Dolce and Saints' Days

Sat 12 May 2007 16:03
We've been incredibly lucky with the weather for the past week, which has allowed us to spend a wonderful few days in the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily which are notorious for strong winds. In fact, they're named after Aeolius, the Greek God of wind. Apart from brilliantly clear water which attracts a very upmarket crowd in summer, the Aeolians are famous for wonderful strata of artifacts from Neolithic to Roman times and delicious food, particularly seafood and sweets. There are gorgeous gelati and granite, but best of all are the cannoli, a kind of crisp pancake filled with ricotta cheese and liqueur. Luckily for us the latest Gourmet Traveller did a feature on the Aeolians, so we spent many hours tracking down little bars and pasticcerias. Unluckily for our waistlines, we found almost all of them.
We also had a hearty fill of culture at the museum on the island of Lipari which has the best collection of ancient Greek theatrical masks in the world. We explored several of the archaeolgical sites and discovered that the reason everything is so well preserved is that they were covered up with volcanic ash, and therefore not plundered. We spent many hours watching the locals from little bars--it is too early in the season for tourists, thank God. A highlight was a large rottweiler on a Vespa.
Many of the islands' people emigrated to Australia, so we kept on meeting Australian Italians who gave us the rundown on the local political scene. you would have thought you were in Carlton or Leichardt. After a couple of days anchored off Lipari, we went to Salina where that wonderful movie, Il Postino was filmed. It was fun watching the dvd again in the actual location. Next day we moved on to the island of Panarea, where the seriously rich go in season. From there we had a stunning view of Stromboli belching out steam. Unfortunately there was no lava to be seen.
We were sorry to leave the Aeolians, but with a good weather forecast thought it would be wise to tackle the 11 hour trip to the mainland. There was no wind at all on our crossing, which was a bit disappointing, but made entry into the little marina at Maratea very easy. We were thrilled to discover that we were in the area for the main festival of the year. Since the old town is up a steep mountain road about 6 kilometres away we've hired a car for a few days so that we can experience the festival and explore the local area which is like an Amalfi Coast with no tourists. There is no English spoken and the local people are extraordinarily friendly. This morning we got up early to join the locals in all their finery and to follow a procession of local dignataries carrying the statue of Saint Biagno through the streets of the old town. The different branches of the police, including the finance police, are all in splendid uniforms.  Naturally there was a wonderful band accompanying the proceedings. We even attended the Mass in the packed church. We'd already met the priest on a 'reccky' we had made the previous day. As the statue was carried through the streets old ladies and little girls up on balconies threw down rose petals. The scent was gorgeous. The wildflowers are everywhere, so we've taken to carrying scissors with us so we can collect them. 
Tonight the band is giving a concert of opera favorites which begins in the bandstand at 9 o'clock. The whole town is blocked off to cars.
Our neighbours from Melboune, Ray and Helen, are with us and we have all fallen in love with this area of southern Italy that barely rates a mention in the Guide books.It is wonderfully picturesque, inexpensive, and totally civilised. We imagine it would be extemely busy with Italians on holiday in the height of summer, but out of season it is divine.