16 March 2011

The Trani Port

We are here in Trani, a small, sleepy village on the shore of Puglia. The town's center is its port, which is pretty but small - this is not a deepwater harbor and the yachts are understated by Mediterranean standards. It's a pleasant place to walk around, with a few places to eat or get a glass of wine and a thriving - if not exactly lively - fishing scene.
Not always so demure, Trani was once the most important port on the Adriatic. During the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, this region was among the most thriving on the peninsula, and the city maintained trading consuls as far away as England and Holland. Frederick II departed for the crusades from this harbor and the port was rivaled in Italy only by Venice.
Of course, things changed and the town has been somewhat forgotten. Today, its main industries (other than tourism) are centered inland, where a few large marble and olive oil companies are based. The port is quiet right now, and most of the boats moored at the piers are small pleasure craft. We've seen a couple being motored out past the breakwater, but the town feels very settled into its offseason slumber, and the owners of these boats are likely elsewhere. At night, when it's been breezy, the wind howls through the empty masts and makes a very empty, haunting sound.
There are, of course, locals who work on their nets and sell their catch from small crates. The fish (that we see) are generally small and well-picked through, but are plentiful and appear to arrive constantly on the piers.
There are more shuttered restaurants than open ones - but the places that are taking customers right now have terrific fish. We've eaten better than almost anywhere else, and the food has been fresher than what one can typically find in the middle of March. Cooks take great pride in showing off their ingredients - fish are almost always brought to the tableside live (or nearly live), to be inspected before meeting with the knife and olive oil. Men in kitchen clothes are omnipresent at the waterside, standing and talking with the fishermen.
The dock market seems to never end - there are people selling fish at eight in the morning and at eight in the evening. The hum of generators begins sometime around dusk, when electric lights are turned on and people come to the dock after work to pick out something for their frying pans.
I imagine that there's a different, more hectic scene here in August, when there are more people at the water to buy gelato than seafood. It's nice to be by the shore when it's quiet and not feel as though the town has completely gone into hibernation - there is a feeling of camaraderie and a winter energy. Last night, when a local couple caught us looking across the restaurant at their sardines, they told the waiter to bring us a plate of them. They were delicious, lightly fried and accompanied only by a wedge of lemon. The people in that place - the couple, the waiter, the chef - were really proud of their fish.

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