No Place Like Home

“I can’t believe it,” Dora shouted, still holding the disconnected telephone to her ear: “We won the trip.” Jonas turned from his writing desk, and said: “You’re kidding.” And he sincerely hoped she was kidding because he dreaded the prospect of traveling. He wanted to continue working on his current project, an epic novel written in verse using iambic pentameter which he painstakingly lettered and illustrated freehand for the official manuscript copy. “No, I’m not kidding,” Dora replied: “You can take a break for this. It’s a chance of a lifetime to visit the Mediterranean. We can not, I repeat not, turn it down.”

“Take your girlfriend, what’s her name? She’d love to go.”

“No, I want you to come with me, to share it with me. What’s the matter with you? You know how long I’ve been dreaming about this.”

Jonas put down his pen, pushed away from the desk, and said: “You’re right. When do we leave?”

On the day of departure, Dora insisted on arriving early at the airport. Jonas dreaded the security check. Before leaving the house, he swallowed a tranquilizer prescribed by his doctor for the trip.

Dora watched as Jonas nervously piled their luggage into the taxicab’s trunk. “Don’t worry,” she said: “Your name isn’t going to be on the no-fly list just for getting busted with pot when you were in college.” He followed her into the cab’s back seat, and said: “What about that anti-war protest? I was arrested and fingerprinted by federal agents. They could still have that in their files.” He didn’t breath easy until the plane was in the air. Dora chided him, saying: “See how silly your fears were?” And then she added: “It makes me feel good when you’re smiling like this.” 

After a week of absorbing the Mediterranean sun and living luxuriously as guests aboard a private pleasure yacht, Dora and Jonas’ disembarked at Venice for a multiple day journey inland to explore the Italian Alps region in depth.

In Lombardy, north of Milan, they were enchanted by the city of Lecco, the capital city of Lecco province. Located at the southern end of the eastern branch of Lake Como, it’s a lake of glacial origin, referred to by locals as, Lake of Lecco. Pre-Alps mountains rise from there to the north and east.

At an outdoor café overlooking the lake, Jonas stirred his coffee, and said: “Let’s spend time here. I’ve had enough of that yachting life for now. I don’t care if it costs us more money. I can feel my creative juices flowing here. I’ll make that money back in no time.” Dora wiped her lips with a napkin, and replied: “It wouldn’t take much to convince me of that. Let’s look around to see what we can find in the way of affordable real estate.”

The villa they finally rented wasn’t exactly affordable but they could not turn it down. Located on a beautifully landscaped slope, it had a spectacular view of the city, the lake, and the mountains. “Even if this consumes the rest our savings, it will be worth it,” Jonas asserted emphatically. Then, stretching his arms and taking in a deep breath, he shouted into the sky from the open-air patio: “I feel rejuvenated.”

Local attitudes towards Americans surprised and confused them. The very first time they met the villa’s caretaker and gardener, he told them: “I once thought it was only your government, not you the people. But now, after you have elected the same government a second time, I’m forced to adjust my original assessment. American tourists should all go home. Change your government first. Stop this war. Then come back and we will welcome you with open arms.”

Dora and Jonas tried to ignore political issues during the remainder of their stay at the villa. When they were alone together, they lived in the immediacy of the moment, nothing else mattered. It would come to an end soon enough. Unless something new and unforeseen presented itself, the two weeks for which they had already paid represented all they could actually afford. They vowed to enjoy this time to its fullest.

On the morning of their last full day, while still sitting by the table after breakfast on the patio overlooking Lake Como with its fantastic view of gardens, water, and mountains, Dora cried out: “This is like being in heaven.” Jonas stood to uncork a fresh bottle of wine, and chimed in: “More like Mount Olympus.” Then, raising the bottle towards the sky, he chanted: “Dionysius, son of Zeus and Semele, hear me.” Dora held out her empty glass, and said: “I believe it’s Dionysus, dear. Dionysius was a tyrant, of Syracuse I believe. Anyway, they’re Greek and we’re in Italy now.”

“It’s all Greek to me,” Jonas said, laughing as he filled Dora’s glass, and then continuing: “Hear my plea, oh lord of the grape. Give us the strength to go home and face the music, if that be what we must do. We’d rather stay here, of course, ignoring the whole bloody mess.” Dora sighed and, while swirling her glass to the rhythm of a Vilvadi cello concerto playing in her mind, she said: “I second that.”

The put-put sound of an old van pulling into the driveway in front of the villa interrupted their blissful repose. And then the caretaker stormed across the patio and bellowed in broken English: “Turn on TV. You need know. Time to go, do something.” Dora set her wine glass carefully on the table before standing to protest. “We have one more day remaining,” she said, trying to stay calm: “Come back tomorrow morning at this time and we’ll be out of here. Until then, go tend to your gardens. I have a receipt that validates our payment. It includes today.” With a pained smile plastered on his face, the caretaker listened to what she had to say, then he abruptly exited the patio and disappeared down the slope without further comment.

“I call upon Dionysius and look what we get,” Jonas laughed, holding the wine bottle over his glass to get the last drop.

“It’s time to begin our descent, anyway,” Dora remarked, more to herself than to Jonas. Pushing her glass aside, she reached for the laptop to check her e-mail. “Dionysus be praised,” she shouted: “They’re giving us a credit for the cruise time we didn’t use. Maybe we can come back next year and do this again.” Popping the cork from another bottle of wine, Jonas groaned: “I can’t wait until next year.”

Dora covered her glass with a hand before Jonas could pour, and said: “Don’t you think we’d better stop drinking now? I don’t want a hangover going to the airport in the morning.” Jonas gently removed her hand, saying: “It will never taste better, dear. Plus, we’ve already paid for it. Only two more bottles after this one. Don’t worry about a hangover. Let’s live today like there’s no tomorrow.”

After glancing at her laptop, Dora said: “I can’t believe this is happening to us.” She carefully slid it across the still cluttered breakfast table to Jonas, adding: “Check these numbers and tell me what you think.” Jonas reluctantly pushed his wine glass aside, squinted his eyes to focus on the computer screen, and said: “I’m not in the mood for numbers right now.”

“Okay then,” she replied, running her fingers through her hair and swinging her head from side to side, as she spoke: “Let me tell you what the numbers say. First, our stock value has spiked unexpectedly. Should we hold or sell? Second, we’ve been offered a million plus for the house. Should we sell or not?” Jonas eased the computer aside, making room on the table in front of him to retrieve his wine glass, and said: “Stock value isn’t like money in the pocket, is it? If we actually had cash to live on, I’d think about selling the house right now. As it is, we should go home first. If things workout from there, we can come back.”

“Always the cautious one,” Dora mocked, reaching for the laptop. Folding it, she leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and tried to visualize the immediate future. She had been ignoring world events for three weeks and the prospect of becoming reacquainted made her nauseous. Having visited the area, she dreamed of returning and exploring it further, including the Alps.

The next morning, as the large commercial aircraft lifted into the air, Dora leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. She visualized the garden patio overlooking Lake Como with mountains rising majestically to the north and to the east. She made a conscious effort to imprint that view of the area into her memory for future reference. And then, having been up all night celebrating with Jonas, she drifted off to sleep.

Jonas envied Dora’s ability to block out the world around her. The perception of flying forced him to stay alert. Every sudden change in the aircraft’s motion, every jerky vibration commanded his close attention. He swallowed another pill to calm his nerves but he still couldn’t relax. His awareness of the other passengers breathing and squirming in their seats oppressed him, making him feel claustrophobic. Unable to escape the feeling, he concentrated on it instead, consciously forcing himself to remain under control by shear strength of will. He breathed an exhausted sigh of relief when the wheels finally touched the ground.

When the airport taxi pulled up in front of the house, Dora said: “I didn’t expect returning home to be so depressing. If somebody has offered us a million dollars for this place, I think we should take it.” Jonas pushed himself from the cab before replying: “Give it some time, dear. It may take awhile for us to come down from our vacation high. Nothing will seem right at first but we’ll get used to it again, you’ll see.” She followed him from the cab, and said: “What if I don’t want to get used to it again?” Lifting their luggage from the taxi’s trunk, he responded: “Let’s get inside the house where we can relax first and then we can talk about it. Ninety percent of the people on earth would be ecstatic to own a house like this in a community like this.”

Later in the day, after everything had been unpacked and put away, Dora found Jonas in the front room sleeping in front of the television; and she sat on the couch beside him to see what was on. It wasn’t just the house to which she had become alienated, she realized, after surfing through all the channels without finding something she wanted to watch.

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