[ 23:41 sunday 9 january – haggerston road ]
on saturday the first of may, a little before seven in the morning, i reached stromboli on the overnight ship from naples. it was a perfect spring morning. the flat sea gleamed like silk. the sky was cloudless. dolphins raced and jumped either side of the ship’s bow as we neared the black triangle of stromboli. i caught one of them in mid-air with my camera.
the ship dropped anchor a few hundred metres off the port, turned and backed slowly until it was close enough to put a couple of lines to the quay. the anchor chain was wound in until the ship was firmly held in position and the ramp started to creak down to meet the quay. i was one of the first off, carrying the big rucksack on my back. i hadn’t slept much on the voyage or the previous night but i was filled with excitement and emotion to be back on the island.
there were many familiar faces in the throng of people waiting on the quay. i was overjoyed to find my friend pasquale, whom i’d thought was in australia. we greeted each other then he got back to his work. i walked up to the malandrino restaurant and had a coffee and pastry with my friend paolo. then he took me down to his house on the rocks in piscita where i’d spent my first winter on stromboli, and which he was generously lending me for the coming week.
alone in the main room, a spacious open cube with white walls and a polished cement floor, i put down my bags and stood still. the familiar sense of arrival and peace swept over me accompanied by the soft breeze passing through the room, the twittering of birds outside and the shushing of the waves on the little black-sand beach below. i organised my belongings, changed into shorts and sandals and walked out onto the terrace to look out over spiaggia lunga and breath the sweet air.
thus began the last day of my old life. i spent the rest of it wandering around the island, catching up with friends, seeking out people i hadn’t seen in a long time, reacquainting myself with beloved places, piecing together what had changed in the six months since my previous visit. the first of may is the “festa dei lavoratori” throughout italy, the workers’ day celebration. on stromboli there’s a big party at the port in front of one of the main restaurants with music and free food and drink for everyone. it’s the last big community celebration before the summer tourist season takes over. i knew lots of my friends would be there but by the evening i felt so tired it was hard to summon much enthusiasm for the walk across the island. i sat reading in my kitchen by the light of a candle, soothed by the waves and flickering flame. but in the end i put on my shoes, extinguished the candle and set out for the port, intending to show my face briefly then return.
the party was already in full swing when i arrived. a couple of hundred islanders were dancing and making merry to a band whilst the air was filled with smoke from a row of big charcoal grills on which meat was being cooked. i collected a glass of wine, spoke to some friends and danced half-heartedly. in my memory the picture of what happened next is that the crowd parted and a smiling young man walked towards me through the middle. i didn’t know him but the family resemblance prompted me to ask “are you matteo sforza, luigi’s brother?”. an hour later we were at the end of fico grande’s ruined old jetty, kissing.
the days that followed were sublime. matteo was working in a shop during the day. in the evening he would come to my house where we would eat dinner, play music, talk and dance. towards the end of the week we took the hydrofoil to lipari together to visit matteo’s older sister anna. the last evening carried the heaviness of everything we were trying to avoid thinking about. all too soon it was time for me to board the hydrofoil to milazzo and watch matteo’s face shrinking to a speck on the quay. i felt numb. matteo had talked of visiting london in october but it seemed distant and unreal.
three weeks later matteo arrived in london with his over-stuffed suitcases. i met him at the airport and led him back joyously to my house in dalston. we haven’t looked back since.
here are the photographs from that enchanted week on stromboli when i met him.
: c :