SUMMER READINGS From Brindisi to Roccella Ionica/3

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gallipoliGiovanni 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 third part can be found here is taken.

You can never indulge in a moment of inattention, let your guard down and devote yourself to reading. You have no one to converse with and you end up talking only to yourself or to the boat. From now on, the moorings will be smoother, and at sea I can finally relax with a new novel or revisit the obligatory classics in the shipboard library-London, Stevenson, but especially Melville and Conrad. And Borges, which is another ocean.
From Joseph Conrad I got from my father – who in turn had received it from Ugo Mursia – a precious legacy: a fragment of the Otago ship’s cutter, the first command obtained in 1888 by the then 30-year-old Polish writer following the sudden death of the previous captain. The story is told in the unparalleled short story “The Shadow Line.” And the Otago relic is now on my study table.

Detail of a wall in the old city of Gallipoli
Detail of a wall in the old city of Gallipoli

We arrive in Gallipoli at sunset, after sailing off the shoals of Ugento. The impact is unpleasant. They have set up a couple of floating docks, put up two prefabs with air conditioning and white sofas, and pompously named it the Marina Blu Salento Club House: for one night they demand 88 euros (“that’s the rate, we’re already in high season”), which drops to 70 when I threaten to leave (“Special price: we care about satisfying our customers”).
In the Greek islands, I have grown accustomed to it badly: entire weeks are spent without going to port, anchoring at sunset (and meltemi) in the countless roadsteads and uninhabited coves of crystal-clear water, with a stern line secured to a rock or the trunk of a plant. Big starry skies, the lapping of the surf, and waking up with cicadas in the morning. If you go to the harbor, it is to make water and fuel: public mooring is free, and in private spaces, which are very rare, you pay a few euros.
Unfortunately, on Italian coasts often lacking-especially in Ionian Calabria and southern Sicily-adequate shelter, reserved transit spaces and with municipal docks perpetually occupied, parking in the exorbitant private marinas is a must. So here we are sandwiched between two rows of tacky mega-motor yachts, with the generator always on for TV, air conditioning, mini-bars, and with a grand display of disco LED buttons along the bulwark, on the retractable ladder, on the waterline. There are also, yes, the ever-present and cemetery vases of gladioli on display on the aft table. How sad!
But the old city of Gallipoli(Kallipolis, the beautiful city) is still a marvel of Baroque churches, mighty walls, Saracen streets, palaces with balconies overlooking the sea, the Angevin Castle, ancient apothecaries, a 15th-century hypogeum oil mill, and a fish market that is a symphony of the freshest fish and fragrant seafood served raw on stalls.
Even the sashimi from the best Japanese restaurants cannot hold a candle to it. An enthusiasm that is dampened at strolling time, when vacationers spill into the narrow streets of downtown and swarm through the stores selling “typical products,” including salami and orecchiette, fake coral and plasticized shells, Chinese sandals and Moroccan bags. There is no shortage of sarongs and dubious pashminas, incense and tattoos, DVDs and plaster busts of Padre Pio: the whole gamut of acceptance consumption found, with negligible variations, in Bali as in Acapulco or the bazaars of Cairo.

A fishing lesson, with the help of a tender
A fishing lesson, with the help of a tender

Even the clothing denotes a shocking lack of taste: men in their underwear cobbling pushing strollers and women pawing on stilettos. In the frantic, inebriated comings and goings from an ice cream shop to a shoe window, no one looks up to admire the facade of St. Agatha’s Cathedral. No wonder in the Bel Paese where the minister of economy is not ashamed to say that “culture cannot be eaten”: the artistic heritage that the universe envies us-our oil-seems to be of interest only to foreigners.
Better to beat a retreat to the commercial harbor, among fishermen intent on the unchanging craft of the sea: repairing trammel nets, baiting longlines, arranging lampara and wooden boxes. They have the same absorbed and silent expression as Greek, Turkish or Tunisian fishermen, the same wrinkles on their foreheads, the same sun-baked skin. We see them lowering nets from the motorboats in the morning, a few miles off the coast, as Blue Gal sets sail for the Ionian crossing route: 120 miles to the southwest, destination Cirò Marina, Calabria. All by motor, unfortunately. Aeolus is not assisting us, but there is autopilot at the helm, and the sea is a smooth plank of opaque chylether blue that darkens and ripples as soon as it is flicked by the breath of an errant breeze: ideal for spinning the lines from the two rods attached to the stern pulpit in the hope of hooking a tuna or lampuga. I tinker with the bait for hours, heedless of general skepticism and Francis ‘ wry comments (“Papi, when’s the last time you caught a fish?”).

SUMMER READINGS From Brindisi to Roccella Ionica/1

SUMMER READINGS From Brindisi to Roccella Ionica/2

 

Discover all of John Porzio’s reports!

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