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  Field Notes From
Italy's Po River

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Erla Zwingle

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William Albert Allard

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs courtesy Erla Zwingle (top), William Albert Allard

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Italy's Po River

Field Notes From Author
Erla Zwingle
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On June 9, the eve of the Feast of the Holy Trinity, I joined a religious group called the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity in a procession that started in the town of Loreo. Members came from all over the world to meet, hold Mass, and induct new members. After the swearing-in ceremony about 70 people made a slow solemn procession down a country road to another church. With a policeman in the front to stop traffic, we set out on the 40-minute walk at about 1:30 in the morning. There was something very special in those moments. As I walked beneath a huge night sky, following the confraternity in their red hooded habits, I felt that they belonged to each other. They conveyed a great sense of piety and peacefulness. They weren’t doing this as a performance but simply because they wanted to.

I spent the night at the source of the Po River in the upland regions of the mountains and stayed in the first hotel that was built there for tourists. In late June it was sweltering hot in the lowlands, but at night I was freezing. My feet were so cold! I wore socks and covered myself in five woolen blankets, but I still couldn’t get warm.

I know that everything in the natural world has its place, and we’re not supposed to make moral judgments. But how anyone would be willing to fish for siluro—a very scary, bad, dangerous, and destructive fish—is beyond me. The siluro is one of the things that has devastated the fishing in the Po River. It can weigh up to 300 pounds (140 kilograms). It’s as destructive as a shark and will eat anything that gets in its way. The Italians don’t eat this fish; they don’t even fish for it. But Austrians and Germans come to Italy to fish for siluro for sport.
I went out on the water one luminous night to talk to some of the fishermen. They were sitting there with their lures in the water waiting for these monsters to come out of the deep.
Fishing for siluro is a great excuse to go out on the water at night, but it’s scary. I couldn’t help but think, “They’re down there! At any moment, one could come up!”

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