The World's Smallest Harbor Is Growing in Popularity
by LindaAnn Loschiavo
Stromboli has been life changing for some. Consider these examples:
- Homer's Ulysses (Odysseus) had trouble finding the way home to his wife after cruising around Aeolus's windy islands for 7 years, where the native females were as compelling as the scenery.
- In Stromboli the nose job was invented for a famous puppet called Pinocchio.
- The illicit romance that flared up during the filming of "Stromboli" (1949-1950) altered destiny for actress Ingrid Bergman and the Italian writer-director Roberto Rossellini.
- When Federico Fellini made "La Strada" (1954), set on Stromboli, he landed his first Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Perhaps there will be strange sparks in the Italian air early this
year when Harvey Keitel and Andie MacDowell are filming scenes there for a thriller entitled "Ginostra," which will also benefit from Italy's lush Southern exposure in scenes shot on Mount Etna and in Naples,
Sorrento, and Rome. [This suspense drama, produced by Conchita Airoldi for Urania Films, also stars Stefano Dionisi, Francesca Neri, and Asia Argento; the cinematographer is Hugues
This film is named for the village Ginostra, one of two old settlements
left on Stromboli. Researchers have identified an early settlement on the timpone [ridge] of Ginostra belonging to the XVII-XVI century culture of Capo
Stromboli is a black, smoke-spewing cone that rises from the blue
Mediterranean. It's the most striking and savage of the seven Aeolian islands located about 40 miles north of Milazzo, Sicily. Boatmen insist that the dim hours of daybreak are a prime time to see this volcanic
island. As Ulysses (Odysseus) is said to have done, sailors set their vessel's course by heading toward the red glow of lava from this very active volcano, which serves as a natural lighthouse, and is affectionately
called Iddu (''him'' in the local dialect).
When my grandfather Giuseppe Lo Schiavo was born in Ginostra on December 7, the island's total population was over 1,000, but already decreasing from its
high point of 2,100 citizens in 1891 via the lure of emigration -- and today Stromboli is left with only 350-300 year-round inhabitants. Though grandpa never
returned to his birthplace, if he had visited, he would be spared Rip Van Winkle's time warp because his Sicilian village was barely touched by the 20th century, and
buildings he knew are still standing. To imagine the traditional house of the Strombolari think of a cross between a pueblo dwelling and a Greek cottage, a square
-roofed whitewashed structure with a shady loggia of stone pillars. These are set along rocky precipices bordered by agaves or lemon trees, and engulfed between prickly pear
cactus and gnarled olive branches, which dominate an area that still isn't hooked up to electricity or phone service. Ginostra's 15 year-round residents (including my Cousin
Mario) rely on solar panels and cell phones powered by TIM and WIND. Food, mail, and even drinking water have to be ferried in.
Emigration was inevitable perhaps -- though never too easy. Ginostra holds a record in the Guinness Book as
the world's tiniest port; only two small fishing boats can fit in its harbor at the same time. To the northwest,
moreover, a promontory divides the Sciara del Fuoco (Slope of Fire) from Ginostra, cutting this hamlet off completely from inland access.
Nevertheless, the island's primitive charm has been luring newcomers for centuries. Currently, in summer
there can be as many as 6,000 visitors. They come for the silence, or the four miles of black sand beaches, or to
scuba through elaborate volcanic formations in one of the Mediterranean's richest underwater ecosystems, or to
match wits with fellow adventurers climbing 3,000 feet to the volcano's sulphurous craters. (Its summit is called Serra
Vancori.) Rugged and rustic, this is not a destination for coddled city types who dote on fast food, limos, or hot and
cold running maid service. There are no cars, since the one road is too narrow. Locals dash through town in a
piaggio, a 3-wheeled vehicle not unlike a cross between a moped and a truck. For transportation of goods, donkeys are also used.
Instead of opulent accommodations, tourists have camped out near the volcano or found unusual places indoors. La Locanda del
Barbablų is a quirky six-room inn with fin de sičcle Neapolitan breakfronts, four-poster beds sporting cherubs and mother-of-pearl inlay, and a broad terrace overlooking the volcano and the sea.
Lunches are ambitious; after enjoying fresh tuna fillet baked in cinnamon, cloves, and hot peppers at Barbablų's inventive restaurant, folks understand why it's collecting its share of ink in
stylish Italian food magazines.
Since the island has a handful of hotels,
many visitors opt to rent rooms in private homes for a third of the rate that a locanda would charge. Those who travel with friends might want to stop by Scuola Vecchia. This used to be the village
schoolhouse, when my grandfather and his siblings lived here. It has been transformed into a vacation rental property: an oddly beautiful 2-bedroom house with a large kitchen, skirted by a wide
terrace with a dazzling waterside view -- which can be enjoyed quite often en route to the outdoor bathroom.
Grandpa found it daunting that his December 7th birthday became Pearl Harbor Day, infamous for deadly sparks and explosions. To
me this date is inseparable from him, who left a relentless and resourceful land for New York City but preserved a certain Aeolian force inside.