a g o s t o

[ 23:45 thursday 22 august – san vincenzo, isola di stromboli ]

welcome to stromboli in august. i’m sitting on one of the terraces of “ritrovo ingrid” splashed by green, red and blue lights. a little behind me are nino, tommy and a female singer. nino has one of those sequencers which gobbles up midi files from the web and regurgitates tacky electronicky arrangements of popular songs, which are mixed with the vocalist’s exertions before being spewed out at high volume. nino sports a guitar and tommy stands before a large keyboard. both of them make the motions of playing but these “live” contributions are strangely inaudible in the mix.

i think it must be a while since nino connected his sequencer to the internet because whenever i pass the piazza they seem to be going through the motions with the same ten or twelve songs. this is a kind of torture. the audience, mainly rich kids from milan or rome done up in their labeled vestements, sit rapt as thought they are witnessing some kind of groundbreaking recital.

somehow i am reminded of a party i attended in london with bobo, roberta, eric, matheo and nana. it was hosted by mtv in a club near leicester square. the cocktails were free all night. a scattering of brightly-lit armchairs in the centre of the space was the setting of interviews being filmed throughout the night. the music was loud and perfectly-reproduced. the place was just crowded enough to say “everyone would like to be at this party but only the mooost exclusive people are invited”. i can’t for the life of me remember how we group of scruffians got in. bobo has a knack for getting tickets to this kind of thing. i recall nana didn’t have a ticket but she is so beautiful she gets in everywhere.

anyway the music was terrible and the atmosphere felt like something you’d be subjected to for punishment rather than amusement. yet every person there was boogying and laughing like it was the best party in the world. the six of us huddled together at a table clutching one drink after another and glancing with dulled horror at the perversely-animated creatures about us. after a while eric got on the floor and started practicing some capoeira moves, which he does rather excellently. a modish but worse-for-wear young man who might have seen capoeira on tv once made the foolish decision to join in. eric’s capoeira report card would say “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” and it was only a few minutes before worse-for-wear was ritually humiliated to the evident discomfort of the cluster of curious people who had gathered round. evidentally this kind of hard-edged behaviour didn’t figure in their idea of “best party in the world” behaviour.

[ 00:35 friday – antonio and nerina’s house ] enough was enough at ingrid so i escaped down here. poor sebastiano was ruefully preparing for his session on the decks as two girls from the supermarket were belting their way through “you’re the one that i want, ooo ooo ooo”. he came and sat by me for a bit. i asked if he was enjoying the summer. he winced slightly and said he could do with a break.

when i arrived here nerina was watering the vegetables with a hose and antonio was sitting cross-legged on the roof of the neighbouring house working out how to use his astrolabe. it’s quite small, all made of brass, a bit fiddly to get an accurate reading. but not so difficult to operate once you’ve got your head round how it works.

the moon is beautiful tonight, peachy-orange. it was full either today or yesterday. hard to tell. the sea is still and there’s a gentle breeze from the north-east. antonio’s edgy about a scirroco arriving tonight or tomorrow.

i spent this afternoon on his catamaran, working at my computer moored off fico grande. in a little while we’ll go back out there to sleep on the boat. there at least it’s peaceful.

being on stromboli through august is horrible. my senses are numb. everything is so surreal. the quantity of people is astonishing. tonight there are ten times as many people sleeping on the island as there were throughout the winter.

everywhere there is the same awful music, night after night. every road is laced with slowly-meandering herds of tourists, guzzling their cannoli, peering through their gucci shades, regaling one another with stories which reveal afresh how beautiful, simple and unspoilt life on the island is. the bars and restaurants are manic, bloating stomachs and dulling brains by the hundred every hour. everywhere is the fever for money. it is somewhat like being amidst hyenas in a feeding frenzy about the carcass of a antelope, snarling at one another as they fight to tear off another scrap of flesh.

my friends and i cling to corners of tranquility where we can find them.

[ 01:35 – catamaran “fera” ] ah this is more like it. i’m sitting on the coach-roof of the port hull in the moonlight with the powerbook on my lap. the keyboard is illuminated by a tiny white led on a bendy coil which plugs into a usb port in the back. it’s rather cute and i suppose a little frivolous. the bulb uses hardly any electricity, perhaps 2 seconds-worth of battery charge every hour. i bought it in london a few months ago. in the past if i wanted to use the computer outside at night i had to wear a caving torch fixed on my head so i could see the keyboard to type.

as we bob about on the dark waves there is the hum of the water being pumped off the tanker ship a hundred metres from us. these ships arrive in rotation during august, there is permanently one at anchor in front of “la tartana club”. this regime is necessary to keep four thousand tourists supplied with endless showers and flushing loos. the ships load up water from the desalinator at lipari (largest island of the archipelago). when it reaches stromboli a pipe is rowed ashore and water is pumped up to a cistern beneath mario cincotta’s supermarket. from there it is pumped in rotation to different zones of the island. every house, old and new, has beneath it a water cistern which is also fed by rain-water collected on the roofs in the winter.

until the 1980s the communities on stromboli were dependent entirely on rain-water, not just for their survival and cleaning, but also for the intensive agriculture to which they subjected the island. at its peek during the nineteenth century sixty percent of the island’s surface area was under cultivation. most of this took the form of narrow terraces carved into the steep mountainside. the remaining forty percent was cliff, sand or lava field. the discipline with which these meagre water resources were marshalled must have been amazing.

the disco has finished for the night at la tartana. the moon is high in the sky. antonio’s on the starboard hull, perched half-in-half-out-of the cabin.

having two separate hulls means two people have a good deal of privacy even in a small catamaran. this one is lovely. just seven metres long, completely wooded construction, very simple. she was built (probably in croatia) from a design by james wharram, an englishman who from the seventies has countered the increasing decadence of modern catamarans with a philosophy based on traditional polynesian designs. the hulls rise high at bow and stern, and are almost symmetrical fore and aft. six transverse beams bind the hulls together. the mast is footed on a larger beam in the centre, parallel with the hulls and supported by three of the transverse beams. the rest is open deck-space, covered with wooden slatting (between which i can see scattered reflections of the moon writhing on the waves). between the bows is a section covered with trampolining, which is very nice to sleep in.

: carolus

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