Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In the Shadow of "Mama Etna": Travel Notes from 2006

I've been asked whether I included accounts of my extensive travels here on "Never too Late!" That started me thinking about why I haven't done so. I did mention my short trips to special events in Canada and in Pennsylvania, but not my April-May trip to Sicily and southern Italy, which occurred before I began this blog.

I realized that I returned from that wonderful trip (my first to Sicily and the Amalfi Coast but one of many trips to Italy) to do the final editing of my book, begin my volunteer job, and become generally much busier than I had been earlier. The traveler who takes one great "trip of a lifetime" usually remembers every detail, but we frequent travelers can get forgetful. My book includes one separate chapter on my motorcycle trip to the Soviet Union in 1990, but my quest to visit all seven continents, completed in 2005, was covered in just one chapter. One of my New Years resolutions for 2007 (in addition to the usual "lose weight," etc.) is to keep a journal on my next trip (to Ireland next spring).

Then I found my one journal entry from my 2006 trip. I called it "In the Shadow of Mama Etna." Here it is:

Much of eastern Sicily lives in the shadow, either literal or figurative, of the volcano and mountain many there refer to as "Mama Etna." Etna is considered a good or friendly volcano, despite its fairly frequent eruptions. Through the centuries, only about seven lives have been lost. Villiages have been wiped out as lava hurried to the sea, but somehow, Etna always has given enough warnings so that no one going about his or her daily activities has been overcome suddenly or buried, ala Pompeii.

Scientists study Etna's rumblings, and they always seem to have some idea of where or when an eruption will occur. Their knowledge is not perfect, and they cannot control Mama Etna. Still, the many who live nearby are confident enough to enjoy the volcano's "light shows" and puffs of steam (some of which I saw), and Etna is a tourist attraction where destroyed facilities are quickly rebuilt and functioning, as is the lift or train that takes visitors near the summit.

I learned that Etna is not just a single cone-shaped mountain with one crater, but that there are at least four craters almost in a line, as well as several on the flanks all around the mountain. An eruption can occur almost anywhere. The black lava paths from the mountaintop to the sea are clearly visible, at least those from recent eruptions, but gradually nature emerges--in about one hundred years, I was told--if man does not interfere. In reality, man plants trees and hurries up the rehabilitation process at times.

On the north-northwest side of Etna, the one least populated by tourists and souvenir shops, tall pines grow near the summit just below the black lava in white snow strips nearest the top. Among the green trees and other vegetation on the slopes, skeletal gray-white remains of burned trees appear as constant reminders of nature's power.

To this American midwesterner, a volcano--any volcano--brings thoughts of danger and destruction, but to the Sicilians living near Mama Etna, she is a towering presence that excites and entertains and provides income. They build on her slopes without the comfort of property insurance. The majestic black and white and green presence serves as a backdrop for the breathtaking views and lush orchards and vineyards below on the shores of the Mediterranean. Thanks, Mama Etna. You were one of the highlights of my trip.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

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