What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Part Three)
The best way to get around in the Aeolian Islands is by boat, and we got around some, checking out the local neighbors. There are a bunch of islets around Panarea that are apparently remnants of a big volcano that Panarea itself once belonged to. We motored over to Datillo, a remnant of the ancient super-volcano that collapsed about 10,000 years ago. It was a good place to swim, although that's where we discovered that jellyfish are on the rise in this part of the Mediterranean. Datillo comes from the Greek word dactyl, for finger, and there's a rock jutting out of it, well, like a finger. An ancient prophesy says that if that breaks off then Panarea is doomed. Or so said our captain Kika one day, a very cute, bikini-clad Panarea native law student who skippers the local waters during the summer.
Boating around the island we encountered some fumaroles, or undersea volcanic vents. You can tell when you see bubbles on the surface of the sea and smell sulfur. My son decided that these were the underwater farts of the god Vulcan. And we got a big whiff of Vulcan when we boated by the island named after him, Vulcano, a dormant volcano with hot springs which is a literal hotspot for for mudbathing tourists. Eric got stung by a jellyfish early on off Datillo, and when we visited the local beach lots of kids were hunting them with sticks. Apparently they've been a problem for the last few years, perhaps because the water has been warmer than usual. It was the warmest I've experienced the Mediterranean at this time of year. Al Gore take note.
We did find a perfect swimming spot off the boat, right off the island of Lipari. Lipari is the biggest of the Aeolian islands, and it has a substantial year-round population. One of their industries is pumice—you know, the stuff that your significant other uses to soften her feet. It's volcanic, and they mine it right out of a mountain by the sea. This leads to the unusual sight of floating rocks. But the pumice dust also covers the sea floor offshore,` and so there's nothing alive down there for jellyfish to feed on. It's like a gigantic swimming pool.
After swimming at Lipari we repaired to my favorite restaurant on the planet, Filippino, which is located in a lofty ancient fort above the town, where the archeological museum is located. This restaurant has been serving since 1913 and they have perfected not only Mediterranean seafood cuisine, but also hospitality and service. You feel like a king, even in a slightly wet bathing suit. It's a nice feature of the islands that you can patronize restaurants dressed very casually, because that could never happen in America, where you'd encounter a big sign: No shirt, no shoes, no service. Italians and their aficionados seem to know that they should wear a shirt and some shoes, or sandals anyway, and even when they are quite dressed down they comport themselves with dignity. Meanwhile, Filippino's staff is dressed in dinner jackets and serves with great care and consideration. If I ever retire with the ambition to get very tan and fatter I think I'll move within a boatride of Filippino.
Coming soon: Sicily has a way of putting things in perspective.