My friend Jane is visiting from Bonn, where she moved six months ago and, it being that time of year, we decided to go to L’Isola del Giglio for the day. Giglio is the Italian word for ‘lily’ but the name probably derives from the Greek word for ‘little goat,’ Aigýllion. I don’t know why. Giglio is an island off the coast of Tuscany and is a place I love very much. It’s been inhabited since the Stone Age. Jane and I used to come here nearly every weekend before we got old and lazy. Well, I got lazy; I can’t speak for Jane.
People were always fairly surprised they we did the trip in a day but given the various needy cats and dogs that the two of us caretake it’s not so practical to routinely spend the night out of town. Besides, a day trip to Giglio is eminently doable. Leave Rome at 8 am; drive lickety split to Monte Argentiario; catch a ferry to Giglio; buy an elaborate picnic, hit the beach; catch the 6:30 ferry back; back in Rome by 10. Doing the trip on Saturday ensures minimal traffic since most Romans do the beach thing on Sunday (nor would most Romans even consider a day trip to Giglio).
Sadly, Giglio is best known these days as the site of the Costa Concordia disaster. The cruise ship, carrying 4252 passengers, ran aground in January 2012 when the captain, Francesco Schettino, pulled in close to shore to give the local islanders a little honk and howdy do. While this kind of show-offery is apparently common in the cruise ship world, Schettino came in too close and too fast and crashed into a big rock, killing 32 passengers and crew. It was the worst maritime disaster in Italy since World War II. The captain minimized the seriousness of the accident to the coast guard and then abandoned ship long before it had been fully evacuated (he said that he ‘tripped and fell into a lifeboat by mistake.’) He’s on trail for manslaughter and the largest ever salvage operation is underway off the coast of the island. The operation involves nearly 500 people working around the clock; it’s been going on for 18 months with at least another 15 months to go. The island is seeking damages of 80 million euros from the captain, citing ‘irreparable damage to its image.’ Quite right too. Meanwhile, the wreck is just sitting there, fronting the port. It’s awful and tragic to see. I wasn’t expecting to find it so upsetting. I’m not sure what I expected actually. After that sobering experience, Jane and I went off to our usual beach, Caldane. Nor bars, no bathrooms. Just sand and the clear blue Med. Angelo, the unofficial lifeguard (he has a whistle) and renter-out of umbrellas and beach chairs recognized us right away, although we’d not been there for years (“Hellooo gurlzzz.”).
The sea was cold and the sky was pretty cloudy but the picnic was great and it was still very nice to be back on Giglio, which seems to be making the best of a pretty bad situation by all accounts.