Following closely in the footsteps of Odysseus, we can see how superstitious sailors could be psyched by what they encountered and imagined. These legendary and mysterious Aeolian Islands, each with its personal volcano, steaming smoke, night fires and a beautiful sulfuric essence like rotten eggs. Unpredictable weather, tides and winds. Fantastical rock formations and black cinder beaches. And that smell. Whew…
Our greeting in Stromboli was supposed to be a night sky and the volcano spewing fire and molten lava down the south side. Instead we got torrential rains so we couldn’t dinghy around to see the sound and light show. Matilda came days earlier so we had to be satisfied with Paul’s pictures…and the mists of smoke that permanently shroud the mountain.
High winds made the mooring field so rough we bounced around all night. We scrammed out at first light and made for Vulcano. There we anchored in a calm bay just under the Vulcano volcano, smoking with sulfuric perfume. No hint of European antiquity. The houses ashore like deserted West Texas pueblos. No birds, no music. No Rosie’s Cantina. No Marty Robbins, no lost love Felina.
Only some straggly bathers on the black beach. And the smell of rotten eggs wafting past our nostrils with every puff of the wind.
So naturally we went ashore.
Hoping also to see the huge German fatties we read about lolling about
naked but covered in therapeutic Vulcano volcano mud. Singing “Ach tu liebe, I hope I’m losing weight.” We’d also gone three days without spaghetti vongole and, well, needed a fix.
Vulcano turned out to be an unexpected Med treat. We met a few excellent people. Like the Produce Guy—Pippa—who insisted we not schlep (I forget the exact Italian word) our terrific tomatoes and ripe melons and unblemished bananas while we walked to the sorta-supermarket in the piazza. When we returned he recommended the best trattoria in town best being relative—it didn’t leave Spago in the dust, volcanic or otherwise.) Then popped all five of us and our groceries in the flatbed of his pickup truck and drove us to the front door, solicitously sticking The Gimp in front. Plus a cheery bear-hug with his arrivederci.
Next came Mariano, the taxi driver, a notable character. Two euros a person he quoted to take us back to the dinghies. In this sleepy backwater, where a volcano belch could make the front page, a 12-euro fare for a three minute ride is the equivalent of Gary finally winning the NY lottery. Playful, though. As soon as he sees Gary and Mel move off for a quick ATM fill-up, he waves his arms, purses his fingers, points at his watch and bellows, “Ah, signora, tempo è denaro, tempo è denaro.”
In this place, tempo is exactly that…tempo. Nothing more. And no roses to smell, believe me.
But it’s my opportunity to trot out the Michel Thomas Internet Italian I’ve been practicing for weeks now… I point to his grandson’s picture dangling above the dashboard instead of the usual Christsicle. I smack him back Italian-style on the arm, wave my hands right back and ask,
“Cosa farebbe ora se non siamo venuto? Parli con il suo nipote qui?” (What would you be doing if we hadn’t come—talking with your grandson here?)
I was so proud of myself. Until I found out that wasn’t his grandson—it was his son.
Oh well… People look a lot older when black volcano soot takes up residence in every single wrinkle that shows up. So this became Mariano Taxi Driver’s running joke. As we got to the dock and ask him to bring the taxi further along the pier, for every foot he’d announce, “Ah, tempo, tempo, piὺ denaro!”
More hugs with the arrivedercis.
We stayed two nights enjoying the calm, if not the perfumed air. No muddy naked Germans in the binocular sights. Waiting also for a weather window to move and pass through the dreaded, treacherous and legendary Straits of Messina separating mainland Italy and Sicily.
The narrow entrance to the Straits was guarded furiously by the super nasty former nymphs, Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla would sit on a rock high on the mainland side. Dripping 12 long feet with sharp toenails and dropping down 6 hideous heads with triple rows of sharky teeth, she would snatch sailors from their boats. Not sure what she did with them but it probably wasn’t pretty. Charybdis, working from the Sicilian shore would simply throw the entire boat and crew into a roiling whirlpool. It was Charybdis who snatched Odysseus’ ship but Odysseus escaped using an ancient Greek pre-Tarzan move, latching onto an overhanging tree branch.
These two were very bad dudes. “How come?” you might ask. Scylla was a cute little sea nymph playing Pull My Pita with Poseidon and jealous Amphitrite, The Wife, turned her into this Grotesque Nasty. Meanwhile the overlord Zeus’s voyeur sexual fantasy was to turn Poseidon’s nymph daughter Charybdis into a whirlpool and command her to suck out the Straits of Messina three times a day. These pre-politically correct Olympic Games make it clear the celebrity Greek gods were real party animals.
So where are your intrepid, fearless, adventurous travelers right now? Anchored at Scylla’s hometown, called Scilla, just below the ominous rock. Befitting a gal like Scylla it looks grungy and about to crumble into the sea. If we are still here in the morning, we’ll go through the Straits.
If not, not ... Arrivederci
Good news, Scylla spares us. We make it through the Straits and race for Sicily, heading down its eastern coast where we spend five days in spectacularly scenic Siracusa. Photos attached. I spare you long flowery descriptions because we’re in a hurry.
We then motor further down the coast, turn west around the corner and arrive at Marina di Ragusa. There we pull into a boat slip, where we will leave Lulu for the next 6 months and winter in New York, the very first time we have spent this much off time her since 1999.