The man of the 33 small islands of Italy is afraid that the islands will disappear. Or rather: that their identity disappears. This is also why he put himself in journey aboard a 6-meter sailing dinghy without a cabin, “Maribelle”, touching them one at a time, without haste. At each landing place you have sought above all them, the islanders, custodians of lands poised between an increasingly remote past and a future at high risk of globalisation. Then Lucio Bellomofrom Palermo, 40, a repentant electronic engineer (to get involved he gave up a chair as an associate professor in France) has entrusted his travel diary – from Elba to Ustica, from Lampedusa to Venice, passing through Ponza and Ischia, and so on, in the wake of a fascination for the islands that has always inspired artists and writers – in the pages of a book in two volumes that is called just like that, 33 Islandspublished by Mursia, which will soon be followed by a documentary film.
A mosaic of faces makes up the journey of the solitary sailor, who – feeding on encounters and dialogues – is not solitary. That of Mary Guccione from Favignana, over eighty years old, leaves him with the basic question: “You know, when I was thirty years old I looked at tourism as if manna from heaven were about to arrive. – she tells him – Then I realized that it wasn’t like that. Because tourism invades, and sometimes it can end up killing the soul of a people”.
In Ischia, where he has chosen to spend the last few months, Lucio looks back on his journey and observes the horizon. “I found myself entangled in a network of extreme and marginal beauty, plundered in the short summer period and left to itself for the rest of the year. – He clarifies immediately – But I understood that it is here too where Italy is at stake for its future. Globalization has also affected the islands, they tend to resemble the mainland, rather than showing their own peculiarities. I have often come across the message of local administrations according to which the island progresses only if the gap from the mainland narrows. Sure, there are islands and islands. The more remote the island, on the other hand, the more precarious the access, and the more the identity resists. I think about Flaxfor example, or ad Alicudi. But even here I saw signs that gave me chills. Yet something of the islands resists, even on the most man-made islands: even today, once landed in Ischia, with its seventy thousand inhabitants, you can breathe an island air. What exactly it is is complex and perhaps impossible to explain. Yet there is. And it must be defended.”
The energy conversion that (cannot) wait
Then there is the issue, more crucial than ever today, of sustainability. Of energy independence. “On the islet of Amantani, on Lake Titicaca between Peru and Bolivia, at an altitude of 3800 meters, a few hundred inhabitants, a year and a half ago, while walking, I stumbled upon a photovoltaic power plant. It struck me that people there live almost as they did a thousand years ago, but what little electricity they have comes from that power plant. For this, today I wonder why the smaller Italian islands have not focused on photovoltaic plants or wind energy, sea currents, green conversion. I came across a few very modest projects in Salina or Elba. Yet there would be fewer people to convince and a lower need than in the cities. But no, islands are never the small laboratories they could be. Nor are they for the water supply, with no or insufficient watermakers. And this is where the shortsightedness of our country lies. Furthermore, the food self-sufficiency of many of the Italian islands, which have long lived on fishing and agriculture, is an increasingly difficult model to sustain. And so I let myself be fascinated by virtuous realities, such as the Carrubba di restaurant Martin Christmas in Ustica, which despite some small exceptions – pasta, for example – offers dishes whose ingredients are exclusively from the island, even with the risk of reducing and in some ways simplifying the offer”.
Vegetable gardens, bartering and resisting nature
Two ocean crossings under sail, diving instructor Lucio Bellomo shakes his head several times while, with his markedly Sicilian cadence, he talks about his islands, explored in a journey that began on 15 April 2018, with (departure from Palermoand concluded on August 23, a Venice). Not everything seems to have convinced him, in short. But he also looked for (and found) virtuous stories. He hates the term “resilience,” but cites them as profiles of insular realities that have understood the importance of protecting specific features.
“TO Ischia – tells – a woman, Luciana Morgerainvented the Green Exchange 3.0, a mechanism for bartering garden surpluses through social media, triggering a return to the cultivation of uncultivated land, a reduction in waste and above all the rediscovery of the green soul of the island, through events, readings and laboratories”. And then there is nature, of course.
“The Italian islands often remain oases of biodiversity. – Lucio notes – The more remote ones are only partially subjected to the unsustainable anthropic pressure of the mainland, in terms of plastic, pesticides and heavy metals. Diving in Ustica, Linosa and Capraia is priceless. I was able to appreciate the importance of the islands as hotspots for the migratory phenomena of birds, recording the queen’s falcon, which nests on the island of San Pietro as at Aeolian, and the substantial colony of shearwater in Linosa, where tens of thousands of specimens return to land every evening, in the summer, to look after the newborns. Wonderful! But I also saw many, too many islands surrounded by murky water and attacked by overtourism, to which the local communities themselves have too often winked guilty, and then I wondered what still doesn’t work in the system of Marine Protected Areas, theoretically ideal for defending their extraordinary nature. I believe that the ideal route is the one traced by an experiential and mature tourism, intercepted for example by realities such as “Nesos”, which with Peter LoCascio, Flavia Grita And Carmel Mustica to the Aeolian Islands offers high-profile scientific excursions, to the respectful and never invasive discovery of flora and fauna. Well, I’d start right there.”