Po Delta fisherman Alberto Barini tells his story: “In the city, I would be just a number, here, I can be myself…”

Santa Giulia (Rovigo) – The black sky is still pierced with stars when a white Vespa crosses the floating bridge and breaks the silence. Alberto Barini  reaches the Santa Giulia pier each day at precisely five o’clock in the morning to climb into the boat, cut through the cold – and sometimes fog, wind and rain – to wait as the light of dawn illuminates the water and the nets. In the Po Delta Park in Italy one still fishes today: twenty kilos of clams at the most, (as dictated by the law), more than four hours of work with the body half-immersed in icy water for earnings whose net sum will barely amount to 40 Euros. “Fishing while respecting the environment is a daily struggle,” says Alberto Barini as he empties the nets. This is the robbers’ territory: part of the daily catch goes to the wildlife security service, the rest are taxes and gasoline.”

But this is life, this is my life, and the good fortune to always breathe the air of freedom.

At 5:30 in the morning, the sky clears and lights the flat surface of the water, exposing a network of reeds, and the colors of neighboring boats, which for generations have dropped their anchors in the Sacca di Scardovari. There are men, women, boys and girls, whole families working to dig for clams. Before the sun even rises, they need to be cleaned, bagged, and immediately delivered to the cooperative so as not to waste the day. In these parts, fishing isn’t a “man’s job: today, women, the daughters of the mondine who used to grow rice, fish alongside husbands and children.

Storiedichi_Delta_del_po_01Alberto Barini has been a fisherman for thirty years. He learned his trade from his father: “When I was a child, he would have me come on the boat with him,” he says, as he shakes the clams in a crate. “My father fished for eels at night and used to transport tourists around by day, which he began doing in the Sixties, when foreigners started becoming interested in the Po Delta.”

It is easy to close your eyes and go back in time to a rural environment that even today, despite the loneliness of a few farmhouses and industrial ruins abandoned by their past, is proud of its soul. All around the damp and silent canals of the Po Delta Park in Italy there are ploughed fields with trails that lead to brick houses. Beyond the fences, there are commanding roosters, geese who walk in rows, tools and bric-a-brac that speak of country and home.

Home is like an everlasting feeling that binds people to a place, that binds Alberto to the area where he was born and from which he will not be separated. The images of documentary photographer Giovanni Pasinato lead us through the landscapes of the Delta as if told by fishermen – a world that on 9 June 2015 UNESCO labeled the “Biosphere Reserve.”

“I love being here and I hope that one day my children feel what I feel for this place,” says Alberto. “I like living through the slow change of the seasons and the colors of nature, witness the bird migrations and when they return to mate. I owe everything to my father: the stories he told me as a child haunted me a lot during my high school years. I went to the technical school in Ferrara, but I knew that my life would be here, not in an office.”

The colors, the silence, the beating of wings, the songs of the herons and of the more than 370 other species of birds which now fly between the Sacca di Scardovari and the Sacca di Goro provide the soundtrack for the sightseeing tours that Alberto offers to tourists. In fact, like his father, Alberto divides his time between fishing and tourism. “I wouldn’t be able to get by on fishing alone.”

These are three-hour tours that the nature photographers, birdwatchers, and Delta Po Park enthusiasts already know by heart. Sailing the Po di Gnocca, between sandbars, lagoons, salt marshes, mollusk beds and fish farms that lead to the dense maze of the bonello Bacucco to the mouth, where the river marries with the sea. The tour ends on the “Isola dell’Amore” (the Island of Love), where you can stop, take a walk along the shoreline and swim in the Adriatic.

Alberto is an “encyclopedia” of the Po Delta, he seems to know every corner of it and no one has a question he can’t answer. It seems he knows by heart the hundreds of bird species that settle here, even for brief periods.

Mrs. Fabrizia, of the hotel and restaurant Locanda Antichi Sospiri di Santa Giulia, says calmly that Alberto talks to the birds. “Every day he passes by their nests with the boat, draws near to the eggs, whistles something unintelligible and continues his rounds,” she says. “When the eggs hatch, the young recognize the whistle as an genuine call.”

“When Alberto calls, they all come.”

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY Silvia Zanardi and Giovanni Pasinato