Category Archives: Stromboli

p h o t o s : stromboli ix 2010

[ 00:43 wednesday 20 april – haggerston road ]

here are fifty-four pictures from september’s trip to stromboli. catching up with old friends, getting to know matteo’s family, the birthday party he organised for me, long idyllic days beside the sea, the tempest which held us captive on the island on the final day. it was a very happy time (though not without its little stresses).

in four days i shall arrive on stromboli once again. i think matteo and i are slightly apprehensive about seeing each other for the first time in a month and a half, but mainly we’re excited. this will be like meeting for the first time. something new and different.

: c :

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m a t t e o

[ 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 :

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p h o t o s : washington, trapani, stromboli, palermo

[ 23:22 tuesday 16 february – haggerston road ]

here’s a crop of fifty-eight photos from last september:

washington dc (ix 2009) : 14 pictures : in washington dc to represent one click orgs at harvard’s summit on next-generation governance, hiking the entire length of rock creek park, exploring the back streets.
trapani (ix 2009) : 20 pictures : out and about in trapani in turbulent weather. abandoned marble factory, ruined tonnara, swimming off the rocks.
stromboli (ix 2009) : 11 pictures : a stormy week with my friends on stromboli.
palermo (ix 2009) : 13 pictures : the festa della madonna delle mercede in palermo.

one picture from each set posted below.

: c :

v i d e o : stromboli ix 2009

[ 02:58 friday 4 december – haggerston road ]

here’s a 6 minute film edited from the footage i recorded on stromboli at the end of september. the weather in sicily  that month was rather savage. there were flash floods across the island. cars were submerged in trapani. hill-side houses collapsed in a mudslide in the suburbs of messina. i reached stromboli on the final boat before communications were cut off by a fast-rising scirocco. four days later i departed in the face of another scirocco. the crews running the siremar hydrofoils between milazzo and the eolian islands are courageous men. it seems to me they love their work most when it’s stormy.

the video is recorded in high definition. to view it at a larger size, right-click anywhere on the video and select “watch on you tube” from the menu.

: c :

f a c c i e

[ 08:58 monday 28 september – bus from central palermo to punta raisi airport, sicilia ]

it’s touch and go whether i’ll make my flight back to london. i got to the station quarter of an hour early for my 8:09 train. after twenty minutes it struck me as odd that the station was swarming with people, predominantly school children, but i hadn’t seen a single train. this seemed ominous for peak time on a monday morning. arrivals were being announced and passengers advised to stand back from the edge of the platform but no trains were materialising.

i asked an old man on the platform who said “if the train doesn’t come, maybe the next one will” which was admirably philosophical but not exactly reassuring. 8:09 came and went. then the indicator board mysteriously went blank and details for the 8:39 appeared on the next platform. i searched out an official who apologised that there was a strike and all trains were cancelled.

once i would have felt irritated that no signs had been put out, no announcements made, to warn travelers of the situation. but my relationship with sicily has reached a point where i accept her foibles, perhaps even feel affection for them. so i simply rushed outside and got a seat in the half-hourly bus which runs from the station to the airport.

that was half an hour ago. this is the peak of the morning rush hour and we’re still battling through the palermo streets towards the autostrada. my chances of reaching the airport before check-in closes are evenly balanced.

i flew into trapani last saturday with sergio and spent several days there with his family. then on tuesday i journeyed to milazzo and took wednesday morning’s first hydrofoil to stromboli. the crew told me a scirocco was rising from the south-east and they were uncertain if they’d be able to dock. indeed there was a large sea running by the time we reached the island three hours later. but they managed to come alongside just long enough for me to leap off.

that was the last boat to dock until saturday. within an hour the waves were crashing down on the quay. there’s a special atmosphere on the island when it’s cut off like this. nobody arrives, nobody leaves. then after two days the wind and sea shifted ninety degrees and a maestrale came up from the north-east. now the waves pounded spiaggia lunga whilst scari and the quay fell into the lea of the island. stromboli was re-connected to the outside world.

yesterday afternoon as i was packing my bags the wind shifted back to the south-east and waves began to lick the sides of the quay again. one of the two companies running hydrofoils to stromboli cancelled their services. but my boat managed to come alongside. the hydrofoil was pitching and lurching alarmingly as we ran up the gangplank. it was the roughest i’ve seen anyone dock there.

the journey back to milazzo was quite an adventure. every few minutes the forward foils would catch a wave and the bow would slam down sending torrents of water over the cabin. i have the greatest admiration for the siremar crews. they continue to operate these machines masterfully under conditions in which most would stay in port. we reached milazzo right on time and i caught the last train to palermo.

it was eleven in the evening when i arrived in palermo. after my time on stromboli and with sergio in trapani i was expecting palermo to be the anti-climax of the trip. but sicily blessed me with one last surprise and i found myself in the chaos of a religious festival in the quarter where i was staying. a huge statue of the madonna was being carried through the streets by young men with priests and white-robed women carrying candles in front and two fifty-piece brass bands following behind. every twenty metres a handbell would ring, the statue would be set down and one of the bearers would shout invocations at the statue at the top of his voice to be affirmed by the rest of the bearers with an impassioned cry of “viva maria!”. all the while the bands kept playing, one alternating with the other to save the musicians from complete exhaustion. it was incredibly moving, there were moments when i had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

dangling my camera, video camera and audio recorder from various limbs i threw myself into the thick of the procession. it took an hour passing down via roma before pausing and turning into piazza sant’anna. the piazza was blazing with ornate festal arches studded with coloured lights. as the procession entered a welter of fireworks commenced which rose to a deafening crescendo. fragments of burning carboard began to rain down and people started retreating nervously before a series of huge explosions marked its finale. the statue passed into the small plain church of maria of the mercede. there was an awkward moment when it came off the ramp to its resting place at the alter, triggering a thrill of terror that some harbinger of bad fortune was about to transpire, then a final heave restored her to her resting place and everyone relaxed.

i ate a carton of panelli on the street, drank a few glasses of rum at the tiny bar “monkey” on the piazza where i met some friendly musicians, then it was time for me to retire and get a few hours’ sleep.

thus sicily continually tests me and shows me her different faces. it is a place, a people, where i find a vividness and intensity of life that raises me above myself.

we are on the autostrada now. i think i will reach the airport in time.

: c :