One of the biggest joys of spending months at a time in Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples is the beach. Wherever you are on the island, it’s basically right out your door. Walk a few steps and you find the sea and sand. I’ve already described how the heat and the scent of the sea can cloud your judgment. Seriously, it can make you crazy if you let it. But it can also bring a tranquility that is hard to find elsewhere.
Give Me Peace, This Peace I Give
As a mom of a 6-year-old, I experience the beach in Ischia differently than when I was in my 20s. Back then, I was dating my husband. We were young and in love. And the beach was the sanctuary of our relationship. We made weekly dates to lie in the sand or exhale on a motorboat or drown worries at the thermal spa.
Now, we go to the beach to play with our son. We watch him roll in the sand. Then, he splashes in the water. He gives us salty kisses and begs for an ice pop. For a moment, I don’t have to think about work or the fact that I don’t spend enough time with him. The guilt can fall off my shoulders. Instead, the sun can bathe them, us. Everything is all right but for a moment.
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.
A quiet beach is a sanctuary. In the evening in Ischia, when all the chairs are closed and the sand is cleared of debris, you walk. You might even dip your toes in the sea. The night breeze tickles your face and whips your hair. You squeeze the hand of your beloved. Or pull your shawl close to you. Along with clear beach, your mind clears. Looking out into the darkness of the sea, you recognize that everything is bigger than you. For a moment, you feel as though you have been swallowed whole. Then, you look down at your feet. They are dug into the sand and the tip of a wave splashes them. Things begin to come into focus.
Now, You Can Think
All around you is peace. This is your chance to get lost in your thoughts. You can focus on whatever issue is of the utmost importance in that moment. Maybe in the still of the beach you will find answers. Most importantly, by spending this time with yourself, you will better understand who you are. Maybe you’ll figure out what meaning life has for you.
Island life stands still. The ocean waves crash onto the shore. It renders everything else – perhaps, most of all, the people – motionless. The scalding sun beats down on them like the rhythm of a Metallica drum. So, the cool waters lure them like the sirens of Greek mythology. When they have had their fill and they return to the shore, they sleep. It’s a deep rest brought on by the soothing lullaby that is the sea.
Visions of floating green hills and crisp blue skies visit their dreams. When they awake, they are met with a pink and orange sunset, the type you’d imagine described in a romance novel. The perfume of roses and bougainvillea hangs in the air. Indeed, you don’t have to stop to smell flowers. They hit you right in the face. They’re intoxicating. As day turns to evening the breeze forces the beach babes to cover their bronzed, oiled skin. But a bit of beach remains in their locks well into the night. Any suitors who approach will surely take it all in. More intoxication.
Crazy Time on the Island
Night and day, it all runs together. Visitors lured by the island’s charms find they sleep until noon, eat dinner at 10 at night, and frolic well past dawn. While that may seem like madness under normal circumstances, it perfectly suits them on the island. When the sun rises and they still find themselves on the main drag, steps away from the beach, they think nothing of it. It’s as though this happens all the time. No matter they stole a kiss from someone they barely know. Or danced on a pole. Or went topless on the beach. The heat, the surf, the endless beauty all around them make it natural and therefore acceptable.
For the tourist, this is fine and well. What happens on the island is the stuff of a locked journal. It’s an adventure to be cherished but not oft repeated or discussed. For the native, the island’s charms, which bring them livelihood, could very well kill them. Where the tourist welcomes lazy days and wild nights, the native must avoid both. Yet, the scent of the sea, tremendous heat, and unavoidable tan flesh has the power of hypnosis. If they are not careful, they can be dragged into an eternal spring break. Responsibility be damned.
Even if they manage to unwind themselves from the tentacles of the island, the stillness can get them. Or at least it’s a murderer of their ambitions. Those who stay, perhaps find comfort in the known. A few rise above on the home shores and find success running a restaurant or hotels or stores or entertainment venues. Or they become professionals, the type of people every society needs. There’s definitely a simplicity to island life, and the appeal is easy to understand. It’s that sense of security that keeps college grads behind the bar serving drinks and 50-year-old sons clutched in mamma’s arms.
In the Little Pond
Of course, the smallness of the place keeps everyone contained. They are confined to the labels they long ago inadvertently agreed to don. And they are kept at a distance from the outside world. It is feet they must walk and not miles. So, they play their roles. Some play them well. In fact, many find contentment in this smaller life on an island. Others remain like stiff sand sculptures unable to break free, suffocating. What is ironic is also sad; the very beauty of the island, what draws visitors to it, is the poison that can keep some of the natives from ever moving.
Nonetheless, every now and then, the sun peeks out from the trees. The crashing waves wakes up the mind and stirs the soul. That’s when the native fights the heat and pushes the stillness. And that little world spins and spins. Then, something remarkable happens. There is movement, there is life, even for the original dwellers. Finally, tourist and native alike get to reap the rewards.
An Ischia Italy postcard calls your name. Can’t you just picture yourself diving into that picture? On this Neapolitan island neighboring Capri and Procida, you will find many beaches that allow you to escape everyday life. While falling asleep on the sand, you will dream long and hard. Anything will seem possible. You’ll feel stronger and prettier. There’s something about a lazy day on the beach that is inspirational. It’s almost like going to church. You’re renewed.
Discover the 5 beaches I think you should visit in Ischia, the island off the coast of Naples that is the home of my ancestors, my husband, and for the time being me. While the beach in the photo above – the one we go to most often out of convenience – is briefly mentioned in the story I wrote for ItaliansRus and Las Vegas’ La Voce newspaper, it is not among the 5 best. It is, however, among my personal favorites because it brings such joy to Baby Boy. He merrily spent one day last week at San Pietro Beach throwing sand in the air as though it was confetti and investigating and throwing rocks and pebbles into the water to see how big a splash they would make. It is days like that one that make being away from home far more tolerable. Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012) and the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.