Giovanni Porzio is one of Italy’s greatest reporters and a passionate sailor. In his book “The Sea is Never the Same,” he recreated the essence of reportage, that is, “reporting” from a journey news, but also stories, feelings and images. It is from this very book that the story whose second part can be found here is taken.
The GSM is extremely useful, but the Admiralty papers were far more inspiring: masterpieces of precision and aesthetically unsurpassed. They forced you to observe, to measure, to fill out the logbook, to draw lines with the square, to calculate the angle of drift-the ritual officiated for centuries by sailors. And there was something grand and solemn about replicating the gestures of Columbus and Joshua Slocum. Charters always left some room for uncertainty on long crossings and tested sailors. Will I have scarified more than expected? Is that dark outline glimpsed downwind an island? The skipper became proud when the goal appeared at the starboard bow.
Charters have existed since time immemorial. They were known to the Phoenicians and the Greeks, were perfected by the Arabs and the Venetians, the Portuguese and the Dutch. There are beautiful ones at the Casa de India in Seville and in maritime museums halfway around the world: they tell the story of geographical discoveries, military exploits, spice route trade, clipper routes, shipwrecks, cod fishing, ocean and polar whaling. One of the most famous is the circular map of the Arab geographer Al-Idrisi, who in the 12th century drew maps at the Palermo court of the Norman king Roger II for the “amusement and entertainment of those who intend to travel the world.”
Those were happy times when Muslim immigrants were not subjected to “refoulement policies”-they were welcomed with open arms and encouraged to stay. An era of fruitful economic and cultural exchanges between the two shores of the Mediterranean that saw Italy play an essential role in the transmission to European civilization of the Arabs’ scientific knowledge: from medicine to geography, from agricultural techniques to mathematics, from astronomy to the art of navigation.
Marine terminology, for that matter, is chock-full of Arabic words: admiral, azimuth, caique, arsenal, cassero, tar, alidada, libeccio, avarìa… Some of the Salento Riviera’s lookout towers are right out of the Norman period: pulling over in the direction of Tricase they are clearly visible on the tops of promontories, towering among the olive trees and oleanders.
In the tiny marina, the water is of prodigious transparency. Blue Gal is the only sail moored at the breakwater, in three meters of seabed. At the buoys rowboats and fishing goiters. The mistral has subsided. The town of Tricase is a few kilometers inland. I go there by bus. The palace of Princes Gallone is the seat of City Hall. In the historic square, the elderly take the cooler on shaded benches in front of the 17th-century church of St. Dominic. Hanging from the front door of a distinguished middle-class building is a sign: “Senator Costa receives Saturdays at 8 a.m.”
Further on, the village spreads anonymously in a geometric checkerboard of sunny neighborhoods. Twenty thousand inhabitants, but young people are leaving. Says the barista serving great coffee, “There is no future here. I have decided to leave: London, then Vancouver and Miami where I have connections. I hope at least to learn something and see a bit of the world. Wealthy people from Milan and Rome come to Tricase on vacation, who have bought farms and olive groves. But people don’t have jobs.”
The owner of the well-stocked and select bookstore in the alley behind the church is less pessimistic: “With Nichi Vendola something is moving: cultural meetings, film reviews, music. The mindset is beginning to change. We young people need to get busy: renewing the ruling class, escaping the television stupidity. The future of Salento is agritourism, nature reserves, organic farming.”
Gallipoli, mid-July. From Santa Maria di Leuca I have a crew: it has arrived Gabriella with Francis, the “little” son (he is now 15 years old…), and Alvise, a young friend who works at the European Union in Brussels. I have always thought, and these days I have confirmed it, that solo sailing is alternately boring and stressful.