- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Despite the ever-rumbling volcano and the lava soil, fig trees grow in great profusion by the sides of the paths—there are no roads. Papyrus blossoms, and the geraniums bloom electric pink. Great shocks of white lilies burst in front of roseate houses, and calla lilies nod at the end of lava-cobbled walks. Mimosa bubbles in great yellow sprays in spring, and the black sand is strewn with red seaweed like a wig abandoned by Gwen Verdon playing Ondine. And when a palm frond cascades over the whitewashed walls of the square's Moorish houses the vision of a mansion in Morocco is complete.
Life seemed less than beautiful to many of the owners of these houses who fled in the unquiet '30s, off to a new life in Canada, Australia, Brooklyn or San Francisco. Their long-abandoned homes are being turned into profit at long last and are being snapped up by enterprising Swiss and Scandinavians who make them into villas. The going price for a tiny two-story house with one room on each floor and the kitchen in a separate plaster shack across the court is now $1,000, an unheard-of amount of money in pre-film days.
Budgeteering Germans and Swiss tour groups frequent the pleasant-enough hotel and restaurant called La Sirenetta at the harbor's edge, but two inns of some elegance are also scheduled to be ready this coming year. The sea bathing from the dozen or more black beaches is acceptable, but Stromboli is primarily for excursions, especially by night. There are trips by motor launch around the side of the island called the Sciara del Fuoco, where the lava tumbling down for centuries has left a black carbon slide. The ambitious walk at night to the top of the crater, but a compromise excursion will take the hiker on a curving path to the observatory, an hour's trudge each way. The big show is Stromboli's volcano, which is supposed to disgorge red lava every hour, but as a performer the crater is Old Unfaithful. The skin-diving is good at Strombolicchio, the 180-foot natural pile offshore. A 152-step staircase has been cut into the rock and, for the breathless who climb it, there is a fine view of the Aeolian domain of Aeolus, and beyond to Sicily and the mainland of Calabria.
In the quiet pre-film days, a lumbering steamer puffed out from Sicily to these strange little dots beyond. Now with the renascence the Italians have introduced a strange vessel called the aliscafo, a motorboat that rides on skilike hydrofoils. From its nest in Messina, it makes daily forays at 40 miles an hour straight into the lairs of Aeolus and Vulcan, tearing into the harbors like a hot rod and blowing loudly on a klaxon that could be Triton's horn. The present hydrofoil carries 72 passengers and cruises up the Strait of Messina, a narrow neck of land that separates Sicily and the Italian mainland. The aliscafo also slaloms at high speed around the oddly shaped spada boats that fish the waters for swordfish. A sight from another age is the harpooner, standing far out on a bending bowsprit that is as long as the boat itself, waiting with two-pronged spear in hand for the call of the lookout in a teetering perch high in the rigging.
Nowhere is spada more tastefully served than broiled in olive oil in the harbor of the Filipino Restaurant on the island of Lipari where the aliscafo pauses three hours for lunch. Capers which grow wild and as big as plump raisins on these islands are a favorite garnish and are sprinkled on salads like blueberries on breakfast cereal.
Though Filipino's is packed for summer lunches, Lipari is not really a tourist island, being occupied with the less larksome business of mining pumice stone, for abrasives and dentifrices. While it has no beaches or resorts, Lipari harbors one of the best museums of the Mediterranean, offers some stupendous views and in deference to those who pause for those pleasures, the tiny shops squeezed into the crannies in the old-walled town display racks of tourist hats that must be a source of summer perplexity to the natives.
Excavations in the acropolis of Lipari have uncovered archaeological layers that go back to the Stone Age. There are stone handles from doors fashioned 3,000 years before Christ, a necropolis of the Ansonians from 1050 B.C., eggshells still in kitchen utensils fashioned in the 4th century B.C. Travelers today edge around stone Roman tombs in the garden while searching for vantage points from which to photograph the harbor far below.
The history and the beauty of these islands were lost on Mussolini, who used Lipari, as he did many of the other Little Known Islands, as a prison. Some 400 stubborn parliament members, Freemasons, lawyers and journalists, were incarcerated here on the hill, alongside the historical ruins. On Lipari they lived amid the burgeoning geraniums, the lush carpets of bougain villaea and the views through the chinks in the ramparts down to the tiny harbor with its fishing boats, its church at the water's edge, the nets strung out along its single quay.
Cafe society has conquered Capri, and the iconoclasts have long since fled to Ischia and made it famous. But who ever heard of Procida, half an hour from the nearest outstretched arm of the Bay of Naples? Like Lipari and the islands to the north, it, too, was used as a prison, but the jail occupies an isolated hilltop, and already there is one new hotel and more coming. When the boat comes in from Naples the islanders come swarming out of their rose and pale yellow and fierce-terra-cotta-colored houses that line the harbor. The carriage drivers come aclattering too, but nowadays they are likely to lose out to the buzzing new invention called the motorcarrozetta, a motor scooter that has been transformed into a minuscule carriage with barely room for two in the back seat.
In five ear-splitting, nerve-jangling minutes the motorcarrozetta will take you climbing up to the heights of Terra Murata for the look back into the maze of whitewashed roof tops plastered all over the ridge line gathered around the mothering dome of the church called the Madonna della Grazie. Down in the beachside part of town called Coricello live the anchovy fishermen. Beyond is the uninhabited island of Vivara, popular for rabbit hunting, and across from it the hulk of Ischia, the smart retreat of those who wouldn't be caught dead or alive on Capri.