Painting by Natalie Levy
You know how it is when you travel: you want stories and photos for your social media crowd, and you post the usual, the most flattering. You don’t have the nerve to say what lingers most, and why, and how whenever you go where you’ve not gone before, something small and odd is sure to surprise and double you up, clap together past and today. You’ll keep it to yourself because this happiness is sly, and childlike too, and they might chuckle and spoil it. This: sitting in a bed with very white linens in the Antalya hotel, two large windows open to the Mediterranean Sea, and you can hardly bear the joy of it. Tourists from everywhere are sunk into the scene of this resort but for you it’s a sighting of stories that raised you, the biblical Great Sea journeying of Paul and his companions (thence they sailed) to points of their world, tipping them into roil (being exceedingly tossed with a tempest) and almost certain death (but they escaped all safe to land). It’s that vast miraculous crayon blue between countries of pink and lilac and yellow and green on Sunday-school maps, and you remember crowded basement rooms, a spinsterish teacher and all of you neatly in a circle, compelled to be there. That cheerful blue like a womb you crawled into Sunday by Sunday through the boredom and the drone, and here it is for real this touristy day beside the huge impenetrability of geography and history rushing into cliffs, a gleaming sapphire now, the Bey Mountains in the distance, low, hazy, and serene. Palm trees, oleander flowers, those tall grasses with their creamy plumes, and you’re in the midst of the pleasure of crisp white sheets and you look and look at the Mediterranean Sea and your husband beside you falls into a nap, still and strong as a tree, and when he wakes you go down to the water, to the rocky shore at the base of the steep shore ledge and you stretch beneath a blue and white umbrella, you listen to the swell and it’s like the rhythms of the King James Version, and soon, being hot, you decide it’s time to get in. A skiff blows by, sunlight scissors trails in every direction. Your log of a partner is now a frog while you’re cautious because it’s deep and you’re not a swimmer, but you can’t come this far and miss immersion in the blue of long-ago stories. You lower in, get completely wet as if baptized again. Never has a bit of a paddle felt so necessary, extensive, forever. You clamber out and salt water dries on your skin, you taste it on your fingers. You cannot plan for this, you never know in advance – when away – where you’ll discover reunion with yourself.