Tuesday, May 23, 2017

To many Americans, Europe is all about romance.  I know that after many years of travel in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, my dreaming images of Europe have a lot in common with a Wagner opera scene.  I think of towering pinnacles of rock, wreathed in mist, with half ruined castles perched on top.  Below, the Rhine flows by flaked with silver sparkles.   Square sailed wooden boats sail past laden with knights and ladies heading to exotic destinations or just up to Cologne with its lacy stone cathedral looming over the river.
There is romance in Stonehenge and the ghosts of prehistoric rituals.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame defines our images of Medieval Paris.  Of course nothing can compete with the ghosts that seem to crowd the Colosseum and the Appian Way with about the longest recorded history in Europe.
Somehow, I do not think that our relatives think in those terms about the Aeolian/Eolian islands.  We think of farmers cultivating and pruning the grapes.  The merchants' wives baking hard tack for trading voyages in the outdoor ovens of plain white cube houses.  Below the houses are storage places where it was cool enough for my great-great aunts to weave linen in the shadows.  The islands are lovely....beautiful blue vistas, and Salina, at least is a sea of green and yellow, but do they have the romantic appeal that other Italians may see in their homelands. 
In fact, the islands along with Sicily, have some of the longest and most romantic and troubled histories of any part of Europe.  Lipari has its castle on the promontory above the beach, a setting for its towered cathedral smack in the middle.  There is a vast cemetery dating back to Greek times that has yielded up many sarcophagi and grave goods on a par with any site in the central Mediterranean.  The castle and town suffered a great and brutal Pirate attack that virtually wiped out the town and enslaved the populace. 
Obsidian has been mined and traded all through the prehistoric world. Pottery also dates to these times, found all around the islands in many classic forms and decorations.
The islands, like Sicily have been the crossroads of a dozen invading and trading cultures...Jews, Greeks, Medieval Germans. Romans, Arabs, Spaniards, and French.  All of these cultures have left their marks on our bloodlines, our rural arts, our diets and our personalities. 
Romance just percolates through the islands and our history.  and I sometimes find myself dreaming of farmers and tradesmen trooping into the castle and battling off the pirates and also the gently arts of husbandry practiced generation after generation in their sundrenched villages.
They certainly lived with deprivation in their isolated and comparatively poor islands, not to mentioned the cloud wreathed volcanoes spewing out occasional destruction.  The people who left the islands sometimes thought of their home as a sort of "armpit" of the earth, but they left in a time when they knew that there was more available elsewhere and longed for an easier life, but their parents and grandparents also knew the islands and a source of great natural generosity and fertility.  Salina particularly was a gift to her people, green, fertile, blessed with both beauty and plenty, but when the virus hit the vines and wiped out the prosperity they had come to enjoy, the island became a prison for many.
Still, now that people have prospered and convenient transportation has made it easier to live in the beautiful islands, people have started coming for the wine, the scuba, the romantic volcanoes and the wonderful weather(most months). 

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