The shape of Lampedusa (reprise)

Detail of mural on the side of the Biblioteca di Lampedusa per bambini e ragazzi, Via Roma
(Written following a trip to Lampedusa, two years after writing The shape of Lampedusa – part 1)
Detail of mural on the side of the Biblioteca di Lampedusa per bambini e ragazzi, Via Roma
Detail of mural on the side of the Biblioteca di Lampedusa per bambini e ragazzi, Via Roma

After having visited Lampedusa, I see four new shapes in its map.

As suggested by this mural on the side of a children’s library in Via Roma, Lampedusa is the shape of a red-hot iron. Not for flattening the waves, which have long been corroding its surface. Nor for straightening the eddies in the air, the wind is much too strong. In fact, this burning iron is pretty much useless. It could have served to smooth out and erase the creases on the map of the Mediterranean – the imaginary border between north and south, for example. Yet it’s not only the elements that have stopped it from doing so: the continent has decided to put the island to other uses.

Lampedusa is the shape of a rifle. One of countless firearms roaming across this heavily militarised rock. Radar stations pin down its three major capes. Outside the port and town that straddle the trigger, every third vehicle is an army jeep, carabinieri, or guardia di finanza. At the end of the barrel is Albero Sole, the highest and windiest point of the island, with an altitude of 133 m. Just before the cliff, a crucified Jesus keeps his gaze down, avoiding the sight of the 190.5 m NATO-installed transmitter, shooting out radio signals to aid navigation. The barrel points to the sunset in Tunisia, but the signals are intended for travellers from other lands. Among them, the Frontex ships circling the island, sliding steadily along the horizon.

Lampedusa is the shape of a key. It may have dropped into the sea a long time ago, as it has become rough and rusted. It’s been tried on a few doors up north, without any luck. Sometimes it enters, but doesn’t turn. Sometimes it turns, but in a vacuum. The right door may not even exist any more. Or perhaps the door still needs to be built, with its corresponding keyhole. Time will tell.

Lampedusa is shaped like the minute hand of a clock. On Lampedusa, it’s always a quarter to. The population lives in a permanent state of standby. Too little time to start or finish anything, nothing to do but wait for the next scheduled surprise. It may come by sea, it may come by air. A surprise which is always on its way. The iron grows hotter, the rifle continues to aim, the key rusts a little more. Yet time refuses to pass, and the sun remains low in the west. As if the entire planet were still, even as the wind continues to howl, or to whistle its way up the coves.

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