a l i s c a f o

[ 17:35 sunday 1 september – hydrofoil from stromboli to napoli ]

this is a rather soul-less way to travel. as with an aeroplane there is a sense of departing and a sense of arriving but between these points is a period of nothing. we left the quay at stromboli just over an hour ago. i’ve been sitting cross-legged on the little deck at the stern (the crew doesn’t seem to mind) with the afternoon sun on my face and the spray rising from the seething water behind us. now i’ve come into the cabin where people are dozing, reading papers and munching soggy cornetti bought from the bar. a cat in a carry-case squeeks from time to time. there is a constant roaring sound much like a jet aircraft, offset by inane radio. it’s soul-less, but it does get me from stromboli to napoli in about four hours as opposed to ten hours by ship.

i’ll stay the night with my friend alfonso in napoli then get a train to rome tomorrow morning, from where i fly to stansted. i can’t quite believe it but in a few days the learning web system will be complete. this visit to london is principally to spend an afternoon taking sse staff and students through how it works. this will provide the first indication of whether people find the system as easy to use as we have tried to make it. during my nine days in britain i’ll also have a chance to meet sse’s new director (rowena young). if there’s time i’ll get down to gloucestershire to spend the weekend with mum and dad.

the system we are completing now is almost exactly what i had in my head in march 2000 when i was sitting each day for a month at the table in ross’ home in sydney designing and building a new website for sse. it’s taken 12 months longer than i envisaged to finance and build the user-managed email and web publishing system to go behind the website. but finally we’ve done it and we can start seeing how it performs in practice.

there’s currently an exhibition of 32 of my photos on stromboli, in the garden of the little bookshop at piscita. typically i only decided to do it a couple of weeks ago. dad and craig despatched ink cartridges and photo paper respectively to me. after a week the cartridges had arrived (by airmail) but there was no sign of the paper. i mentioned this to craig and he let slip that he’d sent them by “datapost” which prompted a tinkle of alarm bells. datapost… but isn’t that a service from… oh no… surely not… parcelforce! but indeed it was, the very same undead travesty of a shipping company to whom i entrusted my belongings to be conveyed from london to stromboli last november (wanderer “m e s o”, 17 november 2001). six boxes were despatched on parcelforce’s 48 hour guaranteed service. five of them arrived after 22 days. the sixth took a couple of weeks longer having inexplicably followed the route london – croydon – rome – croydon – london – croydon – rome – messina – lipari – stromboli.

at this point i gave up hope of staging my exhibition. craig, with every good intention, had chosen their 4-day guaranteed service. extrapolating from my previous experience i might expect the photo paper to arrive after 44 days. craig called their “tracking hotline” who were able to confirm the package had arrived at croydon, but after this point it vanished from their system. i felt very morose.

but on tuesday evening i came back to my house and by some miracle there it was in the middle of the floor, just 11 days after it left london. i wasted no time. by midday on wednesday i’d produced all the photos, constructed mounts out of bamboo and string, designed and printed posters and burned an electronic catalogue on cd-rom. the exhibition opened (quietly) at half past five that afternoon.

so for the last three days i’ve sat at a little table in the garden with my powerbook in front of me as people wandered around peering at my photos of the island. the response has been very gratifying. these hours in front of the computer have also been notably productive, resulting in a user guide for learning web. i’ve even sold a few prints. chiara, who runs the bookshop, has kindly offered to keep the show going for another week in my absence.

this is the first photo exhibition i’ve put on. during the last few years i’ve accumulated thousands and thousands of slides, all of which have been stuffed in boxes and left to gather dust. buying my big epson photo printer last year was the first step to liberating them. in conjunction with the nikon film scanner i got in 1999 this provides a way to produce high-quality prints under my own steam. it took a while before i could reliably get good results. this winter i felt ready to make my first big attack on the back-catalogue, scanning and printing a couple of hundred of my frames from ghana in 2000. the quality isn’t the same as the very best photographically-produced prints but it’s remarkably close. producing high-quality digital prints doesn’t seem to be any less work than doing it the old-fashioned way (every print takes me about 20 minutes). but it’s a lot more convenient to lug a laptop computer, film scanner and photo printer around with me than to set up a darkroom.

i was planning to stick the catalogue up on my website so anyone who wanted could download it, but i notice now that i’ve only brought the high-resolution version which takes up 9mb. i’ll put up the low-resolution version when i get back to the island.

people keep asking me if i’m going to spend another winter on stromboli and i shrug and say i don’t know. why am i so reluctant to decide?

: caro * * *

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