Forces who had been sent in great numbers in the customary, vain attempt to quell an independence movement. Thus my time here is bound to be tinged with nostalgia, mostly of the “It’s all changed” variety. And Pafos certainly has changed: the once sleepy, nondescript town is now not only a haven for ex-pats and holiday-makers but also a designated European Capital of Culture for 2017, along with Denmark’s Aarhus. (None of this should be confused with Britain’s own City of Culture scheme, a quite different concept, for which Hull will be responsible in a few days time.) What qualifies Pafos for its celebrity is the astonishing collection of archaeological sites which testify to its importance as a city from as early as the 4th century BC.
The remains of former palaces, fortresses and tombs are impressive both in extent and sophistication. But as the two of us went from site to site, waking the ticket-office staff from their hibernations, we became aware that visitors are very thin on the ground at this time of year – which is a good thing if you want an unobstructed view of an ancient mosaic, unimpeded access to a rock-cut tomb or eager service in the nearby café. Local businesses, however, must be keen for the tourist season to start up. On day three we drove north to the small fishing harbour of Latsi where we had a splendid lunch in the only restaurant we could find open and where our solitude was barely disturbed by just one other table: otherwise we had the attentions of the charming Olga, our Ukrainian waitress, to ourselves.
Leaving Pafos, we removed ourselves to Limassol where we are staying in an apartment rented from a Russian lady called Ksenia. On the first day we walked in the sunshine along the seafront towards the Old Town, where we got lost and asked a couple of chaps for directions. They happened also to be Russian and, although their English was fine, their local knowledge was lacking. On the second day it rained so we visited the Municipal Art Gallery, where the surprised-looking ladies had to turn the lights on for us; thence to the deserted Museum of Archaeology where a delighted curator proudly and personally ushered us into his exhibition of the real Old Limassol, now an archaeological site just a few kilometres to the west. It was called Amathous and was established in the 11th century BC.
Such antiquity is hard to comprehend, especially if one’s own cultural ascendency is relatively recent. But Mediterranean countries wear their history well, like extra layers of clothing, and so, to my sister – who was lately waxing nostalgic about shopping in Limassol in 1960 and resting afterwards in the big café at the top of Agiou Andreas Street – don’t be too distraught that it’s a Starbucks now. Plus ça change, as they say.