Archive for fishing

Mar
15

Signals of spring

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One of the many wonderful things about spring is that nobody can start it or stop it.  That’s why the earliest signs are always the most eloquent.  Here’s a glimpse of the past few days, in more or less chronological order:

The fish are returning to the lagoon from their winter spent wherever they go, and one of the first to arrive are the seppie, complete with ink. This was clearly not the destination this seppia had been imagining on his way up the Adriatic.

Another day, another victim. The seppie are coming into the lagoon to spawn. Just after the feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July), which is the way the Venetians date the event, the eggs hatch, and everybody's out along the fondamente fishing for the baby seppie. Around about the Feast of the Dead ("i morti," Nov. 2), the "fraima" commences, which is the annual migration of the fish out of the lagoon and back to sea. However, a few seem to linger, because in late December there comes a day which is the first really cold day of the winter. I've experienced it several times, it seems to favor St. Stephen's Day, Dec. 26. When the cold hits, it's very likely that some seppie (squatting in somebody's summer home?) come to the surface. If you can stand the cold water, you can even catch them with your hands. They're kind of stunned by the cold.

Another day, another victim. More black drops from an indignant seppia.  The seppie are coming into the lagoon to spawn. Just after the feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July) — feast days are still a standard measure of time here –the eggs hatch, and everybody’s out along the fondamente fishing for the baby seppie. Around about the Feast of the Dead (“i morti,” Nov. 2), the “fraima” commences, which is the annual migration of the fish out of the lagoon and back to sea. However, a few tend to linger, and in late December there comes the first really cold day of the winter. I’ve experienced it several times; the moment seems to favor St. Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26. When the cold hits, it’s very likely that some seppie who’ve stayed behind (squatting in somebody’s summer home?) drift to the surface. I think they’re stunned by the cold, but I don’t know that for a fact.  I do know that if you can stand the cold water, you can even catch them with your hands.  They move pretty slowly.

I grew up in Ithaca, New York, where it snows from October to April (more or less). At a certain imperceptible signal the city is swathed in forsythia, so of course I took it totally for granted. Now I watch this corner every spring for this burst of glory. It's not nostalgia, exactly. I'd love this even if I'd grown up in Rochester (lilacs).

I grew up in Ithaca, New York, where it snows from October to April (more or less). At a certain imperceptible signal the city is swathed in forsythia, and being young I took it totally for granted and didn’t firmly grasp how thrilling it was. Now that I live in a city not known for any particular flower, I watch this corner every spring for this burst of glory. It’s not nostalgia, exactly. I’d love this even if I’d grown up in Rochester (lilacs).

This plum tree -- specifically "baracocoli" -- is a little behind the blooming curve. Its cousin near the Giardini vaporetto stop is already finished with flowering.

This plum tree — specifically “baracocoli” — is a little behind the blooming curve. Its cousin near the Giardini vaporetto stop is already finished with flowering.

There’s an old saying — which probably means that only old people say it now: “Quando la rosa mete spin, xe bon el go’ e el passarin.” When the rose puts forth its thorns, the go’ and the passarin are good. The two lagoon fish — gobies and European flounder (Gobius ophiocephalus Pallas and Platichthys flesus) — are in season, or starting to be. This rosebush is already on  its way to producing amazing  flowers, and the fish are also going to be excellent.

Peach blossoms from Sicily. Not Venetian but I've only ever seen them here so I'm adding them to the local squadron of spring.

Peach blossoms from Sicily. Not Venetian but I’ve only ever seen them here so I’m adding them to the local squadron of spring.

Fish, check. Flowers, check. And of course the tourists also begin to hatch, bloom, whatever the right word might be. Winter was nice, but now they're baaaaaack.

Fish, check. Flowers, check. And of course the tourists also begin to hatch, bloom, reproduce, whatever the right word might be. Do they also come here to spawn?  Are these early visitors the ones responsible for the millions we see in the summer?

I know it's a free country, but I can never understand why they're HERE. There's virtually nothing in this neighborhood to lure a routist with its siren song. I realize that when the Biennale is open, they spill over into the rest of the world. But now? Are they lost?

I know it’s a free country, but I can never understand why they’re HERE. There’s virtually nothing in this neighborhood to lure a tourist with its siren song. When the Biennale is open, they inevitably spill over into the rest of the area. But now? Are they lost?

IMG_0776 blog spring

Easter is imminent, and as predictably as the seppie or the much-sung swallows of Capistrano, the window of Mascari becomes an orgy of chocolate eggs. You see this and you cannot deny that all is right, if not with the world, at least with this window.

 

 

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May
02

Back to blogging

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IMG_0313 blog

I must go down to the blog again, to the lonely blog and the sky…..

More time has passed than I intended between my last post and this, though as usual many of the reasons had to do with putting down slave revolts in the technological departments of my life.  (Apologies to anyone offended by the word “slave.”)  My computer seized up.  The espresso machine has had a nervous breakdown.  Transferring my cell phone number from one company to another was an adventure within an adventure. My cloud backup service has gone into a semi-permanent stall.  My photos stopped uploading to Flickr. We’re still waiting for the boiler-repair company to come repair the repair of April 16.  The kitchen clock died.

But all this is no more preposterous or tiresome than what’s been going on all around the most-beautiful-booby-hatch in the world.  The past two weeks have seen the return of many well-worn themes.  If they were music, they would be familiar tunes — perhaps transposed into another key, or performed by different instruments, or converted from pieces usually played on a lone kazoo into swelling symphonic creations. But the same tunes, nevertheless.  They practically qualify as folk songs.

The ACTV is always prime territory for the absurd.

An annoying number of the turnstiles keep breaking at the docks on the Lido, causing commuters to miss their boats to work.  Sebastiano Costalonga, a city councilor who has made squaring away the ACTV part of his mission on earth, has pointed out that there are seven turnstiles at a typical London Underground stop, through which millions of people pass each day, while on the Lido there are 48 turnstiles, through which, on a really big day, perhaps 20,000 people will pass.

The ferryboats connecting the Lido to the rest of the world continue to fall apart and be taken out of service for repairs (one boat has been in the shop for nearly a year.  Are they plating it with rhodium?).

The personnel of the ticket booths went on strike for two days, April 30 and May 1, when storm surges of tourists were naturally expected to overwhelm the city, which meant that tickets were sold only by the individual on each vaporetto who ties up the boat at each stop.  You can imagine how many he/she managed to sell.  Or even tried to sell.

The company is 17 million euros in the red, but the ACTV drivers are the highest-paid in the entire Veneto region.  The ACTV is like the Energizer Bunny — it just keeps going.

IMG_0404 blog

IMG_0406 blog

On April 25, National Liberation Day, the city places laurel wreaths at important civic monuments. Here the wreath got as far as the plaque recalling the “Seven Martyrs,” but whoever was wrangling the wreath didn’t realize it was supposed to be right-side up.

Then there are the Illegal Vendors:  Whatever they’re selling, they’re everywhere, and there are more of them every day.

First (and still) were the West Africans, who sell counterfeit designer handbags from bedsheets spread on the pavement.  While this squad continues to proliferate, it has been joined by Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan vendors of gimcracks such as fluorescent darts which gleam when flung skyward and balls of gelatinous rubber which flatten when hurled to the ground, then re-form themselves before your eyes.

A sub-division of these ethnic entities has taken over the wandering sale of long-stemmed red roses, which used to be offered mainly from table to table in restaurants, but which are now available all day long in the Piazza San Marco, and environs. Illegal corn for the pigeons: After years of struggle, the city finally convinced the vendors with their little trolleys in the Piazza to switch from grain to gewgaws — this being the only effective way to limit, or even reduce, the plague of feathered rats which had passed the 100,000 mark and was still growing.  So now corn is being sold surreptitiously by the handful from the pockets of the red-rose vendors. Still, on April 25, a blitz by the police in the Piazza San Marco netted plenty of swag abandoned by the fleeing vendors, leading off with 1,408 roses. The day before that, the police got hold of 22 kilos (48 pounds) of illegal corn.

But these are temporary events. Stashes of illegal pigeon-corn have been found hidden in the garbage around San Marco.  Intermittent reports of these discoveries and confiscations, whether of goods or of people, imply progress, but they would be the intermittent reports of emptying the ocean with a teaspoon. Uncollected fines have reached some three million euros; one illegal rose seller was reported to have laughed and shown some employees of a shop near Rialto his collection of tickets — five so far, one of them for 5,000 euros.  “Stupid police,” he said, “I don’t have anything and I’m not paying anything.”

The complaints of exasperated merchants and citizens have finally caused the city to increase surveillance by putting officers on patrol, from police in plainclothes to carabinieri in full battle gear.  But only on the weekend!  Still, there was plenty to do: Twenty-eight illegal vendors spread across the Bridge of the Scalzi were nabbed with their bags and sunglasses and camera mini-tripods! (I know from personal examination that the bridge is 40 steps on each side, so that comes to one vendor every 3 steps. But somehow it must be hard to see, because citizen outcry was needed in order to focus the city fathers’ eyes on it.)

Sometimes there are violent altercations between vendors, based on subtleties of territory and rights thereto — though the concept of someone claiming the right to something illegal is kind of special. Many are often without papers, so they’re already in tricky territory where the concept of rights is concerned.  One recent nabbee, from Senegal, was discovered to already have been sentenced to five months in prison, by the court of Florence.

The city council dusted off a year-old  proposal to issue residence permits (permesso di soggiorno) with points, like a driver’s license. It didn’t pass, for various reasons, some of which verged on silly: “What are supposed to do,” asked one councilor — “expel the women caretakers because they get a fine for illegal parking?”  But another summed up what everybody has long since recognized: “Even the police can’t manage to do much if there isn’t collaboration from the local politicians. The message which has been sent out is that here there isn’t the kind of determination there might be in other cities because of a misunderstood sense of solidarity.”  (Translation: We feel sorry for the poor foreigners.)

Speaking of illegal vendors, the mendicants from Rome who dress up as Roman centurions and pose for pictures near the Colosseum attempted to set themselves up here. Some of you might wonder at the congruence of fake Roman soldiers with fake swords and breastplates in Venice, but the tourist-guide association didn’t need to wonder.  It managed to drive them decisively out of the city in a matter of a few days.  Instead of police and carabinieri, why don’t we just pay the tourist-guide association something extra to clear out the illegal vendors of everything?  Or better yet, send them roses?

As Roberto Gervaso noted in his satirical column in the Gazzettino not long ago, “Our generals manage to lose even the wars they’re not fighting.”

The only antidote I know to all this is to go places and do things which only give pleasure.  And there are plenty of them, in spite of all the weirdity. All you have to do is pull the plug on that part of your brain that concerns other human beings. Here are some views of what we’ve done or seen that have made the past few days more than usually pleasant.

Lino isn’t looking for clams, he’s looking for scallops (canestrelli, or Chlamys opercularis), and it was a great morning to do it.

And he did surprisingly well.  These little critters reached their apotheosis that evening, fried.

And he did surprisingly well. These little critters reached their apotheosis that evening, fried.

My activity of choice is often to sit in the boat and look over the side.  It's pretty busy down there, what with crabs and snails and so on.  These two were moving right along.

My activity of choice is often to sit in the boat and look over the side. It’s pretty busy down there, what with crabs and snails and so on. These two were moving right along.

This is the first time I've ever seen this creature in the fish market.  The label here calls it "pesce sciabola," or saberfish, but I see that it is known in English as scabbardfish (Lepidopus caudatus).  It was brilliantly silver and shiny, just the kind of saber I'd rather not confront.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen this creature in the fish market. The label here calls it “pesce sciabola,” or saberfish, but I see that it is known in English as scabbardfish (Lepidopus caudatus). It was brilliantly silver and shiny, just the kind of saber I’d rather not confront.
And despite all the rain in March, the wisteria has come out right on time.  Along with the laundry, and the trash.

And despite all the rain in March, the wisteria has come out right on time. Along with the laundry, and the trash.

Lilac is here so briefly that I took a mass of pictures.  Bonus: Lilac-shadow.

Lilac is here so briefly that I took a mass of pictures. Bonus: Lilac-shadow.

 

 

Categories : Fish, Uncategorized
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Jan
31

Swallow this

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Update from the innards of the hapless marine creatures who keep us alive.

You may recall my heartfelt ode to the fish inside the fish which will never see daylight again (either one of them).  Evidently this ode is going to have to be put on a continuous loop.

Lino was cleaning some hyper-fresh seppie not long ago, and I heard the clarion call from the kitchen: “Hey, look at this.”

One seppia’s last hors d’oeuvre was a minuscule sole.

This tiny sole made a seppia happy at least for a little while.

Then there was the day we bought a batch of moli, as they’re called here, otherwise known as blue whiting, or Melu’ or Micromesistius poutassou.

They’d been having a real feed, wherever they’d just been.

One of the moli had really hit the buffet — an anguela on the left, and a shrimp, too. Ignore the pink thing. It was never a fish.

I suppose I’ll have to stop this now.  It’s no news that smaller fish are eaten by bigger fish. It’s just that… I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because they’re swallowed whole.  But then again, would I expect them to be ground to paste and spread on crackers?

 

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Dec
17

Superfresh fish

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This is what a typical mormora looks like at the moment of its apotheosis (fancy way of saying “Attaining its ultimate purpose in life”). One good thing about leaving the head on is that he looks like he’s good with all this.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t know that “this” is soon going to close his eyes forever. (Photo by Rude.)

Lino is ruthless when it comes to fish.  If they’re not fresh, they don’t deserve to live.  Or be dead.  Or anyway, be for sale.

He recognizes every symptom; as someone who has spent his life fishing in the lagoon, he knows virtually every creature, its habitat, its life story (pretty much the way he knows people), and he especially knows when the fish on sale in the Pescheria is — as they say — “tired.”

Think about it: The fish is dead, but only then does it begin to tire out. But apart from the philosophical convolutions of the point, even I can recognize fish that’s been on the ice too long. It looks worn, faded, sad; it looks like it’s been waiting in the rain at midnight for a bus that it is slowly realizing is never going to come.

So it was a happy moment at the market the other day when Lino stopped suddenly. If he had little control-panel lights they all would have been flashing “Seppie!  Seppie!” And the “Seppie!” lights only flash when they are “Fresh!  Fresh!”

Then a separate scary little light begins to flash: “Must Buy!  Must Buy!”

So we did.  A kilo of demonstrably not-tired critters came home, and Lino began what is one of his most favorite activities in the world: Cleaning fish. Catching them is the best, of course, and eating them is good, but if you want to see a happy man, you need only look at him standing at the sink sending scales flying everywhere, or at the least (as with the seppie) eviscerating them.

These two seppie will be floating forever, far from Lino, on the Roman pavement of the nave of the basilica at Aquileia. The entire floor is a virtual aquarium, designed around the story of Jonah. Some of the fish verge on the fantastical, but the seppie would fit right in at the Pescheria.

The best moment of all, and the reason I’m writing this little announcement, is when he pokes around to see what they’ve been eating.  If there’s nothing in there, they almost certainly have been fish-farmed.  They’re still fresh, but they’re not wild.

But seppie aren’t farmed, so their stomachs are a little diary of their previous few hours.  I won’t list some of the ichthyological beings he has found, but the other day inspired a call from the kitchen.  “Hey, look at this!” I went to see what “this” was.

It was a baby mormora (Lithognathus mormyrus).  The mormora is one of my favorite fish, and I’ve seen plenty of fingerlings of various species flitting around the shallows, so its smallness wasn’t a novelty.

But I’d never seen one of these.  I felt a little sorry for it — it looked a little like it might be blinking slightly and murmuring, “Where am I? Was all that just a bad dream?”

But I never express fraternal feelings toward fish anymore around Lino. Fish were created to be eaten.  If the seppia hadn’t swallowed it, something or someone else would have. You might as well feel sorry for an ear of corn.

At least I’ve been able to give the little squirt a decent memorial.

 

I might not have felt quite so bad if he hadn’t already begun to develop his — or her — distinctive dark stripes. Oh well. There are about a trillion more still out there.

 

 

 

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Categories : Venetian Food
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