I always loved opening the family house. Dropping the bag on one of the terrace benches and open all doors and windows to allow the fresh air to flow. Then sit, resting in the pleasure of the arrival, lost in the view of the bay, in its sounds and smells.
But the day is too perfect to resist any further the call of the sea. I quickly change and walk down to the dock where Teresa, one of the boat renters, waits for me. On my way, I stop to buy my favorite items for the galley: freshly baked pizza, ripe tomatoes, juicy mozzarella and bushes of basil to store in the cooler. I add a few peaches, apricots and cherries for good measure: they all look ripe and sweet and their scent is irresistible. I know I will only get back at sunset and it’s good to have some food and snacks on board.
“Ciao Teresa! It’s good to see you, how’s life on the tier?”, I tease her. Hair in the wind, her face already suntanned, where dark and sparkling eyes keep the surroundings in check, Teresa smiles back with a welcoming greeting: “Ueee’ Andre’! Welcome! What’s the news in America?” We chat a little bit, before she points out at one of her gozzo – little fisherman’s boats, equipped for a day at sea with a small engine, a curtain for much welcomed shade and a nice deck to lay on. “Vatténne, jà, jà!” “Go, go…, leave” she jokes, encouraging me to leave for the day. The gozzo is the essential key to discover and fully appreciate Ponza’s magic. This is an island to enjoy from the water, not (only) from the land. Thus, the gozzo becomes indispensable to reach the smallest coves and hidden corners, as one sails around the island following the sun movements and adjusting to sea and wind conditions.
A quick jump and off I go, the first splashes of sea water on my skin renew the encounter with the island limpid waters and put a smile on my face. Until a few years ago, the Ponza sea waters were suffering from an increased presence of large yachts and week-end crowds who made a dent in the sea environment. Luckily, recently a series of strictly enforced regulations have reduced the occasional traffic and restored environmental balance. Less crowds, less vulgarity, more nature: paradise is back on …
I quickly sail by the “Pilate’s Grottoes” – a complex made of five pools, four indoor and one outdoor – remarkable for the perfection of the digging and carving technique and for its state of preservation. They were part of a wealthy Roman villa dating back to the first century BC. The name derives, of course, from the famous Pilate of Judea. The pools were used for fish breeding, especially eels, and used for culinary purposes but also for haruspicy. It’s nice to swim in there in the early afternoon hours, when the sun is hotter and the pools feel refreshing and evocative.
When in Ponza, days flow on another time meridian: it’s the “RUT – Relaxation Universal Time”: no jet-lag here, to be sure. I can hardly believe that less than 24 hours ago I was even debating whether to go or not… I head South and make my first stop near the Faraglioni di Calzone Muto (the “Stacks of the Mute Trouser”). Diving, swimming, drying in the sun, reading, napping. Time rolls gently. At times, I bite into my delicacies. Until I start the routine all over.
The sun is about to cross the island central ridge. I pull the anchor and cross the cape where the lighthouse sits. Palmarola, another island of the Pontine archipago and now natural preserve, stands in the West, against the blue sky. Well worth a day excursion, for its beauty and wilderness: a good diver can still find splinters and pieces of obsidian on the sea bed.
My next stop is at Capo Bianco (“White Cape”), where the tuff stone has been carved into grottoes, inlets and creeks. It is so special and beautiful that Fellini shot there some scenes for his Satyricon. Often people comes here with canoes and kayaks to check all corners and enjoy the particularly beautiful water colors. Up on the cliff, the peregrine falcon nests and, on lucky days it is possible to see them flying up in the sky.
Now the sunrays have lost some of their bite and feel velvety on the skin. I still have a good couple of hours before sunset and I want to reach one of my favorite site, the Lucia Rosa beach (“Pink Lucy”). Rocks, coves, little sand beaches define this delightful corner. It is here that one can come in the busier summer days, with the confidence to still find some privacy and silence. When I reach it, the light is perfect and that’s where I make my last swims of the day. To be true, I also bite into my last chunks of pizza and mozzarella… One piece of each in my hands, I love to eat them with drops of salty water falling on them from my wet face and hair.
The sun is now closing on the horizon. Reluctantly, I start sailing back. Hardly anyone else is around. Seagulls and other birds are busy with their last hunting efforts. The water is calm, almost oily, now in darker tones of blue. The gozzo cut through it tenderly, with little joyful splashes. Suspended in what seems perfection, I sing my thanks to the universe for the gift of such a perfect day. Happiness is emptying oneself out, in harmony with the elements.
(to be continued)