c a m b i

[ 01:23 thursday 16 april – piscita, isola di stromboli ]

here i sit at the little table in front of the window where i have spent so many thousands of hours typing at successive computers. the window is open, admitting the rush and scrape of waves breaking on the beach beneath. the lights of a yacht several miles out glitter against the dark horizon. the air hangs still and listless, hung between the passing maestrale and the coming scirocco. these are weeks of constant change and volatility for stromboli.

just before eleven i set out on the mule track to punta u brunzu. as is my wont i carried no torch. the night is moonless but once my eyes have habituated themselves the starlight is enough to sense the outline of the path in peripheral vision. i enjoy the heightened sense and alertness that comes with this. one’s feet become like cats’ whiskers, sensing with each step for a loose stone or unexpected root, ready to reply in a moment by switching weight or springing aside. in the absence of artificial light one walks in a world bounded by stars and the wide horizon, whilst a torch shrinks one’s awareness down to the immediate cone of light. tonight the island’s air is thick with the perfume of bushes and shrubs still verdant from the winter’s rain.

having reached punta la brunzu i spent an hour and a half sitting on the helipad watching the volcano. two craters emit a continuous red glow, the pulsing light indicating that magma is close to the surface. one of these, to the ginostra side, erupts every fifteen minutes or so with a broad orange fountain of lava several hundred metres high. the other, to the stromboli side, erupts less frequently with a narrow white-hot jet of similar height, accompanied by a terrifying report and roar. walking up the sky was clear and bristling with stars. as i reached the helipad the whole sky became covered with cloud and within ten minutes not a star was visible. an hour later the cloud dissolved as swiftly as it had appeared and the full panoply of stars was revealed once more.

when i arrived on saturday it was serene and sunny. that night a strong scirocco sprang up and easter sunday saw huge waves crashing on the beaches at punta lena and scari. the waves were breaking over the quay so the island was completely cut off. the evening brought heavy rain. then on monday the wind and waves subsided but later in the day a maestrale sprang up and blew through the night throwing the sea against the rocks here at piscita. this in turn dropped off and tuesday was a glorious day of intense sun. everyone on the island has changed colour, myself included. again today again was hot. tomorrow another scirocco is expected.

to my delight caroline was was able to come over from saturday until tuesday, joining the small group of friends who have visited me on both islands of st agnes and stromboli. meanwhile almost all my stromboli friends are here and there has been the usual thrill of catching up with each other’s lives and adventures. it remains a thing of wonder that so many years after i left the island and returned to london it still feels like i have a life here. after two days gathering threads and absorbing myself into the island’s rhythm it’s as if i never left. every time i come here i’m confronted with this parallel life and the opportunity to pick it up again. but every time it’s clear to me that my path still lies with the complexity and abstraction of my other life and to that i willingly return.

this visit has been particularly freighted with memories. paolo kindly let me stay in his beautiful little house on the lava promontory overlooking spiaggia lunga, which was my first house on stromboli. i lived here for my first six months, my first winter. at this table i wrote the specifications for the school for social entrepreneurs’ learning web in november 2001. in this room i was joined by friends from all over the world to celebrate the arrival of 2002. in this room i learned of michael’s death in january 2002 and constructed my simple shrine as a focus for my mourning.

it was cold on monday evening so i lit the wood-burning stove. i remember it being delivered from lipari and installed by paolo. the only other time i’ve stayed in this house was in june 2003 when sergio and i stayed here for my final week before moving back to london. we organised a huge dinner on the terrace for my friends. sergio and i cooked far too much food including a vast rice salad which ended up being fed to the fishes.

tonight is my last on stromboli for now. i declined several dinner invitations to be here on my own. this afternoon i collected the huge painting of neptune that antonio’s been working on for the past year. it will hang above my piano in london.

: c :

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