#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

#21 Marettimo – Departure

Marettimo is a place of disarming beauty. If it is true that all the islands are beautiful places, without exception, Marettimo is probably more beautiful than many others – because it is remote at the right point, because its morphology is impressive and wild, because the small village is cute and because underwater it hides real marvels.

It is an island of seamen (which is rare, given that most islands had a predominantly agricultural economy), and this can be felt immediately. Its people are used to emigrate and to greet in return. They are passionate and smiling, open. I met nice guys like Francesco, willing to share his wonders beyond a mere tourist logic, spontaneously and professionally. It is a pity that from next year even primary school will not reopen …

I interviewed Vito Vaccaro, historical memory of the island’s identity from which we should start seeking an idea of future. He told us, for example, the story of the salmon fishermen, who still today go to, and come back from, Alaska to fish for one or two months every year.

Then Leonardo, the beekeeper of Isola Del Miele (the Bee’s Island), who produces here tons (it is not a joke) of honey – he has even won several national prizes. He told us that here there is no mortality of bees issue, because there is no agriculture that pollutes the air with pesticides that damage the insects.

And finally my friends from Blu Tek Diving – MarettimoDavide and Diletta, who out of love for Marettimo and its sea bought a diving center a few years ago and even got married here. After some dives, for the first time the absolute primacy that the sea of Ustica has in my diving experience started to tremble. A very special thanks to you, guys.

The bow is pointed to Levanzo, now, just 12 km away while the Scirocco blows …

(The picture is by Ferdinando Meli, whom I thank a lot. That guy is me next to a wonderful colony of Leptogorgia sarmentosa.)

 


Posted on: 2.Jul.2018   Leave a comment

Island People – Ustica – Margherita Longo

Ustica is “my” island. I’ve lived there a year and a half in the last three years, and after a quick calculation, I spent at least the equivalent of a month underwater.

It’s not an easy or an astounding island. Her affection, in both ways, must be conquered: it is reserved to the patient ones.

I believe Margherita and her partner Vito were patient enough. Here go her words:
“I’m 39, I have got two kids, a degree and a PhD in agriculture. After studying and working in the city I came back to the countryside. We decided to bet on our future on our grandparents’ piece of land, along with my partner Vito Barbera, who is from Trapani and moved to Ustica. Eight years ago, after leaving, he, the academic career, I, the mythic permanent position at the Ministry of Agriculture, we returned to live in Ustica with our children to renew the family farm. Given my half-Sicilian, half-Lombard roots, I can integrate organization and passion in both the company and the family management. I am an active part in the associative life of the island, which tries to join agricultural producers and tourist operators in order to promote agriculture and tourism.”

The name of the farm is Hibiscus (https://www.agriturismohibiscus.com/eng/) and is one of Ustica’s flagships. It produces, with organic methods, some awesome white wines and an incredible “passito” made of zibibbo grapes. Beside the inevitable lentils – Ustica’s Slow Food item – and extra virgin olive oil from Erice.

Margherita, Vito, you will be the first whom I will meet along my voyage, but it will be like coming back home

Posted on: 20.Mar.2018   Leave a comment