CHAPTER 7: The Mediterranean in Forty-Eight Hours
THE MEDITERRANEAN, your ideal blue sea: to Greeks simply "the sea,"
to Hebrews "the great sea," to Romans mare nostrum.* Bordered
by orange trees, aloes, cactus, and maritime pine trees,
perfumed with the scent of myrtle, framed by rugged mountains,
saturated with clean, transparent air but continuously under
construction by fires in the earth, this sea is a genuine battlefield
where Neptune and Pluto still struggle for world domination.
Here on these beaches and waters, says the French historian Michelet,
a man is revived by one of the most invigorating climates in the world.
*Latin: "our sea." Ed.
But as beautiful as it was, I could get only a quick look at this
basin whose surface area comprises 2,000,000 square kilometers.
Even Captain Nemo's personal insights were denied me,
because that mystifying individual didn't appear one single time
during our high-speed crossing. I estimate that the Nautilus
covered a track of some 600 leagues under the waves of this sea,
and this voyage was accomplished in just twenty-four hours times two.
Departing from the waterways of Greece on the morning of February 16,
we cleared the Strait of Gibraltar by sunrise on the 18th.
It was obvious to me that this Mediterranean, pinned in the middle
of those shores he wanted to avoid, gave Captain Nemo no pleasure.
Its waves and breezes brought back too many memories, if not too
many regrets. Here he no longer had the ease of movement and freedom
of maneuver that the oceans allowed him, and his Nautilus felt
cramped so close to the coasts of both Africa and Europe.
Accordingly, our speed was twenty-five miles (that is,
twelve four-kilometer leagues) per hour. Needless to say,
Ned Land had to give up his escape plans, much to his distress.
Swept along at the rate of twelve to thirteen meters per second,
he could hardly make use of the skiff. Leaving the Nautilus
under these conditions would have been like jumping off a train
racing at this speed, a rash move if there ever was one.
Moreover, to renew our air supply, the submersible rose to the surface
of the waves only at night, and relying solely on compass and log,
it steered by dead reckoning.