Pastels of Procida
A Puzzle of Timeless Existence
"Strangely, from your little island in space, you were gone forth into the dark, great realms of time, where all the souls that never die veer and swoop on their vast, strange errands. The little earthly island has dwindled, like a jumping-off place, into nothingness, for you have jumped off, you know not how, into the dark wide mystery of time, where the past is vastly alive, and the future is not separated off."
(D. H. Lawrence)
Imagine a puzzle of plaster blocks dumped in the center of bright blue paint; the blocks corrugated in different forms and painted by naughty children splashing yellows, pinks, greens, oranges, purples in disarray. The overall composition may appear completely incongruent, but when the blocks stand leaning against each other, the blankness of space is suddenly and delightfully swarmed by a harmony of rainbow pastels that seemingly only children at play could coat from their fingers of innocence.
Procida, a small island tucked in the Bay of Naples between the mainland and the larger island of Ischia, is such as this congested puzzle of rolling blocks tinted in kaleidoscope. Only about 40 minutes by ferry from Naples, this ancient islet is literally a sight for sore eyes that never keeps your gaze from leaving it. Its name originates from the Greek term proc´yo, meaning “profound” or “poured out,” owing to its conspicuous visibility from the sea. Procida is said to have been discovered by Greek settlers around the 16th-15th BCE before it was taken under the Roman Empire. A minuscule habitation that had withstood Gothic and Napoleonic wars and much feudal domination from the outside—Vandals, Goths, Saracens, Normans—reveals the deep and intense penetration of cultures and times, as etched on its stained walls, crawling with cracks and lines of centuries’ hardships and struggles. Yet, the joyous cries of children and sun-blazed smiles of village folks continue to thicken the chromatic beauty of this breathtaking haven. A writer called Procida, “seductive, compact and mysterious.”
After having wonderfully enjoyed a sumptuous plate of beans and mussels pasta, right before the mouth-watering blueness of the sea, I began to sketch the rows of rainbow houses behind me, to which I remember very well the restaurant lady owner, bending down, peeping over my sketchbook, said with a grin, “That was a mistake they painted the houses with those colors. The real color of Procida is much more subtle.” “Like pastels?” I asked. She exclaimed, “Yes! Exactly, pastels!” and leaving me with the longest smile ever.
Pastels, they do run further and further into the inner narrow streets, past old men, standing outside their canary yellow shops, as though guarding their wares, and waiting for that old friend next door to stop by for an afternoon exchange of the days’ news; past two middle-aged women whose floral skirts cling just a bit below the knees, enough to hide bashful eyes of their little puppies trying to pee on the sky blue wooden doors; past an olive green Vespa bike parked outside a lavender-stained door outlined by full evergreen vines and bougainvillea; and past the freshly-scented bakery where a woman in apron lifts up a basket of friselle, focaccia, sfogliatelle and all those irresistible Italian bread you can think of, tied to a rope pulled by an old woman from the third floor of the crimson red building. Simple smiles of comfort.
Climbing every inch more of each precious step up the hill, I ascend to the peak of the “belvedere” —so-called because the vision is truly and unmistakably a sight of perennial beauty; a lifetime’s worth of waiting sits, just as the naughty children have painted them: the radiating pastels of Procida, protected by the blue and basked under the gold.
On this ledge, time rushes in and stops. Words of fear, ignorance, doubt, anger, even the capacity to unlove all prove to be meaningless. Procida is not really just an island; it is not a cluster of abandoned history sitting in the middle of the sea. Procida is a timeless existence. It is a destination of the soul’s rest; a self-contained solution to the mysteries in life we dared to attempt to understand, but in vain. In this prism, all finally become clear.
Like emeralds, glitter afar
dance on troubled waters,
perched on a hill, silver ripples
calm the depth of blue
Where pinks and orange meet
rosy cheeks and tiny toes
fill the noise with innocence and hope
laugh away regrets of grey
Prism on a canvas
paint pastel joys
trapped in time
behind torn walls and broken rubbles
Light and somber
speak soft breath of a single wind
weave textures unblemished but only your colors remain
… then, nothing ever matters…