As I followed Silvio down the stairs towards the tiny port ahead, a mix of touristy excitement and sheer emotion came over me. It was barely 5h30 AM and the sun was rising above the sea and shining upon it thousands of shades of purple, blue, turquoise, yellow, orange and red. As I just stood there, dumbfounded by such beauty, Silvio urged me to hurry. He was probably regretting having invited me to fish with him the previous night around our third Grappa. Nonetheless, ever the gentleman, he helped me onto the old and colourful boat. He wore thin socks and sandals but his fisherman boots were in the boat. He smiled as I clumsily wobbled across the boat and instructed me to sit ahead of him to balance out the weight.
As we headed out into the blue, I expected to have a chat with him about the fish varieties in the area or the recent excessive fishing and its effect on the community. Instead, I didn’t want to intrude in what was a usually solitary daily routine for him, and I watched him fondly as he stared at the impressive cliffs that laced the island. He seemed tired, happy, hungover and serene all at once.
And so, we rode in silence to the spot where, the afternoon before, he had cast his nets in hopes of bringing back some food to his family and the occasional tourists who reserved a cramped spot at the communal table he set up on his back porch nightly.
Peering out into the horizon, he eventually spotted a buoy and stopped. He put on his fisherman boots and energetically started to pull the bright red nets out of the water. After ten minutes of this, the first fish made its apparition in the net, then another, another and so forth.
I thought to myself: if he does this every morning, no one can beat this man in an arm wrestle.
I ventured a question in my broken Italian: “How long are the nets you cast?”
One kilometre of net to pull out of the water every day, rain or shine… One kilometre of hope that you will be able to feed yourself and those around you.
He pulled out a couple of stingrays, mostly young ones. As the red heap grew bigger in the tiny boat, I started to back up towards the front because he kept throwing the parts of the net where there was a catch, a squid, a crab, right on my feet. Every time, I would aimlessly try to comfort the struggling, spitting (in the squid’s case) and wiggling animals hoping somehow this would diminish their distress. Obviously, I also wanted to eat them so it was a little like massaging the Wagyu cows before killing them. Strange and sadistic, I thought to myself.
After what seemed like an hour and a half, He finally pulled out the last of the nets and sat down, winded, next to a collection of hermit, spider and zool crabs. One of them kept trying to escape and Silvio, exasperated, grabbed him by a claw, flipped him over and stuck a little wooden board on his belly to hold him still. Satisfied with this, he looked up at me as I observed the catches, all starting to accept their fate, it seemed.
I was looking at the collection of baby stingrays and tentatively touching their slimy skin. He nodded encouragingly for me to pick one up and probe it. I grabbed the first one and immediately, an electric shock fed through my hand up to my arm. I screamed, throwing the stingray overboard, holding my hand, half-laughing as if a funny bone had been struck, half-traumatized by the intensity of the shock. Silvio was dying of laughter. He couldn’t stop. He imitated my girly shriek over and over. Heartily laughing too at this point (what was I going to do?), I was glad the thing wasn’t of age, because it would have killed me…
He got over it eventually and started up the boat. We reached the port and a little group of islanders were there to welcome him. They helped him get his boat to shore and looked at the nets with hope and excitement. Two children were there, as if it were Christmas morning, but they stared at me, wondering what a woman was doing at sea. Apparently, it’s bad luck… And it proved to be for Silvio since the catch was four times less fruitful than usual.
Oh well… At least I got to be first mate for a day.