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Category Archives: Stromboli
[ 02:30 wednesday 24 august - haggerston hall, london ]
between working on my projects and partying i’ve rather neglected the cycle of processing and uploading photos and films. previously the backlog held fairly steady at three months but now it has swollen to a full year. in a couple of days i’ll be fleeing the frenzies of london and heading south to stromboli for a bit. the impending trip has shamed me into editing my film from last september’s visit to the island.
i already uploaded some pictures from the trip back in april.
: c :
[ 15:58 wednesday 3 may - hydrofoil from stromboli to milazzo ]
a few minutes ago i embraced matteo, salvo and my other friends on stromboli then hauled my bags up the gangplank to the hydrofoil and gave a final salute as it pulled away from the quay. today the volcano is sombre with a dense white mass of cloud swirling around the top. every fifteen or twenty minutes a black stain appears in the cloud as an eruption blasts its lava, ash and gases into the air. the weather has been restless the last few days with the wind veering from south to west to north to south to west again and the sea switching rapidly between calm and crashing waves.
i arrived the day before easter with some slight trepidation. what would it be like to be with matteo again so soon after we broke up? would we want to see each other? would the pleasure of being on the island be impaired? within hours of arriving my anxiety had evaporated. matteo and i spent time together each day. sometimes alone, sometimes with friends and family. there was never any awkwardness or rancour. we talked with the same honesty as before. i think we recognised this was remarkable for two people who have just separated and perhaps thought even more highly of each other for it.
matteo’s family were amazingly welcoming to me. they invited me to easter lunch at their house, second only to the christmas meal. there were twenty people at table including three aunts and two uncles who’d come over from puglia, matteo’s brother and two sisters, his older sister’s husband and their two children. the meal was exquisite and continued without pause for four hours. knowing i didn’t eat meat matteo’s mother and aunts had been kind enough to prepare several dishes specially for me. the high point was roasted totani (pink-fleshed deep sea squid) stuffed with ricotta, mint and walnuts. sublime.
for the first time in all my years on stromboli i followed the island’s easter procession before lunch. this is a ritualised portrayal of mary’s reunion with the resurrected christ and a symbolic linking of the island’s two churches. at midday on easter sunday a statue of christ departs from the church of san vincenzo in scari on the shoulders of four men whilst a statue of the virgin leaves the church of san bartolo in piscita. each statue is preceded by banners, bells and chanting with a crowd of islanders following behind. with careful coordination the statues meet each other mid-way between the two churches. as they close the final gap each statue bows several times to the other. at the climactic moment when they come together mary’s tightly-closed robes are unbound to release doves or swallows which fly away having been secreted inside. after this the two statues proceed together to san bartolo where they are placed on pedestals and the priest ends the ceremony with a short address. it was a beautiful piece of theatre, much lighter than the hysterical mortifications of the easter spectacles i witnessed at trapani and marsala. photographs and film will follow.
irene did add a somewhat macabre edge to the story, explaining that the island’s children are pressed into service to stalk the island with nets and clubs the day before easter to catch the birds for hiding under mary’s robe. apparently the young hunters are prone to be a little over-enthusiastic in their efforts resulting in a proportion of the fowl being despatched to the great aviary in the sky before they can participate in the procession.
a couple of days after easter i spent the whole night on spiaggia lunga with salvo, renzo, luca and arianna. we were graced by one of the most spectacular meteorites i’ve ever seen. it arced across the sky in a shallow diagonal right the way to the horizon leaving a thick trail of sparkling light in its wake. we were left whooping in wide-eyed amazement. towards dawn i became completely absorbed watching as the colours of sea, sky and vegetation changed hue minute by minute. then as the sun rose dozens of swallows started to swoop in a circuit around us flying just a few centimetres above the surface of the sea. at the same time thousands to tiny white moths, just one or two millimetres across, appeared around us in a layer a metre above the black sand. none of us had ever seen anything like it before. i felt lucky; more than lucky.
following matteo’s request the island’s priest (don luciano da rico) very kindly gave me permission to play the organ in the church of san vincenzo which i’ve never done before. as we ascended the spiral steps to the dust-covered balcony i didn’t have great expectations of the ancient, rarely-played instrument. underneath the stops was a handwritten maintainer’s note dated 1917. the panting and wheezing emitted when i turned on the pump suggested this might have been the the date of its last service. the air pressure was irregular, one stop produced a sound like a car’s starter motor, several didn’t work at all and those that did work were erratic and outrageously out of tune. but despite this i completely fell in love with the instrument. the principals were chaffy and sweet. the quints were piquant and angular. the acoustic was thick but still intimate. best of all the unpredictable air pressure gave rise to a tremelo effect which sounded uncannily like a human flautist and changed with different combinations of keys. over three days i recorded several hours of improvisation. matteo joined in for some of it.
on my way to the island sergio mentioned that telecom italia was offering a cheap deal for data so i called them to active it. predictably, nothing happened. after several persistent calls to their support centre matteo managed to get it working. but the moment it was running i realised i had no wish to be connected to the internet and the cat’s cradle of services that interlace my urban routine. so i turned it off.
: c :
[ 21:21 tuesday 1 march - the trampery, shoreditch, london ]
it’s ten months to the day since matteo and i met on stromboli. to mark the occasion here’s a film of the very first days we spent together.
: c :
[ 02:58 friday 4 december - haggerston road ]
here’s a 6 minute film edited from the footage i recorded on stromboli at the end of september. the weather in sicily that month was rather savage. there were flash floods across the island. cars were submerged in trapani. hill-side houses collapsed in a mudslide in the suburbs of messina. i reached stromboli on the final boat before communications were cut off by a fast-rising scirocco. four days later i departed in the face of another scirocco. the crews running the siremar hydrofoils between milazzo and the eolian islands are courageous men. it seems to me they love their work most when it’s stormy.
the video is recorded in high definition. to view it at a larger size, right-click anywhere on the video and select “watch on you tube” from the menu.
: c :
[ 08:58 monday 28 september - bus from central palermo to punta raisi airport, sicilia ]
it’s touch and go whether i’ll make my flight back to london. i got to the station quarter of an hour early for my 8:09 train. after twenty minutes it struck me as odd that the station was swarming with people, predominantly school children, but i hadn’t seen a single train. this seemed ominous for peak time on a monday morning. arrivals were being announced and passengers advised to stand back from the edge of the platform but no trains were materialising.
i asked an old man on the platform who said “if the train doesn’t come, maybe the next one will” which was admirably philosophical but not exactly reassuring. 8:09 came and went. then the indicator board mysteriously went blank and details for the 8:39 appeared on the next platform. i searched out an official who apologised that there was a strike and all trains were cancelled.
once i would have felt irritated that no signs had been put out, no announcements made, to warn travelers of the situation. but my relationship with sicily has reached a point where i accept her foibles, perhaps even feel affection for them. so i simply rushed outside and got a seat in the half-hourly bus which runs from the station to the airport.
that was half an hour ago. this is the peak of the morning rush hour and we’re still battling through the palermo streets towards the autostrada. my chances of reaching the airport before check-in closes are evenly balanced.
i flew into trapani last saturday with sergio and spent several days there with his family. then on tuesday i journeyed to milazzo and took wednesday morning’s first hydrofoil to stromboli. the crew told me a scirocco was rising from the south-east and they were uncertain if they’d be able to dock. indeed there was a large sea running by the time we reached the island three hours later. but they managed to come alongside just long enough for me to leap off.
that was the last boat to dock until saturday. within an hour the waves were crashing down on the quay. there’s a special atmosphere on the island when it’s cut off like this. nobody arrives, nobody leaves. then after two days the wind and sea shifted ninety degrees and a maestrale came up from the north-east. now the waves pounded spiaggia lunga whilst scari and the quay fell into the lea of the island. stromboli was re-connected to the outside world.
yesterday afternoon as i was packing my bags the wind shifted back to the south-east and waves began to lick the sides of the quay again. one of the two companies running hydrofoils to stromboli cancelled their services. but my boat managed to come alongside. the hydrofoil was pitching and lurching alarmingly as we ran up the gangplank. it was the roughest i’ve seen anyone dock there.
the journey back to milazzo was quite an adventure. every few minutes the forward foils would catch a wave and the bow would slam down sending torrents of water over the cabin. i have the greatest admiration for the siremar crews. they continue to operate these machines masterfully under conditions in which most would stay in port. we reached milazzo right on time and i caught the last train to palermo.
it was eleven in the evening when i arrived in palermo. after my time on stromboli and with sergio in trapani i was expecting palermo to be the anti-climax of the trip. but sicily blessed me with one last surprise and i found myself in the chaos of a religious festival in the quarter where i was staying. a huge statue of the madonna was being carried through the streets by young men with priests and white-robed women carrying candles in front and two fifty-piece brass bands following behind. every twenty metres a handbell would ring, the statue would be set down and one of the bearers would shout invocations at the statue at the top of his voice to be affirmed by the rest of the bearers with an impassioned cry of “viva maria!”. all the while the bands kept playing, one alternating with the other to save the musicians from complete exhaustion. it was incredibly moving, there were moments when i had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
dangling my camera, video camera and audio recorder from various limbs i threw myself into the thick of the procession. it took an hour passing down via roma before pausing and turning into piazza sant’anna. the piazza was blazing with ornate festal arches studded with coloured lights. as the procession entered a welter of fireworks commenced which rose to a deafening crescendo. fragments of burning carboard began to rain down and people started retreating nervously before a series of huge explosions marked its finale. the statue passed into the small plain church of maria of the mercede. there was an awkward moment when it came off the ramp to its resting place at the alter, triggering a thrill of terror that some harbinger of bad fortune was about to transpire, then a final heave restored her to her resting place and everyone relaxed.
i ate a carton of panelli on the street, drank a few glasses of rum at the tiny bar “monkey” on the piazza where i met some friendly musicians, then it was time for me to retire and get a few hours’ sleep.
thus sicily continually tests me and shows me her different faces. it is a place, a people, where i find a vividness and intensity of life that raises me above myself.
we are on the autostrada now. i think i will reach the airport in time.
: c :
[ 00:31 friday 10 july - haggerston road, london ]
forty-two photos from the week i spent in stromboli over easter, passing through catania on the way. napolitan easter parties, a fierce scirocco, wandering around on the mountainside, showing caroline the island, flotsam and jetsam.
see the whole set here
: c :