Late afternoon and the tomatoes are sliced and sun-drying nicely on the gauze frames laid out across the patio. The peace and quiet disturbed only by the odd bee or insect flitting around the cactus flowers and potted plants that border the aubergine garden and crops of herbs that perfume the air. That is, until the other real world intrudes with the shrill noise of the house phone.
“That was Lorenzo on the phone” shouted Maria from the bedroom window. “He’s picking up Irina about nine and he’s put some rods in the back of the car. He’ll pick us up on the way back”.
“O.K” I replied. I was really quite happy not to go out at all, but an evening with Lorenzo was usually eventful so maybe I could be persuaded. Hang on! Rods?
“I can’t fish, I hate fishing”.
I hate it because I’m useless, a fact that can be confirmed by all those over the years who’ve tried, and failed, to teach me. Even if it came down to a question of survival, I couldn’t catch anything but the branch of the tree behind me.
Too late. Events had been set in motion. Lorenzo and Irina turned up surprisingly on time and after a few minutes deciding on appropriate footwear, we set off. For the beach? “Ahh, I thought, we’ve got a boat, I like boats. I know what to do on a boat”. Lorenzo pulled up on the shingle about a meter from the edge of the shore and switched off the engine. The sun had long gone which made it hard to scan too far along the beach for our boat.
“Vabbo. You girls head along there”. Lorenzo said, pointing down to nothing on the left. “You’ll find a small restaurant, see if you can get some pizza and a few beers. Charles and I will get the rods organised”.
“Where’s the boat?” I asked as I looked hopefully at some traditionally painted fishing vessels pulled up on the spare ground behind us.
“What boat? We don’t need a boat, look!” Said Lorenzo punching me on the arm and grinning.
I followed the aim of his finger, while I rubbed my arm, and everything quickly became clear. All along the shore there were dozens of cigar lights glowing red like Cuban spaceships hovering above the water line, identifying rows of fishermen, some with families, tending lines that disappeared into the sea……. waiting. The girls took our pizza orders and, after some sniggering about my wanting a nice white wine instead of beer (“oh you brought a corkscrew with you then?”) they set off on their hunt for food.
“Right.” said Lorenzo once they’d gone. “You hold the torch while I get the bait ready, and for goodness sake keep it steady. The hooks are meant for the fish, not me.”
I gripped the torch tightly while Lorenzo set about the business of pulling out three huge rods and a box filled with live worms and began to thread the invertebrate fish-snacks over the hooks and along the lines with consummate skill. I could see how a slip of the light could easily end up with him threading his thumb in the same way. In my broken Italian, which hadn’t got round to fishing vocabulary yet, I tried to explain that I was no good at fishing and that charging me with one of these expensive looking pieces of equipment was going to lead to disaster and possibly even hospital.
“Don’t worry, you’ve got a worse job to do than that my friend”
“ Thanks Lorenzo, I’m just going to pretend I misunderstood you there” I muttered in English.
After only a few minutes he had finished the “baiting” and put on a small miner’s headlamp. At the edge of the water he hammered some hollow spikes, which served as the rod holsters, into the shingle.
“OK, when I cast the lines, you’ll see small fluorescent lights at the top of the rods. Your mission Jim, should you choose to accept, is to watch those lights. When they start moving up and down, tell me immediately. All right?”
“Managgia! Responsibility, I’m sure to screw this up.”
Have you ever had to watch three lights, spaced about 10 meters apart from each other, simultaneously? Looking for the slightest movement? It’s full-on concentration, believe me. But, after a few false alarms mistaking the combined pull of the intermittent breeze and the sea’s gentle swell for hungry fish, I began to relax a little and settle to my task. The girls returned from their walk about twenty minutes later laden with beers and warm Quattro Stagioni pizza, so we switched our attention to feeding ourselves rather than the fish. With little in the way of nibbles on the lines, Lorenzo and I settled down on the bonnet of the 4×4, laying our heads back on the windscreen and looking up as we sipped our beers.
Only then did I really begin to take in our surroundings. Never have I seen so many millions of stars so clearly. The sky was crowded with clusters of bright diamonds and the moon, large, pink-red and incredibly low in the sky, looked as if it was no further away than the southern headland. It was so big and close that I swear you could see almost every crater, mountain range and valley that scars its surface. Then, after only a couple of minutes came the most amazing sight. As we looked up, a trail of silver light flashed across the midnight blue and burst into sparks over the Sicilian mountains, burning with life and dying within a matter of seconds.
“Shooting star, said Lorenzo, we get a lot this time of year”
There was another, then another two in quick succession before, from the sky behind us and over our heads, there came a spectacular meteor shower, intense and awesome for three or four minutes before calming down to one or two random “rockets” once again. Our very own firework show. We lay there silent for a moment or two afterwards, taking it all in.
“Welcome to Calabria” said my companion smiling at me, just before his face suddenly changed and he jumped down from the car and started barking orders at everyone.
Whether it was the display we’d just witnessed above or a change in the tide I don’t know, but the action had begun. For the next half hour we were running from rod to rod, teasing in our prey. We were hooking fish every couple of minutes from each line in turn, while Lorenzo dashed from sea to car to sea again, reloading the hooks and casting rapidly while we ducked, trying not to lose whatever we had on the end of our lines till he came to take over and make the final landing.
In those frantic thirty minutes we’d, sorry, he’d caught over a dozen Saraghi, a fish which is about 9-10” long and 4” wide and best grilled with a little lemon juice. We were tired. We waited for a little longer while we finished off the last of the beers and packed up, taking with us our BBQ for the following evening along with a memory that will cook for a long time yet. For me, what had started as an evening full of doubts had ended up as one of those occasions when you just want to get on the phone and tell all your friends. But, as it was after two in the morning when we got home, it would just have to wait….till now.
Thanks as always Lorenzo.