LEISURE LETTER 79: THE LATEST MANIFESTATION OF SHANGRI-LA

It was only by accident that I stumbled upon the latest incarnation of Shangri La. It was floating there just above the medieval ramparts. Airy boughs of cypress, grown from within, extended out over this impenetrable wall. 


I had driven down to the coast with my lady, hoping to escape the heat in the center of the island. 


We got some sandwiches and parked at our favorite beach. It was sunny with big bulbous clouds and the air was cool and fresh and I was thankful for the restorative breeze.


We found a spot for the umbrella in the hot sand. There I left my lady. I went to the water, went for a swim with my scuba goggles and the one flipper. The reef was very impressive from behind those goggles. The fish – they were everywhere, arrays of colorful fish, a stingray, a turtle. So far the day was going just fine. 


Once I got back to my lady I lay down next to her and let the sun give me a roast. And then I decided to leave her again, this time for a walk. Nothing like a long walk on the beach in the early afternoon. I left my lady with her tanning oil and her high-fashion magazine. 


Where ya goin? she asked.


I said: I don’t know . . . a walk, I guess. 


She just blew the bangs from her face like she was whistling. Then she looked back at the high-fashion magazine. 


I walked away. The sun was still pretty high and the wind was blowing pretty nicely. I was squinting out to sea, scanning the sparkling shades of dark blue and turquoise, the crystal clear water by the shore. Kite surfers flew gallantly across the white capped waves, like airplanes. Flying even higher there were airplanes too, these big silent gliders making arcs across the sky, skirting the sun like Icarus. 


I kept on walking. Eventually the sand came to a joint in the coast where the cliffs stuck out and the waves were crashing on the rocks; I was further along than I could ever recall having gone. The sun was a little bit lower now: a warm golden light and an infinite convoy of easterly clouds passing through the wide open empyrean.


What a day, I thought to myself. 


I kept going. 


That’s when it hit me. That smell of jade and the cool tingling bells . . . water trickling from an unseen fountain. Over there, at the other side of a calm shaded cove: medieval ramparts hiding beneath the ivy vines. Over there and way up – flutes of white marble and gilded cupolas suspended above the ramparts: the floating white towers of Shangri La.


By then I was hopelessly intrigued. I went right up to the big stone wall and started tugging at the vines. They broke off and fell to the ground one by one. Scouring every inch I could hardly find the slightest chink or groove – nothing with which to climb the mystic walls of Shangri La.


If only I had a grapnel or a siege ladder . . . 


Alas, I had nothing. That’s when I heard the sounds – bells and chimes – and there were these strange old-world scents drifting down from above. The sun was beginning to set, it was getting dark and the waves were like thunder striking the rocks back at the joint in the coast.


Again, concentrating up over the wall: colorful ribbons of luminous light cast throughout the white towers and clover arches, playing among the intricacies of the glazed tile facade. It was a sight to behold.


Finally I found my grip, hands and feet, scaling the walls of Shangri La. At the top I waited and watched, peering through the time-worn crenellations. I went over the edge . . .


. . . To meet the hard ground of polished checkered tiles: I nearly slipped . . . recovered, electing to get my bearings . . . the lay of the land. 


I found myself in an open plaza with a large rectangular pool. Surrounding the pool there were even-spaced yellow umbrellas to shade no fewer than one hundred chaise-lounge chairs of white-leather upholstery. Further out in the periphery I was struck by the impressive mosaics and caryatid walls.


What made it so strange was the emptiness. I had the whole place to myself. All quiet except for the rustling of the jasmine leaves and the tingling wind chime. Somewhat dazed, I took up residence on the closest chaise lounge, drifting off on the current of a pleasant snooze. Only to be woken by a tap at the shoulder. There stood the tuxedoed garçon, smiling.


Refreshments sir?


Yes, um, thanks, um, maybe you could surprise me?


Certainly, sir!


He came back with something on the rocks, a sprig of mint and a big slice of orange. 


I told him thanks. He said, you’re welcome. And he asked if I would be joining the festivities later tonight: a party for Lady Magnifique.   


Um, no, um, thank you. I’ve got my own lady I gotta get back to . . . But thank you, I really appreciate it, um . . .


A gracious man, this garçon, he totally understood. As soon as the drink was finished, he spared my having to descend the wall, leading the way down to the secret dungeon exit, out the wine-cellar-door of Shangri La.


Be sure to knock next time, Sir. You’ll always be welcome at Shangri La . . .


Later on, when I tried to tell my lady all about it, she just looked at me like I was crazy, like she always does. No worries, I wouldn’t let that look stop me . . . I went back the very next day. Same heat, same bulbous clouds, kite surfers and airplanes. Same walk down the same beach, rounding the corner to the same mystic cove and the big rampart wall. Only this time there was no Shangri La. Instead there was just another mansion. Someone’s vacation home. 


Deep down I knew it was all too good to be true. Oh well – I still go back to that beach from time to time, especially when the heat gets really bad out at the center of the island. My lady still likes to go with me – she likes to tan, to read the high fashion magazines. I still like to swim with my scuba goggles and flipper, swimming with the fish, the stingray and the turtle . . . And I still go for a walk. Even so, I’m sure you can guess my real intention, going back there and all . . . Deep down I’m just waiting for the next manifestation of Shangri La.

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