For the Mario Esposito, there is no difference between night and day blend together. From Amalfi, he tells us about his days spent flowing above the sea waves.
By Francesca Faratro, cover photo by Vito Fusco
They carry the sea in their eyes, that infinite mirror on which they let their boat go every day, both in bad weather and refreshed by the sun that illuminates heart and soul. Valentino Esposito and his son Mario, heirs to a family of fishermen for 250 years, carry out their activity with passion and courage. “Doing this job is as beautiful as it is difficult. Without passion, nothing can be done. Fishing is a job that is as beautiful as it is sacrificing, which forces you to live at different times, where there is no night or day. You sleep when other people are having fun. You wake up when others are sleeping.” – This is how Mario Esposito begins to tell his story, who in Amalfi, together with his father Valentino, runs their boat Ersilia Maria marked by the colors of yellow and blue and entitled.
From the left Valentino and Mario Esposito, photo by Paul Pfleuger
Born with a passion in his blood
Since he was a child, Mario followed his father on his boat trips. “We went out of the house when it was still dark. I remember the sleepless nights that anticipated this moment, I was excited, and when I observed my father working, I remained there, motionless and fascinated. My grandfather used to fascinate me when he was at work. It’s from him that we inherited everything. He, whose name I bear, had a fishmonger’s in the center of Amalfi, and early in the morning, he would display fresh fish shouting ‘p’arrost, pisce p’arrost’ wanting to show off those types suitable for grilling. The family nickname was born from those words. They are now called the p’arrost .”After graduating from high school, I wanted to turn my passion into a job, and, as an adult, I followed my father to the sea. – continues Mario – Our day starts early, even before dawn, and then return about twelve hours later, past noon. We have to go offshore, recover the catch in the nets, and then, after cleaning them and recovering the fish, they have to be thrown back into the sea.”
The many layers of the sea
Each fisherman has his delimited area, a sort of mapping to fish that hardly changes. On the other hand, the type of fish varies according to the nets used and the sea depth, measured in English steps. “It’s the depth that decides what you want to fish for. On the bottom, there are cods, deep-sea scorpionfish called “occhio bello” (beautiful eye), but also scabbard fish, some prawns, and a few langoustines. If you are lucky, you will always find the cod, even smaller size, and some squid and some fish that fortunately happens in the networks as snapper and angler. In the highest part, at about 60 meters of the bottom, you can fish for shards.”
The Ersilia Maria boat owned by the Esposito family
Summer, the best season
The fishiest time of the year is summer. The fish with the heat exchange of the waters populate the sea more, and also the fisherman will have a more favorable climate to do his work. “Once caught and freed from the net, often still alive, the fish are placed in thermal containers, with seawater and ice and then brought ashore and sold to local fishmongers who will convey the product. Times have changed! With a small net, my grandfather brought home about 20/25 kilos of fish. Today with a bigger net, we don’t reach those quantities! The sea has changed. It no longer offers the number that can sustain an entire family and guarantee the man of the sea a quantity of fish that can repay his efforts,” continues Mario. “On the boat, we take with us some coffee, already prepared before leaving, but also some cookies, a sweet. Instead, when the squid fishing starts and the time frame of work become longer, we have dinner directly on the boat, with a sandwich prepared by Mamma Maria.”
Mario Esposito on his boat, photo by Paul Pfleuger
How to recognize fresh fish and how to use it
There are many ways to recognize fresh fish, but it is easy. It is necessary to observe the color of eyes, gills, and the smell it gives off. The local gastronomical tradition imposes the most popular fish. First of all, squid is used both for first and second courses. This follows dentex, angler fish, and turbot and sole, varieties that prefer cold waters in winter. “I love all fish, and in our house, they are consumed with a good frequency. We usually bring to our tables the smaller ones that are often mistreated in the nets and therefore do not look good on the fishmonger’s counter. We don’t throw them away and my mother, an excellent cook, cooks them in a variety of ways: fried, roasted but also boiled.” Each variety has its own best preparation, and each has a specific recipe that makes the most of the product. “I’m crazy about squid and potatoes, made with tomato sauce but with the potatoes strictly fried and then added later to the stew. It’s a poor dish but with a unique and delicious flavor.”
The infinite love for the sea
“The sea, for me, is everything. It is an expanse of water that animates my heart, that marks my moments, always ending up exciting me. I carry it in my eyes, but it’s only by looking at it that I find inspiration and manage to get excited. To carry out this ancient profession, you need passion, and without it, you can’t face what the sea takes away from you, which is your private life. At the age of thirty, I have many projects in my nay. Each of them had one thing in common: the sea! Without it, I won’t be able to go anywhere, it lives inside me, and it’s for this infinite expanse that I live my life!