Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quest for Poseiden

Her face remains in my consciousness. Hers and the baby's, both panting from the exertion of running after the bus, shouting for it to stop, the mother jostling the baby up and down, until both grew short of breath. The mother was dressed in some nondescript dark clothes, the baby's pink sweater drew some color into the woman's sallow face. They were both almost toothless, the baby too young to have many teeth, the woman too young to lose hers. The baby had fine brown hair and the mother's hair was thin, a bald spot on her head, the scalp showing through at other places. The baby looked around and smiled straight at me, as the bus started up again and the mother struggled to find the money for their tickets. I could hear them panting in unison as they brushed past me to sit by one of the windows.

The little girl craned her neck to look at me, grinning silently as I made a funny face at her and waved. The mother kept smiling too, strained and as if forced to, as the conductor spoke harshly to her in rapid Greek. Others in the bus looked at them disdainfully, shrinking into their seats. They were obviously peasants, perhaps even Romany, boarding the bus in the empty countryside. The mother had become acccustomed to being treated the way she was, smiling her strained smile, half-conciliatory, half-sad. The baby still smiled openly, widely at strangers.

The sun dissolved into darkness in an instant as we continued on from Athena's busy domain to the lonely kingdom of Poseiden. We had seen a photograph of his temple and had not been able to find anyway to get there, except as part of an orchestrated bus tour. We wanted to go there on our own and after many false starts and bad advice were finally were on our way to Cape Sounier.

In the dark Greek countryside the Aegean sea came into view, its waters illuminated briefly by the headlights of the bus. We were close. As the bus struggled up a hill I saw it.

White pillars, no roof, perched on a hill where the god could see the sea from different angles, revel in all its different moods and command its depths. How many hundreds of years had it stood there, overlooking his domain, the house of Poseiden?

The temple complex was closed by the time we reached but we could see it from the open courtyard of the closed restaurant at its base. The temple glowed in the moonlight, its strategic lighting seemed to make it hover over the darkened hillside. As if it really wasn't there. I stretched out my hand towards it and touched air. That is at is should be. Who should really be able to touch the house of Poseiden? It should remain as it is. Untouchable, unattainable...out of reach to mere mortals.

I knew the sea lay beneath us, as I stood by the side of the cliff, though I could not hear it. It was eerily silent. I could see the occasional boat glide by, its lights illuminating the still waters for a while. The Aegean has no waves, no tides. It is majestically, mysteriously silent.

As silent as Poseiden is in his destroyed temple. Why does he not scream? Lament the loss of his dominion and his influence, first losing to Athena and then to the inroads of semitic faiths? This is his temple, his house...not a tourist attraction. Mortals should not walk through and touch what is his. Ancient sailors looked to the glowing temple as they neared land, knowing they were safe, that Poseiden was happy and they were alive. Now it stands mute and abandoned, forgotten.

As the cool winds flowed in from the sea, goosebumps rose on my arm, making me shiver. And then, I heard Poseiden sigh. He might be quiet, the sigh told me, but he is not dead. He lives in the sea...and he is patient, awaiting the return of his faithful. He is Poseiden and in his silence itself there is power and strength. I looked up at his temple and smiled.

The headlights of the last bus to Athens cut a swathe across the darkness and we ran to meet it, not wanting to be stranded. I watched the temple recede and disappear into the night. As I fell asleep inside the dark interior, I wondered if Poseiden ever sleeps.

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