Sheets garrulous in the sun, swollen by the sirocco that creeps through the alleys.
The smell of bread, that’s the place of a historic bakery, Boccia in Ischia is, par excellence, the icon of homemade bread, even better when stuffed with mortadella.
And then there is the sea, of course. Sea everywhere, you just have to lean out to smell it, in summer as well as in winter.
In the morning, the secular procession of fishing boats that take turns on the wharf, a colorful spectacle for onlookers and shoppers: redfish and mullet, octopus and cicarelle, a triumph of species, in autumn here are the lampugas, the fishermen smile, leading actors in an open-air theater that has been repeated, every day, for decades.
If there is a place that guards, more than any other, the identity of the island of Ischia, this is the village of Ischia Ponte: the ancient Borgo di Celsa, here was once a succession of mulberry trees, some still exist.
A word of advice, for those who really want to grasp its soul: do not follow any itinerary. Getting lost is after all the best way to penetrate the essence of a place, to be fatally surprised by it. A microcosm of flavors and faces, past and present intertwining: only those who stop at the surface of things will get the impression of a place that winks at the tourist. Here there are people and history, there is the studio of an octogenarian artist who molds granite by glimpsing the sea and offers tourists the September figs from his street-front tree before setting sail in his canoe to the Castle and beyond. Here is the Catholic vocation of an entire island, the cathedral and devotees, the home of the patron – St. John Joseph – overlooking a street teeming with life. Here there is the ritual of coffee, there are colorful gozzetti loading up with vegetables and fruits to transfer them to the restaurants in Cartaromana Bay, what a unique sight when daily logistics are cloaked in romance, even better with the colors of dawn.
It peeps out behind the Castle, the sun, and it is priceless reward for those who arrive in the hamlet at dawn to be enthralled by it, even before the hamlet comes alive, pervaded by the scent of croissants and warm bread, what a sweet and irresistible embrace, opening the curtain on that choral play that smacks of humanity and, here more than elsewhere, feeds on the chatter of dialect, football and politics, weather and the seasonal ache.
It happens, all of this, in a place dominated by the vision of the Aragonese Castle: not already a papier-mâché backdrop, although its image appears almost contrived in its perfection, but a protagonist, up there culture and food and wine come together in a breathtaking afflatus. And getting there is a precious journey, there is no fatigue in seeing it getting bigger and bigger, after a stop in the bookstore that smells of the sea and the pottery store, nor is there fatigue in walking the long pier that splits the bay in two, when there is a breeze on one side on the other the sea looks like a table. And vice versa.
So many stories in this bay. Columns of carbon dioxide escape from the seabed, the whirlpool effect is amazing but also anticipates, here quite naturally, what will be in our Oceans if we don’t get a move on. There is also ancient Aenaria down there, sorry to say: the citizens abandoned it due to a natural disaster, perhaps a tsunami, and it is an amazing story of a group of fishermen who started to find docks and coins, drawing an alternative future for their children, boatmen with a passion for archaeology, who said you can’t?
And more: the Guevara Tower, the small church of St. Anne set among the rocks that tells of long processions of parturients seeking grace and holds, who knows, the inspiration for one of the masterpieces of painting of all time, Arnold Böcklin’s “The Island of the Dead.” Life and death, as in the circle that encompasses the essence of everything: this is after all the stage for the Festa a mare at the Scogli di Sant’Anna, on July 26 each year, with the allegorical boats parading on the water, revealing the artistic drive of generations of Ischitans. It was all born out of play and rivalry, the gozzetti in procession to the saint took to challenging each other with decorations: today, their legacy is in event of international scope.
But Ischia Ponte lives not only and not so much in the effervescence of its token moments of popular participation as in the irresistible sincerity of its winter silences, interrupted by the hissing of the wind and the mewing of cats, squeaky gears of the baskets that still save old men the trouble of shopping to be carried by hand, on stairs bristling with ancient buildings that reveal unsuspected stories, too. Just ask about it, with curiosity. Ischia Ponte does not disappoint, ever.