#31,32,33 Venetian Lagoon – The end of the voyage

When I chose Venice as the final island of my journey, I didn’t know what to expect. I was frightened by how people describe it, a city turned into an amusement park which lost almost completely its identity.
My interest in Venice began to change when I came across my “deus ex machina” Marco (there were at least three “dii ex machina” in this adventure, all unforgettable), a wonderful, funny, crazy! guy with a huge sense of welcoming, who after a simple phone call had already arranged a dozen meetings with very interesting people. The interest grew even more when I discovered – and I was ashamed of my ignorance – that all the incredible Croatian coast, filled with thousands of islands, was all part of the Serenissima (the Venice Republic) in its time. Slowly the image of Venice as mistress of the seas and of the trades was building up in my mind, and I thought its legacy had to be still visible in the places and in the people too.

These five days in Venice have further stirred my ideas. In the first place, Venice doesn’t exist. Venice is the Lagoon. The Lagoon is an archipelago. And none of its islands makes sense by itself, extracted from the unique context of the Lagoon. The Venetians exist, they are smiling people, open towards each other and towards change, they are active. And then they’re island people, just like the others I’ve met! They could as well come from the South of Italy. And they’re scattered all over the Lagoon.

Maybe it’s the language – because when they speak dialect, and they speak it very much, I do not understand practically anything – maybe it’s because I come from a whole different part of Italy, but in the Lagoon I often felt like in a foreign country. Everything was new, all unknown, civic and community rules. Big time!

Davide had a great merit in changing my understanding of Venice.On his boat, half broken and beautiful, strictly made of wood, he took us to the cemetery. Yes, the cemetery. Which is an island, named San Michele. After waiting for a boat to dump the casket and walking between the graves suddenly a door opened, one from about a thousand years ago, and… a vineyard, in front of us there was a vineyard. Now, Davide is part of an association called “The Lagoon in the glass, the recovered vineyards”; they indeed recover small vineyards scattered across the Lagoon and produce wine, of course a little homemade, but what’s interesting is that they don’t sell it and rather prefer to drink it among Venetians under some pergonal on Sundays.
Then we went to discover the island of Sant’Erasmo, called the “garden of Venice” and the farm Da Gino e Inda owned by Michele and Giorgia. A couple who love working in the fields and recovering abused animals, and who love producing, children and vegetables. Fighting stubbornly against burocracy, which is an Italian plague. People so warm-hearted I honestly have known a few…

Then the story of La Certosa, another island. Ex-Military, ex-Industrial island abandoned for decades at only a few hundred meters from Venice. There Alberto Sonino, former world champion of sailing, oceanic sailor and much more, channeled passion and knowledge made during a life around the world with a purpose: give back an abandoned place to the city making it the yachting pole of the Lagoon. The fact is that today, after more than ten years, at La Certosa there is a cool Marina with a cute little hotel, an electric boat rental to explore Lagoon with no emissions, there are shipwrights building or restoring wooden boats, international conferences are held on the future of yachting, and so on. The project is called Vento Di Venezia, and Alberto is a person of extraordinary intelligence, the intelligence of those who are able to dream big and to achieve them dreams. Without even talking too much.

Finally two other formidable Venetian realities. The first is the “voga” (rowing), which for many here is a religion and is seen as a whole art which includes the construction of boats, peculiar as the lagoon where they sail. And so I met another great guy, Pietro Meneghin, whose job is “rémer”, that is, an artisan crafting oars and “fórcole” (the pieces where oars are places, which are actually objects of an impressive plastic beauty, worth to be exposed and admires for hours), and whose passion is rowing. We have heard him talk about Venice and his very delicate future, which should arise from a slow reinterpretation of the Lagoon, based on rowing or sailing, and from the regulation of a completely chaotic and sometimes harmful boat traffic that makes it one of the world’s most wavy seas.
The second reality is Cristina‘s splendid Mare di Carta bookshop (a sea of paper), one of the four bookshops about the sea in Italy. Her place is much more than a book shope: in Venice, it is a meeting point for the sea lovers and for the Venetians in general, a place where meeting up for an aperitivo, and a place where talking about healthy politics and the future is possible. Cristina is a volcano, a freediver and an unparalleled librarian, who made me think of other volcanoes, other freedivers, other booksellers I met during these months.

So here end islands. There aren’t anymore, even if I wished to. I’ve stripped maribelle of her vestments and I’m going to hide for a while in the island that I feel most as mine, Ustica.

The voyage is threfore over but not 33 Isole, which in fact is just in its early days. Now I wish I can return the people I have met, who are heroes to me, at least part of what they have given to me. The work on the documentary about the voyage and the people is about to start. It’ll take time, but… stay tuned!

 


Posted on: 28.Aug.2018   Leave a comment

#30 Grado – Departure

I already wrote much about Grado. My emotional introduction to the lagoon; Gianni Maran: artist who’s one of the most generous and talented persons I’ve ever met; an island, Grado, which is also a border to the Balkans, and which struggles as many others do to defend its identity against the jaws of tourism and modernity.

Time to set sail again, now. For the very last time. Another lagoon ahead, the Venetian one. I guess that for a moment it will resemble Itaca to me, or as more poetically the Greeks call it, Ithakí.

 


Posted on: 22.Aug.2018   Leave a comment

#29 Tremiti – Departure

I leave behind Tremiti too. Small rocks colonized by the Bourbons where people speak napolitan. The two main islands, one right in front of the other, are so different. San Domino, the largest, hasn’t got almost anything historical. Only small villas and touristic buildings, all rather recent, but merged within a pine forest and a surreal atmosphere half Croatian half from a wood in the Appennini. San Nicola, on the other hand, is a small jewel to be taken care of. A Cistercian abbey staring at the sea from above, with walls, cloisters, and a very nice little village.

I did one of my best dives ever with yet another great diving center, which has more of a big family than a diving center, actually. From the region of Marche in the Center of Italy, Tony – a unique guy with the gentlest heart – came here twenty years ago. Back in those days, he was a pioneer here, but how many thousands of people have dove with him since then? His sons, Luca and Gianmarco follow him with enthusiasm, and so the future becomes the present. Thank you for an unforgettable welcoming, Tremiti Diving Center, I felt at home with you.

Then I talked to he mayor, Antonio, full of ideas and initiatives that in my opinion point to the right direction. The first local law in Italy banning single-use plastics was recently approved here thanks to his engagement and the one from . Congratulations, but now it’s about having that law respected, thus changing people’s mind for real.

There have been storms, because of strong winds the rubber tube of the boat got pierced and was already repaired thanks to the solidarity of the people here, and there have been fireworks on a gray but not-so-hot day. Now the bow points to Croatia and we will follow its coast to the North all the way to Grado. 250 nautical miles and then only one leg will be left…

 


Posted on: 16.Aug.2018  
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#28 Gallipoli – Departure

In Ortigia as well as in Gallipoli the natives use the word “rock” to indicate their island, just like the people from all the remote islands I have been so far do.

That said, Gallipoli, which in Greek means “beautiful city”, is an insanely beautiful place. A city that for at least 300 years ago was the equivalent of Dubai today for the almost monopoly throughout Europe of glaring oil (the one used for lighting), which lit the streets from London to Oslo. And since the boundaries of the island are unchangeable, and building beyond the short bridge was banned until a hundred years ago, up to 34 underground mills were digged where oil was produced. 34! Another fact: in Gallipoli there are no squares, you could not waste the little existing space! And finally in Gallipoli they don’t traditionally dance the “pizzica”, which represents the countryside essence of Salento, Gallipoli’s region: they preferred Neapolitan style songs sort of.

I met unforgettable and particularly enriching people here. The Circolo della Vela Gallipoli (Gallipoli Sailing Club), to start with, namely Massimoand Glauco, who took care of Maribelle and made me feel like a real sailor (which I am not).

Then the meeting with two special guys, Enrico and Renato of the Association EMYS, who gave life to a magical place struggling against monstruos touristic interests: the urban laboratory Liberalarte Gallipoli. In a former monastic cloister, hidden behind a door on the ramparts of the city, lies a container of art, crafts, innovation and tradition where you can visit an exhibition of tactile paintings (i.e. you are invited to touch them!), you can dive among whales and turtles with virtual reality glasses (the kids’ favorite) or listen to the sounds associated with the thousand traditions of the town organized according to the four seasons.

And then the incredible, volcanic and sweet Raffaela, an architect born in Milan but with blood from here, cultural manager of Castello di Gallipoli(Gallipoli’s Castle). Another incredible place that until 2014 was nothing less than a dump and that thanks to Raffaela and her collaborators has become the cultural pole of the city, with exhibitions (riht now a very clever one about selfies called #selfati) and events (yoga sessions, thematic nights, concerts) that stubbornly try to bring tourists, whose cultural level is here unfortunately quite low (Gallipoli in recent years has become the Italian Ibiza), to the world of culture .

In a few islands, indeed, I have found such an attachment to the “rock”, its traditions and its identity as I did in Gallipoli.

It’s even harder this morning to leave this place which already a huge place in my heart for past personal facts. In addition, in front of me stands (or should I say lies) the longest leg, until Tremiti islands: the forecast states very little and always opposite winds and extreme heat; besides, I will enter yet another sea, the Adriatic Sea, different, unique. With the shadow of Venice that looms from the North, the historical shadow of the former almighty marine empire and the personal shadow it being the arrival island of this crazy journey of mine…

 


Posted on: 6.Aug.2018   Leave a comment

#27 Ortigia – Departure

Ortigia is Siracusa’s downtown. While getting there, although no one notices it, you cross a 30 m-long bridge. Which undoubtedly makes Ortigia an island.

Ortigia is also the history of Siracusa. It was the most important Greek colony of all to the point that it won against its Greek “parents” in a historic war hundreds of years before christ. And the colony was born in Ortigia and not on the mainland.

By including it on my itinerary, I was wondering how much of an island Ortigia is today, and how much its inhabitants feel its island essence. Once again, two days are too few to understand this, but I had some clear proofs that a sense of insularity exists here too. They came from Massimo’s visible emotion when he was telling us about its daily crossing of the bridge to go to work to create charming jewels, some of which inspired directly by Ortigia’s Greek history. Or from the stories about the small town lifestyle from a late “ortigiana”, Tiziana, of the Enoteca “a putia” delle cose buone (where food is awesome and the atmosphere impressively nice).

I mean, there’d be a lot to say and investigate. But it’s not my purpose right now. All I know is that Ortigia is one of Italy’s most beautiful places, Piazza Minerva is in my opinion (and according to Emanuele Crialese too) the most beautiful square in Italy, but the cost of an apartment at the square meter is around 10 thousand euros, and so this balance already partially destabilized by an exorbitant amount of tourists is fragile and put at risk day by day. I wish there were more people like Paola, owner of a lovely B&B, a cozy woman, with so much desire to share and totally devoted to her Ortigia. Thank you so much, Paola…

Anyway. Now I set sail towards another atypical island, the historic centre of Gallipoli. To reach it, the longest leg so far awaits me: 240 miles of Ionian Sea.

 

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