My house on island of Salina is in the village of Pollara, famous as the setting for much of the film Il Postino starring Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret, and Maria Grazia Cucinotta. It rests beautifully in a volcanic crater that erupted violently 13,000 years ago blowing a portion of itself into the sea. Imagine an ancient Roman theatre with banked seating arranged in a semi-circle around a stage. Pollara sits on the stage looking west to the open sea and the islands beyond. It is a collection of 60 houses, a church, and piazza that can only exist in your wildest imagination.
Until the mid-1960’s the only overland route into, or out of, Pollara was a trail called the ‘semaforo’ which connected the village to the neighbouring town of Malfa. Leaving the piazza in Pollara you could follow the trail as it switched back and forth across the face of the crater until it reached the ridge. From here the trail would take you through a long descent into Malfa. The portion of this trail that ran from the ridge into Pollara still exists, but sensible people take their cars and motorbikes on the narrow two lane road that forced a reluctant Pollara into modernity fifty years ago.
I love to run every day. It doesn’t come easily, but rather through bloody determination. As I run, my thoughts can easily focus on the difficulty of the challenge, sore muscles, lack of energy, and doubts about my abilities. Running is a tough mental challenge for me. Running in Pollara means running up and out of the crater, down the other side, back up to the ridge, then back down into the village. One road. There is no other route. In the morning I leave the house, look up toward the point at which the road meets the ridge of the crater, swear to myself, and then I run. I have a steep uphill battle that will continue for 3 kilometres – just to the ridge.
Running in and out of the crater has drawn me closer to this community and helped me to feel the rhythms of their lives. As the cars pass me with a honk, a wave, or a blank stare I can sense their moods and guess their routines. I know which town bus drivers will acknowledge me, and which drivers will choose to ignore me (“crazy foreigner” I can hear them wisper in their outward silence.) Antonello and Daniela drive taxis and never fail to smile in encouragement, and perhaps some disbelief. Who are they bringing into Pollara? I know when the beach is going to be crowded as tourists, unstable on rented motorbikes, drive into this paradise.
As the only person daring to run up this road I am alone, and lonely. Then a car will pass me and the run becomes crowded with thoughts about the people that have crossed my path.
The end of my run is another invitation into the lives of my neighbours. Beside the piazza is a love-filled snack bar called l’Oasi. If I run in the morning I’ll stop to chat and drink what has become known as ‘Gramm Juice’ made from oranges, lemons, ginger, and carrots. If I run in the evening I’ll have a large bottle of water and a Negroni (one of the reasons I’ll never end up in an Nike promotional campaign.) Walking from the piazza back to the house I’ll chat with everyone I meet, wandering through the lanes that struggle to separate houses built close together centuries ago. I will pass through gardens full of fig trees, vines, and vegetable patches stuffed with tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and beans.
My run is a view into the world that I share with these fantastic people.