August 10, 2013

Remote Possibilities

The island of Pantelleria is within winking distance of Arabian Africa and was, before it was discovered by tourism, magical.

We are held for a few hours on our way to the island because of inclement weather.  What else is new in 2013?  Suddenly the sky turns blue, the light gold, and we are on our way. 

“Is it like Sicily?”

“Of course!”

Wonderful and deserted, abandoned and beautiful, navel of the canal of Sicily, Pantelleria shows the signs of its troubled birth through the black lava flows that descend to the sea, covered by the waves of the Mediterranean. The centrality of its position, 36 miles from North Africa and 65 from the Sicilian coast, has greatly influenced the complexities and radical changes of Pantelleria’s long history since it was first settled in late prehistoric times. The character and the spirit of the various peoples and cultures dominating the island throughout the centuries have been absorbed and have become the socio-cultural web that is Pantescan culture.

I have sat in front of the computer and pored over web pages imagining this island.  The name has a miniaturist allure, a dream that is exotic but manageable and entirely gratifying, a fantastic charm on the bracelet of life, and it is these that draw me most.   Often there is a misfit element to these places, crumbling colonial backwaters whose day has passed.  If they convey the feeling that the clock has stopped a hundred years ago I can get very excited.  Often it is the name, the very configuration of letters that suggests the ideal, forgotten stopping place.  Often they are in warm climates and on the coast, or islands with quaint capitals.

Pantelleria is one of those names, one of those places…
“But from the ’60s to now, small and large changes in culture, economy and technology have slowly transformed this incredible landscape of Pantelleria. The arrival and use of the car opened and consolidated old paths in a thousand ways; electricity arrived in every village, leaving behind the required power lines; and the ferry arrived, with new artifacts and materials. All had the result of changing the architectural landscape.

There are two elements that have caused a transformation more than anything else: first, the progressive neglect of agriculture, which reduced crops that protected the terraces the effect is the covering of the stonewalls, which without any maintenance, will slowly collapse. Second, the arrival of water from the desalinator, allowed the planting, especially near the dammusi, of ornamental gardens. Although they create a pleasant environment to live in, they hide the buildings, pointing out their presence only by the large plants that surround them. With these phenomena, even if they are small, the landscape changes slowly.What remains, however, of the rural world, which has permeated every stone in this land, is not just a physical presence in the shadow of our new gardens, but especially our unpretentious way of living on the island. To preserve it and pass it on is our duty, in the name of beauty.

Gabriella Giuntoli, Architect and Urban Planner, Pantelleria, Italy