We travelled amongst green fields, hills and mountains. Dense greenery was all around us, huge pine trees, the beautiful monastery of Trooditissa with the running water springing from the rocky scenery of the Handara waterfall. The water pursued its route to the village of Fini (Phini). So did the picturesque scenery, and so did we.
The village of Fini is associated with pottery and with Juan de Finioun. De Finioun was a Frank feudal lord who had his villa here in 1362. In fact, his was the only house around, together with some smaller ones for the people that worked his fields. As these people stayed on, a village was created with the name Fini, from ‘De Finioun’.*
Pottery in Fini
We had come to the village looking for its pottery. As we were walking around, we saw a faint sign on a wall with an arrow pointing uphill: “Pottery,” it said. We thought this must be some long-forgotten sign, one that would lead us nowhere – but it was our only lead so we followed it anyway.
It wasn’t until we turned and went uphill that we saw a structure at the top of the hill – it was a big room, framed against the landscape like the frame of a painting. Inside the room, a frail figure was bent over on the ground, almost motionless. The whole image appeared like a picture from the middle ages – the only thing missing was the light from Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters.
We moved closer, and the old lady looked up, friendly, and welcomed us as she continued her work shaping a wet clay pot. She was quiet as we watched her, focused entirely on the clay, with her entire soul seeming to be focused on moulding the clay in her hands.
A craft that’s travelled the world
At the back of the room was a table covered in books, magazines, old newspapers, pictures and papers. Everything seemed old, forgotten, neglected.
One of the pictures showed a beautiful woman, bending over in exactly the same motions as this old woman in front of us. I looked through the other papers, magazines and tourist guides – all of them worn by time and all of them showing images of a woman at different stages in a life’s cycle, always turning the pottery wheel or showing off her masterpieces. There was a pride in her posture and a sparkle in her eyes.
I shuffled through the papers and guides, and noticed they were all in different languages – some that I recognised, and some that I didn’t. A whole life, I thought, that has travelled the world on paper, and here she still is, bent over on the earthen floor of this big room. It was a sad scene, empty, forgotten.
A craft passed through the generations
It was then that the old woman left her turning wheel and straightened up. She stretched her back painfully and explained that she’d been to see the doctor about her back ache, but it was too late, he said. She’d spent so many years bending over that she must have stretched a nerve, the doctor had explained. She waved away her inevitable and unavoidably excruciating back pain and turned to the pictures I was looking at.
“That was my mother,” she told us, pointing at a framed picture. Yes she did pottery too, as had her mother before that. And the little girl in the picture? “This is me! I was watching my mother and my grandmother and I quickly learnt pottery, just like my daughter learnt it from me”. In fact, she said, her daughter was better at it than her… “But times have changed and my daughter couldn’t follow this lifestyle here.
“Over 65 years I have been down on that floor. In the past there were endless queues of people who would come to watch me working, to see my pottery.” Not many people come today, she said, but she continues her work as it helps her to forget.
As she said this, a tear rolled down to her lips, and I knew she meant that she wanted to forget how she’s forgotten – forgotten not only by locals and tourists who no longer come by to see her work, but also by a system that barely provides her with enough funds to live off.
She brushed her cheek, and brushed away her sorrows, focusing once more on her work. “Those pots,” she said, indicating four huge clay pots in the corner of the room, “those are for my children – I won’t sell them as I’ve promised to give one to each of my children.”
But she did sell us a pot for kleftiko, the traditional Cypriot slow-cooked lamb dish, as well as a little vase decorated with delicate little clay daisies. She refused to accept the full sale price, though, saying she wanted to offer us a discount as she had been so happy to have met us and to have talked to us.
* Bibliography: Nearhos Kleredes “Choria ke Polities tis Kyprou”