Kurlansky (Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea, 2006, etc.) brings his storytelling élan to the fishing town of Gloucester, Mass.
Its fine harbor, abundance of fish and reasonable climate attracted one of the earliest European settlements in America to this sheltered spot on the Cape Ann peninsula. In 1623, employees of an English fish-trading company constructed a few huts, cured some cod and departed to sell it in Bilbao, leaving behind 14 farmers. Gloucester has been internationally known ever since, and Kurlansky fills in the background to explain how it evolved into “an Irish, Scandinavian, Portuguese, Sicilian town” dedicated to its fishery. Such a multicultural place suits this author perfectly; he can revel in the local color, peek into the corners and under the floorboards. Topical chapters sketch the town’s tribal insularity and self-sufficiency, the tragedies wreaked by fierce storms at sea and the milky light that has drawn such artists as Fitz Hugh Lane, Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley and Edward Hopper to Gloucester. Kurlansky offers a broad, intelligent examination into the decline of the fisheries. “If the fishermen are following the regulators and the regulators are listening to the scientists, and yet the fish stocks continue to be depleted,” he asks, “who is getting it wrong?” The devouring maw of tourists and developers, attracted by the ambience they speedily kill, raises the specter of vanishing cultural diversity and economic egalitarianism. On a more cheerful note, Kurlansky celebrates the special requirements of Gloucester’s famous greased-pole walk: “It is generally recognized that to be a successful pole walker a contestant must be tremendously brave, extremely agile, and extraordinarily drunk.”
A lucent addition to Gloucester’s town treasury, featuring a wealth of dramatic stories.