Pubblicato il 29 gennaio 1957 per i tipi della editrice inglese Essential Books, Inc. e con la traduzione dall’originale italiano di Priscilla Hastings, ha 11 foto a colori e 40 in bianco e nero. Lo completa -come nella edizione italiana- un ampio testo d’appendice di Francesco Baschieri sui risultati scientifici ottenuti dalla Spedizione Nazionale Subacquea Italiana in Mar Rosso.
1957, Essential Books withs Nicholas Kaye; 280 pagine, prezzo di copertina: 6 £
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This is the true story of the Italian expedition to Dahakak and beneath the waters of the Red Sea.
It is also the personal testament of one man impelled, by mankind’s urge for knowledge, to explore the coral jungle, come what hazard might. The expedition secured scientific knowledge of exceptional value – and recorded, besides, many hours of adventure and danger for its members.
This book reflects both faces: the preliminary scientific conclusions are assembled here, within and beside the intimate day-by-day account of the emotions and thoughts of adventures in an un charted realm.
Gianni Roghi held his own camera and spearfished. He saw and he hunted, and his long and detailed accounts of the movements of sharks are profoundly interesting, perhaps the best ever written.
Here, too, are encounters with barracuda, moray eels and groupers, manta rays and jewfish.
A long appendix, providing details of the families of fish studied, the corals and other marine flora and fauna, has been compiled by the expedition’s scientific director, Francesco Baschieri Salvadori.
Finally, II full-colour illustrations, 40 monochrome photographs, a map and diagrams, complete a work of practical interest and great narrative appeal for everyone fascinated by this rare new world beneath the waves
The dance of the mantas “Tropical Africa eats, grows, dies and regenerates in jerks. The chrysalis explodes into a butterfly under your nose. Nature changes by revolutions. The gentle transformations of the temperate latitudes are unknown.
I saw a peach-tree at Asmara, five thousand feet above sea level, which reminded me of the religious allegories of the Middle Ages. Some of its branches were dry as in winter. Some had buds. Some carried broad, green leaves, others small bitter fruit. And there were in addition ripe peaches and peaches in decay. That tree had no seasons, no sleep, no rest. All the trees of Asmara and high Africa lack a sense of time. They are Hegelian trees in a state of becoming.
But while that peach-tree flourished an died on the same branch and with the same lymph, down at Dur Ghella in hot Africa, nature had been burnt dead for a year. If you hit the trunks of the tree with the butt of a rifle, you heard the echo of hollow wood. It was a knock on a coffin.One night it rained, really rained, for the first time in a year. He warm water came down in big heavy drops from one o’clock until four. There was no wind and the rain dropped with the sound of a waterfall. The tent was flooded. The rubber mattresses floated and everything was soaked. We sat in the dark in a couple of inches of water and listened to that rain. Then it stopped. The water slowly drained away and we went back to bed.
I was the first to get up. It was nine o’clock. The air was clean. It was a new air and it was almost cool. Then I realized for the first time that for all these months we had been breathing an air with smell, a bad smell perhaps. I went out of the tent and beyond the still-dripping mangroves. There was not a cloud in the sky. I put my hands over my eyes. What I saw could not possibly be true. It was magic or witchcraft. That burnt grey island had turned to emerald. Spring had burst upon us in three hours. The island was covered with short, brilliant green grass. It was growing on the madrepore fossils, inside the rocks, under stones, on the sand, on the roots of the trees. Leaves sprouted from the dry branches of the grey and white trees. The sun was blazing, the colours were dazzling and the air had lost the liquefying heat haze.
I walked about, enjoying the sight of my footprints on the grass. I sat on a lawn that had been sand the day before flew up. There were birds everywhere. I called Cecco, Giorgio and Priscilla. “Priscilla, come and see! There’s grass like there is in England!” And the island was booming with wings. We had a good look round and met two storks, five or six red-billed tropic birds, a flight or brown boobies (those that look like large wild duck), five quails, terns, a pelican, eight turtle doves resting on a branch, three herons and in addition to the permanent residents – the ospreys and the marsh harriers – there were hundreds of little birds, smaller than our sparrows, grey, red, brown and yellow. The quails were on the grass and the stubble of the interior. The ospreys and the marsh harriers circled in the sun. The little birds buzzed around the thorn bushes, and all the others, the pelicans, storks, boobies, terns and tropic birds were on the beach resting after their long trip.
Spring had arrives on land and perhaps in the sea too. We did not yet know it, but something was happening in that great calm sea.
Cecco wen down to the sea and stood in the water. Then he went to the boat and pushed it on to the water. I followed him, filled the tank and sat at the tiller while he got the harpoon. He called to Tesfankiél:
“Coming? It’s calm today. You won’t be sick.”
“Where are you going?”
“Don’t know. Around the island. Coming, yes or no?”
Cecco jumped into the bows and gave the away.
Where do you want to go?” I asked.
“Because this green water irritates me.”
“Shark water, eh?”
He smiled. It could be.
It was 5 p.m. and there was a march sunset in the sky. Against this background of the changing colours of the sea and the sky we had already noticed five mantas leaping out of the sea. In the past days we had noticed little mantas shooting out of the sea at several points. They did three or four head-over-heels, up to twelve feet into the air, and then fell back flat into the water with a plop.
Toomai of the elephants saw a night dance of monsters “in the heart of the hills of the Garo”. We were now going to see another dance in the abysses of Dur Ghella.
The first big manta we saw was on its own. Teskankièl noticed it behind my back. We turned just in time to see it float up and turn over backwards, a white belly against the violet of the sea. It disappeared in the darkness with a slow, solemn turn. This was the first time we had seen a manta behaving like that. A hundred yards further on another manta crossed the bows. It floated up in the same way from the bottom and then, just below the surface, it turned over on its back and disappeared noiselessly. Cecco looked at me.
“What the devil are they doing?”
“Lets go on” I replied.
I looked to the west. The sky was lined with long, thin clouds and each one was ablaze with the light of the setting sun.
It was six o’clock and we were travelling very slowly with the throttle almost closed. We were approaching the northern point of the island although well offshore over a depth of 150 feet. Then two mantas appeared, one in front and one behind us. They carried out the usual acrobatics. Then they began erupting everywhere, mantas of six or seven hundred-weight measuring twelve feet across. They opened out their wings in an incomprehensible invocation and turned slowly over, around the boat. To the west we saw with excitement the centre of the great dance. The sea was in turmoil.
“Go straight on”, Cecco said and I steered, hypnotized, to the centre of the vortex. And while the sun slowly sank and lit up the sea with a violent orange light, we reached the centre.
Forty and more mantas came up vertically from the depths with their wings and their horns stretched, opened the sea and twisted over backwards diving down again into the depths. The dives of death went out without interruption, white bellies against an orange sea, black spectres in the deep. The ship was rolling. Tesfankièl’s skin had gone grey while he looked to left and right at the monsters. Some of them went under us. Others threatened to turn over on to us. When one appeared like this right in front of the boat we could measure it in relation to the boat. The boat was eleven feet long and some of the mantas were twelve to fifteen feet across and just al long, weighing perhaps up to a ton. One cathedral that heaved out of the ocean was approaching eighteen feet. It turned over five yards away. The great wave in its wake plunged towards us. It flung itself with a thud against the bows. Cecco was knocked flat. The boat was swamped, and I was drenched. Cecco got on to his feet again, opened out his arms and yelled: “Great God!”.
The sun went green and vanished. The sea turned to purple and became transparent. We could see the mantas twisting down below. The dance went on for half an hour. Why? After another ten minutes the wake of some new creature passed us. Then another approached from about fifty yards away. They were little mantas two feet long, travelling in pairs. They flapped their little wings furiously and made for the open sea. New pairs of little mantas passed us by and the mothers continued twisting over. I shouted to Cecco:” These are the new-born! It’s the parturition of the mantas”. Cecco did not answer. No one in the world ha seen the mantas giving birth and it is still not known how many offspring they produce at a time. The books say one. But I saw one of those enormous beasts come out of the water three yards from me and two little tails were projecting from the cloaca. Then I saw others with two tails showing at the cloaca, always two-not three and not just one! The detachment of little mantas, always in pairs, crossed us five or six times. They travelled straight to the west, towards the last glimmers of light and then were lost in the darkness.
I dried my face and turned to Cecco. “It’s the parturition of the mantas. They were turning over in circles to help themselves. Then the young ones collect and set off together. Look! Only half of them are still here. The rest have had their offspring an are away. It seems that their abandon them straight away. I wonder where they are all off to”. Cecco looked out from the bows. The sea was black and bellies of the mantas that were still turning over were unexpected ghosts in the gloom.
Gradually the waters calmed and the dance ended. The sky was now clear and the first stars had come out.
Cecco sat down on the bottom of the boat and looked for a cigarette. He found the packet but it was soaked. I had not got any.
Tesfankièl had a look through his pockets and shook his head. “Kalàs”.
“I was thinking about….”
“Toomai of the elephants”, I said.
Cecco smiled and nodded.
“It’s a pity Gigi wasn’t here”, I said.
“At least, he’d have had a cigarette”.
“We’ll have to tell him about it”.
A flight of birds flew over us in the darkness. They were flying strongly towards the west. I started the motor, turned the boat to the east and we made for home.”