Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'All the love and forgiveness in the world never stops me asking the same five words: Why did you leave us?'
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The Independent Online

I am lying on my bed. It's rock hard and slightly bumpy and the pillows are very flat and combobulated.

I don't know if that's the right word to describe the pillows, but when you lay your head on them they give the sensation of being made up of lots of individual bobbles, which are very hard. The whole experience is somehow very basic, yet strangely satisfying. I can hear the sea roaring, and if I sit up straight I can see the blue of the Mediterranean touch the blue of the Mediterranean sky.

I'm in Cyprus, an island that for years has been divided in two, and I would say, extremely unhappily. The first time I came here was 1984. The civil war was still fresh in people's memories, and everywhere had a very heavy military presence. But now, nearly a quarter of a century later, Northern Cyprus has been left in a confused, driftwood state of no man's land.

Northern Cyprus, once untouched and unspoilt simply because nobody had the courage or the permission to invest, is now fast becoming a hideous world of cheap and tacky villas. An overrun and overbuilt sprawling mass of fake mediterraneana. So much in this part of the world is not real. Breezeblocks are clad with fibreglass rocks, wooden doors are made of plastic and brass is painted aluminium.

There is a certain amount of Cypriot culture in terms of taste, which has always been able to win me over, enchant me. The chintzy plastic tablecloths, plastic soup bowls with cherries on them, fountains in the shape of dolphins, ad-hoc gardens, which border on either the insane or genius. Grapevines stand next to bougainvillea, strawberries grow in the shadows of tomatoes, all these kind of things are in general a Mediterranean way of being. But sadly, in the last 15 years, Northern Cyprus has lost its way.

Tiny hotels double their room-size overnight. They make more space on land by claiming the sea. They build, casting giant shadows where the sun should shine. Almost nothing is thought through. For miles and miles, signs say "Turtle Bay Villas", "Turtle Beach Villas", "Mediterranean Heights". Turtle this and Turtle that where once turtles used to live.

I want to feel the magic of Cyprus. I want to imagine Cleopatra bathing in her pool. I want to think of her and Mark Antony making love as they watch the sun set behind the copper mines; the mines which once incarcerated Pontius Pilate; the copper mines which now lie derelict and disused.

I have only ever been to the Greek side of Cyprus once and that was to visit the graves of my family – graves which were all well kept and neatly looked-after in a tiny little cemetery.

My ancestral connection with Cyprus goes back a long, long way, but my now only real connection at the moment is my dad. He is 87 and he infuriates me. I can never see him without feeling angry. All the love in the world and all the forgiveness never stops me from asking him the same five words: "Why did you leave us?" This conversation always comes up. I always feel that we are two extras in a play.

The sun is an almighty spotlight and the Troodos Mountains are our stage. I feel like every word we are saying to each other is being recorded. My dad tells me that he is unlucky. I hear myself say back: "No Daddy, you are not unlucky. How did you ever think you would get away with it?

"You treated your wife cruelly, my mum badly, and one by one you let your children down." And the last line of the play is always the same: "Dad, why should I look after you when you have never looked after me?" Then the curtain falls and I walk away, always wondering if these are the last words I will ever say to him.

Sometimes, when my dad makes me angry, I just won't see him for six months and then I hope that when I see him I would have missed him so much that the anger would have gone, but in reality nothing gets resolved this way. Like the island of Cyprus being divided in two (just for the record my dad speaks better Greek then he does Turkish) for years and years, the separation has only cost the people of Cyprus dear.

Yesterday I drove through the Green Line – the line which divides southern Cyprus from Northern Cyprus, the Greeks from the Turks. A no man's land of barbed wire, corrugated iron and hundreds upon thousands of shelled out derelict buildings. Miles and miles of something which looked like a strange set from an apocalyptic film. A void of terror and emptiness, the evidence of the futility of war.

Every time I think of Cyprus I always think of it as the perfect example of a disagreement unresolved. So much sad bitterness from the past that has only become magnified towards the reconstruction of the future.

As my dad becomes older, I feel Cyprus slipping away from me. When I was younger, my ability to always look for the positive, to rejoice in its idiosyncrasies becomes increasingly more difficult, as I see its natural beauty being eaten up by greed.

Every time I leave Cyprus, I have the same fear. When I board the plane I imagine that one day I will be boarding the plane with the body of my father and at the same time the door will close behind me.

A door to a Mediterranean island that will then always remain closed.

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