Odyssey on Ice

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San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

October 9th, 2011

The brightly lit sign said 'Odyssey on Ice', a mysterious desert event that had arrived unannounced, perhaps only communicated to those people whose earhorns were attuned to the bullhorns of the local announcement cars.

I had a mental image of Odysseus on ice skates and 108 greedy suitors pirouetting around his faithful wife.

My friend and I bought tickets and stood in the growing lineup. I noticed a large part of the crowd were young children and marveled at their precocious respect for the Greek classics. It was heartening to think the curriculum of the local grade schools was so sophisticated.

More intriguing than the theme of the entertainment was the question of how they managed to get a skating rink to stay put on a warm bed of sand.

We were among the first ones to be ushered to our seats. The frozen gridiron where the Homeric drama was about to unfold was quite small, about twice the size of Lincoln's log cabin. And I admit I was puzzled by the large yellow colored set behind the rink, which appeared to be an Arabian mosque with three onion-shaped domes. I had been unaware of the Persian influence in the architecture of ancient Troy or Greece and I counted myself lucky to be exposed to this new gospel of history. Already the price of admission looked like a bargain, far less than three course credits at any university's Department of Classics.

When at last the spot lights came to life and the first group of thespians propelled themselves through the red curtains, I quickly perceived this extravaganza was going to be something of a challenge. Since Homer's original masterpiece was often symbolical, if not downright allegorical, injecting it into a pastiche of quick-change Disney characters managed to bury the narrative lines so deeply below the flash and glisten of the strobing colored lights that I was, almost from the very start, not unlike Odysseus at sea on his bark. I was repeatedly challenged by fantasmic and incomprehensible islands of strange customs and behavior. Within twenty minutes I experienced an profound longing for my homeland.

By the time the troupe took their last bows and the audience began exiting the big tent, I had managed to assemble a tatty mental concordance of characters and events. Here are the highlights:

  • Penelope was played by Snow White
  • Calypso was played by a jinni who looked nothing at all like Barbara Eden
  • Circe was performed by the Little Mermaid
  • The lotus eaters were dressed up like court jesters
  • There was a pentathlon of jugglers
  • The Seven Dwarfs were the sailors who let the wind out of the bag.
  • Odysseus' ten year return voyage was represented by ten intermissions where sales harpies swooped down upon the audience with armloads of useless baubles
  • The cyclops was an incredibly opaque photographer who perpetually inserted himself between you (and everyone else) and the entertainment
  • There was a Siren under a long platinum blonde wig
  • For most of his journey, Odysseus' ship was crewed by clowns
  • Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jessie played Poseidon, Aeolus and Athena.
  • The sacred cattle were mostly ticket holders
  • At the bottom of the whirlpool was a coven of trinket vendors
  • The winner of the archery contest was the first person to thread the exit door after the curtains closed


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