Teresa, as she herself admits it, is and will always be known as “The Alicudi Teacher”. She began to teach in the eighties in the tough, peripheral neighborhoods of her hometown, Milan. Those were the years and the place where the modern history of italian education was written.
When she asked to be transfered, as she were in love with the Aeolian Islands in Sicily, her first vow went to the Lipari municipality.
Chaos, or hazard, was tricky to her, changing her life forever. Now, Lipari municipality includes all the aeolian islands but Salina (which has three municipalities by itself – but that’s a different story, a very sicilian one). And since her ranking was the highest, she was given the island beginning with ‘A’: Alicudi. Blame it to the alphabetical order.
Teresa had never heard of Alicudi before – well hardly any tourist used to visit Alicudi back at that time (it hasn’t changed that much, by the way). She arrived on a July, 14, for the Bastille Day. When climbing up the only road made of lava steps, where men seldom outnumber donkeys, at some point she asked indications for the school to a massive man. The asnwer she got was: “S’accomadasse” (sicilian dialect for “please come in”). The school was there, in a room inside a house like all the others which, hopefully, was rented to tourists in summertime.
In the years, I believe that Alicudi’s school has had an average of 5 pupils, primary and secondary classes unified and mixed into a single one. But the school won an important battle: in 1997, a talented Lipari mayor (the same who made it to have the Aeolian Islands declared as the first UNESCO heritage natural site in the world…) could buy a wonderful aeolian house in order to make it the official school location. You know, I was at the school, I was there chatting with the kids about my voyage and about what an “island of plastic” is (which is not a place in the middle of the sea where you can walk on, as many sensationalist environmentalists love to say); and I think that beside being the smallest school in Europe it is the most beautiful in the world. With such an overwhelming view on the sister islands and sea, sea everywhere, unlimitedly.
Teresa, with eyes too smart for a face so marked by commitment, is a woman who traded her personal life for the defense of the right to education. This statement bears the echo of partisans, transoceanic emigration, distant love. Yet we are in the twentyfirst century, and it proves that there are still (plenty) of battles like this to be fought. Today, she’s done with her mission at the school. Or actually she would be done if they hadn’t called her back for yet another teacher quit the island after a few weeks or months.
What is extraordinay and moving is that a woman with such a cultural background and such a fine mind could decide to vow herself to a tiny geographical dot such as Alicudi, inhabited by 60 people at most from more than half of the year (among these, you can cross turtle eaters and water spout cutters), simple people for sure, but at the same time close-minded, cynical, who underwent too many farewells to be able to trust someone again. Such a tough yet amazingly wonderful place, where it’s very hard to find a personal balance. Whether you were born in the island or not. A place, though, where with the help of this huge and deafening natural beauty, and only if you’ve got a precise objective in life compatible with a remote place and loads of strength, it maybe be worth retiring to, accepting the apparent simplicity of the everyday life.
P.S.: Alberto Bougleux, a filmmaker (and sailor) in love with the Aeolian Islands, founder by the way of the Museo del Cinema di Stromboli, shot a few years ago a sublime yet very unfiltered documentary film about the school in Alicudi. Here goes the trailer.
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