The Pattern of Islands
Monday, 16 January 2017
'There’s something particular and fascinating about islands; about the very notion of islands. They lie scattered like crumbs across a vast blue tablecloth. It’s easy to hold each in the mind’s eye and in the imagination. Each is a discrete entity, identifiable and comprehensible and filled with possibility, each a world in itself, and yet connected by history, trade, inter-migration and by sea.
I've lived on an island all my life. Clearly where we come from shapes our sense of who we are and our relation with the rest of the world. If the Referendum proved nothing else, it showed that. But how? Is the mentality of islanders different from that of mainland dwellers, and if so, why? And in what way? Perhaps I could understand my own island better through exploring others, especially these islands swathed in myth, legend as well as historical witness. Could there be monsters lurking among them? Or sirens? Can any of the Aeolian Islands really be Aeolia of the Odyssey? Or Sicily the land of the Cyclopes? Would I find today's descendants of Homer's Lotus-eaters? Are there connections between past and present that a passing stranger could see?
And what of food? Someone had once said to me that Italians speak and eat in dialect, and that seemed to me to be one of the keys to the country. Italy’s food is rich in its diversity, and has always helped define Italians’ sense of identity. Previous trips to Italy have been stuffed, you might say, with edible delights, each of the season and place, valley, village, even house. But would his be equally true of the islands? There was bound to be plenty of fish, I assumed, but did the dishes vary from island to island? Had the pressures of mass tourism and globalisation begun to erode the essential purity of individual cooking cultures?
The more I ruminated, the more enticing the idea seemed to be. Anyone in their right mind would want to spend six months or so loafing around the Mediterranean, I felt. Of course they would. On the other hand, I was about to be 67, in theory moving towards the quiet evening of my life, a time when a more responsible person might deem it foolish to set off on their own to travel through terrae incognitae mounted on a Vespa. But neither did I like the idea of sitting in a rocking chair in a home for toothless old food writers thinking , ’If only I’d had the bottle, if only I’d got organised …if only …. if only.’ Regret is a pointless emotion.'
From the Foreword
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