Went here after a speaking engagement on Capri.
Stromboli is an island that is also an active volcano and is fairly close to Sicily. Its population is between 450 and 700. A week ago there was what they call an “explosion”…one of the craters blew out some fiery rocks that set the grasses halfway up the mountain on fire. (None hit the town.) The explosion and fires happened in the late afternoon, and helicopters flew in from the Sicilian mainland and put them out in the morning. The volcano has been erupting more or less continuously for 20,000 years. Most of the eruptions were like the ones we saw — periodic spurts of glowing molten rock, but no lava flows…though there are those too. The most recent was in 2002, after a gap of 17 years.
In 1930 there was a fairly major eruption, and all the inhabitants of the island were evacuated. Magma hit the sea and plumes of steam arose. Flying “bombs,” as they are called, landed in the sea as well, causing a local tsunami.
In those days the two villages here were pretty isolated — no electricity, irregular fresh water, and forget about wi-fi. Stromboli conserves water as best they can via rain barrels and containers that harvest and recycle AC drips, but even so, every week a tanker arrives to bring fresh water to the island.
Southern Italy wasn’t a wealthy area anyway, so for many inhabitants that eruption was the last straw, and they left for elsewhere if they could — Australia, Argentina and the United States had waves of Italian immigrants. In the tiny town of Ginostra (current year-round population: 27 people, 7 donkeys), the church has a plaque commemorating the Strombolian Club of Brooklyn, which sent funds for its renovation in 1940. The members of the club didn’t return to Ginostra, though. In 2003 one of the larger explosions sent rocks raining down on the village, and some houses were damaged.
Ginostra got electricity of a sort a few years ago — via solar panels — so now they can watch Berlusconi’s bimbos on TV.
In 1949 Roberto Rossellini and his then-girlfriend, Ingrid Bergman, made a film here called (in English) Stromboli, God’s Land. It’s interesting as a peek at life here some years ago, but as one local said, “It’s a terrible film! He was blinded by his love for her!”
In the movie she is a Lithuanian refugee in Italy after WWII who impulsively — or, being a refugee, pragmatically (or both) — suddenly agrees to marry an Italian serviceman. He takes her back to his town, his mother and his family, which is Stromboli — doubling for Ginostra. [Spoiler alert!] Young Ingrid freaks out and there is some overacting on her part — though the other performers, who all seem to be locals, and non-actors, seriously underact. Weird combination: calm Italians and one hysterical Hollywood actress. Her new husband in the film eventually boards her up in the house, as she’s getting seriously out of control. However, she manages to escape and heads out over the mountain (still today a more clearly marked path than the way around the outside), and we see her clawing her way over the volcano in hopes of reaching the town of Stromboli and a ship.
The shooting was troubled — partly because RKO, the Hollywood studio backers, wanted a more narrative film than what they got, and partly because Bergman was a bankable star and her affair with Rossellini didn’t go down well with the US public.
During the shooting of this scene of her at the crater, one of the crew died as a result of inhalation of the volcanic fumes.
In the early evening, we hike 40 minutes up a switchback trail to a pizzeria in the middle of nowhere that overlooks the lava flow. From the outdoor seating area one can, as the sun sets, gaze up after a sip of white wine and a mouthful of so-so pizza and see the periodic (about every half hour) explosions of lava from the crater above.
The sound is like a sudden great gushing expulsion of liquid,which it is, I guess — liquid rock. Hiking to the crater itself is prohibited, due to last week's “explosion” in which “bombs” (red hot rocks) landed not just around the crater but also on the inhabited side of the island. These landed among the bushes and grasses about 500 meters up, catching the vegetation on fire. We can see the burnt area from our little hotel room. Had anyone been hiking up to the top they might have been either struck or burned in the subsequent fires.
This is what we saw — the red chunks don’t look as dramatic in the daylight.
Being an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, the seafood is amazing and super fresh. Every morning one can hear the pinched melodic cries of a man with a little motorized cart who wends his way around town selling “pesca fresca” — fresh squid, swordfish and dorado, and whatever else came in that morning.
This is an appetizer of raw marinated fish.
The overnight ferry back to Napoli takes about 12 hours. We sit in the tiny cabin, having some wine and cheese, and watch a Planet Earth nature doc on my laptop. (“Deep Oceans” episode — incredible!)