Archive for clams

Jun
08

Springing and summering along

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For the past few days there have been extremely low tides, June being the second period in the year (after January) in which this phenomenon occurs.  As normal as it may be, I always feel strangely happy to see the underpinnings of the lagoon as such close quarters.

For the past few days there have been extremely low tides, June being the second period in the year (after January) in which this phenomenon occurs. All this area would normally be covered with water, to some depth, however modest. While it doesn’t surprise me anymore, I still feel strangely happy to see the underpinnings of the lagoon as such close quarters.

The next morning we rowed along the edge of this exposed prairie.  I noticed a yellow motorboat sitting definitively on the ground; its owner, somewhere nearby, was obviously counting on having lots of time to dig clams before the tide came to float his boat away.

We rowed along the edge of this exposed prairie. I noticed a yellow motorboat sitting definitively on the ground; its owner, somewhere nearby, was obviously counting on having plenty of time to dig clams before the tide came to float his boat away.

The next morning we rowed along the edge of the huge prairie, in the middle of which a yellow motorboat was definitively sitting.  Its owner was obviously counting on having plenty of time to dig clams before the tide rose enough to float him away.

As you see.

Next Sunday Venetians will go to the polls to vote in a runoff election for the new mayor.  Yes, a year has passed since the Good Ship Venice ran aground and was put under a temporary administrator who managed to get her off the rocks and pump the bilge, but who had no power to plot the new course.

Whichever of the two candidates wins will then proceed to dive — a graceful swan? armstand back 3 somersault 2 1/2 twist tuck? — into a mar di lacrime, or “sea of tears,” as they put it here.  To continue the liquidy metaphor, our brains have been soaked in campaign promises, which, now that I think of it, would be a good way to learn some basic Italian.  The phrases are so simple, and so repetitive.

Washing one’s brain has one good thing about it — it might remove the mental stains splattered by the politicians in the course of what they consider a typical day.  An example: Giancarlo Galan, former governor of the Veneto Region, has spent much of the past year on house arrest for taking bribes and other forms of corruption, jail time served in his luxurious villa on the mainland.  Does he feel remorse? Certainly he would feel it if he thought he’d done anything wrong.  But as he doesn’t, he’s ready to return to Parliament as soon as his stint is finished.  Yes: Convicted felons get to go back to work for the government.

My only defense is to run away.  I flee to the lagoon and I make no apology.  Technically, the season is still spring, but the sun wants to get going on summer right away and has made an excellent start.  Temperatures in the low nineties (F) or low thirties (C).  Hot, by any scale.  Breeze.  No clouds.  Dream weather for going to the beach or — my personal favorite, as everyone knows — drying laundry.

It’s also ideal weather for fleeing.  Here are some things I’ve noticed over the past week or so.

Low tide makes hunting for canestrelli, or scallops, somewhat easier, even though they are extremely well camouflaged by a shell color which totally mimics the sandy bottom.  Lino managed a tidy little haul, which he proceeded to bread and fry the same evening.  Delectable.

Low tide makes hunting for canestrelli, or scallops (Aequipecten opercularis) relatively easy, even though they are extremely well camouflaged by a shell color which totally mimics the sandy  bottom. Lino managed a tidy little haul, which he proceeded to bread and fry the same evening. Delectable.

An inch of water is enough to keep the eelgrass moving in one direction with the falling tide, like tresses of some wort.  And a few denizens appear on the surface, like this tiny crab.  Crabs are a good sign; where there are crabs, there will also be plenty of other fish who nosh on them.  When you pull in a net, it's normal to see some half-gnawed little crabs.  and if you go fishing for eels, soft-shell crabs ("moeche") are the perfect bait.

An inch of water is enough to keep the eelgrass moving in one direction with the tide, like tresses. And a few denizens appear on the surface, like this tiny crab. Crabs are a good sign; where there are crabs, there will also be plenty of fish who nosh on them. When you pull in a net, it’s normal to see some half-gnawed crabs. and if you go fishing for eels, soft-shell crabs (“moeche”) are the perfect bait.

Unhappily, this female moeca is now defunct, awaiting either some adventurous nosher, or mere disintegration.

Unhappily, this female moeca is now defunct, awaiting either some adventurous nosher or mere disintegration.

We pulled our boat onto the dryish grassland to investigate what appear to be megaliths (or miniliths) from the Evora complex, but which we knew were exposed fan mussels (Pinna nobilis).

A good example; they burrow in the sediment and open their shells slightly to consume whatever food might have come by.

A good example; they burrow in the sediment and open their shells slightly to consume whatever food might drift by.

What really intrigued me, though, were the few mounds of spongy material here and there.  Lino knew immediately that they were the eggs of sea snails ("garusoli," or "noni").  And this mound was far from dormant.  Most of the creatures were showing some signs of life, and one was atop the mound, evidently laying more.

What really intrigued me, though, were the several mounds of spongy material here and there. Lino knew immediately that they were the eggs of sea snails (“garusoli,” or “noni”). And this mound was far from dormant. Most of the creatures were showing some signs of life, and one was atop the mound, evidently laying more.

As you may perhaps see here.

As you may perhaps see here.

There's even a fan mussel nearby.  I don't see that it can be much use, but maybe it's waiting to eat something.  Nature, red in tooth and shell.

There’s even a fan mussel nearby. I don’t see that it can be much use, but maybe it’s waiting to eat something. Nature, red in tooth and shell.

The rising tide approaches, beginning to submerge all these wonders.

The rising tide approaches, beginning to submerge all these wonders.

And has begun to lift our boat.  Time to continue on our trip to Sant' Erasmo to buy vegetables.

And has begun to lift our boat. Time to continue on our trip to Sant’ Erasmo to buy vegetables and check the progress of the season ashore.

For one brief interlude, the tamarisks, artichokes and poppies were all in bloom.

For one brief interlude, the tamarisks, artichokes and poppies were all in bloom.

Although tamarisks produce what may be the least interesting flowers yet, they do have their own strange appeal.  Especially when they begin to dry up and blow away, covering the nearby water with pale beige mats of old blossom.

Although tamarisks produce what may be among the least interesting flowers, they do have their own strange appeal. Especially when they begin to dry up and blow away, covering the nearby water with pale beige mats of old blossom.

This is a small tree producing the even smaller plum known locally as “suchete.” For reasons I can’t explain, the Venetian word for zucchine is also “suchete.” Be careful when you’re looking up recipes.

A chickens and her chicks.  What could be more springlike than this?

A chicken and her chicks. What could be more springlike than this?

Unless it's the duckling next door.

Unless it’s the duckling next door.

Here's to blossoming everything.

Here’s to blossoming everything.

 

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Mar
20

Springing ahead

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Although we certainly can’t complain about the winter we haven’t had — all the cold and snow were re-routed to other parts of the world — spring is still exerting the old rousing-the-bear-from-hibernation force around the neighborhood.

So I festivate the equinox with a string of springy pictures, in no particular order, because I have the sensation that everything is happening pretty much in unison, like the Rockettes.  This wonderful, too-brief phase comes down to essentially two things: Fish and flowers.

The past few days have seen the slaughter of the seppie -- anybody with a boat and some free time seems have gone out to snag as much as they can of what the tide was bringing in.  Our neighbor came home one day with 25 kilos (55 pounds) of the little monsters.  He gave us some, which were better than anything we could have bought.

The past few days have seen the slaughter of the seppie — anybody with a boat and some free time seems have gone out to snag as much as they can of what the tide was bringing in. Our neighbor came home one day with 25 kilos (55 pounds) of the little monsters. He gave us some, which were better than anything we could have bought.

But you don't have to have a boat in order to do major damage to the incoming horde of tentacled delicacies.  There's a veritable perp walk of fishermen along the fondamenta.

But you don’t have to have a boat in order to do major damage to the incoming horde of tentacled delicacies. There’s quite a detachment of fishermen strung along the fondamenta.

Which is not to say that what's been on sale in the fish market has been anything less than top-notoch. Or as this vendor's sign expressed it: "Marvelous."  With a marvelous low price to match.  If you see seppie like this

In the past few days, the seppie in the fish market have rarely been anything less than top-notch. Or as this vendor’s sign expressed it: “Marvelous.” With a marvelous low price to match. If you see seppie like this, it’s a venial sin not to buy them. If they don’t look like this, you should skip them and buy something else. Note the lack of black ink smeared all over them.  The makeup is applied when the seppie aren’t as beautiful — I mean fresh — as this.

These are go', a type of goby that makes a fantastic risotto.  Actually, we may be among the few people left who use them for that purpose; they're never on any menu that I'm acquainted with. "Quando la rosa mette spin', xe bon el go' e el passarin."  When the rose begins to bloom (i.e., put out its thorns -- just go with it), the go' and the passarini, or turbot, are good."  Lino has taken more passarini out of the lagoon than you could believe, but they're hardly ever in the fish market anymore.  People like sole and salmon from exotic faraway places.

These are go’, a type of goby that makes a fantastic risotto. Actually, we may be among the few people left who use them for that purpose; they’re never on any menu that I’m acquainted with. “Quando la rosa mete spin’, xe bon el go’ e el passarin.” When the rose begins to bloom (i.e., put out its thorns — just go with it), the go’ and the passarini are good. Lino has taken more passarini, or European flounder (Platichthys flesus), out of the lagoon than you could ever count, but they’re hardly ever in the fish market anymore. People like things like sole and salmon from exotic faraway places.

Let's talk clams.  You can certainly go clamming in the depth of winter, but your fingrs freeze so you can't even feel the clams anymore.  But on a day like this, the sun, the water, the world all seem to conspire to make a few hours on the falling, then rising, tide, just the perfect thing to do. Note Lino's net bag -- it's an excellent tool for rinsing the muddy little bivalves.

Let’s talk clams. You can certainly go clamming in the depth of winter, but your fingers freeze so you can’t even feel the clams anymore. But on a day like this the sun, the water, the world all seem to conspire to make a few hours clamming during the falling, then rising, tide, just the perfect thing to do.

Note Lino's net bag -- the perfect tool for rinsing the muddy little bivalves. A bucket also works, but this is better.

Note Lino’s net bag — the perfect tool for rinsing the muddy little bivalves. He puts them in a bucket full of lagoon water later to make them finish expelling their internal grit.

Lino takes them the old-fashioned way -- one at a time.

Lino takes them the old-fashioned way — one at a time.

There were a few people out who had the same idea.  Good thing they kept their distance -- clammers are like any other fishermen. They hate to have other fishermen climbing over them.

There were a few people out who had the same idea. Good thing they kept their distance. Clammers are like any other fishermen — they hate to have other fishermen climbing over them.

The plant life was looking fine, too.  These trees have leaves that are practically singing.

The plant life was looking fine, too. These trees have leaves that are practically singing.

The vegetable boat people planted a tiny peach tree in a pot on their prow, and it has begun to put forth tiny peach blossoms.  If they ever harvest tiny peaches, I'll let you know -- otherwise, the memory of these little blooms will be enough for me.

The vegetable-boat people planted a tiny peach tree in a pot on their prow, and it has begun to put forth tiny peach blossoms. If they ever harvest tiny peaches, I’ll let you know — otherwise, the memory of these little blooms will be enough for me.

Forsythia, in some hardy gardener's hardy garden.

Forsythia, in some hardy gardener’s hardy garden.

A plum tree, slightly  behind some of the others I've seen, probably because the sun doesn't shine very much on this part of the street.

A plum tree, slightly behind some of the others I’ve seen, probably because the sun doesn’t shine very much on this part of the street.

Wisteria getting ready to burst.

Wisteria getting ready to burst.

Cabbages also have to flower.

Cabbages also have to flower.

I don't know what they are, but that's not stopping them.

I don’t know what they are, but that’s not stopping them.

Green leaves like this are no less lovely than the flowers.  In fact, I'm not sure these leaves know they're not flowers.

Leaves that are this green are no less lovely than the flowers. In fact, I’m not sure these leaves know they’re not flowers.

Toward 5:00 PM the light begins to warm up in a particularly spring-like way.

Toward 5:00 PM the light begins to warm up in a particularly spring-like way. If there’s any moment lovelier than the dawn, it would be this interlude on the verge of sunset.

 

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Dec
31

Detritus of 2012

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This would be an appropriate expression for anybody, whether looking forward or looking back. But maybe things will get better.

I’ve never been keen on New Year’s, nor have I ever felt an urge to celebrate it.  My instinct is to hide under the bed until after midnight.  But that’s just me.

I can’t  do one of those end-of-year reviews, it would wear me out.  Living it once was enough.  But bits of detritus are still flying off the stern of the Good Ship World as we speed toward the next 12 months, at least as seen from over here.  Before they sink (and may it be soon), here are a few:

Mrs. Ex-Berlusconi’s alimony.  Veronica Lario is certainly ending the year on a high note. It’s been determined that she will get 36 million euros ($48,000,000) a year in alimony.  Or $4 million a month. Berlusconi is trying desperately to get himself re-elected premier of Italy, but I think a settlement of these dimensions makes it hard to take him seriously as a person who has the well-being of his country in his hands.  But I think she would make a fantastic prime minister!  Secretary of the Treasury!  Chief Comptroller! If she ever wants to run for anything, she’s got my vote.

Don Piero Corsi and his opinions on “femminicidio.” The parish priest of the church of San Terenzo in Lerici published a broadside last week concerning the endless series of murders of women in Italy, awkwardly termed “femminicidio.”  First of all, I learned that more women meet a violent death in Italy than in any other European country. But he went at the subject from another angle, urging women to take a good long look at themselves to see how far they might be “provoking” such a crime.

I’m not going to translate it for you, but you can imagine the mushroom cloud of outrage that’s bloomed from all sides.  He hasn’t published a retraction, but the bishop has put him on what might be termed “administrative leave.”  (Spiritual retreat?  Re-education camp?). I was following all this with some form of calm until a perfervid feminist wrote a letter to the Gazzettino objecting to the ugliness of the word “femminicidio.”  Let me go on record as saying that compared to the act it represents, the word is as the “Hallelujah Chorus” sung by seraphim.  Let’s not waste time niggling about terminology — at least he got people talking about something that obviously needs to be talked about.

Divorced fathers sleeping in cars.  This isn’t a funny line, it’s another view of the economic crisis as lived over here in the so-called Belpaese where, according to a cliche’ I sometimes hear, “people really know how to live.”  There is a disturbing number of men in Padua whose alimony payments have eviscerated their budgets (is one of them Silvio Berlusconi?).  By the time they’ve paid the monthly support, they have almost nothing left over. So they are sleeping in their cars under an overpass, banded together for protection.  They wash at work and eat at the Mission with the destitute immigrants and alcoholic street people. I feel sorry for everyone, but these fathers have punched a hole in my heart.

Most dangerous items on New Year’s Eve: Homemade fireworks and clams. Tons of bivalves from Tunisia were checked at the port of Salerno and found to be harboring so many contaminants that, to protect the environment as well as people, the clams are being incinerated.  The importer has to pay the incineration fee: 10,000 euros. And a fine. Nice. But there are undoubtely plenty of other clams out there waiting for their big moment.  Eat beans.  Make your own explosives.

Last non-news of 2012 and probably first non-news of 2013: The Calatrava Bridge still has problems. The ACTV continues its extraordinary managerial contortions.  I can’t remember the rest, but the list is long.

Now to something beautiful.  I do love one thing about New Year’s Eve here, and that is going to the last mass of the year at San Marco, and hearing them chant the Te Deum in Latin — the only time in the year that this occurs. I love it, not because I think it’s a spectacle, but because in spite of everything, we’re supposed to thank God for all His blessings, even the ones we don’t know about, and especially the ones we thought weren’t. The Te Deum does all that.

See you on the other side.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Nov
28

Happy Clamsgiving

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This is where we stopped, as Lino had already determined, passing here as we often do, that this terrain was going to be good.

While the rest of you were lolling amid the wreckage of flightless birds and tangled NFL teams last Thursday, we went for the mollusks.  I suppose we could have gone fishing, but considering that the tide was going to be unusually low at a convenient time of day, plus the fact that a few calm, cool, golden days of St. Martin’s Summer had briefly wandered back to the lagoon, probably by mistake, it seemed to fly in the face of Providence not to take a boat and go clamming.

I refer to “we,” in the sense that an anesthetist might refer to “our” brain operation. Lino does the hunting and gathering of the submerged morsels, and I help him by rowing there and back and keeping quiet.  I have dug clams in my life, so I know it’s possible.  I also know that I do not have the (A) knack  (B) patience  (C) desire  (D) interest in this endeavor.  Perhaps if I were to actually find a clam occasionally, all of the above would increase, even if only a little.

But no.

He jams his finger into the sediment where there are NO SIGNS of bivalve habitation, and comes up with one after another.  I jam my finger into the sediment where there are NUMEROUS signs, and come up with nothing or — worse — a little castanet full of mud where the clam used to be.  This is the clam’s way of wreaking revenge, even though he wasn’t eaten by us but by some passing marine creature such as a sea snail. But if you can be fooled by the shut clamshell, you will happily claim it and throw it into the skillet with the others, where it will duly open up and distribute sandy mud all over its companions.  Not a lot of sand.  Just enough.  So not wishing to risk being the agent of this unpleasant eventuality, I tend to sit in the boat and watch and breathe and listen.  And take pictures, or read.  Sometimes I even think, if there’s any time left over.

And he immediately gets to work. Summer clamming requires walking around in the water barefoot, but by November you need to switch to Plan B.

Rowing out in the lagoon when the weather is chilly (or cold, or very cold), but calm and sunny, is almost the best thing ever.  The traffic has been slashed to the bone, the light is delicate yet rich, with shifting nuances that overlap in alluring combinations that set themselves on fire in celestial sunsets.

Watching the tide drop is also a beautiful and mysterious thing.  Of course you can’t see it drop any more than you can see a leaf changing color, but you can notice it in phases and it’s a pleasant reminder of things that are bigger and even more important than you — I mean me.

Reverence for truth compels me to add, though, that the soundtrack isn’t nearly as seductive as the scene itself.  I said there was less traffic — I didn’t say there was no traffic, because since the advent of the motor (or at least since the advent of me), I can tell you that there is no day or night, no season or location, in which you will find silence in the lagoon.  There is always — I need to repeat that — always the sound of a motor coming from somewhere.

Whenever a boat goes by out in the channel, it thoughtfully leaves all sorts of waves behind.

Trying to imagine the lagoon without the sound of motors — and believe me, I do try to imagine it, on a regular basis — is like trying to imagine the Garden of Eden, or being Angelina Jolie, or even inventing some stupid little app that makes you five million dollars in six months.  That is, your brain can’t do it. Because no matter how divine may be the velvety midnight sky, how nacreous the dawn, how resplendent the vault of heaven seared by the flaming rays of sunset, there will always be motor noise.  Small, but steady and grinding, like a dentist’s drill, or deep and ponderous, or silly and busy and self-important.  It’s the aural equivalent of the vandalage inflicted by The Society for Putting Broken Bedsteads into Ponds identified by Flanders and Swann.  Only not so funny.

Back to clams.  Lino was happy, I was happy, the clams — well, I try not to think about their mood. They were put in the lagoon to be consumed, not to write bi-lingual dictionaries or form a sacred harp choir.  Apologies to any Catholic vegetarian readers, but I have to say that clams make a beautiful death.  And broth.

The falling tide begins to reveal the world beneath. The lagoon, as one sees, is essentially a flooded alluvial plain.

Two members of the Remiera Casteo club out for a spin, now heading home.

Not much later, another pair from the same club heads out for some more serious training on a gondolino.

As winter draws near, the lagoon begins more and more to resemble a sort of Zen garden. At least in parts.

 

The sun and water are both noticeably going down, but this does not deter our intrepid clammer.

Your diehard clammer wants "just one more" even more fervently than six paparazzi want photos.

And the fruit of all his labor. I'm certainly thankful for this little harvest.

 

 

 

 

 

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