Good morning to you all on Tuesday 23rd March. These strange times that we're living in get stranger by the day; last year there were some fake news stories about dolphins swimming in Venice Lagoon, which turned out to have been filmed in Sardinia where the sightings wouldn't have caused such a stir.
Then, lo and behold, yesterday we had the real thing with the Venetian Coastguard confirming the appearance of dolphins in the lagoon, and plenty of video footage to match. One of the world's favourite tourist destinations, Venice has been hit harder than most by the pandemic but the one benefit caused by the lack of tourism is the reduced amount of associated pollution, thus enticing the dolphins in to the cleaner waters.
The heart-warming appearance of the dolphins comes at a time when Italy's third wave of Coronavirus cases shows more signs of slowing. Yesterday there were 13,846 new cases of Covid-19 in Italy, a decrease of 1,401 from the previous Monday. That's now five days in a row that we've seen a drop in comparison to the same day of the previous week. The figure reported on Mondays is always lower than the following day so whilst we can expect a rise from today's number when the statistics are released later today, it will be more significant if we can see fewer than the 20,396 reported last Tuesday.
Much of today's press has focused on what's happening in other countries such as the UK's plans to tighten its borders and Germany's case numbers likely to cause an Easter lockdown there. This does rather skim over the stark facts of what's happening closer to home: a number of officials in the Lombardy region are expected to lose their jobs over the fiasco of their vaccination rollout. It's one thing to have a lack of supplies but it's quite unforgivable to waste the few supplies that are available; yesterday in Cremona vaccination staff were left twiddling their thumbs as potential vaccinees weren't sent their appointment invitations.
Obviously there's a great deal of focus at the moment on any isolated incident of this kind but it comes hot on the heels of the ridiculous decision to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine for several days last week and it wasn't long before that the country refused to give the jab to the more elderly age-groups as they claimed to have insufficient data over its efficacy. This all happened at a time where numerous other countries were ploughing ahead with their own vaccine campaigns having sought ways to safely speed the process up. The current administration has only been in place for a month or so and its stated aim was to accelerate the rollout but we're still waiting for some genuinely significant progress on that.
It's another day of the unexpected cold-snap in terms of the weather. In the city of Turin today the mercury will rise no higher than 5° Celsius with the highest temperature on the mainland coming from the northern city of Genoa at 12° C. The warmest city in the country today will be the Sardinian capital of Cagliari with a rather uninspiring 15° C. The good news here is that most of the north of Italy will be bathed in sunshine today and those temperatures will gradually start to rise from tomorrow.
Today's photos come from the Pontine Islands in the region of Lazio. The archipelago consists of six islands with the largest and most popular being Ponza. This is a favourite weekend getaway for Romans (just to be clear, they don't come marching down from the capital carrying long shields and wearing plumed helmets) who come to enjoy Ponza's beaches and azure waters.
It's just a short distance south of Rome to the ferry ports of Anzio, San Felice Circeo, Terracina and Formia from where you can cross to Ponza. The fastest crossing is by hydrofoil from San Felice Circeo with a journey time of one hour, although these crossings are only available between April and September. You can though, reach Ponza all year round from the port of Formia which is further south towards Naples.
Of the six islands, the only other one that's permanently inhabited is Ventotene which lies between Ponza and the island of Ischia. Ventotene can be reached from either of those two islands or from Naples Mergellina port. Ventotene is considerably smaller than Ponza and its tight confines saw it used as a VIP prison back in Roman times when celebrity inmates of the day included two relatives of the Emperor Augustus: no less than his daughter, Julia the Elder and his granddaughter Agrippina the Elder. If you think that simply removing "the elder" from your name would spare you the same punishment then you'd be wrong, as Agrippina's daughter Julia Livilla was also exiled here. In the Emperor's favour you can at least absolve him of any form of nepotism!
Ventotene isn't all that bad a place that you'd feel it a punishment to be there; it's got some nice beaches that share that thread of clear blue water with Ponza, and a charming port with a town to match. It does though face the island of Santo Stefano which was a penal colony in recent times. In fact, it's Santo Stefano's abandoned prison that is the main attraction on the uninhabited island.
From Ponza it's quite simple to access the three remaining islands of the archipelago. You can either hire a boat or take an excursion across to Palmarola with its jagged rocks and shallow waters that are ideal for swimming, while the tiny island of Gavi is little more than a large rock.
A slightly larger rock is the final island of Zannone which has a unique place in history and modern Italian folklore. Although these days it's inhabited by no more than a small number of sheep, it was once the scene of parties for the rich and famous. The goings-on on Zannone were said to be quite raucous but it all ended in tragedy on 30th August 1970 when three dead bodies were found there. At the time, the island was rented by the Marquis Casati Stampa and his wife Anna who hosted the parties. The three dead bodies found were those of the couple and the suspected lover of Anna Fallarino, one Massimo Minorenti, in what appeared to be a double murder committed by the Marquis followed by his own suicide.
I can't very well end my blog on such a gruesome note so just try to think about the pretty beaches and natural beauty of the Pontine Islands rather than the dead bodies.
I will of course be back with more tomorrow; let's hope for fewer than 20,000 new Coronavirus cases later today and another step in the right direction.
My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.