Apologies from your unreliable correspondents delay in penning these consistently unreliable memoirs.
We are closing out a week of slumber, sizzle, slobber and sloth in the beautiful Aeolian Islands.
Our bolt hole has been on the biggest of the islands, Lipari. We have been staying in a grand old lady, The Carasca Hotel. Well past it’s glory, this hotel retains hints of its movie star past- it is where Naomi Campbell belted a paparazzi. Stings majestic yacht is parked out front. The rather exorbitant price (almost double what we have been paying) justified on the basis of ethereal glimpses of the ghosts of the past and glorious views of the here and now from the balcony.
These islands offer a vista resplendent.
Huge rugged cliffs, volcanoes active or shattered having either dramatically blown their load or sizzled their steam; and seas of the deepest impenetrable blues side by side with opaque turquoise. This simple Kalgoorlie boy has never swam in the ocean so much.
The lure of the geography and geology is strong. At once new and ancient, familiar and foreign.
The volcanic activity rings memory bells from our own school days and those of the kids- volcanoes have been the staple of primary school curriculum over generations. Seems we have retained much. Nothing however can prepare you for witnessing the steady steam and lava bursting from the craters of Stromboli (now there is a name). We approached by boat during the day- regular ash erupts from the island, with plumes restricting views from one side of the boat; and moored by night- an awe inspiring pyrotechnic display.
Stromboli is one of the few constantly active Volcanoes in the world. People still live on the supposed “dead side” of the crater!! Uninsurable I suspect. The ancient Greeks called it a natural light house. Yet despite this remarkable history and awesome present, the beautifully set out and informative (lots on volcanoes!!) Lipari museum has a great display of Amphoraes taken from a wreck which joined Poseidon on the seabed before Stromboli’s existence. Remarkable.
Old and new, familiar and foreign.
On the islands, physical has been well and truly complemented by the social.
We have met up with Giuliette, Deb’s close colleague and friend, who’s ancestors roamed (climbed) these islands. Giuliette is a gracious hostess, a welcomed and passionate translator of language, customs and all things culinary. She is gregarious, warm, witty, intrepid, fun- the Italian clone of our friend Lesley.
Giuliette, has introduced us to a wide range of Aeolieon food and wine and the people. A welcome contrast from the comparatively barren experience in Palermo. The local white wine and the seductive sweet, but well balanced, Malvesia has regularly found their way into our hearts and stomachs- complemented by litre steins of beer. They are so good we plan to reintroduce ourselves on our return home.
The Malvesia accompanied us on an island hop yesterday. We have had the pleasure of now visiting or sailing close to all the Aeolian islands. The previous night over a wonderful meal supported by a regularly stream of said beverages, Giuliette had entertained us with a sensitive and heartfelt story of Uncle Tom.
I will not attempt to summarise the story here because I would simply not be able to convey the pathos nor wish to compromise the confidence stemming from conversations involving good friends, good food, good environment and good wine all experienced in the wonderful Kasbah Restaurant. What I will say is that Uncle Tom left the Island of Salini alone at 11 years old, lead a most colourful and at times lonely life and touched the lives of so many in so many ways that he could not have envisaged. In some small but significant way this now includes us. Uncle Toms’ was a life well led.
Despite substantial obstacles and through circuitous and curious means, Uncle Tom’s final wishes to be buried in the place of his birth were realised. We set off with Malvesia in hand (actually secreted in the back pack) in pursuit of meeting his acquaintance and honouring his memory.
1 1/2 hours we were given for lunch.
More good food, more Aoeleon wine (and a little beer). On the little island of Salini, there is only one restaurant from which to chose. Giuliette was in fine form having established she was related to both the restauranteur and the pottery maker next door!! Seems those who staid (!) behind from exodus past were warm, but noticeably narrower from a far smaller world view (and possibly gene pool). Time flies while you are having fun and delicately navigating the sensibilities of families dead and living- more ghosts here than on Uncle Tom’s Royal Show Ghost Train. Yep, he was a showman throughout his life- operating across WA.
Shit! We have to find the cemetery and fast. The three of us, rushed off with the relative’s best wishes and vague instructions into the blaring mid day sun. Anxiety built as the effects of lots of good food and fantastic wine mixed with overweight holiday bodies, good intent, disorientation and the deadline for the boats departure.
Deb, ever the tactician and holder of all things emotional breathlessly opined as we turned what appeared to be yet another interminable hill: “well at least we were here in spirit” and “we have done our best”. Not wanting to relinquish the dream of the previous night and buoyed by both the Malvesia imbibed and that bobbing in the backpack, we pressed on. Matching Deb, Giuliette’s uttered a missive equally useful and strained on sweatily stumbling into the cemetery “he’s here somewhere”.
What is it about Psychs??
Likes mice in a Psych Lab we rushed around in the cemetery maze in mild panic checking names- in search for the figurative cheese, feeling we were observed from above.
Escalating despair quickly turned to elation. Here, at last was Uncle Tom!!!! Befitting his life he was in the back row, his black marble contrasting to white of those around him in life and death……and on top of three women, “floating in a mysterious way”
We toasted him and left the half full bottle of Malvesia in his honour (and because we couldn’t fit any more in and had to run).
Uncle Tom, you were worth every bit of the effort to make your acquaintance. Salute’
Finally a brief word on being Italian.
We were invited for drinks with two Italian couples on the boat at journey’s end. We discussed the sorry state of a Italian politics, Berlusconi (he of the fake hair, fake tan and faker still persona) and the unstable and ineffective governments. In broken English a fellow traveller explained “they are too selfish”.
Emboldened by the conversation I whispered to Giuliette, “now can I ask about the mafia”. Her deadpan but definite answer gave no sway:
“I have told you before, don’t mention the war Kevin”