a few minutes ago i embraced matteo, salvo and my other friends on stromboli then hauled my bags up the gangplank to the hydrofoil and gave a final salute as it pulled away from the quay. today the volcano is sombre with a dense white mass of cloud swirling around the top. every fifteen or twenty minutes a black stain appears in the cloud as an eruption blasts its lava, ash and gases into the air. the weather has been restless the last few days with the wind veering from south to west to north to south to west again and the sea switching rapidly between calm and crashing waves.
i arrived the day before easter with some slight trepidation. what would it be like to be with matteo again so soon after we broke up? would we want to see each other? would the pleasure of being on the island be impaired? within hours of arriving my anxiety had evaporated. matteo and i spent time together each day. sometimes alone, sometimes with friends and family. there was never any awkwardness or rancour. we talked with the same honesty as before. i think we recognised this was remarkable for two people who have just separated and perhaps thought even more highly of each other for it.
matteo’s family were amazingly welcoming to me. they invited me to easter lunch at their house, second only to the christmas meal. there were twenty people at table including three aunts and two uncles who’d come over from puglia, matteo’s brother and two sisters, his older sister’s husband and their two children. the meal was exquisite and continued without pause for four hours. knowing i didn’t eat meat matteo’s mother and aunts had been kind enough to prepare several dishes specially for me. the high point was roasted totani (pink-fleshed deep sea squid) stuffed with ricotta, mint and walnuts. sublime.
for the first time in all my years on stromboli i followed the island’s easter procession before lunch. this is a ritualised portrayal of mary’s reunion with the resurrected christ and a symbolic linking of the island’s two churches. at midday on easter sunday a statue of christ departs from the church of san vincenzo in scari on the shoulders of four men whilst a statue of the virgin leaves the church of san bartolo in piscita. each statue is preceded by banners, bells and chanting with a crowd of islanders following behind. with careful coordination the statues meet each other mid-way between the two churches. as they close the final gap each statue bows several times to the other. at the climactic moment when they come together mary’s tightly-closed robes are unbound to release doves or swallows which fly away having been secreted inside. after this the two statues proceed together to san bartolo where they are placed on pedestals and the priest ends the ceremony with a short address. it was a beautiful piece of theatre, much lighter than the hysterical mortifications of the easter spectacles i witnessed at trapani and marsala. photographs and film will follow.
irene did add a somewhat macabre edge to the story, explaining that the island’s children are pressed into service to stalk the island with nets and clubs the day before easter to catch the birds for hiding under mary’s robe. apparently the young hunters are prone to be a little over-enthusiastic in their efforts resulting in a proportion of the fowl being despatched to the great aviary in the sky before they can participate in the procession.
a couple of days after easter i spent the whole night on spiaggia lunga with salvo, renzo, luca and arianna. we were graced by one of the most spectacular meteorites i’ve ever seen. it arced across the sky in a shallow diagonal right the way to the horizon leaving a thick trail of sparkling light in its wake. we were left whooping in wide-eyed amazement. towards dawn i became completely absorbed watching as the colours of sea, sky and vegetation changed hue minute by minute. then as the sun rose dozens of swallows started to swoop in a circuit around us flying just a few centimetres above the surface of the sea. at the same time thousands to tiny white moths, just one or two millimetres across, appeared around us in a layer a metre above the black sand. none of us had ever seen anything like it before. i felt lucky; more than lucky.
following matteo’s request the island’s priest (don luciano da rico) very kindly gave me permission to play the organ in the church of san vincenzo which i’ve never done before. as we ascended the spiral steps to the dust-covered balcony i didn’t have great expectations of the ancient, rarely-played instrument. underneath the stops was a handwritten maintainer’s note dated 1917. the panting and wheezing emitted when i turned on the pump suggested this might have been the the date of its last service. the air pressure was irregular, one stop produced a sound like a car’s starter motor, several didn’t work at all and those that did work were erratic and outrageously out of tune. but despite this i completely fell in love with the instrument. the principals were chaffy and sweet. the quints were piquant and angular. the acoustic was thick but still intimate. best of all the unpredictable air pressure gave rise to a tremelo effect which sounded uncannily like a human flautist and changed with different combinations of keys. over three days i recorded several hours of improvisation. matteo joined in for some of it.
on my way to the island sergio mentioned that telecom italia was offering a cheap deal for data so i called them to active it. predictably, nothing happened. after several persistent calls to their support centre matteo managed to get it working. but the moment it was running i realised i had no wish to be connected to the internet and the cat’s cradle of services that interlace my urban routine. so i turned it off.
: c :