A Sicilian story Every Friday, I have dinner with tuna salad. For years now. This weekly ritual also carries a previous phase: the purchase of cans, caskets of fish. I’m not...
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Every Friday, I have dinner with tuna salad. For years now.
This weekly ritual also carries a previous phase: the purchase of cans, caskets of fish. I’m not sure why, but I enjoy the sight of these cans on the shelves and, with a careful eye, I imagine I am seeking for the least anonymous package of identical fish containers, all evenly crammed one on top another. I walk between the departments according to a now fixed path, with no rush. Still, every step I take in the supermarket’s fresh produce area brings to my mind a past time running inside of my legs and me. Once, I looked for the best fish at the Marzamemi market, pointing straight to the eyes of these giants torn from the sea. Today, all that remains are my inspection of the tin boxes and the vivid memory of the blood-soaked counter that still moves me when I am in front of shelves stocked with long-life tuna.
Every Friday, we had dinner with salad and seafood.
My family and I waited for the weekend to eat well, stuff ourselves with fresh fish, go to the market and throw ourselves in the hunt for the finest fished tuna. In truth, I was so short that I could not spot every movement at my best, as I would have liked. Therefore, I hid behind my mother’s long skirt and, turning my eyes to the sea and the sky, I tried to perceive the differences of such performance I lived through week by week. For some months, I found the visit to the market even more pleasant because I knew I would find my father who had started working for the Sea, after leaving the countryside. He used to say, “I work for the sea.” We all chuckled at this claim, believing that dad wanted to deny the authority of the Prince who little appreciated any continuous sacrifice. Dad always replied, “I work for the sea because I use nets, not hoes and rakes”. Thus, I understood how to be grateful for the nets and the arms of the fishermen and, very soon, I learned that for my parents the Sea was not the aquatic alternative of the land: the Sea was still Earth, with distinct rules, with other worthy inhabitants.
When I realised I could see my father in the waves, like an actor on the stage of Marzamemi, I went to the shore even more often. I used to watch from afar and try to predict the quality of the catch by observing both the boats returning and the fishermen expressions. As an expert lookout, I had chosen a place entirely reserved for me. I became the director of a drama with an always-surprising ending. It was a tonnara, a quiet place, where I met a few people, and usually different. There, a woman always smiled at me since I always met her in such a place. Only today, I understand why all the other women did not look nor speak to her while men smiled at her. At the time, I thought that woman was like the sea, belonging to all and none at the same time.
One day, I noticed a coat hanging from the mast of a boat. Its shadow overlooked the market from above. After weeks of shortage and sad looks, I did not know what value assign to this vision. However, I immediately caught the extraordinary nature of that day and hence I would have desired to nearly double the size of my eyes not to miss any detail. The inhabitant of the sea, just arrived at the market, was a very large tuna, bellied more than ever, an attractive magnet for the eyes of all the people present. The air that day was not only loaded with salt, blood and algae; it was also a day of celebration, and its protagonist was indeed that silvery-skinned colossus. The fishermen, already smelling of wine, added their celebration tunes to the usual market cries. The water was very dark, almost unable to extinguish all the blood spread from the near pier. Joy had become fish blood and fisherman’s sweat. Next to the waving coat, the symbol of the big booty of the day, I saw my father’s face free from the tensions of the previous days, of Fridays made of simple salads.
The party atmosphere seemed destined to go on forever. I found that I was no longer alone observing the arrival of the boats: we were a hemicycle of faces arranged in mystical expectation. I do not know if joy was louder than the chants but it was certainly an effective call for the Prince. He showed up in his dark clothes and his face half-covered by a hat he always wore on his head; after all, he had become accustomed to considering any reverential act alien to his gestures. That day, however, even the Rais, the chief of the tuna dealers, seemed different from the usual, sensitive to that strange atmosphere. The Prince came forward with a large tray in his hand, overloaded with almond pastries, sweets that in the collective imagination were associated with moments of family parties. For the first time, my childish eyes glimpsed some kindness in this man, gloomy in every story told, oblivious to every rumour. Quickly, the sweets distributed as a tribute to the fishermen became the symbol of a silent protest. The Rais, my father and all the other fishermen started filling the mouth of the tuna with these biscuits. They thus refused the Prince’s prize, such a miserable reward for their efforts, and an exceptional crown for jaws accustomed to blood and saltwater.
That day I understood the faultiness of my eyes, to which those sweets ‐ like everything that had seemed beautiful to me so far – had appeared appropriate gifts.
I understood that I also carried something sweet in me: deep inside, a consciousness was born.
Today, it’s Friday and I will eat a tuna salad.
I will wait to be alone at home. I will set the table, cut the onion into small pieces and repeat the same process with the fresh tomato. In opening the can I just bought, I will try to uncover my memories as well and feel the fresh smell of the sea under my nostrils. The recurrence of these gestures of mine is not the true mystery of this ritual because there is no nostalgia between my fingers. Time also passes through Sicily, where the Earth becomes the border of the Sea.
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