A long way from home
By David Feela
While I checked in at a hotel on Calypso’s island, a receptionist secretly pushed a little button below her desk and a waiter appeared, carrying a chilled glass of orange juice to the desk.
“Is that for me?”
“Yes, compliments of the hotel.” This was the first of several ploys to keep me as a guest. I’d have thought discounting the room price for a vacationing tourist would have been more effective, and I should have complained, but I didn’t.
According to legend, the Greek goddess Calypso kept Odysseus a prisoner on this very island in the Mediterranean for seven years. Supposedly she was beautiful, and she could transform her beauty to suit any man’s desire.
Just my luck. I got orange juice.
But then again, I’d only planned on staying overnight. Calypso had access to a wide array of powerful spells and unlimited wealth; I was traveling on a budget. My limited itinerary included dinner, a stroll along a beach, a good night’s sleep, and then in the morning a hike to visit Calypso’s cave.
Gozo is one of the two sister islands which make up the archipelago nation of Malta, just south of Sicily. It contains more cultural, artistic, and natural treasures than any tourist could see in a day, including temples older than the pyramids, medieval churches, exotic isolated beaches, and many examples of old world architecture.
“Calypso’s cave is part of the Homeric mythology, right?”
“That’s right.” The receptionist knew her classical literature.
“So the cave is a mythical place?”
She avoided my eyes: “Like gossip, myth originates with a kernel of truth.”
I’d found the cave listed on a map I picked up while crossing on the ferry. How mythical locations end up on tourist maps is a logical problem I would have to work out in my spare time once I returned home, but for now, I had an eight-mile hike planned for daybreak, already orienting itself in my mind.
I dropped my bag in the room and returned to the lobby, planning to set off in search of a restaurant. The heat of the late afternoon hit me like a wet towel as I stepped out the door. I stopped and reconsidered whether I wanted to sweat a slimy trail like a slug along the sidewalk, searching for an attractive place to eat. The receptionist slipped off her perch behind the desk and came up behind me.
“We have an excellent restaurant in the hotel, if you’d care to join us for dinner.”
The suggestion was a no-brainer. The swelter of the Mediterranean sun itched against my chest like an invisible hair-shirt. I turned around and the receptionist led me to a beautiful, cool dining room, where a waiter escorted me to a table. I perused the menu he offered, ordered the special and a carafe of the house wine.
While he was gone, I stared into the clear water of an aquarium mounted like a porthole in the wall beside me. I could see the other side of the dining room which appeared slightly out of proportion, like looking through a funhouse mirror, until a large freshwater fish I couldn’t identify swam up to hover and stare at me from its side of the glass. We commiserated about our status as trapped beings. I felt comforted because Homo Sapiens did not appear as an entree on the menu.
My meal was fabulous, though I felt bad about eating sea bass so close to a relative looking on, so I decided to retire to my room and call it a day.
In the morning I ordered room service. The knock on my door was accompanied by a gentle voice announcing my coffee had arrived. I stared. I couldn’t believe how her tresses cascaded over her shoulders or the Mediterranean blue of her eyes. I held the door wide as the sea itself and she placed a silver tray on a black marble table. I should have asked, “How much do I owe you?” but I was afraid she’d say, “Seven years,” so I simply nodded and smiled, as if I didn’t speak any language, as if I was afflicted by stupidity, as if I was too old to care.
But I’m not the kind of guy who doesn’t appreciate an epic. I’ve studied Odysseus’s journey, his 20 years away from home, and his so-called suffering at the hands of his nymph. I sighed. My bed last night radiated such softness it stirred my dreams like the surf crashing below my balcony.
On this island of Gozo there’s a cave which my tour book describes as “just a narrow opening near the top of a steep cliff ” and as she stooped to pour the coffee I saw where all the trouble began.
David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/