I was in Cyprus last week for a software carpentry workshop
The country feels poorer than their GDP per capita (GDPpc) would indicate. At least in part, this is because the GPDpc measures current income, but what we feel is the wealth (in the houses, the cars, the city infrastructure), which requires several years of income to accumulate.
In fact, in Nicosia, this process was visible. Houses seemed be either dilapidated or freshly renewed. Even with the crisis, it’ll look very different in 10 years. It’ll feel more like Lisbon feels nowadays .
Here are two images taken in the centre of Nicosia, one of a recently restored area, another of a dilated one .
Some people who live in a different country from where their grandparents lived sometimes feel a need to go “search for their roots”. To some extent this is a self-fulfilling fiction, which comes from the same romantic ideas that there is some special in place or blood: even if there isn’t anything there, the fact that we think there is, makes us behave in a certain way and it becomes true .
However, there is something beyond the romantic mistake, namely that understanding the environment in which your family grew up can give you understanding why they behave in certain ways. Knowing where they are coming from can give you insight about why they behave like they do.
I live in between Southern Germany and Luxembourg. In the 1800s, many left this area to go look for a better life in America. However, nowadays, it’d be difficult to understand why. Luxembourg is the richest state in the EU, and one of the places that feels more American to me . It is not the poor, subsistence-farming, harsh-winters place your ancestors fled. Visiting Luxembourg is not visiting the place your ancestors left, it is visiting a completely different place that is at the same location .
Knowing the past is naturally important to understanding the present. The nouveau rich attitudes of the Luxembourgians or the Swabian housewife myth (which so upsets Southern Europe) both stem from a half remembered poverty. But we do not directly visit this past in modern Luxembourg, the city with the highest number of Michelin stars (expensive restaurants) per capita.
To travel in space is to travel in time. When I visit Nicosia or Beira, I am visiting the recent past of Portugal. When walking these countries, vague childhood memories come back, and I can see a society which was already disappearing when I was growing up in Portugal. In Nicosia, I learn about my heritage more than I can learn in today’s Portugal.
The past is a foreign country. No really, the past is a foreign country, you can take a plane to get there .
In Cyprus, political correctness is still not a thing. Here’s a cup where I was served Cypriot coffee:
A politically incorrect cup of coffee