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The Epicure Abroad

Two Fishermen Named Beppe and a Ride on the Monorail

ITALY | Wednesday, 4 June 2014 | Views [1853]

I think that the only way to truly understand Cinque Terre is to spend a day out on a boat with a local fisherman. Luckily, I had the chance to do this. Unluckily, I tend to get seasick just looking at a boat. Nevertheless, I left Monterosso this morning on a fishing boat with two men named Beppe. They each looked the part of fishermen with their sea-worn, kind faces and soon I was dressed up in their waterproof fishing attire, wearing neon orange pants three times my size.

As we drove out into the ocean, the leading Beppe (the one who spoke a good amount of English) explained his history to me briefly and expressed his fears for the future. The government divides the sea around Cinque Terre and competition is fierce in certain areas. Beppe and his fellow fishermen struggle against the crews of larger fishing boats that are capable of catching more fish and selling them cheaply to the nearby restaurants.

Beppe’s major concern is not for his livelihood, but for the increasing unsustainability of the fishing industry. It is negatively impacting the marine life and ecosystem along the Cinque Terre coast and, furthermore, it’s destroying the local way of life. Beppe lamented that the younger generation of men would not pursue careers as fishermen, but he also expressed his understanding that these men would not want to be “losers”; they could not provide for themselves and their families in the way that their forefathers had and it was unfair to expect them to choose a doomed profession. From only an hour of speaking with Beppe, I could see that he is a wise and tenacious man; it saddens me to think that he has resigned himself to the idea that a Cinque Terre tradition will die with him.

Nonetheless, he showed me the ropes (literally) about how to fish. I’d naively imagined sitting with a fishing rod for several hours, but instead it was our job today to pull up huge nets that had hopefully collected sea creatures. It would be a good day, Beppe told me, if we could find some lobsters. We pulled up the net for a long time and several fish flopped out onto deck, but before long my seasickness overcame me and I passed the remainder of the excursion lying flat in the center of the boat.  

In the afternoon, we headed to Vernazza to tour the Cheo vineyards with winemaker Bartolomeo Lercari. Like oversized baskets of grapes, Seth and I piled onto the back of the monorail, a small train-like vehicle that runs along a skinny rail up the hills of Cinque Terre’s larger vineyards to accelerate the harvesting process. Over the roar of the motor, Bartolomeo explained how technological advancements such as the monorail have aided wine production in the region, which has particularly difficult topographical features to overcome.

Bartolomeo looked straight forward as he operated the monorail, but I gazed in awe at the breathtaking view of Vernazza below us. The monorail climbed ever upwards, at sometimes nearly vertically so that I had to hang on tightly or else fall out. When the ride came to a halt, we hopped out and ventured deeper into the vineyards, where we met up with his wife and his small, scruffy black dog.

The Lercaris spoke about their vineyards as if they were unpredictable, but loveable children – they explained that the vineyards require constant attention, but there were high hopes for the future. After suffering a terrible flood in Vernazza in 2011 that damage their wine production facilities and several storms that had ruined their grapevines, it was easy to understand Bartolomeo’s anxiety about the current crop.

After speaking with the two producers at Cheo, I began to see a thread run through the stories I’d heard in Cinque Terre – a sense of passion, even without profit and persistence, even without reward. I have so much admiration for the people I’ve met so far.

What to see more of Elena's food adventure?

Lessons on Dry Stone Walls, Ravioli and Wine

Lemons & Anchovies

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Tags: boating, fishing

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