If you happen to talk to Stephane Fissentzides at Ermou300 – the versatile space in old
In fact, 'his day' was just a couple of decades ago. Stephane isn't an old metal-worker but a trim 37-year-old (he'll be 38 next month), bearded, handsomely rumpled, and a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, he does insist on the language thing: "I order a delivery, and it takes me 20 minutes," he protests, "because I refuse to speak English. I want to speak in Greek, re koumbare!". On the other, like most Cypriots, his own conversation is sprinkled with English words, and when he describes himself as "low profile" and "down to earth" he does so in the language of foreign clerks and waiters. On the one hand, he stands for a fierce authentic Cypriotness that most Cypriots have lost, except in the mountain villages. On the other, he himself isn't totally Cypriot but 'half and half' (his mother is French), and most of his childhood friends – who, almost to a man, no longer live in
The biggest contradiction has to do with his character. Most people like to see and be seen, he notes with a touch of disdain, "but I'm a little bit – actually more than a little bit – of a loner. I like to be alone, to be calm, to go to places where there aren't any people". He's done the clubbing and trips to Mykonos ("From the age of 18 to 25, I think I was a monster!"), and doesn't want to do it anymore. If he goes to the beach on weekends it'll be a deserted, un-trendy beach in Pomos or Pachyammos (or, if he goes to Protaras, it's likely to be in April, when there's nobody there). Yet his whole professional life depends on pleasing clients and being in close proximity with people – whether as a prize-winning architect or, more recently, running the kafeneio (coffee shop) at Ermou300, with its self-conscious menu in jocular Cypriot dialect.
Stephane never planned to run a coffee shop, placing orders and calling suppliers (let alone schmoozing with customers every evening, which he did for a while but now finds exhausting); in fact, he admits, there's been "a drastic change in my life, over the past year". He's primarily an architect, and a very good one. Not only did he get into the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in
Ermou300 was the reason he came back to
"I think, if I'd known this would happen, I wouldn't have come back," he replies at last.
'This' being the crisis?
Not just the crisis; "the Cypriot mentality" in general. "I've been very disappointed," he admits, warming to his theme. "Because I came back with dreams and ambitions of contributing. I mean, I wanted to devote myself to the
Stephane himself isn't political, indeed he no longer votes – but his dad was in APOEL (the football team associated with DISY) for 30 years as a player and official, so resistance is futile. "People impose a label, whether you like it or not, and it's really exhausting. It's worn me out – and it clips your wings, you lose your enthusiasm. And because it's such a small society it's even more obvious, you feel it everywhere, whoever you talk to – oh yeah, I know so-and-so, I'll help you out, or if you don't know so-and-so they won't help you".
It's not the crisis per se, he repeats. "The way of thinking, and the way this country works, doesn't inspire me… From what I can see, there's no future. I mean, I'm nearly 40 years old and – if I started watching TV when I was 10 – I've been seeing the same faces since I was 10 years old, whether they're politicians or TV presenters. And you think, 'For chrissake, where are all the young people, the ones who might have some ideas, or some energy?' But they can't get in, because of vested interests."
Stephane himself had a preview of that in his student days, when he won a European Student Prize for a project on old
Can't you, though? This is where the contradictions return – like, for instance, the fact that Stephane is himself a big proponent of "mix and match" in his architecture (his kafeneio blends traditional rush-seated
He nods ruefully: "It's a fact now, there's nothing you can do about it. [But] I'm one of those people – rightly or wrongly, it's my opinion, doesn't mean I'm right – who are against globalisation and all that it entails, the Euro, the global chains, the brands and so on. I believe the world was much better in the days when you were in
Doesn't it lead to less racism and xenophobia, though?
Of course, he replies. There's good and bad, as with everything; "in the end, it depends on what matters more to you. But I do think that Cypriots in general, the Cypriot mentality and temperament, is not European, and never will be!". Go to the bank and watch them crowd in front of the teller, he sighs. Watch them park on the pavement right outside a shop, even if there's parking 30 metres away. "We just don't have it," he half-smiles. "We Cypriots are donkeys. It's no coincidence that I put this guy here," he adds, pointing to a cartoon donkey on the kafeneio menu. Therefore, and despite the political consequences, "I'd have preferred if
Bottom line? Stephane Fissentzides is a romantic – increasingly alienated from today's
A world of contrasts – traditional flaounes and a bright chair at Ermou 300
Is it just nostalgia, like his longing for the old days when kids didn't have smartphones? Or a true philosophy, a love of all that's simple and authentic? He recalls his parents' friends dropping by uninvited when he was a child, to cook together and eat and drink ("You can't do that nowadays. Now you have to invite people, you have to organise it"), and rhymes it with experiences he's had up in the mountains, in the little villages where Cypriotness (says Stephane) still flourishes. Someone will be cooking souvla in their front yard, and they'll see him – a total stranger – and shout 'kopiase', 'come and join us'. That seems to be what he cherishes most, that sense of unforced human connection.
Yet it's also what he resists. He won't answer a phone call from a number he doesn't know, carefully guarding his privacy. He won't go down to bustling Old Nicosia, there's too much noise and too many people. Ermou300 is practically his whole life: he's in the office from 8 to 1, the coffee shop from
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