Sunday, March 29, 2020

Life on the Island - Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Perilous Sea of 2020

Photograph © by Michael Housewright
It wasn’t that long ago. It was 1987. And then it was 2001. And then, 2016. But each sojourn left its mark. And along with it, beauty, solace, pain, joy and relief. Longing for a world, which is momentary, to allow one to linger just for a few more moments. Is that too much to ask?

Fortunately, our memories have pictures to help us through the dark, lonely nights. Waking up in a cold sweat, wondering if the shadow on the sliding glass door is the caller, calling me to another realm. But it passes with the rising sun.

1987 – On an island in the Aeolian archipelago
Early in the morning a mother eagle feeds her eaglets, as they shiver and reach for the nourishment she had brought back from her hunt. Ah, the carbon life cycle, where some living thing must give way to another in order to survive. Down below, in the harbor, calm and tranquil, a lone sailboat makes its way out to sea, its very own Odyssey on this wobbly little orb. “Going fishing,” the sign says at the quaint little Sicilian baitshop-cum-coffee bar. Looks like another Moka morning back at the apartment.

On the way back, we pick some figs and wild strawberries to go with our rustic coffee. We can see Salina from our balcony – fuming and fussing. Off in the distance, a large fish jumps out of the water and makes its presence known. This one will not be caught today, no siree.

Photograph © by Michael Housewright
2001 - 14 years later - On an island in the Strait of Sicily
All the years I knew her, and now, here on this island by a larger island, I sit and stare at Africa, the dirge coming from the FM player. Mournful but not hopeless, as the beat provides a steady measure of heart, and ultimately, life. She left this beautiful life too soon. But, isn’t that case for many of us? Isn’t there always another island to visit, another fish to catch, another love to love?

Sitting under the shelter of the patio of the dammusi, sipping the bittersweet zibibbo and thinking about all the people who have been on this earth. Earlier in the day, I was in the main town of this island, the Comune Di Pantelleria, where there was a funeral. It was soul wrenching, because the people were at a loss to understand why this person had been taken from them. I stopped to talk to an elderly woman, who told me, “It’s like this every time in this place. For them, it is a Paradise on earth, this Italy of ours, and no one wants to leave it. It’s heartbreaking.”

I head back to my little house with capers and Tumma and wine, to write, to think, to work my way through my personal tunnel of grief. Nineteen years on, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, every day.

2016 – On the big island, Sicily, near Mt. Etna
Camera in hand, with two fellow travelers. We’re on assignment. One, the journalist, one the photographer and one who is along this time as our life-saver.

It’s my sixth time to Etna, this time chasing a story. I’m the photographer on this trip, it’s important I don’t screw up. I don’t want to let my journalist friend down, who vouched for me.

Shooting the stories was a dream. Writing is damn hard. Looking, viewing, sorting, and crouching down for a shot, that’s my happy place. I’m invisible and at-one with everything.

We’re at Ciro and Stephanie Biondi’s place, which resembles something out of an ancient Romans holiday getaway. What, you say, the Romans flocked to Campania, for their stately pleasure domes. I say you’ve never been to Piazza Armerina, 100 or so kilometers to the west of the Biondi plantation. Oh, yeah, Rome knew about this place. It wasn’t first discovered by the somms.

Walking up the path to a high point I spot on the left, 2/3rds down at about 11 o’clock, a ripe cherry tree. Like a siren’s call, I obey and blindly follow. Fruit on Etna has magical properties. Ever taste a strawberry in a field near the summit? It was a life-changing experience.

Photograph © by Michael Housewright
And here we are again, this time with cherries. We’ll get to the wine, don’t worry. But the cherries. Give me a moment with those cherries.

And then it all changed with a bright flash from the corner and darkness. When I awoke, I was sitting on the side of the road, dazed and confused, like we’d just been hit by a truck. And we had. I lay in bed at night and it plays over, again, from time to time. I don’t even know how we ever got through that one alive.

And here we are, four years later, thousands of us, all across the world, wondering how we got in this dilemma, and if we will ever get out and back to the life and the world we once knew and loved and took for granted.

We are living in lost moments, in lost lives, in a lost world. We've been swept away. Yet, that has been the case since time began. So, no, we will never get back those lives and the world we once had. What we will get is newer moments and lives and worlds and that is what gives me hope. And with it, the promise that this ravaged world, with these broad sweeps, will bring us to a better place.

With much thanks to Michael Housewright for sharing his images from Sicily (and the inspiration) for this post.

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