Odysseus left his tent staggering and started walking on the beach, but had to stop right after two or three steps when an explosion of light blinded and disoriented him. Just awake, and with a horrible hungover from last night´s party as he was, it took several seconds for the hero to get used to the intense Mediterranean sun. At that time he was suffering from such a stinging thirst that it had awakened and taken him away from his fluffy and fresh bed, forcing him to look around his quarters a drink of water even if, in the end, he could not find it. Thus, and in addition to being blind after opening the curtains at the entrance of his tent, the intense heat of those hours in which the sun was hitting him vertically accentuated his already horrible headache, dryness of mouth and heartburn, so he decided to hurry and go to the tent of his friend Achilles to find something to drink.
Odysseus started walking along the beach. The cicadas could be heard in the distance, the waves were gently breaking against the shore and, while dodging among empty bottles and cans, spent cigarettes, broken plastic bags and leftover food and rubbish half-buried in the sand, he calculated that should be mid-afternoon. The beach where he was encamped together with the other Achaeans, and over which he was now walking, was a very long and broad tongue of golden sand infested by tents like his, soiled by the remnants of last night´s party, and dotted by groups of warriors struggling with the same hangover he had, who had already left their tents and huts to take their first swim of the day in the warm Mediterranean waters. Those who did not do that, he knew, had gone to the city to spend the afternoon, or were simply sleeping it off.
Walking and watching, Odysseus remembered the first time he had come to that beach, almost ten years ago. A Trojan embassy had traveled from kingdom to kingdom throughout Greece implementing a brilliant marketing strategy, engineered and orchestrated by the great king Priam, the tycoon and billionaire ruler of troy who had transformed his homeland into a tourist paradise of the highest order in a very short time. The lavish delegation had visited court after court, seducing many Greek kings with the promise that in their possessions would be beach, fun and plenty of chances to entertain them and their numerous hosts. In order to utterly convince them, that wily Priam had put his two sons in charge of this mission, Paris and Hector, famous playboys who had respectively played the role of Eros and Thanatos with the Greek kings: Paris had raved to anyone who will heard about the magnificence of the beaches and landscapes of his homeland, seasoning it with sordid details about the beauty of the Trojan women and their unimaginable lovemaking skills, while Hector had challenged all men to come to his city and hold, as he repeatedly boasted he was capable of, the delirious rhythm imposed by the incessant party he had in his hometown, and he knew well, since he was the owner of almost all the big clubs, bars and night clubs that ever existed in Ilium. In closing, at the ending of that embassy, Paris himself had brought Helen with him, the most desirable woman in the entire Greece, whom he seduced and covered with luxuries, since then becoming the best icon of the fame and glamour that seemed to abound in Troy.
Odysseus himself had also been seduced by those two cunning brothers, and had sailed Troy with their best warriors and friends, despite the reluctance of his faithful wife Penelope. A thousand ships had crossed the Aegean that summer, and had anchored on that beach, which was then a place of untouched and virgin nature, clean, of fine sand and crystal waters, in whose boundaries a pleasant and fresh pine forest stood, only visited by small groups of fishermen. The lands that laid between that beach and the city of Troy, which was well visible only half an hour walking from the seaside, were once full of pleasant villas with their gardens covered with vines which helped to cool in the porches during the sweltering summer season, and between those villas beautiful fields spread out to the horizon where the famous Ilium horses run and were bred. The city of Troy itself was simple back then, clean, and quiet, full of ancient and elegant buildings and genuine and friendly people, who used to welcome the Achaeans with sincere affection and curiosity.
Now, ten years later, everything had changed: the beach had became crowded every summer, ending up completely overrun by tents and huts that, in the end, the Trojans themselves had built and rented to the Achaeans with prices that already had become excessive and exaggerated. The beautiful fields and the small manor houses had been razed in order to build large houses that allow stay to the increasingly numerous visitors as well as numerous bars, taverns, nightclubs, restaurants, striptease clubs, markets, piers, chariots parkings, tanks for the horses, and some palace that some of the richest Achaeans who used to live permanently there had decided to build on that place. The city itself, likewise, was infested by the same things, traffic, people, dirt, houses and palaces, while outside the walls it had grown to twice its former size, and its inhabitants were no longer working in any real job, since they were only engaged in renting their homes and live off from the income, run souvenir shops or hostels, or work in local food and entertainment business. By now they were so accustomed to tourists that they did not cared for them anymore, only for their money, and most of them did not even live in the city but in the outskirts, as far as possible from what was once their own and beloved city.
Odysseus finally arrived to Achilles’ tent lost in the midst of his own thoughts, flanked the entrance guarded by two brave myrmidons soldiers, and entered a hall full of carpets, some couches and tables where a low tray full of fruit and vases filled with the most various drinks was laying. On a couch laid Achilles himself, surrounded by plump cushions, nonchalantly eating a bunch of grapes while drinking wine in a luxurious glass. When he saw the king of Ithaca the bravest warrior of the entire Greece barely moved and only gave him a lazy nod and a few words of greeting. Odysseus looked among all the containers one that might have water, then found it, emptied three glasses in a few seconds, and then laid down on a couch while his friend was still eating grapes.
Achilles had changed over the last ten years, Odysseus thought watching him. He used to be a fibrous handsome warrior envied by men and desired by women, determined, proud, fearless and tireless, but now he had become a big-bottomed, limp, apathetic and careless man, a true sybarite, decadent and prematurely aged both physically and mentally by years of excess, vices, parties, banquets, alcoholism and drugs. He himself had surrendered to that kind of abuse, very abundant in Troy, but at the last moment had stopped without reaching the point of no return that his friend, it seemed, had long time ago surpassed. During all that decade Achilles had been living there he had definitely been more drunk than sober, matters outside parties and nights in Ilium had lost interest for him, and his mental health had deteriorated alarmingly. Now, in addition to all that, just a few weeks ago his faithful friend and lover Patroclus died of overdose in one of the most depraved clubs of Prince Hector, and Achilles had strayed further from reality into his own fantasy world, whatever it was.
Achilles had died, thought Odysseus, and he would have to tell the other kings of Greece about it. The great Agamemnon, who had emerged as leader of all. Menelaus, Helena’s ex-boyfriend obsessed with her enough to chase her around all the Trojan clubs night after night. Ajax brothers, famous for living more at night than at day… All should be told they could no longer count on Achilles, the greatest warrior of all, to enjoy their holidays in Troy. And while Odysseus thought so, watching his unfortunate friend, he felt a wave of disgust, boredom and distressing emptiness, remembering how, when they first came to this beach ten years ago, those two friends, by then intimate, used to share the same dream, the same will to conquer the world, to know new people and discover a new, different and exotic place to explore full of exciting adventures. That dream, however, was short-lived, and they quickly were embroiled in an endless routine of parties, people, consumerism, masses, beach, repetitive horseback riding on those once famed Trojan horse that had no fields to graze anymore, boats trips run by former fishermen around the same depleted and over-exploited coastal places that had already been emptied of fish, and more beach and more parties. Like all other Achaeans in the end they were always doing the same in the same places, always surrounded by many others like them, by tourists, in a place that was waiting for them before they even arrived, and that had become, by or for them, something artificial and superficial, vulgar and empty, and similar to what they could find elsewhere back in Greece.
Odysseus thought all this and felt sad and sorry, there, in the tent of that one who once was his closest friend, the great Achilles, and thought that there was nothing in that place that attracted him anymore, that it was poisoned, polluted and spoiled, and that either he might struggle to find something completely new to do there, the last interesting thing to do there, or he would have no choice but to sail far away to pursue his unfulfilled dream of discovering a truly unique and fascinating holiday destination.
(lee el relato en español aquí)
(read the second part of this tale here)