“Welcome to Pharos. Laugh and dance in the hammock—not the cradle—of Western civilization,” says author, lyricist, and theatrical producer Barbara Bonfigli. “I’ve been falling in love with Greece since I was old enough to drink retsina. But if Sarah hadn’t captured my imagination you’d never know how I feel about friendship, feta, and the abundance of grace that turns friends into lovers and fishermen into kings.”
When Sarah, a thirty-something American theatrical producer, is asked to direct the locals in their summer show, she picks Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. What follows is a hilarious adventure in casting, rehearsing, and consuming. Her neighbors are excited about acting but delirious about eating. Their rehearsals in a deconsecrated church become a feast in four acts.
Armed with a sizzling wit, a dangerously limited Greek vocabulary, and a pitch-perfect ear for drama, Sarah navigates the major egos and minor storms of a cab driver Caliban, a postmaster Prospero, and a host of fishermen dukes and knaves.
When she falls in love, there are even trickier seas to navigate. Her own offstage romance provides an exhilarating, unpredictable counterpoint to Shakespeare’s story of magic, intrigue, and the power of love.
No one else’s behavior makes any sense.
That’s it! The end of a continuous struggle for meaning since the third grade. That’s when I took a long look at the Brownie pledge. “On my honor I will try . . .” noble and uplifting; “. . . to God and country . . .” I feel like saluting. But then the ending . . . “especially those at home.” Sappy and rambling. I sent off my rewrite to National Headquarters and told them they could use it gratis—a word I may have misspelled. No reply yet, but you can’t expect an organization that sounds like chocolate cake to make snap decisions.
The site of this revelation is the charter terminal at Heathrow, where we’re spending the morning en route to Athens. Icarus Air warns you there’s a price to pay for flying on a shoestring. “Be there three hours before takeoff,” they command. Three hours! Whatever happened to “catching a plane? (I have a little problem with time, which I blame on skipping first grade. “She can already read,” they told my parents. They forgot to mention that first grade is where you learn to tell time, and maybe even understand it.) Nor am I thrilled to be flying with a company named for the only air disaster in Greek mythology. Icarus was the fearless god who flew so close to the sun his wax wings melted. I’m not afraid of flying either. Landing, maybe.
I look over the check-in choices and pick Anthony, sympathetic and snappy looking in a uniform that blends nicely with the ticket counter and carpet. With my French roast and Viennese beans, my pepper mill, yoga mat, and summer reading, I’m probably way overweight. As I get closer to Anthony, I do some tai chi balance shifts and practice sending waves of love in his direction. I also run my fingers through my unruly curls and drag a few over one eye in an attempt to look more vulnerable. And I pocket my sunglasses so my grandmother’s startling blue eyes can destabilize him. Meanwhile my lower mind takes in the drama unfolding between him and the slim-limbed miniskirted French bombshell in front of me.
“May I see your visa for Greece, madam?”
“See my what!?”
Anthony blushes and clears his throat. “Do you have a visa for Greece?”
“Ah . . . Oui.” She nods her blond sheaves vigorously. “I ’ave one partout!”
He smiles a weary, lost-empire smile. “You have a passport for everywhere. A visa is something else.”
“Something else?” She turns to me bewildered. “Comment?”
“Autre chose,” rises from the ruins of my eighth-grade French.
“Pourquoi something autre?” She turns back to him, impatiently clicking her fingernails in time with her stiletto heels.
He reflects, scribbles something, and announces: “I think your French driver’s license will be acceptable.”
Yes! Anthony’s my guy. What’s a little overweight compared to illegal entry?
“Accept a table?” she turns again and practically shouts at me.
“Acceptable?” I try, though I know French cognates are the undergraduate’s Waterloo.
“You are American, no?” she demands. Rude, and crushing. Lots of people think my accent is Parisian. Admittedly they all live in San Francisco.
“I just want to help you,” I say in a soft tone I reserve for crazy people.
“So do I,” Anthony chimes in, picking up my technique of short simple sentences.
“I just want to check in!” says Alex, right behind me. She turns her wheely bag around.
“Where are you going?” I ask in perfect English.
“To a line of my own.”
Alex (Alexandra, if she thinks you’re not taking her seriously) decided to come along at the last minute. But it was Julian’s idea that I take this unscheduled vacation. Julian is my partner in a West End theater company. Our affair ended the same week our play closed. I knew the play had a limited run, so that wasn’t a surprise. As for the Sarah and Julian show, I ignored the critics and willfully overlooked the dwindling returns. Which brings me to the painful conclusion that I’m better at acting than at casting.
Julian thinks it’s a happy coincidence; we can take a break from each other without hurting the business. I think it’s karma, and karma is a rolling stone; better to roll with it than stand in its path. So I’ve been planning a few weeks of uncluttered renewal on a remote Greek island. Uncluttered as in empty beach, cloudless skies, time alone to meditate, work on a novel, and finish an overdue magazine article. Renewal as in retsina. Plus I thought I’d made it clear to my friends that Pharos doesn’t rhyme with Mykonos, Jackie O never slept there, and the nearest mojito is a five-day sail. No burgers, no discos, and as for getting a torn nail repaired, claws would grow first. Whereas the incomparable charms of Pharos I’ve been keeping to myself. So I’m not sure what’s inspired Alex to come. Could it be she’s more tuned in to the state of my heart than I am? Asking would only introduce logic into our relationship—a cheap tactic I abandoned long ago. Is there any chance she’ll last the month? No way, say our friends, who’ve never agreed on anything before. I suspect they’re placing bets; I just wish there were some way to get into the pool. Thanks to Icarus Air, she now has time to plunder in Duty Free. I find her swinging a full basket.
“Why are you buying all this stuff you don’t need and so cleverly didn’t pack?”
“C’mon, Sarah. I thought this was a vacation?”
“Fine. See you.” She slides away.
“And raise you . . .” She doesn’t hear. It isn’t the first time I’ve talked to a wall. But it is the first time the wall replied: GIVE UP trying to understand other people.
(It’s an odd thing about revelations. I’ve meditated at the best places: Ashram in India, hot tub at Esalen, beside the lake in Pokara . . . and I can’t recall the great Aha! hitting me at any of them. Here I am at Terminal 4. Why go anywhere?)
Alex reappears, an outbreak of plastic bags blooming on her carry-on.
“Did he say Gate Fourteen?” she says, chewing on a giant duty free Toblerone bar. “I think they’re calling our flight.”
“I wish I knew,” I say, breaking a piece off the end.
Heathrow’s the summer school for places that teach English as a second language; articles are optional and, interestingly, there’s no future tense. Plus its PA system is a holdover from the Blitz. So the odds of making your plane are roughly the same as colliding with a neutrino. We find another carpet-coordinated employee who says “Leaving! Porto 14 !” Alex races me to the gate, where we stand panting in a line that takes forever to board.
We’re flying in Europe, a continent of smokers who’ve recently been banned from lighting up on planes. Everyone around us has the DTs; they’re desperately uploading caffeine and wishing they could just step out on the wing for a puff. The guy on our aisle is shaking his foot and studying the Icarus Air evacuation cartoon . . . In my opinion they should let people light up and drink from takeoff to landing. All this pent-up fear and deprivation would certainly mess up an orderly ditching at sea.
Give up trying to understand other people, I remind myself. Why, I wonder, has this revelation taken so long?
At thirty-nine thousand feet I look around at my fellow man with a new lightness, the enormous burden of comprehension abandoned at Duty Free. They’re all digging into a mysterious seafood starter. Icarus is an airline that serves food for revenge. Fortunately I have the picnic skills to meet this challenge.
“Alex, let’s have our banquet before the headwinds hit.”
I detect a little hostility from the guy on the aisle, sawing uselessly on his seeded roll as Alex lays out our smoked salmon, pumpernickel, Brie, and Chablis. Unless it’s an involuntary reaction to the cheese, with it’s whiff of socks left out in the rain.
“Would you like some smoked salmon?” she asks him.
“No. Salmon,” says Alex, squeezing the lemon.
“Alex, signome is Greek for ‘excuse me.’ ”
“Thelete ligo—would you like some . . . ?” I try. But the word for salmon escapes me. I point at it.
She looks back. “Pointing is Greek?”
“Oxi, efharisto.” No, thanks. “Eime hortophagos.”
“He’s a vegetarian,” I explain to Alex. “And the Brie is ripe enough to moo, so let’s skip that.”
“We ought to offer him something,” she says, displaying her notorious generosity. “He can have my entire Icarus lunch.” I say in an attempt to imitate her—though you could hardly call this a test.
“Oxi, efharisto—no thanks,” he smiles discerningly.
I pour him a cup of Chablis.
When dessert comes around it’s Turkish delight, in celebration of the three-thousand-year blood feud between Greeks and Turks.
“God, that looks terrible,” she says.
“Not as terrible as it tastes.”
She brings out our crème brûlée. During which I share my revelation, inspiration deleted.
“You mean to say you’ve been trying to understand everyone?”
“Well, not Charles Manson or the Spice Girls . . . but as a rule, yes.”
“What a wild idea.” Alex puts down her spoon. “How’s it turning out?”
“I’ve just given it up.”
She raises her cup of Chablis. “How do you say ‘bravo’ in Greek?”
“I think it is Greek.” And we click.
A few hours later we cross the Corinth channel and drop into the haze of Athens. The landing gear bangs into place. Moments later a stewardess comes over the speaker. “We’ll be coming through the isles to collect unwanted items. Please fasten your cups and throw away your seat belts.”
Sometimes I wish I could follow directions.
To learn about Barbara Bonfigli and Café Tempest, feel free to visit any of these sites.
Order Café Tempest directly from the publisher - http://www.tellmepress.com/pub_ct.php or from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Café-Tempest-Adventures-Small-Island/dp/0981645313
To see the complete tour schedule visit http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2009/05/cafe-tempest-by-barbara-bonfigli-summer.html
Barbara Bonfigli’s website – www.cafetempest.com