i s o l e

[ 22:20 monday 1 october – casa melo grano, piscita, isola di stromboli ]

well here i am, back on stromboli. i sit cross-legged on the roof of my current home with the powerbook on my lap and a caving torch strapped to my head illuminating the keyboard. to my left the full moon looks down from a perfectly clear sky. in front of me the volcano rises black against the stars. behind me the sea rushes and sucks at the pebbles. a warm breeze, heavy with jasmine blossom, blows across me as i write.

the last two weeks on pantelleria with seb and karen were as close as i come to a holiday. i did write and submit one funding proposal for circus foundation’s bushlink project, aiming to develop basic digital telecommunication networks for remote villages in africa, but that was about it. i continued to check my mail every few days, connecting in the back room of a local shop thanks to an arrangement negotiated by seb with the lady who runs it.

we were living in a wing of an old farmhouse surrounded by vineyards. our landlord, batiste (whose wife’s family formerly inhabited the place), was a splendid character. scrumpled face, shock of white hair, gruff basso-profondo. seb, a connoiseur of italian dialects, wept whenever he heard him speak. by the time one gets that far south people are more or less speaking arabic. batiste was magnificently kind, dropping off bucketfuls of grapes every few days and towards the end of our stay inviting us to a feast with what seemed to be his entire family. afterwards i could scarcely move. at seb’s suggestion i showed batiste a convincing photo-montage, manufactured by bobo, depicting osama bin laden doing something unspeakable to the younger bush. this provoked great delight, together with a request to see them the other way round. i was able to oblige after a few minutes cutting and pasting in photoshop.

pantelleria was the first bit of italian territory to be “liberated” by the allies during the second war, a sort of appetiser before the invasion of sicily. mussolini, lacking any aircraft carriers, had turned the island into a static equivalent (though this turned out to have a few strategic shortcomings). the official history describes a prolonged aerial bombardment of the island by the americans, reducing its mediaeval port to rubble. however we met a fascinating old photographer, resident on the island since the thirties, who explained that the whole thing was a complete fabrication. the americans landed without meeting the slightest resistance, invited the population to leave their homes and dynamited everything in sight so they could get the propoganda footage they wanted. all the photographs showing bombers flying over the island are fakes.

the result of this terrorism is that the port area is now 100% concrete and entirely unattractive, which is a tragedy. the rest of the island is dotted with the traditional dwellings, which have dry-stone walls of the local volcanic tufa up to a metre thick with lime-sealed roofs designed to capture rainfall in the winter and channel it to a subterranean chamber. it’s a strong and beautiful indiginous architecture. in the last decade the island has become a voguish retreat for wealthy north-italians. these folk generally inhabit huge modern parodies of the traditional dwellings, sporting jauntily domed roofs and with a tufa facing glued to the walls to hide the concrete beneath. the most obscene of them come with swimming pools and rows of giant palm trees imported at several million lira each.

at noon on saturday i left pantelleria on the ship for trapani. since there was no possibility of travelling to stromboli the same day i decided to spend the night there and continue on sunday. after hunting for an hour for a pensione (the youth hostel helpfully signposted from the station turned out to be in erice, several miles away and on top of a mountain) i resorted to the advice of a taxi driver. in sicily this is generally not an intelligent tactic, or at least it tends to be an expensive one. but in this instance the result was that i spent the night in a baroque palazzo bang in the centre of the old town for ten quid. pretty good! trapani is a lovely little city, much under-rated. i was woken in the early hours of the morning by a huge thunderstorm.

yesterday i aimed to reach stromboli. but all the connections took an age and by the time i reached palermo it was clear i was not going to make the last hydrofoil. so i resigned myself to spending the night in milazzo. but i got talking to a swiss lady on the quay when i arrived there and after a couple of phone calls had organised a bed in malfa on the north coast of isola di salina, another of the six eolian islands.

i’d never visited any of the islands in the archipelago except stromboli. the others are lipari (the capital), vulcano, alicudi, filicui, panarea and salina. they form a curving three-pointed star each of whose limbs stretch about fifteen miles.

it was magical to be standing on the open deck at the stern of the hydrofoil, skimming across the smooth water in the violet-hued twilight with the mountainous coast of sicily receding aft, and later skirting the dark masses of the islands.

the “bed” i had organised on salina turned out to be a whole house, ancient and rambling. its owner, to whom i had spoken, was a lovely fellow called renato who runs a restaurant in malfa. i think he liked my impulsiveness. after pantelleria the island seemed overwhelmingly verdent, with trees and flowering plants bursting up on every side. i now learn that it, alone of the eolian islands, is blessed with a dependable natural water supply.

an extremely efficient service of little blue buses connects the disparate settlements dotted around the island’s two peaks. i was interested to discover that the company operating them was formed through a collaboration between the island’s three “comuni”, a fine example of local entrepreneurship.

with a slightly heavy heart i left salina this afternoon and travelled first to lipari, then to stromboli, exactly a month since i departed. from the port my bags and i were conveyed in an electric golf cart (just like st agnes!) to this house at the opposite end of the settlement. midway i bumbed into alice and nancy, with whom i stayed in ginostra, who also arrived back today. alice, a sculptor, has decided to buy a house here (they’re shockingly expensive).

over the coming week i shall finalise negotiations over the house in which landon and i shall live through the winter. the place in question is a stone’s throw from where i sit now. landon leaves his job in seattle on the fifth and makes his way here. then our work begins.

: cH

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