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The Island of Lampedusa: a World Away

Date: September 22, 2013 - categories: - 2 Comments

A solitary fisherman on Lampedusa

A solitary fisherman on Lampedusa

At first site of the aquamarine waters of the island of Lampedusa, you’ll wonder if you’ve landed in the tropics or the Caribbean. Only eleven kilometers long, this rocky Mediterranean island – southern-most point in Europe – is now refuge point for immigrants coming from North Africa, fleeing poverty, hunger and conflicts in their own countries.

Sometimes during the evening passeggiata in Via Roma, you’ll see a few immigrants walking together in the midst of strolling sun-tanned vacationers whose flight to Lampedusa is not as desperate as that of the refugees: like us, they probably came to Lampedusa seeking the Mediterranean-world slow pace, swimming paradises …and superb seafood.

Lady Francesca - our boat for a ride around the island

Lady Francesca – our boat for a ride around the island

Head to the port and you’ll see fishing boats with flaking paint rocking gently at anchor with perhaps a fisherman squatting in the prow mending nets for the next day’s catch. Keep walking and you’ll see other fishing boats, larger ones, with bright new paint jobs, decks polished to a sheen and a few tourists lined up and inquiring about a day’s boat ride, with swims in coves below the cliffs, unreachable on foot. On a tip, we headed for a boat called “Lady Francesca” where fisherman/ownerSergio and his future son-in-law Pietro, greeted us warmly. We climbed onto the boat and while waiting for others to board, Pietro proudly look me into the galley to see the sparkling new kitchen with fine woodwork which he’d help Sergio build. The pasta sauce for our lunch was simmering on the stove: the beauty of the boat, aromas of our lunch, the warm welcome of Pietro and Sergio were preview to the day ahead.

Sergio and Pietro serve up pasta with swordfish and eggplant, pinenuts, baby tomatoes

Sergio and Pietro serve up pasta with swordfish and eggplant, pinenuts, baby tomatoes

Vacationers from various areas of Italy joined us – perhaps another fifteen or so. After our first stops for swims in breathtaking waters of isolated coves – with masks and snorkels – bonding was starting in our group. By the time we had prosecco, with island olives and other nibbles offered by Sergio and Pietro, we were a united front. Lunch was buonissimo: pasta with pine nuts, baby tomatoes, parsley and tuna (caught by Sergio, logicamente). Second course? Scampi alla lampedusana. Fresh salad from Sergio’s family garden – sparked with island capers – followed. Espresso and Sicilian sesame seed cookies wrapped up.

Relaxing conversation after lunch as our boat glided past the rocky, stalwart cliffs, often sheathed with caper vines and dropping into aquamarine seas. Some of us sat in the back, shaded by the canopy while others stretched out on towels in the sun on the top of the boat. Sergio decided we needed some excitement: “Delfino!” he shouted and everyone scrambled to spot the dolphin – that wasn’t there.

Sunset on Aug 23rd at Porta dell'Europa

Sunset on Aug 23rd at Porta dell’Europa

More swims in coves which can never be described and in the late afternoon, Sergio and Pietro served slabs of an exquisite melon with a lemony taste. “Che cos’e?” I asked. Sergio grinningly replied, “Un limonmelone,” just as I identified the simple exquisite goodness of what we were eating: slices of winter melon, sprinkled with lemon juice. “Il limone va dappertutto,” Sergio affirmed. Not sure “lemon goes everywhere” but I always put it on melons now.

The sun was starting to drop into the water and day was moving to meet the evening as we neared the port, sipping one of Sergio’s homemade liqueurs. Lots of handshakes, laughter and everyone helping each other as we scrambled off the boats, after mille grazie to our hosts.

As we parted ways, two women in our group (who had taken another – disappointing – boat ride with others) were re-booking with Sergio and Pietro for the same giro dell’isola (“ride around the island”) in a couple days.

Read more on Lampedusa, island of refuge

2 Comments

  • Karen Kotoske says:

    Anne, thank you for writing with sensitive spirit about the many who’ve lost their lives in pursuit of what so many of us take for granted: a place to live and an income. Many were only children, some were pregnant women, all simply sought opportunity to make a longer and better life. I am grateful that Italy and the people of Lampedusa, even if only because of EU dictates, provide a haven at least for a while for those lucky enough to survive the dangerous waters. May those who have not survived the dangers rest in peace.

  • donald antonangeli says:

    Anne; Terrific article. However there is a political side to immigration that is not pleasant. I wonder how many immigrants the island can sustain without losing its cultural integrity.

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