Unblinking Eye


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 Tissandier.]
          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 Graziano.
          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).
              The author's grandfather Giuseppe Lo Schiavo, born in Ginostra, celebrated his  21st birthday on December 7th in the United States.
          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.
              Scuola Vecchia.  The village schoolhouse Giuseppe Lo Schiavo attended has been converted  into a vacation rental property.  Although Ginostra has only 15 year-round residents, thousands of tourists explore the  volcanic island Stromboli each Summer.
          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.  

A native New Yorker, LindaAnn Loschiavo is an award-winning journalist, critic, novelist, and poet.  She has developed writing programs for New York University and Hunter College, and organized many high-profile Benefits and literary events promoting the work of authors in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and abroad.    The NYC Poetry Calendar [October 1999] saluted her promotional successes on behalf of the arts, calling her "a force of nature."   She has been a "Featured Poet" during "First Night Out in New Jersey" as well as a "Featured Poet" selected by Dana Gioia for the journal Italian Americana, and her work has drawn acclaim from P.E.N. American Women, and many others.  Her reviews have appeared online for BookReport.com and in American Book Review, Iris, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Rain City Review, etc.   At Marymount Manhattan's Annual All-Day Writers' Conference, she is a frequent speaker and has been on panels for poetry, translation,  and for book publicity.   A columnist for L'Idea, she also covers the arts scene weekly for the International Tribune and many other publications.  Her fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Award and a novel set during the disco era, SEX WHEN SHE WAS [a modern version of the Divine Comedy], is with an agent.      



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