I’ve been hesitating all evening. “Should I go or not?”, a returning thought lost in the undertow of my mind. Back in Rome after a couple of thousand kilometers on the road, I’m wondering whether I should stay put and chill before retuning to the US or leave early again the next morning to catch the first hydrofoil to Ponza, where we have the family summer house.
A small island West of Rome, still largely unknown to mainstream tourism, Ponza was already inhabited by the Romans who used it as a military post. The island has maintained something wild and primordial that protects her against trend-victims, unfit to appreciate its charm. And yet, Ponza has it all: the island magic, the crystal Mediterranean waters, the authenticity of a destination off-the-beaten-path unreached by mass tourism and hard-to-find authenticity.
It is still dark when I open my eyes. The night has been short, but I feel sharp. No need to think. I get up, quickly put together my bag and in the morning light I’m on the road for Anzio, where the hydrofoil for Ponza leaves. The road feels fluid and before I know it I’m on the Via Pontina, heading towards the coast. I resist my body’s call for coffee, postponing it to later and to the rite of drinking it at the bar at the departure dock, before sailing.
Just outside Anzio, I slow down as I drive by the World War II Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial where rest the 7,861 American military who died in the liberation of Sicily, in the landings in the Salerno Area and in the landings at Anzio Beach. From the open car window, I can smell the fresh sea breeze now, with its promises of infinite space and blue skies. I hope that, in their resting, they can feel it too, that pure scent gentle on their souls.
I’m lucky to find a good parking spot. Not too many people on the dock; it’s a weekday and it should be a nice ride. Anzio’s port is quietly busy with its morning activities. The sun shines and the sea is calm. It will be a nice ride to the island. Now, I can get my coffee. The smell of the freshly baked cornettos and other pastries make me opt, instead, for the classic cappuccino and cornetto combo. “I was right to wait”, I think to myself while I savor both, sitting at an outdoor table; what a delight …
Once at sea, the hydrofoil gains speed lifting itself over the water. I sit in the cockpit, enjoy the energizing cocktail of sun and wind on my face. The roaring of the engine gusts in my ears, but it soon feels like silence, as we reach our cruising speed on the flat water. Less than an hour later we cross the symbolic gate delimited by the Eastern cape of the island and the Gavi islet. Then, l’Arco Naturale (the “Natural Arch”), Cala Inferno (“Hell’s Cove”), il Core (“the Heart”)… the beloved coves and bays where I swam so many times, parade in all their beauty, one after the other. The torn and jagged rocks in their shades of cream, yellow, rust and dark colors contrast vividly with the sea cobalt. Rich and bold are their nuances in the shining mid-morning light.
We sail along the Eastern side of the island, following its stretched, quarter-moon shape, before slowing down and seamlessly sliding into the harbor. The typical Mediterranean houses in their pink, blue and yellow colors seem to smile, joyfully to salute our arrival.
There is always something magic in these arrivals of the vessels from mainland. Almost a sense of relief, unspoken but lingering, that their docking provides. “You’re not alone”, they say, “you’re not forgotten”. And thus, once again, the rite of contact between mainland and the island renews itself, with old and new faces sitting on the pier, repeating ancient and modern gestures to celebrate the exorcism against the fear of isolation and solitude.
Once on the pier, I nod and exchange a few words with some of the stand-byers, before walking home along the promenade overlooking the harbor. The day is perfect, with clouds as tiny white meringues floating in the blue sky, the rhythmic sound of the tide breaking on the boat hulls, the voice callings across the small harbor cove and the intermittent smell of the bakery delicacies reaching my nostrils with every whisper of the breeze. Yes, the day is perfect and yes, once again, I’m happily off the grid.