Italy: The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto’s entry appears suddenly from the foaming sea: a tiny, cavernous hole in the wet, aged mountain rock. It can be easily missed. The guide tells us to move from the seats to the bottom of the boat. He bows his head, grips the sides of the Grotto with both hands, and pushes the tiny boat inside. A few seconds of silence and darkness; then only the noise of the boat’s paddle. Slowly, my eyes adapt to the new surroundings. I look up. I can see the dark stone largely opening above our heads. The boat advances.  Suddenly, we are in a humongous grotto under the mountain; a grotto paved with blue, magnificent water. The light springs triumphantly from the phosphorescent floor. The core of the earth shines, its splendid rays piercing the water, beaming from below. Above us the sky transforms into a dark menacing matter. Heaven and earth change places. The sun moves under my feet. The gravitational force goes astray. My entire body gets shaken by a new, unknown feeling. I get lightheaded.

The guide turns toward me. His gray eyes are widely open, luminous, saturated with the light coming from below. He whispers:

“The emperor’s private pool, my lady.”

I do no reply. I look around. Dark corridors open in the wall of the grotto. Where do they lead? This was a place where nymphs were worshiped. Still whispering the guide asks me to put my hand into the water. I do it. My hand metamorphosizes into bright silver. I hear him saying something about some kind of mystery that colors here every object immersed into water in silver. I take my hand from the water, and turn toward Miguel. He does not move. His green eyes look golden now.

The guide is paddling again. We are getting close to the walls of the grotto. The Roman Emperor: Tiberius. I have a strange feeling that his spirit has remained here, forever, in the splendor of this cold, staggering grotto, far away from Rome’s madness. Yes, Tiberius’ spirit is still here, in this place in which there is only past; in this place where the future will never be born.

A light noise is coming from the water. “The emperor’s private pool???” Oh, no, much more than that: Tiberius’ universe of eternal, and ethereal peace; an enigmatic dome with dark, wet walls, and polar-blue water floors; a place perpetually dedicated to the deification of the virgin nymph, whose pristine beauty dethrones forever Aphrodite’s pagan looks.

The guide turns the boat toward the exit. In a few minutes we are out. A rough sun hits my eyes. The Grotto’s polar water brakes into millions of particles from which the foaming green sea is born again. I want to go back into the Grotto!  Yes, I want to go back to that place, the only place I have known in which even the last remembrance of any human neurosis dissipates like morning fogs.

“Miguel, I want to go back!”

He looks at me. His eyes look green again, and a childish smile appears on his face.

“How much does the Grotto cost, Clara? I am thinking of buying it.”

 

Greece

 

 

I am driving from Athens to Patras on E-94. On my left steep mountains, made out of white rock, sparsely covered by shrubs. On my right the Gulf of Corinth adorned by the early, dazzling morning light. Its waters are calm, dreamy, soothed in an ineffable silence: the silence that reigned before the beginning of the world. The views are savagely beautiful: mountains and waters coming together, eternally caught in a hushed battle, a battle born from the abyss of the old Greek myths. There is only one car behind me. I slow down. The car drives past me. Intoxicated by the beauty that surrounds me I close my eyes. In a moment I am overwhelmed by the premonition of a sudden event. Chills are running through my body, icing my every fiber, cooling my heated soul, slowing the flow of my blood. I open my eyes. And then it happens.

I start breathing in an unfamiliar rhythm.  The sun metamorphoses into a golden liquid: hundreds of glittering rivers are inundating the blue of the sky. The water starts murmuring. The pendulum of the earth goes astray. The North Pole disappears. The icy castle of wisdom and thought melts before my eyes. The earth becomes just a heated platter, carried, together with the sky, on the shoulder of the mythological Atlas.

A nude nymph appears from the water, beautiful, wild. Her black hair is tightly braided, her skin is white like milk.  She runs in the middle of the road. Bewildered I press the brake. She looks toward me, laughs, and rapidly starts claiming the mountain on my left. The shrubs are scratching her skin.  She doesn’t stop. Who is she running from? In a flash I see him. An ephebus follows her, his body tense, his passionate eyes wide open, his feet crushing the heated mountain rocks. After a few seconds they disappear in the dark shrubs, leaving behind the distant echo of a primordial ecstasy.

My arms ache. I take my foot from the break. I can breathe normally now.  It’s over. I slowly pull the car on the right of the road, and stop again. Out of nowhere, I feel his hand touching mine. I turn my head. Jacques is sitting by me, his cold blue eyes piercing into mine. Why is he here? I left him behind in Athens. I left him with Miriam and Angelo! I stare at him, and suddenly I can hear the nymph’s laughter. Oh No! Not again!

 

The Dream

La Ventana de Rosa, Mission San Jose, picture taken by the owner of this blog

 

Miriam, Angelo, and I were sitting at our usual table in that small Mexican bar that we all used to love so much. The evening was new, colored by the magnificent purple of the tall jacaranda trees. Cars were rushing through the noisy streets as rapidly as the blood coursing the arteries of a febrile, humongous body.  Miriam looked tired: dark circles around her eyes; an unusual pallor to her face.  An almost moribund evening light, filtered through the large windows of the bar, was making her hair shimmer.

The ice was melting in our glasses. I tried to take a sip from mine, but my hands were shaking. Angelo looked straight into Miriam’s eyes:

“You need to start selling some of your paintings.”

Blue veins appeared on her forehead, and a dismissive look flickered in her eyes.  She replied in a dry voice that I did not recognize:

“Sell? For that I need to take up photography. Can’t do it Angelo, can’t do it! You know better than that. My paintings are my soul. Who needs that? And in case anybody needs my soul, how much should I ask for?”

I watched both of them closely. I did not intervene. Something was wrong with Angelo lately, but I couldn’t tell what.

He said: “You are too young to think like that!”

She replied quickly: “And you are too obtuse today!”  Her tone of voice made it clear: that conversation was over.

They felt silent. Finally I managed to take a sip from my glass. The noise in the bar grew louder. My head started aching, and instantly last night’s dream rose from the depths of my memory. I was standing in the middle of a large, round room, its walls colored in purple. The ceiling was high, dark, filled with stars. The checkered tiles under my feet were cold like ice. A crepuscular light was coming from nowhere. Painted on the purple of the wall was some unintelligible, magnificent, yellow writing. Cautiously I started moving toward the wall. The closer I got, the darker its purple became. For a few seconds, the yellow writing started fading, only to appear immediately more luminous, scintillating, dancing on the notes of some mysterious melody that I could not hear. I was mystified.  I stopped walking. I quickly realized that there was something wrong with that room: it had no doors and no windows! I was trapped! Fear inundated me. My breathing stopped, my vision blurred. I started shivering. The voice came out of nowhere: “Welcome to my soul, Clara!”  His familiar laughter fallowed, enveloping the room in its warm tonalities.  I turned around, my hand grasping at my chest. There was nobody in the room, but me. Yet I heard his voice. It was Jacques’! It was his laughter. I could even feel the heat of his body around me. Somehow, I understood. I was trapped in his soul!  I was trapped in his soul, and I was suffocating! The writing on the wall became intense, almost blinding me. I remember thinking: How did I get here if there are no doors and no windows? After that everything turned black.  I woke up screaming, soaked in perspiration. I got out of bed, and opened the balcony’s doors. A fresh morning was being born from the waves of the ocean.

I heard Angelo’s voice as if coming from a tomb: “Clara, Clara! Are you OK?”

I stared at him. He had a mischievous look on his face, his black eyes wittingly cemented into mine. Something told me he knew what I was thinking.

I answered “Yes, I am.”

Quickly I turned toward Miriam. She seemed better, her pallor gone, her glass emptied.

I asked: “Wasn’t Jacques supposed to be here?”

She said: “He got caught in some business. He can’t meet us tonight.”

“Miriam, have you ever painted his soul?”

Her chestnut eyes narrowed, her face looked petrified.

“What?”

“Have you ever painted his soul?”

A long pause followed. After that, Angelo’s mischievous look appeared on her face. A flicker of a vague enigmatic smile on her lips came, and disappeared quickly in the shadows of the room.

She answered: “I can’t even begin to imagine what his soul looks like, Clara. Can you?”

Yes, they knew what I was thinking. In an imperceptible way they knew. And no matter what, I was going to find out how they knew. I turned my face toward the window: the jacaranda trees were long vanished in the night, the street lifeless, dark and empty. Where did everybody go?