Romance is a state of being. You can’t fake it or manufacture it, even though you probably try. Islands breed romance by their very existence. Perhaps, none sets the mood better than Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy. Just to look all around you is to fall in love.
First, the Island Seduces You
Known as l’isola verde or the green island, Ischia boasts fragrant flowers and green hills. The pastel colored houses serve as polka dots on the landscape. Sea and sand are equally intoxicating. Castello Aragonese harkens royalty and the elegance of its former dwellers. Cobblestone streets and rustic cantine (wine cellars) promise Old World sensibilities. Sundays gathered with family feasting on coniglio Ischitano (traditional rabbit dish of the island) bring you simplicity. The heat has everyone in various states of undress.
Next, a Native Inspires Romance
Then, at some point, you will feel the intense eyes of a native on you. He will look at you as though he can see your inside thoughts. You will become at once intrigued and uncomfortable, more than ever before. As if only the two of you exist in the world, you’ll have a conversation with your eyes alone. He’ll touch the small of your back, and you’ll be charged by the electricity. He’ll guide you outside to see the view. That’s when you lose all control. Any power you had before vanishes. You are unable to even whisper. Instead, you quiver.
No Turning Back
In front of you is the sun. As it sets, it looks as though it belongs only to Ischia and you only to it. That setting sun bursts with soft, yet electric colors that splash across the sky. The gentle breeze rises as if from the waves and caresses your cheek. You close your eyes. The island passionately kisses you and you succumb. Those kisses become your drug, and you keep coming back for more. But whatever you do, don’t look directly into the sun. Or you may lose yourself forever.
The need for environmentalism or going green is evident once you step on an island driven by tourism. What’s the allure of such an island? The natural beauty all around you. That’s what brings the people to the yard. If you lose that shine, you are left with nothing. While my arguments are based on the time I spend in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, this is probably true for any island or anyplace of the sort.
For starters, you need to understand the climate of the place. Of the four climates represented in Italy, Ischia falls into the “Mediterranean climate,” according to climatechangepost. It is joined by the country’s other islands and southern Italy. This climate is “characterized by mild temperatures and moist winter,” the site adds.
The entire country is facing challenges. “Because of its geographic heterogeneity, Italy has seen a diverse set of events linked to the recent changes in global climate levels,” according to Italyun.esteri.it. “In some areas, there has been an increase in natural catastrophic events, such as landslides in mountainous regions, floods, and rising sea levels in areas…”
Another website, the Local.it, outlined in 2015 all the ways Italy is already suffering from climate change and how it could get worse. Three of the challenges directly relate to the islanders in Ischia. Here are the dangers the outlet warned about that are already influencing life on the island:
Rising Coastal Waters
Conservative estimates suggest that sea levels could rise by 1.5 meters by the end of the century unless people take action, according to the report. The article goes on to suggest that Pompeii and Herculaneum, Unesco World Heritage sites not far from Ischia, could be wiped out. Presumably islands could drown, too.
“Higher global temperatures cause higher rates of evaporation, change the way air moves, and affect the amount of water vapor the air can hold,” according to the Local.it. “That might not seem like much, but on a global scale it is disrupting weather systems and causing violent and unpredictable events, such as storms and droughts.” Ischia has had its fair share of ugly rain storms. Some of them have caused devastating landslides that have injured people. In fact, one landslide killed an entire family except for the mother, who was badly injured. During the winter of 2016-early 2017, the island experienced a touch of snow that actually stuck for longer than a second. Not normal, not good.
Indeed, we are in the middle of a severe drought in Italy right now. We did have a little rain yesterday in the wee hours of the morning, but it hardly was enough to eradicate the problems. Besides the water shortage extended droughts could cause, they also damage the grape harvest. While Ischia is not completely reliant on its grapes for wine making, the island’s wine business is well known enough. Italian wine, in general, is a cultural staple found on the tables of most homes. But it also is a big draw for tourists. Well, the Local.it cites a 2013 study by Conservation International, which suggests that drought could actually wipe out grapes in Italy “if trends continue at the current rate.” Yikes!
Local Economy Demands Environmentalism
Some leaders in the United States argue that going green comes at a cost to business. They say sometimes the cost is too great to justify. A few still try to say that climate change is a hoax. Ridiculous. Now, some of them are trying to turn back the clock and return to an era of unfettered fossil fuels and the like. But islanders like the ones on Ischia should never follow their lead. They need to protect their turf because it’s all they’ve got.
I’m not sure Ischia keeps stats on how many people survive on tourism. But I can tell you that even the professionals I know here – lawyers, doctors, accountants – would have no work if it weren’t for the tourists and tourism. And the other 90 percent of the people I know are either students who rely on parents who are in tourism or are in the tourism industry themselves. They own hotels or work at them. They own restaurants or work at them. They own stores or work at them. You get the idea.
But Are They Getting the Message?
A few years ago, the island confronted a major scandal. A number of hotel owners were found to be throwing human waste directly into the sea. Often, you would see foam and even garbage washing onto shore. Some people got sick. Some people got in trouble with the law for their part in the scheme. I’d like to believe the islanders have straightened it all out, learned their lesson.
Honestly, I just don’t know. I will say that the water seems cleaner. Most of the people with whom you speak talk a good game when it comes to going green. Nowadays, everyone recycles (by law). But you will see the recycling bins at beaches, hotels, entertainment venues. I know for a fact that it’s someone’s job to pick up those containers and bring them to the town for recycling. So, there’s that.
Of course, everyone around here has been living the organic lifestyle since before it was trendy. Most people have their own gardens. They never use pesticides or anything unnatural. There are no GMOs. Actually, the laws regarding food production are so tough that you won’t find hot dogs or bacon sold in Italy. The preservatives prohibit them.
Also, there’s just a feeling of desire on the part of the people. The natives seem truly sad to hear that the sea that gives them life could be sick or ailing. Anything less than pristine, in fact, seems unacceptable. Frankly, their life demands a more symbiotic relationship with nature. It’s not just about the money. It’s not even just about the future of the world. It’s about their personal present.
To Their Health
The sea is the source of their income because that’s why tourists flock to Ischia. It is also a food source. The delicious seafood is another draw for visitors, but it’s also how the natives nourish themselves. A filthy sea means bad seafood. Obviously, bathing in dirty water could also cause physical illness. For centuries, people have come to Ischia for its thermal waters, which have healing powers. Imagine if instead of healing, the water began hurting. I can’t imagine it either. Or at least I never want to.
Even if investing in green efforts cost some money up front, the business owners in Ischia have to recognize what it could cost them in the long term. Just imagine the scenarios described by those other publications and reports. Climate change could literally wipe out Ischia. The island known as l’isola verde or the green island for its lush vegetation could end up losing its grapes or other crops for that matter. And that beautiful sea, the heartbeat of the island, is at risk.
So, you see, we have no choice but to concern ourselves with environmentalism. The island life depends on it.
MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA / FAMILY TRAVEL – VIAGGI
An Ischia Italy beach day can change the way you think. The intoxicating scent of the sea lures you like the sirens of Greek mythology. When you first squish your toes into the hot, soft sand, you think you’re walking on fire. So, you get your ballerina on and tip toe, tip toe, tip toe to a lounge chair. A tall, dark teenager leads you to the perfect spot nearest the sea. Exhale.
Your son is ready to jump in. But you’re l’Americana. So, you first cover him in cream and sheathe him in a rash guard. Then, you warn him of the dangers of going too deep. You tell him to stay close to his father and never go past the buoys. Just then, your husband whisks away your baby and takes him past the buoys. Inhale.
Who cares? You’re at the beach…on an island…in Italy. Pull up a lounge chair. Exhale.
Other children are running in the sand. Or they’re trying to catch waves. A few are making rocks dance on the water. An Italian mamma in a skinny bikini is bouncing a naked baby on her hip. She covers him with a blanket in the hopes that the sound of the sea will help him drift off to sleep.
Teenagers are finding excuses to climb on one another, forming human pyramids in the sea. They are young and pretty and seem to know it. Bronzed and carefree, they are like the personification of hedonism. For a moment, you are both nostalgic for your own youth and jealous you never experienced being a native of an island. Then, they topple and crash onto one another with a thunderous flop. Suddenly, you recall that youth truly is wasted on the young. And the island limits where you can go. Next, one or two of the young couples steal a salty kiss. You lean back and the mind wanders.
These are not the youth of your America. They are distinctly different. Italian children are less tame, far less controlled. Many of the babies – boys and girls alike – are nude. They splash and pee with wild abandon. Little girls as old as 8 wear no bathing suit top. An American lawyer I know once visited and would not allow his wife to photograph the beach for fear it would be considered child pornography Stateside.
Still, one of the little girls toddles over to your son and asks to borrow his shovel for building palaces and pools in the sand. He gleefully obliges. A friend for a moment is better than none at all. Despite the language barrier, they get along well. Pointing and hand gestures work. And they look at each other in wonderment.
Then, of course, the place is teeming with adults. The amount of flesh on display takes some getting used to for those of us from comparatively puritanical America. The natives, in fact, mock your one-piece bathing suit and shorts. You once wore skimpier swimsuits. But now you’re a mamma of a certain age. You like your cover up covering up things. Of course, the damage the sun can do is another excuse – err, reason – to hide skin. But the sun is life in Italy.
So, natives have a different take. Some of the men, especially the older ones, still wear speedos. It’s hard to avert the eyes. The image of a banana hammock burns into your memory much like Vesuvius at Pompeii. More modern men wear a regular bathing suit. Of course, theirs are shorter than yours. This is not the place for board shorts. While Jersey Italians are spraying on their tans, Italian Italians are doing it old school. They drench themselves in sun. Many still use oil. They shimmer like diamonds. Nearly naked diamonds. They jeer you for your milky white skin and 50+ sunscreen. Don’t even get them started on your kid’s rash guard and long swim trunks.
Even the nonne (grandmas) wear two-piece bathing suits. Many don bikinis that leave little to the imagination. Let’s just say you are seeing more than just the cheeks on their faces. The foreign women are even less reserved than the Ischitani. Finding tan lines intolerable, they go topless. Some are old and wrinkly. Others are young and perky. They all take your breath away.
Ischia Makes You Feel Sexy
Even among those who work on the beach – delivering drinks or renting umbrellas – there’s a casualness. It’s as though the heat makes it all right to be in various stages of undress. While closing your eyes, you have a revelation; what’s beautiful is the acceptance of all shapes and sizes. Because it’s hot, everyone can uncover herself. It’s permitted. There’s a freedom that comes with this acceptance. Removing shame of the flesh is actually empowering in a way. But your Americanness prevents you from fully appreciating it. And you can’t bear showing too much of yourself in Ischia. It takes a kind of courage you’re not sure you have.
An ad once suggested Ischia was where you eat, you drink, and you “whistle.” The latter is in quotes because it is a euphemism for sex. Some, however, say it just points to the laid-back vibe of the island. The heat and scent of the sea and all that natural beauty certainly have their influence. You’re suddenly lightheaded. You notice your husband swinging your son into the sea for one more run. The sunlight is bouncing off his curly locks. Sure, he’s gotten older as have you. But his midlife paunch and a few gray hairs don’t change the fact that his green eyes are twinkling. He’s Italian. He’s yours. And he’s friggin’ sexy.
When he comes over and brushes your hand as you offer him his towel, you still feel electricity. It’s time to head for the restaurant on the beach, just behind you. Tonight your son demands a chicken cutlet and fries. And you’re having linguine and clams. The Ischia sun is setting in the background. The sea breeze lightly caresses your face. Your husband gives you the look. And your son begins to fall asleep in your lap while twirling your hair. It is the end of a perfect day.
While wandering around Ischia Porto this morning (yet again), we saw an adult with children on a motorino, which is a motor scooter. The adult was wearing a helmet and the children were not. My husband and I discussed it. He said he wouldn’t take kids on a motorino without helmets. I said I would NOT let my kids ride on a motorino. Period. We don’t agree and sometime in the future we’ll be confronted with this by our son. I’m certain of it. He’ll be traveling back and forth between Italy and the United States for the rest of his life because he will be close to both families. As a result, he might one day want to drive a motorino around the island himself. I say we should prohibit it. We should prohibit it big time. I’ve seen one too many brutal accidents here on the island both with natives and tourists, who enjoy renting one of these bad boys. And I just find them completely unsafe, especially when novices jump on one.
Yet, I let my husband convince me to ride behind him – with a helmet, of course – during the years when we were dating and first married. I was hesitant, but even my mother-in-law prodded me to give it a chance because we don’t have a car here, and we had no other way to get around except for the rather inconvenient buses on Ischia. So, I agreed. We scooted all over the island – to other beaches, our friend’s homes on the other side of Ischia, fancy dinners (a nightmare on your hair-do), and thermal spas. I haven’t been on the back of his motorino since I got pregnant. Of course, it’s dangerous for a pregnant woman to be on the motorino, and I wasn’t even here at all during the pregnancy. Now that I’m a mom, I’m even more hesitant than before to get on the back of his scooter, even though hubby is a great driver and is always safe. But I digress.
Despite the fact that I rode on the motorino (against the will of my own parents, whose opinion didn’t count much because of my status as a full-fledged adult), I don’t want my son to ride on one. Ever. It’s just one of a slew of things that fall into the category of “Do As I Say, Not As I Do.” And it will be one of a slew of things about which my husband and I will disagree and will have to compromise. I got exhausted before the day even started just thinking about these future negotiations between husband/father, wife/mother, and son. Probably, I have about 15 years to prepare my case. I better get started now.
Ischia is very much like the Matchbox 20 song, “She’s So Mean.” The island is just so good looking that you can easily overlook all her obvious flaws – and get sucked back into loving her no matter what kind of wrong she has done you. The views on the island, including the one above, transport visitors to another time and place, when nature was left untouched and history was the present. If you want to know where are the best places to take in this tall glass of water, then you’re in luck. Check out the “5 Best Views in Ischia” on ItaliansRus.com. But be warned: that pretty face will break your heart over and over again.
Pinch me because I still feel like I’m dreaming after an amazing time in Ischia (yes, for those of you who know my true feelings for the island, you read that correctly) with my friends and their daughter, who is just about three months older than Baby Boy. They left on Friday, and I have had that twinge of emptiness in the pit of my stomach, the one I always get when I say good-bye to the ones I love, ever since. Still, I have the memories of their vacation. And Memorial Day weekend allowed me to make like a tourist myself for a bit. One of the best experiences we shared was a tour by Franco of Ischia Taxi.
Even though I’ve been visiting Ischia since I was 2, I always seem to learn something new when I head out into the island. This time was no different. Thanks to Franco, I learned the overlook, whose view is in the photo above, is a hot spot for guys to bring the ladies with whom they’d like to share a kiss (and something more, but they must feign being gentlemen). This was educational to me because my husband brought me here the first time I visited Ischia after we started dating. You can bet with that beautiful setting, he snagged a kiss – nothing more than a kiss, though, so no worries mamma and papa.
Franco also taught me that there’s a museum in Ischia featuring fish fossils, which were found on top of Mount Epomeo, Ischia’s highest point. You might be wondering, as were we, “How on earth could a fish end up on top of a mountain?” Well, Ischia was a volcano. When it erupted, Epomeo was elevated above the ocean. Those fish that were swimming on what would become Epomeo could not survive without the ocean water, they died, and presumably time and the lava, preserved their remains, thus the fossils. It’s not quite the scientific explanation, but it makes perfect sense, no? Indeed, you do learn something new everyday.
What was so lovely about this two-hour giro dell’isola (island tour) were the visits to various landmarks. While the babies slept – cozy in their car seats in the van taxi – my friends were able to stop and see another overlook that had them view Naples and Mount Vesuvius from Ischia, Forio’s Soccorso church made famous in the movie Avanti and by Pope John Paul II’s visit about a decade ago, the famous Lacco Ameno fungo, a giant rock that naturally formed and juts more than six feet out of the ocean and looks like a mushroom, views of thermal spas, Giardini Poseidon and Negombo, and Sant’ Angelo, an old fishing village turned tourist must-see.
Of course, they also stopped at make-out point, where Franco insisted they share a smooch. When our camera broke and we lost almost all the pictures from the tour, Franco, who drove us to visit La Mortella Gardens the next day, brought them back to make out all over again. This time he had them pose Titanic-style to boot. It was all very Italian. Is that service or what?