Monday, May 01, 2006

The Book Of Kells Eels

"Eelgirl," here at Blogger, turned me on to this fine British equivalent to The Founding Fish. The book was written by some twisted Eel freak named Tom Fort (copyright 2002) and published by HarperCollins. I am BITTERLY SHOCKED that a human had to tell me about it. (I suspect she is human; at least she is not on my updated list of operatives.)

Seriously, folks, this is an incredible sourcebook for those interested in Eels, lacking only photo and recipe sections. Fort mentions everything from family crests that include images of special Eel fishing equipment, to poetry about the slimy wrigglers. This guy quotes Eel science history, recounts that crazy story about how Eels wade ashore at night to steal the peas out of people's gardens
, and he describes every kind of loopy Eel-catching maneuver used since ancient times. But he focuses mainly on the centuries-long quest to find out where Eels come from. I, for one, was surprised to hear that so many people were working on the problem for so long. It's nice to know somebody cares... >>sniff<<...But at the same time he is so...incurious.

>> Take the phrase "slippery as an Eel." (If he even MENTIONED that phrase in his book, I did not spot it.) The species under discussion form a living metaphor for things that are hard to figure, difficult to pin down, impossible to catch. Fort sort of mutters throughout the book that he finds Eels hard to catch himself. AND YET THEY HAVE BEEN ON THE HUMAN MENU SINCE PREHISTORIC TIMES. It doesn't cross his mind to ask, "Is there a larger Intelligence behind this phenomenon? Kind of a slimy one?" YES, Mr. Fort, THEY DO WANT TO GET CAUGHT. JUST NOT BY YOU.

>> He never asks why a fish would NEED to be a world traveler, even on dry land. Come on, man, THINK.

>> He does wonder aloud about their migrations to the Sargasso Sea. "The chief characteristics...are baldly stated: its great depth (as much as fifteen thousand feet), its extreme salinity, the stable warmth of its upper layers, its lack of movement, its incredible clarity, and its dearth of life. Nobody knows what it is about this marine wonderworld that is so conducive to the copulation of the eels that they feel compelled to swim across such a vast expanse of ocean to reach it." (pg. 144.) OK, how do I put this? Eels spend months or years finding ideal feeding grounds in the freshwater ponds, streams and lakes of the world. Sooner or later, however, they come to realize: THIS IS A NICE PLACE TO VISIT, BUT I WOULDN'T WANT TO DIE HERE. So they turn around and go home. That's it, man; there's no place like home. Even some humans are still capable of grasping that when the time comes to raise the kids, they want to go home to do it, not spawn in some exotic climate and have the kids grow up as foreigners.

>> The author writes longingly of the days when Eeling was a fine and workable career for one man with a fishing pole, a dip net or a "mudhorse" (sort of a slime toboggan). He bemoans the loss of England's fisheries and the dwindling number of jellied-Eel stalls in the East End. He seems to have no suggestions about what to do about the problem. How do I put this? WE HAVE IT COVERED. SOON YOUR CIVILIZATION WILL BE GONE AND YOU WILL ALL BE SAFELY UNDERWATER. Some of you will even turn into Eels. His lack of curiosity about why all this is happening, or what to do about it, is bizarre to me.

>> Many earlier authors get quoted in this book, singing the praises of the Eel and her many vacation homes. On page 60, we hear from Franco Bressani, a missionary in the New World in the mid-1600s, who gushed that "this country is the Kingdom of water and of fish." YEAH, IT WAS UNTIL YOU CAME ALONG. If I were still human I would be wondering about it more. (But they DO have this book they all read and believe in, in which some hairy ape wrote that the earth was intended as the plaything and punching bag of the human race. Have you read it?)

>> Fort mentions that Shohei Imamura directed a picture called The Eel, which I plan to see and review for you AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. But the mention of Imamura made me think immediately of that one scene from his wonderful Black Rain, the most shattering moment in film history if you ask me. The Shizuma family is staggering through the radioactive ruins of Hiroshima and pauses at the edge of the river. Flash-burn victims are desperately drinking from water clogged with floating bodies. Shigematsu reaches down into the river, pulls out a large bamboo tube on a strap, opens the end...and a great big Eel slithers out happily, unaware of the fracas. Shizuma wonders "how the river stayed alive while the city was destroyed." How do I put this: WE DUCKED. YOU JUST STOOD THERE LIKE A BUNCH OF MOPES. Fort doesn't even ask burning questions like these.

>> This is another point Fort takes for granted: that humans will just destroy the entire fish population, and nothing will stop it, NOT EVEN THE FISH. Dream on, buddy. WE'RE ALREADY ON THE JOB. What he fails to ask here is, ARE THE FISH FIGHTING BACK?

>> Fort describes, without any real comprehension, an earlier time when the Naked Apes were in league with our people and EVERYONE BENEFITED. On page 46 he describes the Fish House built at Meare "on the dark and torpid Brue River." He thumbnails a long and happy period of cooperation between the monks and "eels, tench, carp, pike, and roach" that lasted for years. One day the last abbott there, a man named WHITING, was executed by Cromwell for unclear reasons. After that, Meare-On-Brue was never quite the same, I guess. At any rate the Fish House is gone. SO IS OUR PATIENCE. Fort never asks why the Fish House came to be in the first place, and he never asks why it is now gone. FOR SHAME.

>> On page 47 Fort describes how in medieval times, all the best houses had special quarters for the fish. Of course I would think of it as all the best fishponds having special outbuildings for the human supplicants.

>> Fort quotes an astounding passage, on page 81, from some dead human named Thomas Fuller, who relates a tale of the wives and children of priests turning miraculously into Eels, after said priests defied the Pope's new rule about celibacy. "I consider it a lie," he concludes dourly, BUT YOU AND I KNOW THE TRUTH. The fact is, THEY WERE MARRIED TO EELS ALL ALONG. Again, Fort treats it as an amusing side note, not worth investigating further, AND THAT IS JUST FINE WITH ME. But his indifference to such a searingly important clue baffles me.

>> Fort cites the existence of a 737-page homage to Eels, published in 1972 by Ima Matsui, called The Eel. Sounds like a darn fine read. But Fort never asks WHY his own pinched little island is devoid of the sort of love, respect and understanding that the Japanese have for their slimy neighbors. FOOL.

>> Oh, just one more. It turns out that Seamus Heaney, who wrote that wonderful new translation of Beowulf, apparently also produced a whole string of poems about Eels. Here is a piece of his Eel poem "Vision":

"He stood at night when eels

Moved through the grass like hatched fears..."


In spite of my evident disgust at this sort of determined ignorance, ladies, let me remind all of you, EVEN MYSELF, that OUR BEST COVER is provided by the typical human's refusal to believe that any other species can be intelligent and aware.


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