FC Winter School student Ginevra Montefusco produces a web doc on Bari’s fish market
Mingo, a 91-year-old fish lover from Bari, takes us with him into the physical, symbolic and cultural space of the market.
‘Nderr a la lanz is a fish market in the center of Bari, a city in the South-East of Italy. It is animated by its traditional practices of fishing and processing fish, but reflects the city's profound and rapid changes as well. Here is the link to the web doc: link: HOME | Nderralalanz Engli (ginnimontefusco.wixsite.com)
‘Nderr a la lanz in dialect means on the ground, under the boat, It is here that the exchange, the selling and the consumption of fish have place in the oldest fish market in Bari. Fishers land in San Nicola’s pier in the early morning, and they distribute themselves here in small stalls. Fishers, sons and grandsons of other fishers, transform themselves in merchant during the day in the center of the city, in a place which has become a space of conjunction between the Old and the New city of Bari. The stalls in the pier are always less, despite the constant influx Bari citizens, of tourists and curious bystanders.
Domenico called Mingo, elderly man born and raised in Bari, is fond of the Sunday raw fish tradition and in particular the ritual of preparing octopus, a mainstay of Bari's culinary culture. He observed the transformation of the market and of fish for decades. He knows all the fishermen and their parents, he is welcomed with respect and treated with favors (“there is no catch”, he is keen to point out. Mimmo, his favorite fisherman, is introduced as one of the most famous promoters of fishing in Bari. He tells about his work, Bari Vecchia (the old city neighborhood) from which he comes from, and the transformations of the see and the market throughout the years. Emanuele works for him, silently makes the octopus dangle ("curl," they say) in the tank by his side, among orders and friendly laughs. Giovanni smashes the octopus on the pier, as the traditional procedure prescribes, attracting the curiosity of passers-by. Vito, sitting under the canopy of the pier, enjoys the sociality that the market offers on Sundays, drinking Peroni beer and telling anecdotes to his older friends.
This space intersects with the dynamics of the old city's touristification, climate change and its impact on fish in the Mediterranean. Likewise, the traditions to which many citizens of Bari are still attached remain rooted here: the informal sale of raw fish, the bloody processing of octopus, and meeting at the Chiringuito, a historic bar next door. It is a reality that transpires from the stories, from the external representations renegotiated by those who live the old city and the market, among people's exchanges, often mediated by the wind and hidden by a harsh dialect. The market, however, can tell its own story. With the constant gestures that the fishermen repeat day after day, with the wooden boats that dock and leave the pier every day, with the seagulls circling around the fish scraps given away by the fishermen, from the octopus curling in the basket. Instead, these movements that seem eternal and always the same tell of the thrusts of a rapidly rising tourism, the underground urban development of Bari, the bitter generational change, the climate crisis in the Mediterranean.
The 'Nderralalanz project grew out of a short three-day fieldwork at Bari's San Nicola pier where the traditional fish market of the same name takes place. The energies moved me and my camera to the Bari Vecchia waterfront are many. This winter I had the opportunity to attend a Winter School in Visual Anthropology organized by Cristina Grasseni and Federico De Musso with the University of Leiden. This experience took me to explore the Den Haague fish market, a huge hub in the center of the Netherlands. Here I touched on the globalization expressed in the long chains of food production, the great movement and sometimes displacement of humans and nonhumans driven by the profit of massive fishing. In addition to giving me a method in carrying out this research that is in this project repurposed, the two weeks of field work in the Netherlands made me think about totally different patterns of fishing, fish production and consumption in the contexts known to me.
Out of this emerged a curiosity about the Bari Vecchia fish market, deeply rooted in the traditions of local fishing, processing and consumption of fish. This comparativist streak then led me to reason about a way of returning the research, i.e., the web doc, that could trace the structure of that produced in the Netherlands. This would serve the purpose of more easily highlighting the differences, as well as the common elements, of the two markets seemingly so distant in space and structure.
The second reason has to do with my positionality as a young student and aspiring anthropologist from the South, born and raised in Lecce, but with half of my family of Bari origin. Throwing myself into the Bari market, I thought, might be a way to learn more about this side of my roots, rediscovering part of my identity, which is really linked to food. Here the key piece and glue between ideas and reality is Mingo, my grandfather. His food culture has always been anchored in fresh fish and especially raw seafood as the Bari tradition passes on. From being the first morning shopper as a young man, he now indulges in the longest walk of the week every Sunday to reach the market and buy a couple of octopus, despite costing more than his pension allows. His loyalty to the place and his reputation as a careful and punctilious consumer is repaid by the merchants with polite greetings and regards. He moves through the market with confidence and assurance, as if he has never changed. Yet as he arrives under the dock canopy, he puffs a little and whispers in dialect, "There's no one there." There are few fishermen left, the stalls are halved, and fish do not abound.
One certainty, however, remains. The fish will always be of the day, and the octopus will be processed as his grandparents taught: caught with a line, whisked and then curled. This specialty will be what still drives him to visit the market, along with getting to know the people who frequent it, despite some astonishment at the young, new faces or unfamiliar words spoken by tourists.
A multimodal approach
The project unfolds under the approach of multimodality. Through the final product of the web doc, it is possible for different research and interpretation tools, such as drawing, video, and photography, to coexist in a single product that is easily accessible to the viewer. The structure of the web doc is designed so that there are various possibilities in exploring the content, leaving room for maneuver for those who browse the site and making the experience more participatory. The main track is the one marked by Mingo's itinerary, which can be followed through the "Follow Mingo" button starting from the initial map, maintaining for each "stage" the possibility of returning to the home page, that is, to the content map. Otherwise, on this page, it is possible to select the three main themes (fishermen, octopus, market people) and explore them in different order.
These three thematic cores are divided into sequences but are strongly interconnected. Intertwining themes emerge from the gestures and discourses of the research participants: the continuity of a work handed down for centuries made up of repetitive and always the same movements that contrasts with a rapidly changing urban, social and environmental context. The theme of the expanding city, rising tourism, gentrification of the Bari Vecchia neighborhood, for decades stigmatized as an inaccessible and dangerous center of crime, is taken up by all participants. Questions asked in amazement by tourists passing through in the first and third sections add elements to this theme. At the same time, one can observe a market in involution, with fewer and fewer fishermen and stalls, due to the climate crisis that is profoundly changing the Mediterranean marine fauna.
The space circumscribed in a small pier that separates and at the same time connects Bari Vecchia and Bari Nuova thus becomes the scene of conflicting phenomena that on the one hand nurture and on the other undermine the market and its fish processing practices. Still, in this space people, including workers, frequent visitors and fish lovers, animate Bari's food culture of raw fish and curled octopus. They show pride in this, hence the desire to narrate the market and tell their stories as marginalized and wounded by "othering" and criminalizing external representations. In fact, the video was intended as a direct observation take with minimal editing and no interviews, to focus on the constant, repetitive, almost hypnotic manual activity of the fishermen, preceded by a short introductory narrative by Mingo. Instead, once in the field with the camera accompanied by my grandfather, all participants opened up and brought out the stories that are collected in the web doc. In particular, Vito, whose story is in the "Market People" section, really asked me to approach and share the project with him. I tried to return what was entrusted to me as transparently as possible, respecting the opinions, at times shareable, of those who conversed with me.
Most of all, the issue of tourism understood as requalification has been a hot button for my very deep-seated consciousness of critique of urban development and gentrification. Because of this, however, I have been forced to confront a reality that I often theoretically disregard, namely that of marginalized people claiming the qualification of their space as the only form of recognition and validation from the outside gaze. This same gaze is that of the representations that feed and reproduce their marginality. This makes one reflect on the weight of narratives (verbal or visual) of a given space and the people who inhabit it. This brief field experience made me reflect on the opening, rather than closing, effect that the camera tool can generate in an environment that is willing, and perhaps even in need, to tell its story. In a setting where fishermen are photographed every day by passersby and tourists, taking the time to introduce myself and narrate my research with a promise to return my work, absolutely made a difference in their reception of my presence.