This of course was our April 1 story, bringing volcanoes up-to-date with the modern world of ‘alternative facts’. We hope you enjoyed it and that it brought a smile to your face. Any resemblance to any person anywhere in the world is purely intentional. Tune in next year when we will be revealing the volcano vaccination program which can prevent any eruption but that Iceland has banned all exports of it.
It is with a heavy heart I have to expose a case of international fraud within the volcanic community. The scope of it is so vast that I have been putting off writing about it since 2011, but now I can hold back no more.
But before dealing with the scandal at hand, I need to set the stage, and take you the reader through every painful step. So, back to the beginning in the late summer of 2001.
In 2001 I had a very intricate problem, I had left my employer in Toronto and I was stuck with more mementos and artifacts than I cared to admit to owning, and a 52 fot ketch designed by Sparkman & Stephen’s that I had picked up from a Drug Enforcement Agency auction.
So, quite naturally I filled the boat up with my earthly belongings and set sail and cast off my illegal mooring at Governor’s Island in New York in the dark. As the sun rose, I passed the Statue of Liberty and left that part of my life forever.
Back in Europe I ended up cavorting around in the Mediterranean as a vacation while I pondered what to do with the rest of my life. In the end there is just so much partying that a man can do, and I started to look for a suitable harbour for long-time mooring of the ketch so that I could start working again.
I had been advised that Catania would be a good place to put the ship in, so I set sail from Christiana Island in the Greek Cycladic archipelago for Sicily.
As I slowly neared the island, I watched the low rolling mountain plateau made out of uplifted seabed by Africa. To my surprise I noticed the black ash cloud rising towards the sky up in these mountains, but did not think more of it.
In the end I got my mooring after talking to the Mayor, Pier-Angelo Montalbano, and an elderly gentleman in a crème-coloured suit who was holding court near the harbour. The latter found me to be completely crazy, so I got a good price for the spot where my ketch rested for the next few years until I sold it.
The years passed and I got ever more involved with volcanoes, after all, what else can one do in life? This is where I started to notice pictures of a volcanic mountain that I could not recollect from my quite frequent travels back to Sicily for sailing, and from my own shaky pictures that I had taken.
Where did all of those images come from of an imposing volcanic mountain with a ridiculous number of volcanic vents with silly names? Seriously? Puttusidduu? Pull me a wee gnome will you!
The Sicilian Affair
During the first few years I did not think a lot about it, but as more and more people become famous for their photographs, videos and ashtrays, I felt that I had to go and check for myself, in case my memory was pranking me.
As I drove into Catania from the airport, I quickly noticed that I saw the same low mountains and hills, and the same black smoke that I remembered from my younger years.
As I fortified myself at Trattoria U Fucularu with a light meal (well, light for being a Sicilian dinner) and a glass of wine, I started chatting to the waiter about the mysterious volcano. He shrugged and just said “oh, that one”. When I showed him pictures of it on my laptop he walked away.
As I walked around in Catania I spoke to a number of locals that was equally bemused by my horrendous Italian and the question about where the volcano was at. An elderly gentleman looking like Enzo Molinari winked at me and said “Ecco laggiú!” and walked away laughing.
Disheartened I walked back to Palace Catania where I had checked into a suite that had both an “award-winning” photograph of the imposing mountain known as Etna, oddly enough it had an oil painting on the other side of lounge showing the low mountains that was amply visible from the terrazza of the hotel, where I fortified myself with an espresso and a glass of the nectar of the gods, Malvasia delle Lipari.
Even without the view of Mount Etna the terrazza has a stunning view, I quite recommend it for a romantic drink.
In the morning after a breakfast consisting of excellent coffee and assorted cheeses, I decided that it was time to go to the bottom of the ridiculously invisible volcano of Sicily. As I legged it towards those responsible for the volcano, at least according to the technorati of Internet, Sezioni di Catania Osservatorio Etneo Instituto Nazionale Geophisica e Vulcanologia. Never trust anything with that wordy a title, turned out to be the truth of the day.
As I arrived at Piazza Roma number 2, I was not entirely surprised to not find any loftily named Italian authority. Instead, I found a large garish sign stating that the building was occupied by Boritzky Studios.
By now I had been completely enthralled by this mystery, so I stepped inside the building and was greeted by a lady of such an immense Italian beauty that it was practically a handicap. She asked me what business I required of the Studio.
As I explained my conundrum, she asked me to sit down and wait for the Direttore Benny Boritzky, and without asking I was given the mandatory ristretto.
In the lobby where I sat there where two large oil paintings, one of the mayor Pier-Angelo Montalbano, and the second was of my cream-colour suited friend Signore Andrea Caggianella (I must admit that he looked quite striking in his Armani tailored suit. Above their portraits was a fresco sign painted with the phrase Saviours of Sicily.
A most Universal Man
Immaculately dressed in the latest fashion of Milano (yet another creation by Armani), Direttore Boritzky wafted in and asked me to follow him. He took me on a tour of the immense set of studios hidden in the old building. Some of the studios was accessed by walk-ways, and the spacious green painted rooms for animatronix was in the basement.
As we walked around an army of assistants and actors worked hard at producing photographs and video clips of the erupting Etna.
The man himself had a surprisingly lofty head of rambunctious white hair and his Italian betrayed him quickly as a non-native of the region. Infact it was heavily russo-germanic, so I ventured out and started to talk to him in German, after all my Russian has become quite rustic since I was declared persona non-grata in Russia.
I all of a sudden remembered him from a famous clip shown on the BBC where photographers, scientists and Boritzky himself (playing the chief scientist), had to flee and take cover in an action riddled sequence. I felt queasy as I understood that all of them had been hired actors and studio assistants.
As we sat down in his spacious office, we started talking about how he came to Berlin from the Soviet Union in the early eighties to study photography and cinematography and how he had fled the iron curtain after a fling with a relative to Honecker, ending up down and out in Sicily.
Now that the scam had come out Benny Boritzky was quite happy to talk about everything and he started to explain the humble origins of the scam. As with so many things in Italy, it started with garbage.
Back in the waning days of the previous millennium Sicily had a big pile of a problem caused by the garbage becoming a literal mountain. Recycling and waste management would be a very costly affair, but it had to be done even if it bankrupted Sicily again.
A tender was put out for a contract, and it was then that Pier-Angelo Montalbano was contacted by Signore Andrea with a proposal. Instead of building costly recycling plants they could just cart of the garbage into the mountains, burn it all and then blame a fictitious volcano, while splitting the profit between them.
Pier-Angelo wrestled with his consciousness for a full second before shaking Signore Andrea’s hand. Only problem was that they needed a most universal man to pull of the largest fake in human history. And who better to transform a burning mountain of garbage through light and magic into Europe’s largest volcano, than the out of luck Benny Boritzky.
The few gullible tourists that turned up were diligently either arrested by police controlled by Montalbano, or kidnapped by men in cream-coloured suits employed by Caggianella. A bit of quick drugging, a camera filled by Boritzky Studios, and the unwitting tourist was sent home believing that they had climbed Faux Etna.
After leaving Boritzky Studios I knew that my days were numbered, so I beat a hasty retreat to the airport and left Sicily for good. Since I landed yesterday, I have read about the tragic accident involving Boritzky. I am quite certain that before Saturday Signore Andrea himself will come and knock on my door.
I can though meet my fate, knowing that the truth is out there. There is no such volcano as Etna. It was all faked in the name of burning garbage for profit.