Tuesday, 20 April 2010
On top of the volcano
Vivid memories have been rekindled by the Icelandic showstopper: 1984, and my night on Stromboli, weirdest of the Aeolian islands off the north coast of Sicily, with four Australian girls (can't remember their names - probably written down in an old diary. All I can recall is that two designed furniture for the parliament in Canberra). Here we are, glad to be alive after sleepless hours of darkness in the hot stone circle, exhilarated by hourly displays of red-hot lava being hurled into the air from the nearby crater, with concomitant stone falls sounding like applause in a vast auditorium, but tormented by rats. Sadly I have no photos of my own because my camera had run out of film.
Oh, the folly of it. Would I do it now? Probably couldn't: in those days you were discouraged but not prohibited from following the cinder path up the ever-active volcano, and I'm told that's been stopped. We were foolhardy to do it, especially as we began very late in the afternoon, though the risks weren't as extreme as they're made out in the not very good Rossellini film, where poor Ingrid Bergman's only way out from her unhappy relationship with a fisherman is up and over.
In fact, we got lost on the way up because we kept leaving the zig-zagging route and taking short cuts through macchia. One failed to materialise and we were reconciled to sleeping on the lower slopes as darkness fell when a German tour party appeared. They angrily told us we couldn't join their paid excursion, but we insisted we had no choice, and as they carried on over the top to descend the other side, we settled into our volcanotop cairn. The horror, the horror: as we tucked into our picnic, shadowy rodents popped up over the top of the stones. When we settled down to sleep, one of the girls later told me, a rat the size of a dog perched over my head before thinking better of it. The solution to a bit of peace, of course, was to throw out the remainder of our supplies, which had been more or less consumed when we collected the nearly empty bag in the morning.
We weren't alone. Another group joined us in a pensione down in the village for breakfast, including an assistant opera director at the Met. We were all hysterical from our experiences and couldn't stop laughing. Then we sunbathed on the black lava beach before the afternoon boat back to Lipari, and I remember the subterranean rumbles, like the tube train passing under the Wigmore Hall.
I'm glad we did it, but nowadays unpredictable Stromboli - which we were told was perfectly safe, because the hourly displays signalled safety-valve status - is probably best seen from the above distance.