Paradise Lost


o, I’m not talking about Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, though I’m still talking about poetry… in a way.

My paradise lost is not entirely figurative… I’m talking about a splendid uninhabited islet which I have had the privilege to visit for some years in a row.

This mythical place is located at 40° 44′ 37″ N and  13° 59′ 36″ E and looks like a banana floating on the blue waters of the Mediterranean.

Paradise Lost: Vivara Islet – Photo NASA ©

I’m quite sure that a lot of people will look at the picture and will know exactly where it is and what’s its name.

For the less fortunate ones, I’ll reveal that: it is the islet of Vivara, gently lying between the islands of Procida and Ischia, in the Gulf of Naples.

But why would this heavenly gem be lost?

Well, it’s lost to me, that is…

When I was studying at the University of Naples (today known under the posh name of Università degli Studi Federico II di Napoli), I became part of a group of people (professors and students) developing, planning and executing ecological studies in the area. This was happening maybe for the first time in such a structured and “modern” way and at the time (the early 80’s) it was quite sensational for the Region.

Now imagine spending a week every month, the whole year round, on this empty island.

The last inhabitants had left around WW2, while the first ones had been traced (by Georg Buchner) as far back as the Bronze Age…

The only buildings on the island were the posh “Casa Padronale” (the “Mansion”) and the more humble but not less beautifully located “Casa Colonica” (the “Farmer’s house”).

“The Mansion” – Photo © R.D’Anselmo 1987

Needless to say, our Team received permission to take residence only in the poorer farmer’s house…

"The Farmer's House" - Photo R. D'Anselmo © 1984
“The Farmer’s House” – Photo © R.D’Anselmo 1984

There was no electricity on the island; this was a luxury we could enjoy only several years later and even then, it was not something that we could enjoy with continuity.

Most of the time there was gas for cooking, in the form of a propane tank-bottle.
Tradition wanted that the last guy to arrive at the harbor had to carry it the whole way on shoulder, up to the very top of the steep islet (a 110 meters ascent in a very short time).

There was no water on location.
It had to be carried in jerrycans from the foot of the islet, near the bridge that connected it to the nearby island of Procida and the whole reserve had to be enough for drinking, cooking, washing and flushing WC’s for a day or two.

Wait a second…: no electricity, ubiquitous reserves of gas for cooking and only the water that can be carried on the shoulders on a steep trail to be used for nearly everything and I dare to call this Paradise Lost…???

This must sound like I have gone bonkers. But still, for someone born and raised in a devilish, busy, stinking, overcrowded city (like me and most of my colleagues), this was paradise.

Panorama of Procida from the Vivara Islet - Photo R.D'anselmo © 1987
Panorama of Procida from the Vivara Islet – Photo © R.D’anselmo 1987

Imagine the thrill of the experience:

…That you are actually able to move around at night by the sole light of the stars; or the moon, when there.

…That you are able to read a book by the light of a full moon.

…That you can sleep on a rooftop under the stars and fall asleep while counting the Perseids shooting stars on August 10th.

…That you can watch the most majestic sunrise on the Mediterranean while drinking your (from passable to definitely horrible) morning coffee, sitting on the ground near a blooming bush of perfumed Rock-rose.

…That you can work hard from sunrise to sunset and still feel totally relaxed.

…That when you close your eyes, the only sounds are those of rustling leaves, singing birds, little insects or the distant echo of waves upon rock.

It was a heavenly place to be during all seasons, though in august it was a bit too hot for my taste (42°C / 108°F).

I cannot remember if I ever wore a coat, even during the coldest winter. A sweater or a cotton field-jacket was all we needed.

During the summer months, some school classes from the nearby island came to visit during our field work on the migratory movements of the bird populations.
Vivara was smack in the middle of one of the main migratory routes through the Mediterranean, between the North European (as far as Siberia) breeding and wintering quarters in Africa (as far as south of the Equator).

We loved to show the young generations that a nice day out can be achieved also in full respect of nature and why not, while learning something about nature itself.

Visiting schoolchildren watch a researcher weighing a ringed bird before release - Photo R. D'Anselmo © 1987
Visiting schoolchildren watch a researcher weighing a ringed bird before release – Photo: © R.D’Anselmo 1987

But to everything comes an end, and eventually I haven’t been on Vivara since 1987.
Perhaps it’s better that way.

I’ve heard that the buildings have decayed, have been declared unsafe for habitation.
The endless rows and petty fights for the few thousands dollars in cash to finance the research projects and the maintenance of the buildings among the local Administrations, the Region, the local mob and all the other petty protagonists of the typical Italian political farce, have finally made sure that no more studies or scientific research will ever be done on Vivara again.

The usual shameless display by the local pocket-filling politicians.

God, how can I sometimes be ashamed of being born there…

Today, garbage is lining the once beautiful path through the buildings. Oh, yeah, they have sorted the garbage in an “ecological responsible” manner, meaning that the piles of crap sorted by type and toxicity will stay there to rot for eternity, each one “responsibly” polluting the ground it has been left upon.

Garbage along the main path - Photo M.Fraissinet © 2011
Garbage along the main path – Photo © M.Fraissinet 2011

The “Mansion” has been gutted and robbed of all its internal stucco’s and beautiful rooms. Not even the doors and window frames have been left intact.

The "Mansion" today - Photo M. Fraissinet © 2011
The “Mansion” today – Photo © M.Fraissinet 2011

But who knows… maybe it’s better this way.
From Ecological Paradise to Corrupted Political Hell.

In time, Nature will take it back.
People will die.
With a bit of luck, H. sapiens will become extinct.
Nature will take back what is hers.

We can only hope…

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