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Rosa Maria, a young history teacher at Lisbon University, leaves with her daughter Maria Joana on a Mediterranean cruise. Rosa Maria is to meet her husband in Bombay, from where they’ll head off on vacation together.
The ship stops in various ports and Rosa Maria discovers cities that she’s known through books or she’s evoked in her classes, but that she’s never had the occasion to visit.
The voyage takes the two women from the ruins of Pompeii to Athens, passing through Istanbul and by the Egyptian pyramids. It becomes a journey of initiation through Mediterranean civilization and a recapitulation of everything that has marked western culture.
During the cruise, Rosa Maria encounters and is captivated by a renowned businesswoman from France, a former Italian fashion model and celebrity, a Greek actress and singing teacher and, in particular, the ship’s captain, an American of Polish descent.
In the ship’s lounge, the women dine with the captain. They all talk in their own language and they all understand each other, thereby recreating an ideal tower of Babel.
But when they head for the Persian Gulf a strange, unsettling event disturbs their dinner…