In our attempt to get closer and hear the voices of older hunting generation we were met by a tough obstacle. The code of silence (omertà) is typical of many small towns in the rural south. This is especially the case in those regions were organised crime still has an important presence in the territory. Our confidence swayed after our first couple attempts to break this code of silence failed, we were in most cases met by silent mumbles and obstinate stares. After lunch the shutters of the few shops and bars that were open shut, and the towns go to sleep. The silence interrupted by the occasional bark or echo of a gunshot, always too far to chase.
Descending from the hills to the livelier coastline we decide to try one last time…we stopped at an old men’s association and all of a sudden we become the center of attention. The card games and political discussions are put to the side as every old man, hunter or not, wants to tell us their story once they have assurance we are no part of any environmental group. A fragile old man boasts about the old days when he would shoot up to ten honey-buzzards in one day, nothing compared to the billions of raptors that would obscure the skies of the Messina Strait every spring. They tell us how today you can go to jail if you kill a bird but probably not if you kill a man; many of them tell us you cannot even look at the birds anymore if you do not want to risk the environmentalists coming after you..
It is funny how things can change so quickly and this is a great aspect of this kind of research and a lesson not to give up. Reinvigorated by this experience we manage to organize a meeting with an old hunter on the Sicilian side of the Strait, he takes us up to the old forts from which they used to shoot the raptors and tells us stories from those days. He tells us he had never taken part in raptor hunting and he does not miss it, what he does reminisce are the times hunting was a respected tradition, a useful activity to bring food back to the table, a gentlemen’s affair as he likes to put it. Those times are long gone he admits, hunting is a tradition that is eventually going to be lost like many others today.
That day we leave with many questions loudly buzzing through our heads, we drive away conscious that the next couple of weeks will probably be as intense and thought-provoking as this last one..