Thursday, 1 September 2011
Etna got under my skin. We planned a trip with some friends to Sicily way back in January and since then we've been closely following Etna's activity throughout the year. It turns out that 2011 has been quite an active year for her, with Catania airport closing several times due to the amounts of ash in the air.
I hadn't paid close attention to just how close we were going to be staying to Etna - a mere 20kms or so away from the active crater. Needless to say we were eager to see what it would be like staying under her shadow.
It turned out that we had a superb view of her from the villa garden (photos 3 & 4) and each morning we looked up to chart her activity. We timed our evening drives back from the beach so we could watch the superb back lighting effects as the sun went down behind the cone.
None of the locals pay much attention to Etna - at least you don't see anyone looking up at her. Perhaps it's seen as tempting fate or a sign of weakness. But living between a volcano and the sea has shaped the character of this part of Sicily & of the Catanians.
Etna dominates the skyline with its omnipresent blackness.
You drive through towns which have bags of black abrasive volcanic dust out ready for rubbish collection. This black grit is everywhere and did awful things to my lens autofocus.
We drove up to the south crater & collected bits of volcanic rocks. We drove on the new roads built since the last major eruption in 2002, where you drive past fresh lava flows and see houses buried up to their roofs in lava.
Gradually we became used to Etna's reliable plume of smoke almost becoming part of the scenery.
Then one morning we were having our breakfast of brioche con granita only to look up to see an enormous mushroom cloud rising into the air. We rushed out into the town square to find that noone was really paying much attention to the plume of smoke. An old couple were looking up & we asked them in our broken Italian if this was normal. The old guy seemed to say that it was pretty normal'ish.
Having no internet, we brought the local paper the following day. It was clearly not very newsworthy, with just a small picture & article saying that Catania airport had briefly been closed, as the only evidence of what had been to us a pretty impressive show.
So just a normal'ish occurence for Catania then. We were hooked though & I have to admit that I've now a Mount Etna webcam as my homepage.