Pedoulas: Cypriot Mountain Cherry
a story of my first Erasmus+ event
"We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity."

- The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho.

With my flight Larnaca-Vienna I finish reading The Alchemist: this book tells a story of the Universal Soul, the story of one's destiny, the one that is whispering to you through all different signs that you are on your right path. A story of treasures that are to be found, and I am on top of the mountain of Pedoulas where I ring the bell of the church, thinking: let this signify my path. I believe and I strongly feel that it is indeed it – the path of travelling and creating, as a long-forgotten dream I unveiled through a graphical novel in 2017. Back then I thought to myself: God, I wish it was mine, too. Now, sometime later, I see: the more I create – the more opportunities are coming my way to create even more, as an iterative cycle of never-ending art.

Pedoulas. A place of cherries and mountains, a place of 40 people coming together for the youth exchange as Erasmus+ with the tempting title of 'Trade cherry'. We stay in the dorms together, with 6 people in the room and a bathroom without light; we come to breakfast at the scheduled times and learn to cohabitate. To me, it is about learning to stay present and discovering myself, reasoning about my journey. It is about painting a mural together, having sleepovers with blankets in the mountains, and picking cherries at someone's farm.

Erasmus+ is an international event, most often funded by the European Union (as, in this case, accommodation and food were provided, and tickets to Cyprus and back will be refunded). This trip to Cyprus was about opening a new – before unknown – world to me, a world of Erasmus+. It can be about the youth exchanges (like the one where I went to), Training Courses (more intense and in-depth programs, aimed at improving one's skills), might be the Erasmus for Young entrepreneurs (the chance to join a firm and learn from it for your own start-up idea) or opportunities of volunteering around the world (European Solidarity Corps). Most of them give possibilities that do not involve personal expenditures (are often fully covered, or include monthly…salaries on the spot – as for Young Entrepreneurs), and bring meaningful experiences to your life (at least from what I understood about it all).

It opened a new list of possibilities and helped me find other ways to understand what I love and what makes me feel…fulfilled. I believe it is about leaving traces behind with what I know is going to stay, even if no one will ever find it out. It is this feeling of belonging to the world, living a meaningful – even if in small details – life, bringing a change – all of these were suddenly highlighted to me in their importance, as romanticized as it might sound. It is an exploration, a hitherto unfamiliar discovery for me, where in simply thinking about even the small and simple Pedoulas painting on the wall I become happier.

Still, I learn a lot from the process. I learn from talking to people – to other participants, to locals, to farmers, collecting multiple small stories. I hear stories of love (as someone's parents who met on a short trip in Australia from different parts of the world – or the other hearts finding each other on an Erasmus+ event); I hear stories of composing music, the life choices of people who are only about to start universities and their worries. I learn from Pedoulas itself and its cherry culture, too, I learn (quite literally) from Greek signs that I try to read with my knowledge of Cyrillic, and I learn from the staircases, houses and churches it has to offer.
Here let me tell you a bit more about Pedoulas. It is a tiny mountainous (1100 m altitude) tranquil village, counting 100 residents, that for a weekend in June transforms into a hosting spot of the cherry festival, for which we were there to assist. The cherry valleys are the heart of the village; however, the job of a cherry picker is currently under threat of becoming extinct. The cherry pickers of Pedoulas ensure that the specialty still lives, and the place remains the cherry on top of the region. Traditionally, the cherry festival is held in Pedoulas, this year more than 10 thousand people coming to enjoy the cherry products, the national music and dance. This is one of the reasons I was here as a part of Erasmus+: to learn more about the nature of extinct professions, explore Cyprus and specifically the case of Pedoulas, help the municipality to organize and host the event, and contribute to it with a mural that displays the culture of the village in a nutshell.
We are helping the farmer to harvest and sort cherries. He is bringing us with a car to his place and is showing signs of spoiled cherries. This year, a lot of cherries were damaged by hail, and instead of 11 workers who worked on harvesting cherries on his farm, there are 3. Usually, foreigners who need money come to work for cherry-picking during summertime. The farmer is not speaking English, but we understand each other through another Cypriot student (and gestures of course). The farmer is driving me in a car to the trees showing: fasolakia! and I improve my non-existent Greek. Slightly later, he is telling me to get on the back side of the car with buckets full of cherries, and I cannot stop laughing at this spontaneous being-a-bucket experience. This day also makes me think that to be honest, sometimes you don't need much more than to come and pick some branches from under the trees, putting them aside for fire, or look at a handful of cherries to see which ones have holes and, therefore, are not to be consumed. (For the ones as curious as we were, one 10 kg box of cherries from that farmer would cost you 6 euros – can you imagine how much it would be in the Netherlands?)
I loved Pedoulas for its stairs leading you in between the houses to the top, for the access immediately to the first level so that a house seems to hang on the cliff and its fascinating sceneries. Architecture and landscape are coming together naturally and subtly, merging into one narrative. Pedoulas' essence is hidden in its church protected by Unesco from the XIV century, or the cross at the top of the mountain. Everything you visit as an architect subconsciously becomes a case study – the lived experience that we later recreate while producing our own spaces. That is why my Cypriot image is not only the activities we had but the place itself, the story of stones, trees and subtle staircases. Moreover, it is also the shared memories that are the highlights: the stars at the top of the mountain, where we walked with blankets to sleep and observe the sunrise, painting the mural together with the constant riddle – who is going to play the music this time? the cherry festival and a spontaneous walk in the evening. It is about occasional common struggles or jokes about non-violent communication, the dinner at the roof terrace (that was apparently forbidden for us), or the group walk to catch the sunset.
Cyprus, of course, is much more than Pedoulas. In many cases, it reminded me of home, both in Larnaca, and especially in Pedoulas. Even though we do not have mountains or sea in Moldova, the feeling of home could occur in its slightly roughened houses, in people, in hospitality or orthodox culture; it is the kindness combined with the southern impulsivity and the emotional attachment. A country with a sense of a separated – divided – country (North Cyprus, a territory occupied by Turkish), a bilingual culture with a mix of the opposites – Greek and Turkish languages. While this brought to my mind a joke of 'if Moldova was a Mediterranean island, it could be Cyprus', Nicosia proved me wrong. It showed me again that, while Moldova can relate to this linguistic contrast and hospitality, Cyprus is much more of a South, and much more heightened in its controversies, making evident its crossing-the-continents location. It meant the first authentic Mosque I have ever visited, startled by its atmosphere. I call this mosque an autobiography because of the lancet arches that show its past as a Gothic church, converted in 1570 by Ottomans. Short and sweet, Cyprus is much more perplexed (hence the plentiful of pictures below from Nicosia only), hot, and has got a very distinct image from all the places I had visited earlier.
I could never decide whether I am a sea or a mountain person, and this journey made me explore, compare the two in one go by moving from Cypriot beaches to the mountainous charm of Pedoulas. It made me explore the formerly unknown – and therefore special – places, that a part of me is still listening to the stories told to me at the scrap metal sculptures workshop of Nicosia. While my conclusion is that…well, that I still have no clue whether for me it is the sea or the mountains – I do have a clue that this Cypriot journey disclosed to me the new world, bringing the light to my – presumably – right Path. Surely, it was happening through the country, the people, the opportunities of Erasmus+, the sunsets, the cherry trees, and, of course, through the book of The Alchemist saying: Maktub.

(and for those who are interested - here is my small visual story as a sort of comic, too)
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