By Paris Demetriades
*Archival material from the RIK Archive and the "Digital Herodotus" Project was used.
"This fabric is an old curtain from Ledra Palace," she says, caressing the covering tenderly that she uses to cover her sofa, in a cool, oasis-like elevation within her elegant home in Kato Arodes, Paphos. "You see, I used to work at Ledra Palace and ended up with two of these covers. Whenever they made changes to the hotel's bedrooms, even if there was a small tear or stain, they were given away. I still use these covers because they remind me of the hotel during its glorious days."
Besides being a former employee at Ledra Palace, the stylish and radiant lady before me had won the unique and probably most beautiful beauty pageant held at the fateful hotel in Nicosia. Specifically, in the distant summer of 1971, she was crowned "Miss Cypriot Beauty," which was the second-highest title awarded in that competition. The following year, Ms. Maro Aristidou (Koutrouza, her maiden name) represented Cyprus in the Miss Europe contest in Lisbon, Portugal. Ultimately, as someone who worked for decades in the service of KOT (Cyprus Tourism Organization), she dedicated her entire life to promoting Cyprus and its beauties.
"We are a fortunate generation. We, who were in our twenties and mid-twenties in 1974, experienced the most beautiful life, and we are a fortunate generation," believes Ms. Aristidou. "Indeed, Ledra Palace was the most iconic hotel in Cyprus," she continues. "Its architecture was designed to incorporate elements from the island's past, such as the narrow pointed windows, which are in the Italian and Venetian style. From the outside, it was built with cut stone, just like all the grand houses in Nicosia at that time. The whole life of Nicosia was Ledra Palace. I remember when I came from Famagusta, and my current husband invited me for our first date, we went to the swimming pool of Ledra Palace. Of course, going there and even having a club sandwich cost a lot of money at that time."
The Beauty Pageant Experience
"In 1971, I happened to participate in the beauty pageant, even though my elder sister had taken part in 1962 or 1963, when the pageants were held at a seaside center in Limassol, called 'Kyma.' As the years passed, a friend and colleague encouraged me, and I decided to participate. I think 1971 was the only time beauty pageants took place at Ledra Palace."
The pageant was held in the beautiful gardens of the hotel, recalls Ms. Maro. "Those gardens were so fragrant; you could feel dizzy from the scent of jasmine." Regarding the results, there was certainly anxiety, she notes, as every girl believed she was the most beautiful. "I was selected as the second runner-up, with the title of 'Miss Cypriot Beauty.' I was disappointed not to be first, but, well, I got over it," she jokes with a smile.
The most memorable journey of her life, Ms. Maro tells us, was a year later when she represented Cyprus in the Miss Europe pageant in Lisbon. "It was an incredible experience! They paired two girls from each country, and we paraded in carriages from the 18th and 19th centuries down Lisbon's grand boulevard. Cinematographic crews, TV cameras, and a large crowd followed us; it was something unique. The pageant itself took place at the beautiful Estoril, the finest hotel in Lisbon."
At the Trendy Nicosia Airport
"My work was based at Nicosia Airport. I was there to welcome the guests of Ledra Palace and take them to the hotel's shuttle. The management of Ledra Palace also handled the catering, cafes, and restaurants at the airport," says Ms. Maro, who feels fortunate to have experienced the daily life at Nicosia Airport.
"It was a place where you felt like you were outside Cyprus. First and foremost, the airport building itself was modern and wonderful. It opened in 1967 and was brand new. Then, the constant flow of people made you feel like you were traveling with the travelers. Back then, I fell in love with tourism. My life, you know, has been dedicated to tourism and promoting Cyprus."
"We Invested Excessively in Tourism"
Looking back to 1972, when Ms. Maro was posted at the Cyprus Tourism Organization office in London, she recalls that Cyprus had 278 thousand arrivals, considered a huge achievement at the time. "That was when Cyprus began to emerge as a tourist destination during the 1970s."
However, Ms. Maro points out that tourism has been both the biggest advantage and the Achilles' heel of the Cypriot economy. "As a country, we invested excessively in tourism. We experienced it in 1974. After the invasion, we lost tourism; what happens next? I remember when the Americans bombed the Gulf of Sidra in Libya, and as we were considered neighbors - Greece was affected too - Lloyd's wouldn't insure the planes coming to our region. To bring tourists back to Cyprus, the CTO paid an extra premium to Lloyd's for each passenger arriving. What I'm trying to say is that tourism is so delicate and vulnerable; it shouldn't be the foundation of your economy."
"Let's Rediscover the Identity We Lost"
"These curtains you see, I sewed them myself," Ms. Maro says, with a natural and unpretentious theatricality that characterizes women with her depth of spirit, showing us delicate, white lace curtains adorning the windows of her home in Kato Arodes. "I found old lace to make them as close to tradition as possible. That's where we lost it! In our effort to become part of the world, we lost our identity. We need to rediscover it because, in the end, the only destinations that survive are those that preserve their authenticity."
"I hope we find a way to appreciate our homeland, to become better citizens," she concludes our encouraging and thoroughly enjoyable conversation, which could go on for hours with a genuine, timeless Cypriot beauty.
[This article was translated from its Greek original]