Monkey on a Wine Dark Sea

After two days in Tokyo, Kongo is back at sea. Embarkation on the Amazara Quest was easy and painless. Kongo ate lunch while the stateroom with a veranda on deck seven was being readied and then sipped wine for a few hours while Mrs. Kongo scurried about making spa appointments and whatnot. The ship was underway from its berth in Yokohama at 6:30, just at sunset.


First days at sea are always interesting. Everyone is still happy and the adventures ahead loom large in our minds. You tend to overlook the little things, like the little head (bathroom) in your stateroom that is about the size of an old-style telephone booth or the “slow” wifi while still connected to the shore. (Actually the internet was non-existent. Something about a “technical” issue that hard working experts were laboring mightily to repair. Two days in and it is still down.) In the first hours aboard, all of those things will “be fine.” Just find the bar and relax, you’re on vacation.


Our first day at sea took us on a track from Tokyo Wan to the northernmost island of Hokkaido where we will spend a day in the port of Hakodate. At breakfast, whales were blowing off the port quarter and a brisk wind blew out of the northwest. Some passengers complained about the “rough weather.” Kongo, a veteran of 33 years in the Navy, tried not to roll his eyes. The ship did pitch a little but the fin stabilizers prevented any rocking. It was perfect weather for at-sea naps, a fine art which Kongo has perfected.


The Kongos dined with a couple of close friends at one of the specialty restaurants aboard the Azamara Quest, Prime C. The monkey’s pounded filet with a peppercorn and mushroom sauce was stunning. Perfectly cooked, it literally melted in your mouth.


The Amazra Quest is a relatively small ship, holding only about 600 passengers. The nice thing about that is it’s not crowded, you get a lot of personal attention from the staff, and you see lots of the same people in different places which makes it easy to strike up conversations. The downside is that you see the same people in different places and maybe you’ve done a mental rack and stack of certain people that you’d rather not see so often. Not to worry. Kongo isn’t a misanthrope and always makes new friends. Particularly at the bar which will never be far away.


So, the monkey knows you’re wondering what the “wine dark sea” thing is all about. The phrase has a certain poetic ring to it but what exactly is a wine dark sea? That’s a great question. In Homer’s epic Iliad and the Odyssey the phrase is used twelve times. Now the interesting thing is that never, ever in either of the Homeric tomes is the word “blue” used. In fact, at the time Homer was busy penning the first novels, the Greeks didn’t have a word for “blue.” Some scholars even speculate that that Greeks were all color blind! But it turns out the Romans didn’t have a word for the color blue either, although they certainly used it in their art and mosaics (the famous Egyptian blue color) and the Greeks used blue colors on certain types of vases. The scene from the Iliad that Kongo likes best is when Achilles, after the funeral of Patroclus, who has been killed by Troy’s hero Hector, stands by his ship and stares sullenly out into the “wine dark sea.” Kongo gets that.

There’s a particular vase, known as a dinos, at the Getty Villa that was used to mix wine with water in a Greek symposium. Around the inner rim of the dinos are painted ships so that when the vessel is full, it would appear that the ships are sailing on the sea. The images below (courtesy of the Getty Villa) show the vase with the ships that could sail on wine dark seas.



As the sun slipped behind the Japanese coast, Kongo experienced his very own wine dark sea. There was also plenty of wine after the sun went down.

Travel safe. Have fun!




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