Every morning the couple that owned the place sat on the terrace and had breakfast with the other clients. He was probably seventy-five with a large nose that seemed perfectly at home in the middle of a pleasant grandfatherly face. They had likely been the same age when they married, but she had kept a younger physique and her keen eyes made her look like she was calling the couple’s shots. Perhaps he had the money, but she was the one that decided how to use it. Certainly her clothes cost more than his and the girl at the front desk said she played golf at Is Molas.
The room was rather pricey, especially for the southern part of the island, but it was spacious and air-conditioned and there were vast meticulously-kept gardens full of lantana, hibiscus, and a coterie of cactus that fit well with all the flowers, rather like a childhood scar on a handsome face. Next to the pool was a putting green that my daughter and I used more than anyone else, including the Madame whom I never saw grab a club. In any case, the owners seemed very “hands on” which probably accounted for the fact that everything functioned seamlessly and the staff were always polite and on their toes. In such a perfect setting I was intrigued by the feeling that my head might explode at any moment.
When I chose the hotel I didn’t know what the word “Lantana” meant. I thought it might have been the name of an Indian tribe that the owners had expropriated because it had a cool ring to it, like “Cheyenne,” “Cherokee”, or “Lakota”. It turns out that I was partially right when Madame told me her husband had chosen the name because it sounded good in any language and that they both loved lantana flowers. When you pull into the hotel driveway on the quiet street between the center of Pula and the beach, the first thing that grabs your attention is an enormous bush of yellow lantana set next to a manicured lawn as green as any golf course or cemetery. Though I had been to Italy many times, I didn’t remember ever seeing these flowers before. Maybe it was how my mind was structured at the moment that made me notice them immediately and constantly. Besides the yellow ones there were hoards of reddish-gold and others as white as milk. They were as beautiful as any flowers I had ever seen. When one is mingling with madness, beauty tends to take on exaggerated proportions.
The flight had left Geneva at 6h00, which meant we had had to get up a little before 4h00. We landed in Cagliari at 7h20, but the car rental joint didn’t open until 8h00. Small airports can do such things. In any case, we were all rather tired when we finally checked in at the Lantana Resort a few minutes after ten. Fortunately the room was ready and the mother of my daughter and I were able to take a nap. The daughter spent the time pecking her IPhone.
Lunch in the hotel was over-priced as far as the food was concerned, but not if you took into account where you were eating. The terrace was lovely, the waitress attentive and pleasant, and the view of the pool, fountain, gardens, and palm trees magically made the eleven-euro pizza seem reasonably priced even though we would later find out you could get a much better one in the main Pula plaza for half the price.
After lunch we walked to the beach a hot mile away. The air was starting to stick to your skin. But as we got near the sea there was a slight breeze, the sand was clean, the water reasonably clear, and the family complaints were minimal. We were on vacation in Sardinia.
Dinnertime arrived. The maître d’hôtel wore a wide-shouldered cream jacket and looked to have been in the business for at least forty years. The sun was definitely setting on his career, but there was enough bounce in his step and light in his eyes that it was understandable why the owners of Lantana kept him on. He suggested I try the house wine the first evening and that we’d move up from there as the week progressed. I agreed as I was probably too tired to appreciate something special. We had the demi-pension arrangement and would be eating there every night. It turned out the wine was better than average and I went to bed as contented as one with a battered mind can expect to be.
Usually I don’t dream much, but for whatever reason, the first night inside the walls of the Lantana is still with me, as limpid as the sea at the Chia beach, even now, many days after it all passed through my consciousness. It was one of those dreams that wakes you like an earthquake.
She was at the middle of it of course…she and the absolute chaos of living. By chaos I don’t mean noise, jackhammers, and trucks falling out of trees; I mean realizing that the human head might be in no way fit or built to understand what makes anything happen in the world. Of course people everywhere think they know what is causing what and what is going on, but there’s a very good chance that on most fronts everybody is full of shit.
The fact that I hadn’t seen her for six months didn’t make her appearance in my dream unexpected or extraordinary. She still passes through my mind a thousand times a day, perhaps even more now than when we were seeing each other regularly. It’s normal that I would dream about her. What is not normal is how she would be in the dream.
She was no longer bone, blood, and flesh. She was trying to simply stand up, to come to me. Her body kept wilting, dropping, falling. Her eyes were there, linked with mine. But the material world had lost all reality. The eyes were dark, almost black, and hung in space like moons or planets. She was near. I was there. But was there enough of me? Was there enough of her? Was there enough reality to allow us to touch?
I woke up and looked around the room…TV, suitcases, curtains, bathroom door, lamp next to the bed, desk, IPhones being recharged. My daughter was on the foldout bed. Her mother was next to me.
We would stay at the Lantana for a week. I would walk a lot and get to know the city quite well. The wine would be good. The owners would be on the terrace every morning and often in the evening. The flowers would stay amazingly firm and radiant in spite of the heat. The beach in Chia would be as perfect as a beach can be. I wouldn’t dream of her again, but she would always be there, everywhere.