WHEN I’D ASKED A FRIEND ABOUT SOME OF THE ODD THINGS I’D HEARD ABOUT THE INHABITANTS OF POLIS AND ITS SURROUNDINGS, HE’D SHRUGGED. IT’S PROBABLY THE WATER, HE SAID.
The “odd things” in question perhaps weren’t much. A villager who collected apes. Rumors of an exotic hound with a passion for fox hunting films, and a private canine theater wherein he indulged his fancies. Sightings of bearded philosophers who roamed the streets like ghosts from some ancient Platonic academy.
For the price of a tank of gas and willing exposure to lunacy, I wanted more.
Then, he said, you must go to Makounta. When I pressed him for details, he shrugged again and said, “Talk to Utopos. If you can’t find his house, ask the gypsies.”
The little I knew of the man was enough to send me on my way. A poor farmer living in the hills of Paphos, Utopos was the only presidential candidate I knew of whose political vision hinged on the Apocalypse.
• • •
Stopping to ask for directions at a roadside kiosk outside Skouli, I watched a swarthy man with a luxuriant pompadour toupee leave his table and enter a hot pink house next-door to the kiosk. From the rearview mirror of a BMW parked in front of this house hung a stuffed Egyptian mummy the size of a small monkey.
Following the empty road to Makounta with the sea at my back, I turned onto an even more derelict road. The only sign of life here was smoke rising from a grill set up in front of a small village of aluminum huts. The lunching gypsies gestured further down the road at a spot where thick foliage had almost swallowed a small house.
Next to the house was what seemed to be a personal colosseum made from straw-reinforced clay. In front of this, the shell of a Fiat. Beyond a valley teeming with orange, olive and almond trees, the sea swelled in the winter sun. I was jarred out of this reverie by a tall man in army fatigues who had stepped out of a clearing.
Utopos was a vigorous-looking forty-something with the chest of an Olympic swimmer. His hands were for some reason dripping with olive oil. We entered the tiny house, whose living room was dominated by a mysterious mountain of unopened cardboard boxes.
A paper was thrust into my hands.
Plan for the Ruling of the New Earth, the Utopia (the Holy Jerusalem or the City-State), it said. Other than the stray reference to the Apocalypse, it was mostly mathematical figures.
A second paper appeared. This one outlined Utopos’s intention to “claim the seat of the General Secretary of the United Nations.” I paused briefly at a list of Utopos’s campaign promises, the first of which was “to revive the dead people.”
“Are you a religious man then?” I asked.
“I am trying to build a new religion,” Utopos said wistfully, “an erotic religion.”
Suddenly very serious, he added, “In the last presidential election, the people gave me 73% of the votes. 70 to 83%, actually. I was a threat to the politicians, so they stole my votes. And remember, the human race has waited thousands of years for a man like me to come. You probably want to see my work.”
We moved into a cramped utility room. Leaning against a wall, stacked one against another, were at least 20 3-by-3-foot wooden boards. Utopos selected one and we went back outside.
He said, “The plan God has given for the new earth.”
Laid out on top of a barrel before us was a model of a perfectly symmetrical city arranged in a grid. But for the profusion of stadiums and factories, it could have been a Monopoly board. I wasn’t sure what to say. I commented on Utopos’s physical fitness.
“Man is made from a mathematical design,” Utopos said, flipping through one of his physical fitness diaries. “Just like he is designed to live in this city.”
Depending upon one’s perspective, such a city was the fruit of the most visionary or deranged divinely inspired civic planning known to ancient or modern man. It was Utopos’s life’s work.
“Everything is according to prophecy. There will be four city-states in Cyprus and 240,000 in the world.”
The residences appeared to have five floors. According to Utopos, 100 citizens would live in each. There would be 1440 such buildings, making a population of 144,000, which, he said, accords neatly with the Apocalypse of John. Surrounding the residences were factories, each with a stadium of its own, and then more government housing. The grid was connected by a network of slender canals and footpaths.
A second paper model was withdrawn, this from a battered suitcase. The countryside.
Utopos said, “The people will work in the factories and then they will rest. Or they will move to the fields for a few days and work until the body is filled with farming, then rest again. They will move from city to city.”
I didn’t see any shops and perhaps too many stadiums.
“There will be no money, of course,” Utopos explained. “It will be paradise. And no families either, no marriage.”
Utopos seemed very pleased with this aspect of his city-state.
“Like Sparta,” I suggested gloomily.
“Yes, but more modern. It will be a matriarchy. Women will be free, and yet obliged, to have sex with many men, but they will choose only the most beautiful and able to have children with.”
Utopos picked up a factory and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. He said, “I have a destiny to realize. I have decided to be the divine designer. I want to do all the things that are considered impossible.”
I asked about utopian cars.
“Only swimming,” Utopos said.
Deprived of so many entertainments and doomed to spend my evenings in a cube in the company of 99 other factory workers, I hoped at least the pleasures of inebriation wouldn’t be denied my utopian existence. Then something occurred to me.
“And how will you destroy Nicosia?” I asked.
“Ah,” Utopos said, pulling reflectively at his chin. “Yes. Originally, I had planned to level it myself. But this is not environmentally sound. I will wait for the Apocalypse. Or maybe I will leave it for the tourists.”
With the New Jerusalem looming before me, I couldn’t help thinking of Winston Smith sipping Victory gin in the Chestnut Tree Cafe. Of Thomas More’s head rolling off the chopping block and Plato’s flight from Sicily. Pythagoras had burned and so had David Koresh. It seemed mankind wasn’t ready for paradise.
Heading back down the road an hour later, I was moved by the prospect of the sea stretched out so peacefully before me. I thought of St. Augustine. “Give me chastity and continence, but just not now.” And I felt blessed to be mired in the inadequacies and fears of mortal life, and hoped that God in his infinite wisdom and charity might postpone the Apocalypse for a while more.
This article originally appeared in the Cyprus Mail on March 19, 2006.