Archive for fraima

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.

 

 

Categories : Nature
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Seasonal migrations (is that redundant? Sorry) are an excellent way to keep track of the year’s divisions, especially here, where you need a keen eye to discern that there is anything more than one season anymore, which is Tourists.

But at this moment, if you’re paying attention (and if you know, and if you care) you can detect a few important signs of autumn.  I don’t mean the drying, yellowing, falling leaves — anybody can notice them, and besides, the drought began drying them before their normal time to drop.  So leaves are out.

Torbolino — the first draw-off of the new wine.  That’s an excellent indicator, though again, this year it’s somewhat early due to the unusually early harvest (see: “drought,” above).

Ducks are also useful heralds of the season — I saw my first one paddling around two weeks ago, This always makes me happy, except that I had seen my first duck hunter even earlier: The ducks began hitting the water on September 3. So much for enjoying their winter haven.

Seppioline — sepoine (seh-poh-EE-neh) in Venetian — are baby seppie, or cuttlefish.  If “baby” anything on your plate upsets you, skip this paragraph.  We are now in the period of the fraima, which is the annual passage of the fish which have spent all summer fooling around in the lagoon moving out into the Adriatic (or beyond) for the winter.  The cuttlefish spawned months ago, and their small offspring are now in the process of making their first trip out into the world where they will become big, grown-up cuttlefish.  Unless they get snagged before they reach the exit, in which case they will be sold at an outrageous price (there I go, being redundant again), grilled and eaten.  Short migration.

The ramps are used by thundering racers for a few hours, and by countless humbler folk dragging suitcases, shopping carts, or strollers laden with small heavy tired cranky children for six months. I would bet that the shleppers appreciate the ramps just as much as any Ethiopian champion. Probably more.

But the ramps are back.  I saw my first one two days ago and it was like hearing a small, clear trumpet announcing autumn, winter, and early spring.  The ramps are set up for the Venice Marathon (this year scheduled for October 23), and they stay up till the end of March. That’s practically half the year.  Then they migrate back to hibernate in whatever warehouse keeps them till next October.

They’re only installed on the race route — logically — which conveniently passes the Piazza San Marco and other heavily traveled tourist routes.  I bet the people up in Cannaregio and along the northern edge of the city really envy us.  I know they don’t envy us the tourists, but we get the ramps.

Categories : Venetian Events
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Oct
22

Venetian fish-feed

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For much of the year, you will almost certainly see people fishing right under the lee of the most beautiful city in the world.  From Sant’ Elena to San Marco, plus other assorted spots along or in the lagoon, they’re out with a couple of poles and a whole batch of free time.  Just now there are more than usual because we are in the period of the  fraima [frah-EE-ma], when most of the fish are heading out to sea.

IMG_0499 benif crop

Depending on the time of year — obviously — these tenacious anglers might be hoping for seppie, or gilthead or sea bass or even grey mullet.  Or whatever The Supreme Fish Deity decides to send swimming past their hooks, old boots and lost gloves excluded.

You can also expect to see people out in their boats, anchored where the tide is going to give them the biggest assist.  Sometimes this perfect fishing spot will be just about in the center of the trajectory of cruise ships or large ferries heading to or from Greece.  The captains blow their klaxons in a huffy sort of way.  The fishermen are all deaf.

The subject of fish and the lagoon is one that I’m going to expand on some other time — probably many times.  Meanwhile, though, I just want to alert you to the fact that there is a dedicated chunk of the male population — they’re always men, though sometimes the guys in the boats bring their wives, if the weather’s nice — who see the lagoon as a place where they might find something delectable to eat, or at least find some of their friends.

By “friends” I mean people they know.  Fishermen have no friends; even if a person they’ve known since childhood, maybe even a relative, asks how’s the fishing, they’ll never say it’s good. They get all vague and crafty. Or if he’s obviously lugging home a miraculous catch, he’ll never say where he was.  This is true everywhere on earth, and no less so here.

Two of my best moments so far involving fishing (as opposed to fish itself) relate to how Lino sees it. Briefly put, he doesn’t believe that anyone born after about 1960 — my ballpark date — knows anything about the lagoon or its inhabitants.  I’m thinking he’s probably right.

I'm staying where the tide is best for me, and the cruise ships can just work around me. Or stay home. Or sink.

I'm staying where the tide is best for me, and the big ships can just work around me. Or stay home. Or sink.

An example: We passed a young man one late summer night on the Lido — it was dark, but not terribly late — standing with his pole on the vaporetto dock, staring into the water, waiting.  “He’s never going to catch anything,” Lino stated without even pausing.  Why is that?  “Because he’s trying to catch seppie, and that’s the wrong kind of gear.  Also, the tide is going out.  And they’re not in season right now.”

Second example: We have secretly adopted a man who spends a noticeable portion of his day at the vaporetto dock by the Giardini.  The first time I noticed him, I was getting off the boat, and Lino was standing there a few discreet steps behind him, watching.  They were both, in their own ways, engrossed.

“What’s he catching?” I asked in a whisper.

“Nothing,” Lino replied as we walked away.  “He’s giving donations (opera di beneficienza, or charity).”  Excuse me?

“He’s been there for hours, rolling little balls of a grated cheese/breadcrumb mash, putting them on his hook and then  waiting for his pole to twitch. After a little while he pulls it up, and the hook is empty.  Even in an aquarium, fish don’t get fed this much.”

So what’s going wrong?  Well, first of all, the guy is attaching the bait in such a way that it comes loose a few seconds after it goes under. The foodball just floats away, probably into the mouth of a big smiling fish. The man is up there imagining his hook as an enormous fatal concealed weapon, and the fish are seeing it as a fabulous food delivery system which requires no effort whatsoever on their part.  They’re just down there floating around with their jaws open, saying “God, I haven’t eaten this much since Vernon’s bar mitzvah.”

The second thing that’s going wrong is that the guy hasn’t figured out any of this.  He just keeps doing it.  Lino can’t believe anybody over the age of two could be so persistent — so hopeful, so convinced — at something so futile.  But the evidence is before us.

I look at it this way: The man is happy.  The wife is happy because he’s out there and not sitting around the house or the bar.  And of course the fish are happy. Happy fish, that’s what we want. Happy and bloated.

You can catch a mormora (striped sea bream) in the lagoon, but it's not likely you'd get this many. I just throw this in to give you an idea of the kind of things the men might be dreaming of as they stare at their poles.

You can catch a mormora (striped sea bream) in the lagoon, but it's not likely you'd get all these. I just throw this in to give you an idea of the sort of thing the men might be dreaming of as they stare at the water.

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Categories : Food, Venetian-ness, Water
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