Archive for seppie

Mar
21

Seppie and friends

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No matter how bundled up these little pixies still may be, they say SPRING to me.

We went shopping this morning. Nothing dramatic, nothing involving jewels or cashmere or lambskin.  Just checking out the fish at the Pescheria this morning, and we struck paydirt twice.

One, we nabbed the first seppie of the season, a moment we’d been waiting for.  They cost more than I’d have wanted to spend (as almost everything does), but we brought them home and Lino is dealing with their destiny as I write.

We couldn’t resist them — or rather, we didn’t resist most of them, except for the bigger one in the foreground, second from left, covered in sticky ink. The young man casually threw it into the paper in his hand along with two of the others, and I said, “I don’t want that one.” He said, “They’re all the same size.” I said, “I don’t care, I don’t want it.” He said, “They’re all the same size.” Lino said, “She doesn’t want it, put it back,” and so he did. What did size have to do with the fact that it was DEMONSTRABLY older — and with fish, that doesn’t mean wiser — than the others? ( And by the way, it was not the same size, it was bigger.) I realize that every hour that passed, the young man would have found it more of a challenge to casually throw it in with somebody else’s order, but I don’t care. We got the good ones.

Two, we ran into two friends of his, which is always what one hopes when wandering the market.  M and C used to work at the Aeronavali with Lino, beginning as boys together (16 years old, more or less).  They did a little catching-up, mainly about wildfowl hunting (M’s passion since boyhood, but he has relinquished his weapons due to increasing bureaucracy), fishing (still at it, like Lino), and some random remarks about nothing.  Nothing is a very large and rich subject, and people can talk about it for quite some time.

I already knew M by name and by occasional sightings; I knew that he had been Lino’s favorite partner when they used to compete on pupparinos in the “interaziendali” races organized between different working groups (a team from the Gazzettino, say, and the ACTV, and other happy bands of working brothers).  “He was a wonderful proviere” (rowing in the bow) — “he had a beautiful stroke, it just lifted the boat up and then I’d carry it forward.”  Perhaps this makes more sense in Italian.  Anyway, the perfect pair.

They also ran into each other out fishing, or at work with whatever catch they brought in to give away.  “I’d have sole,” Lino said, “but M didn’t fish for sole, he went out for shrimp.  So he’d ask me how much I wanted for my sole, and I’d say ‘You’re kidding, right?’  So we’d just trade.  He loved sole.” Today M bought some sole, but it wasn’t for him.  “It’s for my cat,” he said.  “I also got some sardoni for me.”  (Engraulis encrasicolus, or European anchovy).

Lino thought that was funny.  “Give the sardoni to the cat, and you eat the sole!” he said.

“Nah…the cat won’t eat sardoni….”

Seppie ink trickling out from beneath the ice at the neighborhood fish vendor.  It’s like a moment from some horror movie as you approach the closed door, rendered less horrible by its lack of human characteristics.  But this is a tragic waste of precious ink.  Maybe it was the creature’s last attempt at self-defense. Or somebody was just careless with his squashy fingers as he rang up the sale.

M worked “inside” at the airport on the Lido, where construction was going on; Lino worked outside, on repairs and maintenance.  A young widow with a son set her sights on the even younger M, and the two married and have lived peacefully ever after, with the addition of a few daughters.  She was happy for M to be training and racing, which many wives are not. Many a modest racer has been forced to give it up because the wife wants him at home.  “At home,” if I understand Lino’s tone of voice, means something like “chained to the wall.”

C, however, was another case.  No fishing, no hunting; always to be seen with his father for company.  When his father died he latched onto M, and it may not need to be said that he never married.  “But he always said ugly things about M’s wife,” Lino recalled with some distaste.  M is a good guy and there was no known reason for anyone to say anything bad about her, either.  Except maybe (I hypothesized) he might have made a move on her which was rebuffed.  “I’ve thought that for years,” Lino replied.

When Lino left the company after some 37 years of service, C became head of the squad, a promotion that would have gone to Lino, but never mind, there it is.

I’m sure Lino could have told me more, but one can’t be writing Russian novels every day.  It’s enough to get the highlights, which when they concern people you’ve known since you were 16 can be plenty high enough.

An instant later, they were gone. Two instants after that, they were back. Then they were gone. I never knew pigeons could be so fussy.

Spring is now arriving at a brisk trot. Pussy willows at the market.

A very little peach tree beginning to bloom on the vegetable boat. Peaches never seem to be forthcoming, but the flowers are wonderful.

 

Categories : Fish
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Jan
08

more on the slipperiness of steps

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As we strolled along the Strada Nuova a few mornings ago toward the station, we came upon a curious addition to the urban fabric: A very fancy sign at a very tricky spot warning people not to slip on the steps in four languages.  First, the steps:

First, the steps. As you see, the risk increases in direct proportion to the distance from the waterline. You wouldn't think a sign would be necessary to draw attention to that, but signs are always in short supply, and nearby merchants often volunteer to supply that missing piece. It's not so much civic spirit, but desire to do something more with one's day in the shop than answering the same lost-tourist questions over and over again.

As you see, with each descending step the risk increases.  You wouldn’t think a sign would be necessary to draw attention to that, but signs are always in short supply, and nearby merchants often volunteer to provide that missing piece. It’s not so much civic spirit as a desire to do something more with one’s day in the shop than answering the same lost-tourist questions over and over again.

A sterling example of the sort of done-it-myself sign at a crucial intersection; it reminds me of those signs you see depicted at military bases overseas that give the distance from there to everywhere.

A sterling example of the sort of done-it-myself sign at a crucial intersection; it reminds me of those signs you see depicted at military bases overseas that give the distance from there to everywhere.  It does not give the direction to your home town, though, or to your hotel. Life is short, paper is even shorter. But the spirit was spot-on.  In order from top:  To San Marco, To Rialto, To Campo (indecipherable here), To Strada Nuova, To Campo Santa Maria Formosa, and blah blah.  I can’t read the photo, I’ll have to go past there someday to review the contents.  I’m sure this effort has broken at least 15 decrees and ordinances, but that’s nothing considering how many the Superintendency of Fine Arts, etc. overrides every day.

Back to the sign on the Strada Nuova. You can see that someone has gone to considerable effort and expense on this one. It almost looks official.

Back to the sign on the Strada Nuova. You can see that someone has gone to considerable trouble and expense on this one. It almost looks official.

Reminds me of those yellow plastic sandwich-board signs they put out when they're mopping the airport floor. I wonder if anybody pays any attention to them?

Reminds me of those yellow plastic sandwich-board signs they put out when they’re mopping the airport floor. I wonder if anybody pays any attention to them?

This morning, Sunday, at about 10:00 AM, we walked by here again.  There was no sign.  I conclude that either it keeps hours that correspond to the sign-maker’s work schedule (they’d have to take it inside overnight, that much is obvious.  So you’re free to slip to a spectacular fall in the evening.) Or the Superintendency was annoyed by it and sent a culture-policeman to remove it.  If I wanted to pursue this any further, I’d have to go back and check on the fate of the taped-up sign, as well.  But I don’t care that much.

Water you wouldn't enjoy falling into this morning: Ice. Not covering all the canal surface, and it's that fine, filmy sort that remains somewhat flexible. I'm sure the next passing motorboat busted it to bits. But it's been below freezing here for three days, and is expected to continue for a while longer. This is, by the way, exactly the blast of frigid weather that brings the seppie miraculously back into our lives. I have no idea why, but I'll be watching for their return. Maybe they've heard that we've got hot chocolate at home.

Water you wouldn’t enjoy falling into this morning: Ice. Not covering all the canal surface, and it’s that fine, filmy sort that remains somewhat flexible. I’m sure the next passing motorboat busted it to bits. But it’s been below freezing here for three days, and is expected to continue for a while longer. This is, by the way, exactly the blast of frigid weather that brings the seppie to the surface and back into our lives (if the southwest wind is blowing, I must note). I have no idea why, but I’ll be watching for their appearance. Maybe they’ve heard that we’ve got hot chocolate at home.

 

Categories : Water
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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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Jun
19

Fishing for compliments

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The other day G. hauled home an estimated 20 kilos (20 pounds) of gilthead bream, and a surprise.

The other day G. hauled home an estimated  10 kilos (22 pounds) of gilthead bream, and an interloper which Lino immediately spied.

Our upstairs neighbor, G.S., now retired, finally has all the time he wants to go fishing.  I understand that this is the dream of many men, and he is living it to the full.

He sits in his boat on some expanse of water — naturally he will never tell us where, and Lino, a fisherman himself, will never ask.  He sets up three fishing rods, and with what appears to be superhuman talent always brings home something.  Often, many somethings.  Which he sometimes shares with us.

First, he passes our kitchen window, which is usually open except in the depths of winter.  He may call a friendly greeting, or Lino may already have heard him tying up his boat.  So G. will pause, and Lino will indulge in what seems to me to be lots of time discussing the day’s conditions, catch, and other occult particulars of the angler’s art.  Lino never fished with a rod (he prefers the leister, or what I simply call a “trident” even though it has many more than three prongs).  But he knows as much as anyone about the lagoon environment and the customs of its finny fauna. So they confer for as long as they feel like it, then G. goes around the corner and upstairs.

He estimated the catch weighed about ten kilos (22 pounds). And I don't think he came home because he'd caught every fish that was out there. I like a person who knows when enough is enough.

For quite a while, he would sometimes reappear (three flights of stairs, twice — what a guy) and plop a plastic bag of some of his fish onto the windowsill. And not just any fish.  Gilthead bream (orata, or Sparus aurata), sea bass, seppie, and assorted companions who made the wrong decision by thinking “Gosh, if the bream bit, it must be good. I think I’ll try it.”

He would briefly and modestly accept our praise and thanks.  Like anyone who does something really well, he considers most compliments to be mere statements of the obvious. I once complimented the wife of a trattoria-owner in our old neighborhood on her fried meatballs.  “They’re the best meatballs in Venice,” I said, thinking I’d give her pleasure. “I know,” she replied.  And that was it.  Once I recovered from the sensation of having missed a step going down the stairs, I realized that she couldn’t honestly have said anything else.  If she didn’t know how good they were, who would?

Back to G.

Matters have taken a new turn. He comes home, he passes the window, he shows Lino the catch, they talk, he goes upstairs.  Normal.  But the other evening, after a few minutes, we heard him call.  Then a plastic bag tied to a string mysteriously appeared, descending from above, framed in the doorway.

People still sometimes let down baskets to pull up whatever they need (everybody’s got flights of stairs), and more than sometimes they let down their bags of garbage and leave them hanging on a long cord for the garbage collector to retrieve.  (Except they won’t be doing that tomorrow, because the garbage people are going to be on strike.  Gad.)

I suppose if we lived on the third floor and he on the ground, he’d call for us to let down a basket, bag, tray, some kind of receptacle, and we’d pull up the fish, sometimes still thrashing. His generosity means that we now eat fabulous fish at least once a week.  But it’s beginning to be hard to keep up with him.  When somebody gives you eight or ten bream, which is one of the most valued fish in the Venetian culinary repertoire, you feel joy and gratitude and bursts of self-congratulatory health.  But you can’t eat eight or ten at one go, and the freezer is beginning to murmur in a discontented sort of way, probably beginning to consider staging a mutiny of the bounty.

But we have put our hand to the plow, as the Good Book hath it, and, as advised, we are not looking back.  If fresh fish is to be our fate, we will just keep on accepting it.

The magical bag silently appears, containing the interloper.

The magical bag silently appears, containing the interloper.

A little cagnoletto (Mustelus mustelus, or palombo, in Italian, or common smooth-hound in English).  It's a modest little shark and once you have eviscerated it -- you'll want to throw all that away immediately, the smell is pretty strong -- and skinned it, which is another major project, the flesh when boiled makes a delectable broth, and the fish itself has a very delicate flavor.  It's not unusual to see these in the fish market, but in restaurants they only appear as part of fish soup.  If ever.

A cagnoleto (Mustelus mustelus, or palombo, in Italian, or common smooth-hound in English). It’s a modest little shark and once you have eviscerated it — you’ll want to throw all that away immediately, the smell is pretty strong — and skinned it, which is another major project, the flesh when boiled makes a delectable broth, and the fish itself has a very delicate flavor. They can also be fried, or grilled, and I’ve just discovered an interesting recipe for cooking them in a tomato/anchovy sauce.  It’s not unusual to see these in the fish market, but in restaurants they usually appear, if ever, as part of fish soup.

Some days earlier, this was his gift: three gilthead, a suro, and a pesce persico, which is normally a freshwater fish but which not infrequently wanders out of a river and into the lagoon..

Some days earlier, this was his gift: three bream, a long slim suro, and a brownish pesce persico, normally a freshwater fish but which not infrequently wanders out of a river and into the lagoon.

The suro (Trachurus trachurus, or European horse mackerel) has the most enchanting colors, so subtle as to defeat my little camera.  As you can see, they're less fatty than the usual mackerel.

The suro (Trachurus trachurus, or European horse mackerel) has the most enchanting colors, so subtle as to defeat my little camera. As you can see, they’re less fatty than the usual mackerel.

The pesce persico (Tinca tinca, or tench) doesn't loom particularly  large in Venetian cooking -- it doesn't loom large, period -- but anything that's in the lagoon is fair game.  And as you see, the lagoon is crammed with fish.

The pesce persico (Tinca tinca, or tench) doesn’t loom particularly large in Venetian cooking — it doesn’t loom large, period — but anything that’s in the lagoon is fair game. And as you see, the lagoon is crammed with fish.

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