I've been unable to stop thinking about the Costa Concordia tragedy these last few days. It's just so hard for me to imagine, and the ship's sinking is just one reason why I have never been on a cruise (there are other reasons, to be sure, namely that I am not a boat person -- typically within the first five minutes of being on a boat I begin to feel nauseous -- and also because I view most cruises fit for what my friend Mitchell refers to as "sheeple"). I am filled with sadness for the people still missing and for those already declared dead, and I know the survivors will be haunted by the ordeal for a long time.
I am also wondering how this catastrophe will affect little Isola del Giglio. Those of you who've read my Tuscany and Umbria book know that my husband and I visited there on the recommendation of a friend from nearby Porto Ercole, and we positively loved it. It was mid-summer and the weather was as gloriously sunny as in the photos above, which I have copied from the Isola del Giglio tourist office website (I did not see any copyright notice referenced and the photos to do not appear to be attributed to anyone, so I share them freely and offer apologies to the photographer who took them).
Besides the island's natural beauty and easy-going style, particularly memorable for us was the fact that we did not run into a single other American tourist. The island is simply not on the typical Tuscan short list. Also memorable for me was that I purchased a pair of blue, plastic sandals from a vendor in Giglio Porto, the bustline harbor where the boat from Porto Santo Stefano pulls in. A lot of beaches in southern Europe are rocky, and Europeans have for many years worn plastic sandals to protect their feet going in and out of the Mediterranean. So I was happy to have my own pair and when we got to Campese, popular for its wide beach, I put them on and dove into some of the clearest, turquoise-colored water I've ever encountered. Promptly, the sandal on my left foot slipped off, and I watched it descend for a few seconds before I yelled at my husband to dive down and fetch it. Some Italian boys who witnessed the whole scene also dove down. Because the water was so clear the sandal seemed within reach, but after several minutes everyone gave up, and I was feeling rather bereft. I told Jeff that I would just have to go back to that vendor and ask him to sell me one sandal, to which Jeff scoffed. When we returned to the harbor area I found the vendor and tried to explain what happened, but there was a language barrier and it was clear to me that he didn't really understand what I was saying. However, he did understand that I only wanted to buy one sandal, and he made it clear that he would not sell me only one. So of course I bought another pair. And I still have them and wear them to this day.
Giglio is a mere 8 kilometers long and the majority of the island is uninhabited. Legend has it that when the Tyrrhenian Venus emerged from the waves of the sea, seven gemstones fell from her tiara, and turned into the seven islands of the Tuscan archipelago: Elba, Capraia, Giglio, Gorgona, Pianosa, Giannutri, and Montecristo. There are a number of wonderful hiking paths on the island, an impressive castello on a hill, casual places to eat, places to stay, and four great beaches.
As I say I have no idea what the future holds for the island, but I was distressed when I read an e-mail note sent to me by a friend who knows the island quite well. He in turn shared an e-mail note he received from someone who knows the island even better -- as he noted, the Costa Concordia "sank in waters I know like the back of my hand. " The rest of the message read as follows:
"The simple truth about the crash is the following: the varied captains of the liner were in the habit of "showing off" the boat to the islanders of Giglio. In fact, the mayor of the island had even congratulated just this past August a previous captain for the "honored spectacle" of bringing the ship so close to the island. The rock from which I have dived many times is a mere 50/60 yards from the coast and is linked by a chain of rocks quite large which protrude like small islands and are very visible to the naked eye. Pure incompetence!"