Catch of the dayBy
Nardo the fisherman was drinking his usual after-work spritz at Bar Mio when we stopped in at 2:00 the other day for an espresso. A spritz, by the way, is the standard/classic/what-else-would-you-be-drinking aperitivo of Venice. The size of the glass can vary, but the proportions don’t: one-third white wine (or Prosecco), one-third colored flavoring agent (Campari, Cynar, Aperol, Bitter, Select), one-third sparkling water. As you can imagine, it is refreshing at any time of day, especially before (or instead) of meals.
He was knocking off for the day, so naturally he needed rehydrating. He goes out virtually every day (or night, or whenever the best fishing is going to be), and sometimes comes to roost in our canal, selling his catch to passersby. The fact that he can do this in front of the fish-shop leads Lino to surmise that he sells part of his catch to them. Sea bass, cuttlefish, gilthead, striped seabream, you know they’re all going to be sparklingly good.
“I’ve got two folpi,” he volunteered. “You want them? I’ll give them to you. My wife says she’s afraid of them.” The fact that he has a wife is kind of interesting. If he’s always out fishing, they must have a lot to talk about on Christmas and Easter, probably the only two days he’s home all year.
Lino says, “Sure.” (I wanted to say “Never look a gift folpo in the mouth,” but I’m not real clear on whether they have a mouth. They must, of course, but only God and Lino know where it is or how it works. Anyway, don’t bother attempting humor about fish with a fisherman.)
We were heading toward places other than home, so, as per agreement, he left them at Bar Mio for us to pick up on the way back. I thought they’d have been stowed in some kind of fridge, but they were just sitting in a plastic bag on a chair.
As Lino went into the kitchen to start preparing them, he said “If they’re not fresh, we’re just going to throw them out.”
Were they fresh? “Hey, look at this!” he said, peering into the sink where he’d just dumped them. “They’re still alive!” This is great from a culinary point of view, obviously. From a human point of view (with which I am occasionally encumbered) it’s a little too bad. It’s true that they were strangely revolting as they lay there, tentacles slithering wetly in every direction. But they’re here now, and there’s only one end to this story.
I put on a big pot of water to boil, threw in what turned out to be too much salt, and went to the living room while Lino got to work. Then I had a thought. I went back into the kitchen.
“Are you going to kill them before you clean them?” I asked, feeling a tiny frisson of compassion. “Oh sure,” Lino said without pausing, picking up the second one (live) and ripping the knife neatly into and up along its stomach in a very straight and very fatal line.
I felt sort of dumb. I mean, what had I been thinking? That he was going to hear their confession? Give them a last meal? Cigarette? Phone call? They’re headed for the pot: First they’re alive, then they’re not. Gosh, I think I just made a rhyme.
Sorry, little folpi. It’s not my fault you got caught. The best I can do now is tell you how delicious you were.