Last night we had an especially delectable dinner, focusing (as often happens) on fish.
Sometimes we buy them, sometimes we catch them, and sometimes they thrust themselves upon us.
As in this case: “Orate” (gilthead sea bream) are highly prized around Venetian restaurants, and are vigorously cultivated in the various lagoon fish-farms. We bought these two specimens from our neighborhood fisherman a few hours after he snagged them.
The other little guy, the slender one at the right edge of the plate, is a cefalo (“siegolo” — SYEH-go-yo — in Venetian), or gray mullet. Very delicious, but very snobbed these days by restaurants who prefer to offer the very trendy orata, at preposterous prices.
A few hours before the picture above was taken, our little siegolo had been swimming blithely along, zipping through the water thinking whatever busy ichtheous thoughts oppress teenagers of the Mugilidae family.
Suddenly, he felt like leaping. This happens to mullet of all sizes, I don’t know why, but it strikes usually in the morning, sometimes in the dead of night. You can be rowing along and they’ll just bounce out of the water as if there were a trampoline down there somewhere. And it is not at all unusual for them to land, not with a splash, but a thud, as they hit the bottom of our boat.
The first time this ever happened to me, we were rowing in a four-oar sandolo at midnight back from Sant’ Erasmo all the way to the Lido. Summer nights are luminous in the lagoon and back then there weren’t quite so many motorboats tearing around all night, or at least not enough to drown out the pensive voice of a nightingale that came out of the dark woods as we rowed along the canal between the two islands called the Vignole, or the lovely, solitary note — just one — of the owl they call a soeta. It was magical.
Suddenly there was a thump in the bottom of the boat, and it kept thumping. In the dark I thought it was a bottle or something similar that had fallen over in the midst of our various voyaging detritus. But no — it was a fish. A big, strong mullet, who evidently had rejoiced as a strong man to run a race to see just how high out of the water he could hurl himself. He found out how high, but he hadn’t calculated on the landing. Fish don’t get to go home again any more than people do, at least not those who launch themselves anywhere near us. His future was pretty simple at this point: The skillet and a slather of extravirgin olive oil.
Anyway, sorry as I am to see a mullet’s morning, or evening, ruined by being taken prisoner and then executed, I know we appreciate him more than a lot of people do. Maybe more than his friends and family do. (Do fish have friends?)