The wooden tables are scattered around the tiled piazza under giant pines a few steps up from the sea. It must be 10 degrees cooler under here, or even more, if you sit for a while looking out at the cool blue sea. To the left of us is faded orange San Bartolomeo, whose bells ring at noon, sounding like the song, “Clementine,” a song I’m reminded our eldest adored when she was 3.
Behind the church is a wide olive orchard, pines around the edges here too, and sprawling fig trees we sit under while we wait for the bus on the days we travel to and fro the villages around the island or to Santa Marina to catch a boat to another island. Our first morning walking up to this spot, the scent of sun-warmed pine needles mix with the sweetest of smells we don’t recognize… then discover – the fig. Our youngest can’t believe how the fig smells of coconuts. We stand holding hands sniffing, noses in the air. When I wait for the bus there now, the warmed scent of coconuts surrounds me, the power of her suggestion and delight in it coming to mind.
The delight I have derived from the fig tree has surprised me. Recognizing it now, as the fig trees grow all over the island, smelling the distinct scent from a few feet away, admiring the large leaves so famous for their place in art, I am pleased to have made this new connection here, to take away this new knowledge of the plant world. But not only the fig, the caper plant, which the island is famous for, flourishes here too. Low growing, with round leaves, much like eculyptus, I recognized it, not by the leaves or lily-like white and purple flowers, but by the capers themselves, right there growing, and not in a jar. When you pinch them off, the unmistakable caper smell.
The path from our house to the sea passes a host of things to look at. Wild fennel high in the fields, lime and lemon trees whose fruit has fallen into the deep shadow beneath, and looks forgotten. Every time, I think I must pluck some fruit, but don’t, though I’ve been told no one will mind. I always seem to have other things to do, other things to mind and carry, bag of water shoes, towels, children, a dog.
The olive grove is a pleasure in itself. Low in height, the trees have a silver-y quality that gives them grace and you can still see the orange facade and white bell tower of the church through the branches.
In front of us is the ever-present wide vista of the blue Mediterranean, the water, a sight I’ve come to feel part of, as if absorbed into this ancient island landscape, having been swimming every day now for 17 days, a record, for us, for sure. The island of Lipari sits in the distance, chalk cliffs on one side, and the length of the island visible, one end to the other, boats going by in between. To the left, a bit further out to sea is the smallest island Panarea, where we explored the Bronze Age stone wall remains and went swimming on the secluded stone beach.
The mountain, Monte Fosse, behind us, a gradual terraced slope of 3,000 ft, Andrew speculates could have been terraced hundreds of years ago. I sit and wonder and watch the other families at the other tables. One group has finished, the young children have started a game with the blue cloth napkins, tying them around their necks, waists. The grandfather has stretched out along the tiled seats that seem to always run along the walls here and from all appearances is napping. The others continue to talk, watch the children. We’ve finish our spaghetti alla cucunciata and wait for our insalata mista, a mixed salad that always varies with the maker.
We all seem to have found something to love here. Jumpy rides on the big blue waves through stone arches, along high cliffs of islands (our eldest) fig trees, rock pools, wild twisty roads that drop down thousands of feet (our youngest), tufa cliffs, long views of the sea, there is enough to remind us it’s a great big world to know about and this summer we are lucky enough to get the chance, well, to sit under those coconut fig trees and appreciate the sweet-smelling breezes.