Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Can Never Tell If They're Kidding Or Not...

OK, an operative just came back from a shopping mission with the DAMNEDEST purchase: the current edition of Mad magazine, showing a row of assorted Great Apes, looking determined, wearing business clothes in an officey sort of setting -- police station? newsroom? -- and in big letters:
I mean, on the one hand: are they kidding? What did they think they were before, some kind of Antelopes?
On the other hand: Do they really not suspect how much of their full-time staff is made up of Lobsters?
On the tailfin: You may be certain that I checked. None of the operatives working on Mad's staff has been fired, killed or unmasked. Ever.
Still, it made me feel funny for a monent, seeing that.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Just Smell That Fresh Air!

Oops! Didn't mean to lure you to an icy death! I know that piscatorial antifreeze of yours doesn't work once you've emerged from the waves. I found the photo above
while loooking for an image that perfectly captured Saint Will Cuppy's concept of "frost-fishing." This candid snapshot, immortalized on Google, was more perfect for the task than I ever could have hoped.
This is just my way of saying that after a few sunny, almost warmish days in the Motor City, THE WEATHER HAS CLOSED IN AGAIN and we are going to have to postpone some infiltration plans. My last Carp-spotting tour, undertaken on a sunny day not long ago, revealed not a tailfin or a barbel exposed in the runoff area. GOOD SHOW. Your instincts were right; the weather is NOT YET READY for the new hatchlings to come ashore and start seducing the recruits.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008


OK, time for a compare-and-contrast sort of deal, showing the differences between a GOOD fishstory and a NOT SO GOOD one. The previous entry disgustedly discusses a NOT SO GOOD. Oh, it's OK, but only just -- nothing to write home about, if you will. Today's entry at Cliffie's Notes discusses a DANG GOOD fishstory, penned by OUR FRIEND Mark Kurlansky, fishstorian supreme. The book was copyrighted in 1997 to Kurlansky himself, and published by Walker and Company, New York.
OK, it's only fair to start out by saying that Fagan DOES offer some nuggets of information about the Cod that Kurlansky apparently MISSED, like the one about dried, or salted-and-dried Cod being the best preserved food available in Europe for centuries because it it so much less fatty, and thus longer-keeping, than Herring or Eel. Kurlansky treats of the Codfish in isolation, as if other species were never an issue, and clearly THIS IS NOT THE CASE.
But wherever Kurlansky does drill, he drills deeply indeed. We learn in this book about the monkey people's burning love for Codfish that eventually led them all the way to the New World, and eventually forced them to close the world's most heavily-used Cod fisheries because of ecological collapse and general PISCATORIAL BURNOUT. (One thing the shaved monkeys never learn is that YOU CAN HAVE TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING.)
We learn about the inconsolable sense of loss felt by Newfoundland Cod fishermen and their neighbors and families, people so at one with their recruiting operatives that they would feel humiliated fishing for anything else. (Now THERE is an example of doing one's job too well, ladies; let it be a lesson to you. LET YOUR SISTERS HELP YOU!) Even Theater Of Fish, reviewed elsewhere on this site, does not capture the perpetual state of Codfish mourning felt by Newfoundlanders. This book does.
We learn a few choice bits of American regional fish cookery.
We learn, if we didn't already know it, about the personal lives of Codfish.
We learn what a bunch of HOPELESS MOPES the Pilgrims really were, coming over to the New World claiming to be fishermen but not even knowing how to bait a hook. The damned fools almost starved because they REFUSED TO LEARN ABOUT FISH.
We learn how our sisters were gutted, improperly salted and improperly dried in order to promote the slave trade in the West Indies. ONLY YOU AND I KNOW that "West Indian cure" Codfish broke all recruiting records, year after year, for CENTURIES, proving that no matter what they do to decimate our ranks, WE WIN.
There is so much in this book to like, and it's presented in an engaging, well-written way that comes this close to spilling the beans about how it was the Cod themselves, not the muscled and moustachioed Cod hunters of Monkeydom, that led to the discovery by Europeans of the New World.
And I would like to APOLOGIZE HERE AND NOW to all the native tribes that took it in the shorts when Whitey landed. We really, truly did not expect it to come out this way. We expected them to assimilate, pick up on your sustainable fishing practices and piscatorial totems, and stop acting like glicknobs within a century or so. Had we known it would happen this way we would have led them to, I don't know, Antarctica or someplace. But it appears that the prophecies of the Sacred Clam are coming true after all, as tribally-owned casinos strip the invaders of every spare dime, allowing the tribes to live for the first time in centuries in relative peace and security, with something the rest of the USA seems not to want for itself: lifelong, guaranteed health and dental coverage, regardless of employment status.
But I digress. I just want to say that Cod is a fine read on a compelling subject.

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Today I'll be reviewing Fish On Friday by Brian Fagan, Basic Books,
a member of the Perseus Books Group, New York, 2006.
The image above is NOT the cover of the book.

OK, what do I say about this one? I can compare it to one of those movies that knows so little what it wants to be that it does a radical tonal shift at some point, or at several points, so that a slapstick comedy suddenly goes grim and bleak, or a horror movie is going along all bloody and dire and suddenly they throw a musical number in there.
This is one of those.

Overall the course of the book might actually make sense to a landscum reader, but to me, a Catfish, not so much. It starts out as virtual fish porn, luxuriating in the fish symbolism and PISCATORIAL LOVE threaded through ancient religions, not the least of which was first-generation Christianity.

We're going along just fine in this vein, but the book detours bizarrely into the construction of fishing boats through the ages. This part just goes ON and ON and ON. The author never tells you why he feels you need to know so much about this subject. The placement of this information does not make ANY sense. Why he starts writing about it when he does, and why he stops when he does, makes NO sense. What all this boatbuilding stuff has to do with the discovery of America as it pertains to fish, HE NEVER TELLS YOU.

At one point the author leaps gloriously into a discussion of Carp infiltration. He admits frankly on page 135 that "no one knows why Carp suddenly appeared outside their natural habitat." I could tell you that answer myself, but of course it's CLASSIFIED so no human can learn it. If you think I'm posting that on the Internet, you're being ridiculous.

On the other hand, Fagan reveals on page 145 that the storied Scarborough Fair, immortalized for the younger generation by Simon & Garfunkel,
was actually an important fish festival during medieval times.
There's nothing not to like about THAT news.

This is a book with fish recipes of all kinds salted into the text, but in a lengthy and loving chapter on the Carp the author utterly fails to explain the importance of removing the "mud vein" from an operative of this species before preparing her for a dining-table recruiting session. All he does is say that unfortunately,
sometimes a Carp tastes muddy.

He does due homage to the importance of the Herring in English life, but he can't seem to decide whether the medieval fish fasters loved Herring or hated it.

The man also goes on and on about the glories of Eel pie -- and a glorious dish it is -- but doesn't include a recipe to make one. Or jellied Eels, easy to make and beloved of the Cockneys. If it's good enough for the neighborhood where Johnny Rotten grew up, it's good enough for ME. Tell us how to fix it, you big dope! He does tell you how to fix a Jamaican fish dinner, using ingredients only available in Jamaica. Are you starting to see my problem here?
At this point, the story trails off limply, not coming to any sort of useful conclusions or, indeed, explaining what all these jangling and disjointed facts have to do with, well, anything.

He also barely mentions how the modern advances in trawling, longlining and refrigerated ships have made it easier for the landscum to clear the oceans of all life, forcing us to take matters into our own jaws and clear out the humans, instead.
I cannot argue with the fine recipes and other information on recruitment he does include. The "smoked Eel, bacon and mash" recipe is mouthwatering as well as educational on the subject of British cooking. (Where else on earth but in Britain would you fry bacon in butter, reserve the resulting fat and pour it over Eel, which is already 60% fat?) He was SMART to avoid the mistake others have made, getting snide about garum (a ubiquitous condiment of the Roman Empire made of fermented fish guts) and saying it was the real cause of the decline and fall. Get real; garum is the reason the Roman Empire lasted AS LONG AS IT DID.

I say, by all means read it, but be prepared to skip over a bunch of
stuff that does NOT relate to our glorious Cause.

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