Archive for grey mullet


The unexpected is always expected

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Each day in each week in the so-called most beautiful city in the world often feels like a loaded coal cart which I am pulling along a rusty track.  Instead of coal, however, which hasn’t been burned here for quite a few decades, my daily cart, so to speak, is loaded with the same detritus of which life is composed pretty much everywhere: appointments, shopping, cleaning, public transportation challenges, all enlivened by the occasional strike which makes the usual inconveniences even more complex and invigorating.

Still, I’d rather be here than in Fargo or Yazoo City.

While I’m hauling the daily freight, though, there is a steady supply of tiny events throughout the day, running on a sort of parallel track, which form their own little train of entertainment.  I’ve finished with this metaphor now.

For example: Last Sunday morning I was walking across a nearby small campo which I was surprised to see embellished by an unusual arrangement of objects.  It wasn’t a relic of the recently-closed Biennale (though it made a lot more sense than many of  the putative works of art I’d seen).  It was a token of the vox populi, or rather, the vox of one person, crying in the wilderness, a person who had suddenly snapped.

Little blue plastic bags and a strip of white paper. If you recognize the bags, you can guess what the paper's for. Spontaneous denunciations show up on walls and doors, decrying some behavior which has become intolerable. But this is the first time I've seen a sign on the ground.







The bags -- by now a neighborhood staple, though they're not always blue -- contain dog poop. If you think this is gross, you should know there are still plenty of people who deny that their dog ever eliminates. But this person has had enough: "Disgusting pigs," the writer begins: "Pick up your dogs' poop. Uncouth pigs."






Another voice recently made itself heard on the neighborhood notice-board at the Giardini vaporetto stop.  This board, like all of them, is entirely improvised, a sort of stationary town crier which serves an obviously useful purpose, despite the fact that it is pretty much illegal.

Augusto Salvadori, the previous sub-mayor for tourism, as well as the self-appointed arbiter of decorum, civic uplift and general improvement of tone, made a stab at abolishing these little outposts by threatening to fine anybody who dared to tape or glue their humble advertisement on any public surface. Seeing that these notices always carry a phone number, this threat could have been scary, except that the snarling tiger had no fangs or claws, otherwise known as the power of enforcement.  So the notices continue to bloom and, in my view, continue to serve a useful purpose. I happened to find a good, inexpensive seamstress this way, and I’ve also got the number of a computer geek stashed somewhere, which I took down off a strip of paper near the San Pietro vaporetto stop. So I’m glad they’re still there, even if they are ugly.

But the other day I came across a notice advertising a room for rent. This in itself isn’t noteworthy; since the city is awash in budget-restricted residents of every sort, from students to Eastern European women working as caretakers, accommodations are always eagerly sought — more eagerly sought than offered, may I say.

But this particular notice, on second reading, carried an unpleasantly different connotation.

It said:  “Fifty-year-old will share with a girl or working woman an apartment which is sunny, near the Santa Marta vaporetto stop, a single bed in a small room available.  The house is composed of an eat-in kitchen, small living room and two rooms of which one is occupied.  Contact Francesco (followed by his cell phone number).”

I spent a lively five minutes telling Lino what I thought of a man offering his extra room explicitly to a female, and no nitpicking about age.  My reaction could be summed up in one word:  “Swine.”

Today, to my surprise, I came across the same skeezy announcement taped up at the vaporetto stop by the hospital.  Why was I surprised?  He must have put these up all over town.  What struck me was that someone had written on it my very own thought: “Porco.”  Pig. It made me feel a bond with someone I’ll never know. Maybe there are people all over the city who have thought, or written, this opinion.  We should form a club.

But all the surprises aren’t so rank.  There was a beautiful little bonus on the other side of the bridge as we left early this morning: A boat piled with fish.

Maybe you don’t care about fish, but any sign that somebody has gone out in the lagoon and come back with something finny is a great thing.  It used to be as normal as learning how to swim by hanging onto your mother’s washboard in the canal (not made up).  Now people go buy salmon and lobster at the fishmarket.  You’ve heard this rant before.

They were grey mullet, which I’ve caught myself; sometimes an especially exuberant one jumps into the boat.  But this was quite a haul, and there must have been at least 50 of these creatures all tangled up in a heap of net, against which most of them were still fighting, except for their brothers who had long since suffocated underneath everything.

Even the trash collector stopped to inspect the catch and discuss its finer points with Lino.

The few people who were out at 7:00 stopped, or at least slowed, to have a look.  As a sign of the continuing deterioration of culture here, one woman asked if they were sea bass – this, in a neighborhood where people once knew their fish better than the multiplication table.

Another young woman’s sole remark was, “I wouldn’t take them if you gave them to me.”  This is guaranteed to hit one of Lino’s most exposed nerves.  “She grew up eating LOBSTER,’  he hissed sarcastically to me. People used to thank God on their knees for food, not to mention fresh fish; the idea that you could reject such bounty really fries his ganglia.

A little girl walked by on her way to school, with her little brother.  She paused to look at this mound of goodness, then stretched out her closed umbrella and pushed the tip gently against the cheek of one fish.  Then she turned to walk away.  Her little brother thought it was funny.  “What if the fish ate your umbrella?” he asked her, laughing.  Maybe he had imagined the fish suddenly rearing up, like Jaws, swallowing her and her umbrella whole, never to be seen again. She didn’t reply.

If you pay attention, you will always see something beautiful.  Perhaps you don’t think that beauty could qualify as unexpected here, but there are so many different kinds, at so many different moments, that some of them are bound to surprise you.  Like the mountains at sunrise.

No more need be said.



Categories : Venetian-ness
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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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