Jun
19

Fishing for compliments

By
The other day G. hauled home an estimated 20 kilos (20 pounds) of gilthead bream, and a surprise.

The other day G. hauled home an estimated  10 kilos (22 pounds) of gilthead bream, and an interloper which Lino immediately spied.

Our upstairs neighbor, G.S., now retired, finally has all the time he wants to go fishing.  I understand that this is the dream of many men, and he is living it to the full.

He sits in his boat on some expanse of water — naturally he will never tell us where, and Lino, a fisherman himself, will never ask.  He sets up three fishing rods, and with what appears to be superhuman talent always brings home something.  Often, many somethings.  Which he sometimes shares with us.

First, he passes our kitchen window, which is usually open except in the depths of winter.  He may call a friendly greeting, or Lino may already have heard him tying up his boat.  So G. will pause, and Lino will indulge in what seems to me to be lots of time discussing the day’s conditions, catch, and other occult particulars of the angler’s art.  Lino never fished with a rod (he prefers the leister, or what I simply call a “trident” even though it has many more than three prongs).  But he knows as much as anyone about the lagoon environment and the customs of its finny fauna. So they confer for as long as they feel like it, then G. goes around the corner and upstairs.

He estimated the catch weighed about ten kilos (22 pounds). And I don't think he came home because he'd caught every fish that was out there. I like a person who knows when enough is enough.

For quite a while, he would sometimes reappear (three flights of stairs, twice — what a guy) and plop a plastic bag of some of his fish onto the windowsill. And not just any fish.  Gilthead bream (orata, or Sparus aurata), sea bass, seppie, and assorted companions who made the wrong decision by thinking “Gosh, if the bream bit, it must be good. I think I’ll try it.”

He would briefly and modestly accept our praise and thanks.  Like anyone who does something really well, he considers most compliments to be mere statements of the obvious. I once complimented the wife of a trattoria-owner in our old neighborhood on her fried meatballs.  “They’re the best meatballs in Venice,” I said, thinking I’d give her pleasure. “I know,” she replied.  And that was it.  Once I recovered from the sensation of having missed a step going down the stairs, I realized that she couldn’t honestly have said anything else.  If she didn’t know how good they were, who would?

Back to G.

Matters have taken a new turn. He comes home, he passes the window, he shows Lino the catch, they talk, he goes upstairs.  Normal.  But the other evening, after a few minutes, we heard him call.  Then a plastic bag tied to a string mysteriously appeared, descending from above, framed in the doorway.

People still sometimes let down baskets to pull up whatever they need (everybody’s got flights of stairs), and more than sometimes they let down their bags of garbage and leave them hanging on a long cord for the garbage collector to retrieve.  (Except they won’t be doing that tomorrow, because the garbage people are going to be on strike.  Gad.)

I suppose if we lived on the third floor and he on the ground, he’d call for us to let down a basket, bag, tray, some kind of receptacle, and we’d pull up the fish, sometimes still thrashing. His generosity means that we now eat fabulous fish at least once a week.  But it’s beginning to be hard to keep up with him.  When somebody gives you eight or ten bream, which is one of the most valued fish in the Venetian culinary repertoire, you feel joy and gratitude and bursts of self-congratulatory health.  But you can’t eat eight or ten at one go, and the freezer is beginning to murmur in a discontented sort of way, probably beginning to consider staging a mutiny of the bounty.

But we have put our hand to the plow, as the Good Book hath it, and, as advised, we are not looking back.  If fresh fish is to be our fate, we will just keep on accepting it.

The magical bag silently appears, containing the interloper.

The magical bag silently appears, containing the interloper.

A little cagnoletto (Mustelus mustelus, or palombo, in Italian, or common smooth-hound in English).  It's a modest little shark and once you have eviscerated it -- you'll want to throw all that away immediately, the smell is pretty strong -- and skinned it, which is another major project, the flesh when boiled makes a delectable broth, and the fish itself has a very delicate flavor.  It's not unusual to see these in the fish market, but in restaurants they only appear as part of fish soup.  If ever.

A cagnoleto (Mustelus mustelus, or palombo, in Italian, or common smooth-hound in English). It’s a modest little shark and once you have eviscerated it — you’ll want to throw all that away immediately, the smell is pretty strong — and skinned it, which is another major project, the flesh when boiled makes a delectable broth, and the fish itself has a very delicate flavor. They can also be fried, or grilled, and I’ve just discovered an interesting recipe for cooking them in a tomato/anchovy sauce.  It’s not unusual to see these in the fish market, but in restaurants they usually appear, if ever, as part of fish soup.

Some days earlier, this was his gift: three gilthead, a suro, and a pesce persico, which is normally a freshwater fish but which not infrequently wanders out of a river and into the lagoon..

Some days earlier, this was his gift: three bream, a long slim suro, and a brownish pesce persico, normally a freshwater fish but which not infrequently wanders out of a river and into the lagoon.

The suro (Trachurus trachurus, or European horse mackerel) has the most enchanting colors, so subtle as to defeat my little camera.  As you can see, they're less fatty than the usual mackerel.

The suro (Trachurus trachurus, or European horse mackerel) has the most enchanting colors, so subtle as to defeat my little camera. As you can see, they’re less fatty than the usual mackerel.

The pesce persico (Tinca tinca, or tench) doesn't loom particularly  large in Venetian cooking -- it doesn't loom large, period -- but anything that's in the lagoon is fair game.  And as you see, the lagoon is crammed with fish.

The pesce persico (Tinca tinca, or tench) doesn’t loom particularly large in Venetian cooking — it doesn’t loom large, period — but anything that’s in the lagoon is fair game. And as you see, the lagoon is crammed with fish.

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Categories : Fish, Uncategorized

Comments

  1. Anna says:

    I do enjoy your posts on the everyday life in Venice.

  2. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    oh Erla. Priceless. “a mutiny of the bounty” I stand in awe of your puntuality.

  3. Kathy Maher says:

    Wonderful post, Erla! But then you know that already. 😉

    • Erla says:

      Thanks! Now I’m going to re-format the text and re-instate all the paragraph breaks which some Evil Force removed when I hit “publish.” You must think I’ve lost my mind, to publish one big block of text like that. Special thanks for being willing to read through it anyway. Gad!

  4. Doug
    Twitter: brooks.dougcomcast.net
    says:

    I’ve been hooked on your blog for several years and appreciate the view into Venetian life you offer.
    If I lived near you I’d gladly help you resolve your abbondanza di pesce issue.
    : > )

  5. Steve Rauworth says:

    Enjoyed this one a lot, particularly the bit on people doing things well, where you truly and humorously described the meatball maker. I would add that the fact that such people doing what they do to meet their own standards, not really being all that concerned with anyone else’s, is part of what makes the product so good. There’s a parable about good parenting, children who are grounded and confident, cultivating excellence for its own sake, and how the current norms of business, society and government often discourage such assets there somewhere. Nice to learn about the fish, too.

  6. Victoria says:

    I particularly enjoy your wry, or shall we say realistic, comments on life in Venice. A strike by the rubbish collectors! They normally seem so saintly, but maybe it’s their turn.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Saintly? Are we talking about the same Venice? The garbage people go on strike almost as often as the vaporetto people. Or sometimes they just don’t show up, for reasons that are never made known, or are announced in teeny-tiny type somewhere in the depths of the newspaper. All part of the Venetian charm, wondering if your fish-innards and melon-rinds are going to have another day to mellow in your kitchen…

  7. Kate says:

    Nice catch, Erla! Glad to see that you enjoy your your life in Venice!
    Kate recently posted..Quick update at FisherTom