The tiny volcanic island of Ventotene, off the west coast of Italy, is better known to classical scholars as Pandateria, to which the Roman Emperor Augustus banished his daughter Julia as punishment for sleeping around too much. But in more modern times, Ventotene’s tiny dependency of Santo Stefano took on an entirely different celebrity as a prison island to which dangerous and political prisoners were sent — a sort of European Alcatraz.
During the fascist era, those prisoners included Altiero Spinelli, one of the founding fathers of European federalism, who, together with some of his comrades, produced the Ventotene Manifesto, which foresaw a Europe free of war and united. In memory of this, each year for the past 40 years or so, an international seminar has been held on the island with a small group — around 20 — of politicians, academics and civil society representatives to discuss a particular topic relating to European federalism.
This last weekend, I was one of the Brits present as we discussed how the EU can deal with ecological challenges. My own presentation was about how the EU Commission’s Cultural Policy can be used to promote environmental awareness and action through artistic means of Education for Sustainability (the subject of a dissertation I am doing for London SouthBank University). And of course, in between the sessions, we were able to savour the delights of Ventotene village and its excellent seafood-based cuisine. Years ago I wrote a long feature article on Italy’s regional cooking and the ‘slow food’ movement, all still alive and well, I was delighted to find.