Peccetto’s the tough guy. Always in the sea, whatever the weather. He’s nicknamed Boy because, in wartime, his father was the only one who had a smattering of English and could communicate with the Americans. Gianfranco’s the precise, prissy one. His boat’s as bright as can be and his nets are immaculate. Marco’s the youngest of the bunch. Antonello’s the intellectual, the one who’s given up a degree in geology for the sea. Morgan, the oldest, has the name of a pirate and looks for all the world like Hemingway. These are fishermen of Noli, but they’re more like a commedia dell’arte company. Each has his place in the group. Each has a nickname and a role to play. It may look like a game, but they play for real. Because, ultimately, they stand for the life of the people and the history of the town.
It’s a history that’s indissolubly linked to the sea. Until the Sixties, Noli was an important fishing, trading and fish processing center. Everybody fished on this tiny gulf and on one of the main streets, la fiumara, there were 20 fish canneries processing whitebait, zerri, cicciarelli, baby tuna and, above all, anchovies. Everyday, when the boats came in, the fish was auctioned and the pescelle, or fishwives, would set off with baskets on their heads to sell it at the markets of Piedmont. Then came the economic boom and people went to work in the factories. To FIAT in Turin, to the port of Genoa.
Now the very few fishermen that are left are aged from 26 to 70. They are members of the glorious Luigi De Ferrari cooperative, and they follow rules codified in the sixteenth century. One of the most curious is a sort of daily competition in which the boats ‘race’ to win the cove with the most fish. The winner raises a flag and the others have to queue up behind him.
The millenary technique of the sciabica net survives to this day in Noli. It may have been brought here by the Arabs, and it was certainly adopted as early as 1200. So how does it work? The fishermen go out to sea in two small boats (sometimes even rowing boats) and lower the lightweight nets by hand. The nests graze the sea floor to form a sort horseshoe shape, cutting off a piece of sea and trapping the fish in a cul-de-sac. The sciabica is used to fish cicciarelli (in dialect lussotti), silver-colored little fish which live in shoals under the sand. When the sun is high, they rise to the surface to cause ripple effects in the water. Excellent in carpione and fried, they can only be bought from the fishermen’s wood carts of Noli. Travel a kilometer or two down the coast and nobody’s even heard of them. Maybe it’s because they can’t be fished in the best season, the summer, when the catch would be excellent and the beach packed with potential customers. The reasons for all this are vaguely Kafkaesque. ‘Due to an error of interpretation,’ explains Giuseppe Lepore, who has been head of the cooperative for years, ‘Europe considers the sciabica as a trawler net and imposed very severe regulations. On top of that, from 2002 it will be compulsory to fish below 50 meters, but at those depths traditional equipment is hopeless. ‘
A Presidium has thus been set up to help the fishermen of Noli, but also all the others scattered round the coasts of Italy, the heirs to ancient, eco-friendly traditions that have been hamstrung by standards tailormade for large-scale ocean fleets and policies indifferent to the specific needs of the Mediterranean.
‘I’d like to know who wrote those laws,’ booms Morgan. ‘A woodcutter? A peasant? It certainly wasn’t a fisherman. If things go on like this, we could put our boats in the garden, like D’Annunzio did’.
Chosen for you by the fishermen of Noli
Where to stay
Corso Italia, 2
Tel. 019 748926
28 rooms, gardens
Prices: 110,000 lire (single), 170,000 (double).
A restructured fortress. The rooms are comfortable and tastefully appointed. Buffet breakfast.
Where to eat
Via Zuglieno, 49
Tel. 019 748009
Closed Monday. Open evenings only, except Saturdays, Sundays and holidays
Prices: 70-90,000, wines excluded
Lilliput is situated in a pinewood on the hill overlooking Noli. In summer, you can sit in the garden; in the winter, you can dine in a comfortable dining room. The menu features the catch of the day: fried fish, stuffed anchovies, gnocchi with scampi, gurnard with tomato and thyme, scorpion fish with artichokes, bream with olives and potatoes. Plus cheese focaccia, fragrant farinata, borage fritters and seasonal vegetables cooked in a variety of ways. For pud, semifreddo with zabaglione, chocolate mousse and delectable petite patisserie.
Tel. 0197 48086
Prices: 60-70,000 lire
Two immaculate, tastefully furnished in the very center of Noli. In the kitchen, Signora Ines (mother of a member of the fishing cooperative) cooks fresh fish in a variety of ways. The mixed fry and – of course – the cicciarelli are not to be missed.
Where to shop
Spiaggia di Noli
Every day, from 8am to 1pm, the fishermen, justin from the sea, sell fresh cicciarelli, zerri, octupus, mullet and much, much more from their wood carts.
Finale Ligure (Savona)
Siccardi & Giobatta
Strada degli Ulivi, 83
Tel. 019 698296
At one time Noli boasted 20 fish processing company. The only one that has survived is the 100-year-old Siccardi & Giobatta which, in 1928, moved to Varigotti. The techniques used have never changed: the cicciarelli are rinsed, set out on wood frames, dried, dipped in flour and fried and pickled in vinegar and salt.
Pasticceria Scalvini Innoli
Via Colombo, 3
Tel. 019 748201
This historical cakeshop has been producing individually hand-baked and hand-packed amaretti since 1890.
Serena Milano, a journalist, is editor of the Slow Food presidia magazine L’Arca