Silvia Marchetti, CNN
For almost 33 years he lived a hermit life on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean, where he was the only inhabitant.
Mauro Morandi, known as the Italian Robinson Crusoe after developing a loyal following online, was the keeper of the Sardinian island of Budelli, embracing the silence, solitude and calm of nature while living in an old hut beach stone.
There was no social buzz, no fancy food, no friends – his only companions were birds and cats. He slept on a cot and had little clothing. Abandoning all comforts, he preached a monastic existence of introspection and meditation on the pink beach of Budelli dotted with coral dust.
Then his happy world ended.
After years of struggle with the marine park authorities who wanted to expel him to turn the island into an environmental observatory, Morandi accepted his fate in May. After posting a pithy resignation message – “My balls are broken” (slang for “I’m fed up”) – he left.
Moving and starting a new life can be difficult for everyone. Even more for an 82-year-old man who has spent three decades living a lonely existence on an island paradise. Is it possible to move forward and readjust?
Said Morandi, the answer is a categorical ‘yes’!
âIt’s never really over,â Morandi told CNN. âI am living proof that a second and new life is possible. You can always start all over again, even if you are over 80, because there are other things you can experience, a whole different world.
Proving his point, Morandi has apparently prospered since his return to civilization on the inhabited island of La Maddalena, not far from Budelli.
âI am happy and rediscovered the pleasure of living the good life and enjoying everyday comforts,â he says.
Using his pension from his former teaching life, he bought himself an apartment with all the luxuries he had previously lacked.
Morandi honed his skills as a communicator. After years of loneliness, he is now eager to talk to people, exchange views, and post photos and comments on social media to interact with the world. He also wrote his memoirs.
âFor a long time I lived alone and for too many years after arriving in Budelli I didn’t feel like talking to anyone,â he says. âIt’s true, I can’t enjoy the solitude of the island anymore, but my life has now taken a new turn, focused on communicating with others and being close to others. “
Morandi, originally from Modena in northern Italy, arrived at his old house on Budelli in 1989 accidentally while trying to navigate from Italy to Polynesia. He fell in love with the crystal clear waters of the atoll, coral sands and beautiful sunsets – and became its guardian.
While meeting occasional visitors to the island, he mostly lived on his own. In recent years, his online presence, posting images of Budelli, has seen him connect to a virtual community.
Now he’s got the real thing. His small new whitewashed house, with a panoramic terrace with sea views, is in the bustling tourist town of La Maddalena, although tucked away in a quieter location that ensures privacy.
He says he regrets Budelli’s silence. He’s not used to the sound of cars, trucks and “motorcycles with broken mufflers going outside”, but overall he enjoys his new surroundings which he finds quite relaxing.
Perks include a brand new fully equipped kitchen, a bedroom with a king-size bed, and – the biggest luxury of all – a shower. It also has shelves full of books.
Another bonus of returning to civilization is the rekindling of an old flame. Morandi now shares his new home with an old sweetheart from his youth.
And then there is the food.
Savoring delicious food again that he hadn’t eaten in decades reminded him of the ‘taste of life’ and everything he had given up, he says, like indulging in wines and liqueurs with friends after dinner.
But he doesn’t stuff himself with ice cream, pizza or ham. He’s hungry for something that was abundant on Budelli and yet impossible to eat: fish.
âI continue to lead a simple life, in the morning I go down to Cala Gavetta to buy fresh fish with a net. Finally, after so many years of abstinence, I can enjoy fish again. It might sound amazing, but I can’t get enough plates of fresh, crispy fried fish.
âOn the island, I didn’t have a boat, so I couldn’t fish, and food was scarce and limited. I always had to wait for people to bring me groceries from the mainland, and when they couldn’t come I had to settle for what I had. Here, if I need to buy something, I just go to town.
Mountains and meals
Morandi admits that living on Budelli had become difficult, especially during the past winter which brought colder than usual temperatures and gloomy conditions which meant his solar-powered refrigerator failed to keep up. chilled food, leaving it to rely on canned goods for months.
He still remembers the first time he ate fresh fish again when, on a post-Budelli trip to the Italian Alps, he was staying with a friend who owned a restaurant where he both savored the scenery. mountain and gourmet cuisine.
âIt was beautiful, I discovered that there was beauty even there: the landscape, the mountains, the food. I had the best linguine allo scoglio (seafood spaghetti dish), and it was way cheaper than in La Maddalena. After all, Italy’s freshest fish is not found in Sardinia but is shipped to northern markets like Milan.
Morandi documented his return to earth by posting photos of himself online eating grilled soles with potatoes and tomatoes, exploring Mont Blanc, and visiting quaint mountain villages. He plans to return to the Alps at Christmas.
It’s a change of perspective from last year when Morandi, speaking to CNN, said he was ready to do whatever he could to stay on Budelli. “I wouldn’t know where to go to live, certainly not at home in the north, or what to do, it’s my life,” he said at the time.
Now he is reveling in his daily routine at La Maddalena.
âIn the morning, I have breakfast on my terrace with barley coffee,â he says. âThen, once I have tasted my cigar, I will walk to the port by a small path connecting my house, or to the village where I meet people and do my shopping.
“I walk a lot, the doctor says it’s the best way to heal my sore leg, but often people drive me home so I don’t have to carry big bags.”
A busy man
Now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and happy to wear a mask in public, he likes to mingle with the locals.
âI was amazed at how many people are friendly and I’m usually invited for coffee, lunch or dinner,â he says. âI was afraid that the locals would not give me a warm welcome. I’m glad not everyone hates me, just those who were jealous of my life on Budelli. Many love me. They come to congratulate me on my fight, they want to take pictures with me “.
Many people, especially overseas, saw him as a hero for devoting his life to saving the island, while others claimed he used a romantic myth of the “good savage” to hide the fact that he was an illegal occupant.
Budelli’s ownership has changed several times over the past few years. Since 2015, it has belonged to La Maddalena National Park, making Morandi’s role as guardian obsolete.
Authorities told CNN they were simply obeying the law by “reestablishing the illegal structure” in which Morandi lived – a former WWII radio station. They said he “had no title” to stay on the island as it was no longer private.
Morandi’s battle to stay made headlines around the world, and even now that he’s gone, he’s still in the spotlight. He has written a book about his life on a shipwrecked island, is preparing a second, and says his story may soon be the subject of a film.
So how does he see himself in a few years, what will his future be? Morandi says he is settling permanently in La Maddalena: âI will be there. The most pristine sea and beach, Punta Tegge, are nearby and I can get around by bus if I need to. â
Would he come back if the park authorities changed their mind?
âI don’t want that,â he said. âHowever, I might be ready to come back as a goalie only if this time around I get paid to do my job. I will no longer work for free.
Budelli is not completely in his rear view. Morandi sometimes returns on a day trip to collect some personal belongings he left behind.
He is still worried about the future of the island. As a guard, he routinely hunted tourists who entered the forbidden pink beach, cleaned trash from the sand, and prevented intruders from landing at night.
For now, La Maddalena is his new world – the one he intends to discover.
“I have been on this island for so long and this place was so close all the time, I realize just now that I don’t know it.”
So every day, when he walks in town, he photographs quiet and forgotten places, perhaps still in search of that lost silence.
Best Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mauro Morandi
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