Thursday, March 01, 2007

On Top of Stromboli Part II


There once was a man from Stromboli whose…well you know how the rest of it goes. A little rhyme children, teenagers, and perhaps even some adults have used illegitimately for years and years. Like the rhyme, it’s funny how we find comfort in that we believe all things go in a certain way, a preordained order if you wish. Call it induction or perhaps deduction, but just about everything falls into its own niche. Yet things are not always what you think they are. The island of Stromboli is one of these cases. I know. I was there when it happened...when my world changed.

Stromboli is one of the Aeolian Islands of Italy. The island is about 3 miles (2 km) in diameter and 2,900 feet (900 m) above sea level. It rises 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Stromboli is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. It has been in nearly continuous eruption for about 2,000 years (some volcanologists suggest 5,000 years). Most of the present cone was well developed 15,000 years ago. Violent eruptions are rare at Stromboli. In 1919, four people were killed and twelve homes destroyed by blocks, some of which weighed 60 tons (50 metric tons). In 1930, during the largest eruption of Stromboli this century, three people were killed by pyroclastic flows. A fourth was scalded to death in the sea near the point the flows entered the ocean. The amount of ash erupted in the explosive eruptions in 1930 was equivalent to that produced during five years of normal, quiet activity. Most recently, in 1986, a biologist was killed by a block while on the crater rim. Information courtesy of website at


Sorry for the info dump but you needed to have that information to understand that there is a pattern here. It's been quiet for a while but now it is acting up again. But first, you have to understand that I did not know what was happening until it was too late. It was just too late…and I hope you will agree with me when I finish this story.

Did I say I was drawn to the island? Remember in that movie, E.T. when that guy was building a mountain out of just about everything? It was a sign that he had to go there. Pretty weird connection huh? Well that’s not what happened to me but it’s a good lead in I guess. I wasn't really drawn, but the price was so darn cheap and the guide said he could guarantee I got laid there so I couldn't’t pass it up. So I went. Did I mention the people there?

Have you ever met anyone from Stromboli? I doubt that you have and that is very relevant to the discussion that will follow. I have, because I was there. They are the strangest type of people. What’s so strange? Well let’s start with the way they talk. They never say anything that really means anything. It’s as if they purposely talk in circles. Of course many will say that it is just the Italian way…but that’s not it. I know all about the “relaxed” atmosphere in Italy and the Italian way of life, but this goes way beyond that. I’ll give you an example to make my point. One day when I was out for a stroll I met this young woman. One thing led to another and we stopped at a little cafe for coffee.

“So what do you do?” she asked
“I’m a writer,” I said.
“Ah… fascinating. So tell me, how do you get started on a story? Does it just come to you and that’s it?”
“No, not exactly,” I replied. “I get an idea for a story but it is only a small part, like the beginning or end. I have to develop the idea to turn it into a much longer story.”
“And how does that process work?”
“Well I use what they call prompts.”
“Yes. They are words or a sentence that get me started writing.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Okay,” I said, “here’s an example. Let’s say that you tell me about something you heard on the radio or saw while out walking. That becomes the prompt and I take that and use my mind to make it into something greater which gets me going on the story. It’s like a writing exercise.”
“I see,” she said and giggled.
“What? Did I miss something here?”
“Well,” she began, “sorry I am not very prompt with prompts. You will have to prompt me promptly to get a prompt.”
“Ah…that’s interesting,” I said and before I could say anything else she continued.
“Peter Piper picked a prompt of prompted peppers;
A prompt of prompted peppers Peter Piper prompted;
If Peter Piper prompted a prompt of prompted peppers,
Where’s the prompt of prompted peppers Peter Piper prompted?”

“So…what’s the point to all of this?” I asked.
“I thought we were talking about prompts?”
“Well we were until you took it to the extreme,” I said with more than a usual payload of sarcasm but thought was appropriate given the situation.
“Well if that’s the way you feel,” she said as she rose from the table. “Find someone else to get your prompts from.” She then walked away.
“Huh?” I said.

And that was my first indication that something was very wrong with the people on the island of Stromboli. I just didn't know how wrong at the time...