The last time we were on Stromboli the volcano was spitting rock and magma, and the whole place was crawling with seismologists; this time the mountain is eerily quiet, its thin plume of fumes trapping passing clouds or generating its own… I’ve never really understood which. We’ve been observing it closely for the past four days across the water from our perch at the rather wonderful Capofaro Resort on Salina.
The décor and lighting on this craft are a triumph of tackiness, and seemingly specially designed for discomfort. But that’s all right. We have been living in considerable luxury for the past four days so I can’t complain. And anyway, it won’t be long before we’re fast asleep.
We were in Salina for the Salina DocFest (L as ‘famous international critic’, me as baggage). It’s a funny old event, very much a love-in. It’s run by Giovanna Taviani, daughter of one of the film-making brothers, and various generations of Taviani friends turn up: a solid phalanx of the smart and tuned-in oldies, and a larger gaggle of ersatz-bohème ‘youngies’… by which I mean 60 or under. Most of the assorted hangers-on have been coming for all seven years that the event has been in existence, and they’re a tight-knit group. But there are islanders involved with the thing too, and the turn-out for the films includes locals of all shapes and sizes.
The seven competition documentaries were all Italian, most fell into the category of arty (some were lovely to look at, and technically very competent) and many were taking on ‘big ideas’… metaphors and symbols of the national, or the metaphysical, or the everyman. To the extent where I found myself dying for a hard-hitting docu of journalistic lucidity. (I kept thinking of Stephen and Giulia’s This is my Land and realising what an extraordinary piece of work it is in the context of Italian filmed non-fiction.) Some of the docus – including two I liked, called Mirage à l’italienne and La mia classe – did a cross-over thing, putting real people with their own stories into a filmic set-up, and begging questions about the grey area between reality and art, as well as about their themes.
Though we were here for the festival it was also a fine excuse for being in Sicily, and it’s hard to pass that up, especially when L’s friends at Tasca d’Almerita were putting us up in such style.
Sicily is another country. Another biosphere, and another world. As you fly over the interior (which we did on Thursday, en route to Catania), even its ‘sear’ has another aspect: it’s a dark dark khaki, and punctuated with the dense, intense bottle green of neat stands of citrus trees. On the ground, a riot of the bougainvillea and prickly pear and Carpobrotus (Hottentot fig) and palms and cycas and tree euphorbias and… the list is endless.
Salina is a remarkably green island, forested right up to its 1000m twin peaks (we know this for a fact because he walked to the top of Monte delle Felci this morning). The soil is harsh and purply and full of pumice (this is all volcano, after all) and there’s no tinkling of steams like in Corsica – no running water anywhere. Yet nothing seems to be suffering unduly. Vineyards of malvasia grapes start down by the sea and climb in blocks up mountainsides, cutting neatly into macchia-forests of Arbutus and Juniperus, Pistacius lentiscus, invader-eucalypts and scrubby oaks. Climb higher and there are hornbeams and sweet chesnut trees and maritime pines (these lower down too) and some kind of silver-trunked tree with scolloped edges that I couldn’t identify.
In the towns, sugar-cube houses with their cane-covered verandahs supported by squat columns are swathed in bougainvillea and glorious jasmine: real jasmine (not the crass Trachelospermum which Italians further north refer to by that name). By day, the perfume is delicate; in the cooler evenings it makes your head swim with its sensuality.
And all around a sea of a dark, mottled blue.
I suppose we should be ashamed of ourselves, failing to dip even a toe into salt water until this evening on the black-sand beach of Rinella as we waited for the boat. But Salina is one of those islands where there are no immediately obvious beckoning beaches, of sand or pebble or rock. Oh I know full well that there are marvellous coves if you look, but most of these require a boat ride around the other side of the island. Instead I made do – in a manner of speaking – with the Capofaro’s pool (another great example of how brown works for pool water, though in this case it’s very basic concrete made with the purply-brown rubble of the island itself which gives the pool its subtle colouring) and that only rarely and briefly.
Now I’m going home to a rush of work. It is quite remarkable how business has picked up. I have another large swathe of one Castiglione garden to plant, and this I evening received an email from another client there asking me to go round and check hers out because she has a film crew coming to shoot there (for a show about her cooking school, not my little garden which is only half-done, I hasten to add). I have to plant in Montefalco, and plant beneath Monte Cetona, and come up with a plan of action for a huge development just the other side of the motorway below CdP and, in November, head way over into Tuscany for two more possible projects for dream-home-building Brits. And the long-running Roman terrace saga may be about to come to a head with something actually going into some will-she-won’t-she planters.
And in the middle of it all I’ll have C home and L travelling. Phew. What will become of my own utterly neglected garden through this hard-working autumn?