The cave artist of Filicudi

by Rudston Steward

wingding 500 x 30 px

 

I Boddon’t believe in love anymore, Marina Klemente says, as I settle into her couch. She pours two cups of tea and laughs disarmingly. “I’ve been living is this cave for almost 25 years.”

I’m not sure precisely how or whether the two phrases are connected.

I sit low to the ground in the dining room, the domed antechamber of her cave-home. In a nook beside the front door is the kitchen, a bonsai assemblage of stacked appliances and kitchenware. An arch at the back leads into her bedroom, three rows of books line an alcove. Sunlight shimmers on the whitewashed ceiling, shadowed ripples refracting across the uneven stucco. It’s cosy in here, an intimate space—the other cave, further up the hill over our heads, is much larger and serves as her studio and gallery.

In the ten years since we first met Marina’s appearance has remained unchanged: neat, shoulder-length hair framing wry eyes, compact cheeks tugging at the corners of a secretive set of lips. Her short frame is held upright, as if propped up by her steady stream of self-deprecating humor. Her hands are weighty, burdened by the constant urge to make things. She mostly keeps them in her pockets when there are visitors around.

I ask her to recount the story of how she ended up being a cave artist in Filicudi:

When I was eighteen, in 1977, I took my first trip away from home alone, to Alicudi. My father didn’t approve, he said ‘I’m not giving you a single cent’. In the 70’s the Aeolians were unknown, you couldn’t rent a house because everything was abandoned. I camped in an old ruin. There were many of us dotted around, some built informal little shacks.

I’d spent all my money on the ferry, so I begged the fishermen to let me help clean their nets. They rewarded me with a bit of fish. Later they let me help pull up their nets, and in due course I learned the tricks of the fishing trade. That’s how I got through the first summer.


HER HANDS ARE WEIGHTY, BURDENED BY THE CONSTANT URGE TO MAKE THINGS. SHE MOSTLY KEEPS THEM IN HER POCKETS WHEN THERE ARE VISITORS AROUND.


I returned that way four summers in a row, until in 1980 everything changed. There was a water shortage, the campers started protesting the lack of services. It was a right mess, confrontation with the locals, a pizzeria was ransacked. Eventually the Carabinieri came and rounded everyone up, expelled all the kids. From that day free camping was banned throughout the Aeolian Islands. So the older campers, the ones with money, started buying up ruins instead, and renovating them. That’s how the building boom started.

I stayed away for many years, I was living in Rome. To me Rome is the great sewer of Italy, where all the shit floats to the surface. I hated it, I thought I was going to die; so I moved back in 1992, to Filicudi. Others had started living in caves here, they paved the way for me. But many of them have left, and I’m still here.

The greatest hardship I’ve had to endure here is solitude. In the beginning my relationships with the Filicudaro locals were difficult. At the same time I didn’t fit in with the international community that settled here, they had a different lifestyle. It was tough for me, and sometimes still is.

I’ve always survived by selling my art. But it’s gotten much more difficult in the last few years. Italy is rotten these days, the institutions don’t work, everything is corrupt. People are apathetic, pathetic. I would leave If I could, leave this country, this cave, this island.

I ask Marina where she’d go—where in the world could one possibly go after living for 25 years in this luminous cavernous wondrous troglodytic Aeolian shrine?

She laughs her disarming laugh: “Either Malta or New Zealand.”

  

wingding 500 x 30 px