Jesus was born in Stromboli
Gabriel was pissed off that morning. Indeed. The boss was in a rotten mood, and the morning messages at the office did not raise the latter’s spirits. That damn favourite planet of his, the same he spent so much energies and hopes for the future on, even one of his own kids, was a fatiguing and not at all rewarding effort. Just an endless cry of complaints and little common sense. He ended up summoning His own private rainman, Count Negroni, who prescribed a biblical treat of the deadly concoction bearing the same name, and now God was hangover and prone to disaster. ‘Gabriel!!!’ the supreme had called ‘The measure is full. Which is another way to say that I am fucking tired of these humans. Go and announce: I’ll be back, with a vengeance’.
Now what? And, even more important, where? No way I am going back there, bloody killers…but cannot get too far either. Who’ll believe another Jesus in Switzerland? Better some godforsaken island in that old historical blue sea, find a nice chick, knock her up, announce the great venue and get the hell back asap. That black island down there, spitting fire and hell all the time with a bunch of crazy locals idiot enough to build under a volcano, is the place. No better place to deliver the true voice of Nature’s rage. Stromboli-ho, then. Target: the small square facing the church, probably no virgins around but definitely a nice atmosphere. ‘Energy!!’. All worked fine except the mischievous volcano burped badly and the beam delivered our seraphim few metres WNW, and instead of devout churchgoers Gabriel found himself facing Andrea, proud gay and co-owner of Barbablu, the Central Mediterranean lighthouse for bar-goers. ‘Fuck!’. ‘Yes’ answered Andrea, enchanted by the angelic glance of the winged client, and promptly shoved the God-sent bloke a red and velvety masterpiece of his, a Negroni, of course. ‘Beyond a Negroni, all is a desert, my dear angel…’. Gabriel was nonplussed, for he was supposed to travel incognito. But he was fast to make up leeway and drank the portent with style. Andrea saw the potential of the bloke, declared a happy-hour ad-personam, and a second drink blessed the seraphim’s delicate throat before he had time to react. Soon he was hovering out on winged feet, light as a feather, the whole world smiling at Him, the evening sea of a deep cobalt blue down behind the trees and the whitewashed houses, the imposing black cone towering over his shoulders with its stylish grey puff and quiet humans strolling along the tiny alleys. ‘Paradise, what-ho!’. But he did not forget the mission he had to accomplish. These seraphims are no lesser Angels…and a Virgin had to be found. Well, at least a woman. But somehow the drinks had slowed time down. No pressure, he thought. No rush. The place looks promising, let’s have a look around.
Out of the bar two sailors were having their red sundowner with the air of two Italian soldiers who just found an oasis in the Sahara desert while they were escaping from a British patrol in the first days of the African Campaign. ‘Jesus, Man’ said the first ‘what a bloody island to weather a gale… no shelter at all, waves coming from everywhere, gusts down he volcano and, last but not least, those devilish booms scare the hell out of you… a Godforsaken place, this… Last place to call a haven, why don’t they build a fucking harbour?’ ‘Why? What about that unique emotion and thrill you feel at the end of a rough night touring all bars when you go down the beach and you do not know if your boat will be there or not? This is Stromboli, the Land of God, take it or leave it’.
The Negronis in Gabriel’s blood had already passed level A (no worries in life) and B (Life is great), and was just approaching level C (What is life?), but could not remain unimpressed by the sailor’s conversations… to many keywords…. God, Jesus, Devil, Haven… that was a sign, and moreover he wanted to call it a day and get back to a couple of females of imperfect morals ready to do anything to find a place in heaven . So he decided to stare into the eyes of one of them, unwrapped his wings, took fire and delivered his announcement in Latin.
‘But, your excellence, I am not a virgin…’
‘Who is in these godless days?’
‘But I am a man…’
‘No one is perfect. See you in nine months’
I had been away from Stromboli for slightly over a month and this idea of writing something funny about it seemed the best way to handle such an extraordinary subject. This volcano is a desperate hand straight out of the guts of the planet, the cry of rage and fear of an imprisoned monster around which humans had built whitewashed houses, bursting churches and jam-packed bars. A critic might cavil whether Stromboli is the point of the Earth where Heaven and Hell are closest, but there is no doubt that it is the only place where the explosions from the Fiery Furnace are closer to the sky than the tolling of the church bells. The only place where the black sand and the white walls live in harmony, a kingdom of contrasts in perfect balance on a tight rope, enraged nature on one side and imbecile human dreams on the other. Anyway, when I let go last night just off the few lights and under the reddish glow in the clouds, anything funny or ironic faded away, and this tale will be a contrast of tragedy and comedy, only less perfect than this island.
Then after other two days, when the subtle worm of comedy nearly found its way back to the world of temptation and possibility, a thunderstorm came and the worm died forever. My vessel was at anchor several miles away when God decided it was time to end summer in glory, rage and wrath, and thunder and lighting came to split the world between darkness and light. After an hour the rage was over Stromboli, and there it was, a cascade of lighting and anger in a fluorescent atmosphere of ghosts and strobo-madness, a techno-show of terrific power over the sea and the horizon. Only, there, flashing black and triangular, oblivious of storms and rain, unaware of pains and disaster, careless of destinies and choices, the volcano again was bouncing between heaven and hell, a cone of perfect darkness, lost in time.
It’s a place where black and white do exist, like in the worst movies when a spotless good defeats a shameful bad. But still, the red of fire and negronis add a new weight to the balance, the burden of life and existence, of human beings sensing cocktails, kneeling in churches and hiking up the sandy slopes to the crater. Black, white and red.
Be sure to approach the ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ from the North West and in the last hours of the night. The thousand-metre high firework platform will show you the way and slowly a black perfect cone (Strombos means cone in Greek) will remain in the night while the rest lights up. Until 1934 the island was bursting activity, with thousands of farmers building terraces up the cone to transform the rich ashes into wine and capers. That year a stronger eruption killed a dozen souls, shrapnelled the others, but failed to destroy the recently imported vine parasites. Most inhabitants left, mainly to the States. Until a couple of decades ago, you could buy a house in Stromboli for the cost of its bricks. Microsoft stocks cannot compete with the values of the same houses in more recent days. But Italians are smart chaps and never advertised it too much around. Now, like I or not, you’ll have to drink your Negroni with left-wing politicians, stylish gays, glamorous fashion stars, summer charter sailors and large Sicilian notables, none of whom will ever think about climbing the cone, a deplorable activity left to French and German backpackers, kindly deprived of 25 euros each for a trekking permit. But winter selects, and only locals and backpackers remain.
Autumn clouds hang like a bracelet around the cone and pour down rain. The alleys are a desert, the bars less so but certainly active is the church. After ten hours of sailing, three anchoring manoeuvres and a rolly night I was looking for reasons to understand why this place climbed my list of favourite islands to reach first and second place. Then I reached the square and I had on one side the church where Tuesday mass, a renowned favourite activity of all Catholics, was celebrated, and on the other a double rainbow falling right over Strombolicchio, a 50-metre high pillar with compulsory beacon and sunset reflections floating over a sea of a whole bunch of shades of steel. Ok, I’ll stand the rolling another night… also because Andrea’s bar is closed.
The Barbablu is the closest thing to an old English pub you can find on the territory of the Italian Republic. Only, it does not look to a pub at all, with its red and yellow pastel walls (only one around) and stylish modern interior with 4 (four) highly valued stools. But it’s the atmosphere… it’s a place where you arrive alone and after an hour or so you know everyone. Maybe the merit goes to Andrea’s concoctions. One night a couple came in, and they ordered a Negroni and a tonic water. Andrea’s reaction to the latter order was mild, mainly due to the fact that my girlfriend had just ordered a tea - what? A tea? Who the fuck are you, snow-white? – thus reaching the tolerance limit. I naturally complimented the bloke for its choice. Only I was grossly mistaken and the red velvet was bound for the lady’s thr