a r r i v a n z a

[ 22:10 thursday 6 february – piscita, isola di stromboli ]

i’m here, i’m back on stromboli!

the conditions yesterday did indeed render a landing at stromboli impossible. i sat watching its grey triangle emerge out of the rain on the port bow and pass agonisingly by. i could see clouds of steam rising from the sciara where the new lava flow enters the sea. we passed by panarea too without attempting a landing. at lipari the captain made five runs at docking, which took over an hour, but each time the wind forced him to back away again. in the end he abandoned the attempt and headed straight for milazzo on sicily’s north coast. there we docked at half past seven, twenty-two hours after i’d boarded the ship.

first i checked into a little hotel and deposited my bags. then, not having eaten a proper meal for two days, i went to a fish restaurant i know and wolfed down a pile of their home-made pasta with broccoli and bottarga di tonno (tuna eggs which have been dried and seasoned). yes, it was exquisite. then i went back and fell asleep at once.

this morning i woke at nine and phoned the shipping company office to check the situation. they said the 10:00 ship would be operating and they thought things had calmed down enough that it would be possible to land at stromboli. so i got my things together, grabbed a couple of jam-filled croissants and got to the ship. it was a beautiful departure, a broad panorama of snow-covered mountains with alternating patches of black rainstorms and sunlight roving across the leaden sea. slowly stromboli grew larger ahead of us. an officer came round asking for documents from everyone who wanted to land at stromboli to be checked against the list of formal residents. i sat with my book and pretended not to hear, my heart beating noisily.

after two hours we were drawing close. suddenly we were engulfed in a fierce rainstorm and visibility dropped below a hundred metres. the ship slowed to a crawl and we continued. once again the scattered passengers were pressed against the windows in silence. from time to time a gap would open and we would glimpse a part of the mountain before the clouds closed over again. one such opening revealed the miraculous fact that the top of the mountain was white with a once-every-thirty-years covering of snow.

the rainstorm passed and we came in sight of the quay. the sea was still rough, breaking white over the concrete platform. but it was clear the captain was going to try to dock. the anchors dropped, we turned slowly and crept astern metre by metre with the anchor cables holding us steady. the first line thrown across to the quay fell short and the stern began to drift sideways. the second line was caught and secured. other lines went over and little by little the ship inched backwards until the gap was just a couple of metres. at this point i quietly collected my bags and slipped down the companionway to the stern.

i got down there just as the ramp began to lower. one of the officers saw me and came over with a quizzical look. my heart was in my throat as he said surely i was going to panarea. i did my best to look surprised and said very emphatically “no, i live on stromboli”. he still looked unhappy but at this point the ramp bumped down onto the concrete quay and everyone was shouting “vai, vai, vai!” and people were running in all directions. in a couple of bounds i was on the quay, back on stromboli, with a great sense of jubilation.

the description of what i found here must wait for another time. for now suffice to say the house is fine, although the storeroom is indeed devastated. my slides are undamaged. i’ve started the job of cleaning the place out. there’s a fire burning in the wood stove. i’ve greeted many of my friends and established details of what’s going on.

right now the sea is growing rougher again and the wind is strengthening. from time to time there is a flash of lightning. occasional squalls of rain pass over but between them the stars are bright in the inky sky. the clouds over the entire western flank of the mountain are glowing a deep red. after sending this mail i’ll set off for punta u bronzu. it’s time to see this new lava flow with my own eyes.

i’m back.

: c* * * * *

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