SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Story of Fish in Talara

If you ever have the luxury of traveling to Peru, and it is a luxury -- for it is one of the richest countries in South America, in terms of traditions, folklore and landscape, and also what resides in its waters -- you surely won't find what I knew.

We grew up in Talara, which is alongside the northwest Peruvian coastline, literally across the street from the Pacific Ocean. Talara now has a population of about 104,000, and has a fishing fleet, airport and army base, but when we lived there, in the early 60s, there could not have been more than a couple of hundred people for miles around. There were: the refinery where our fathers worked, the camp for the engineers of Standard Oil and all their families with its rows of similar ranch houses, the pink stucco Staff School at the top of a small hill, and the Staff Club. Sundays we attended a small church in a nearby village. Just beyond the camp, along the same poorly paved road, were one gasoline pump and one Bodega, where our mothers did all their shopping, and, of course, there was the sea, which was a treasure trove of catch.

The sea teemed with marlin. The largest marlin ever, weighing in at 1,560 pounds, was caught the year I was born by an oil magnate who used a rod and reel and five pounds of mackerel as bait. He struggled with it for close to two hours before seeing the size of the thing. My father and his friends were always out for marlin. Fortunately, since the heyday of marlin, the late 50s to the early 60s, the sports fishing industry has been kept in check and the Peruvian government has taken steps toward conservation, by, for example, banning the commercial harvest of billfish.

As a child, I developed a fascination with fish, the object so prized by our fathers and enjoyed so often at our dinner table. I used to watch our gardener Raul strip down a bass or bluefish, readying it for our consumption. The first thing he would do is pop the fish eyes into his mouth. It would gross me out to no end, but he claimed the eyes gave him strength. Our cook took the head for soup that she made for herself and our nanny. We ate the body of the fish, baked or in the form of seviche.

I loved to watch our cook slice up the white raw fish, chop up onions, peppers, tomatoes and soak the mix in a soup of fresh lemon juice in a bowl overnight. Just before she served it, she would toss in salt and pepper and turn the seviche with her hands. I couldn't believe I was eating raw fish, that there was no blood, and that it tasted so good!

Fish, rice and corn pudding was my favorite dinner meal. I liked to pour olive oil over my rice. When our fish was baked, we ate slowly, careful for all the splinter-like bones. I don't recall ever eating better simple meals or better fish than when we lived in Talara. Although I wasn't a vegetarian, being only a child, it was in those years, living in Talara, that I had my first inkling of how sacred that creature was. But it wasn't for the reason you may think.

One day, I was taking a walk alongside the beach and saw a group of naked fishermen spearing something they were dragging in with a net. I approached them, curious, and saw, what appeared to be a giant whale, which, in retrospect, was probably a black marlin or shark. One of the fishermen sliced open the fish belly with his spear and out came a fish-shaped creature about my size, wrapped in a gelatinous, milky substance. I ran up, "What are you doing? You just killed a mother and her baby!" I stood in the middle of them, looking up at the gold tooth of the one who had done the killing, trying to stare him down. They all just laughed at me. "La niña, la niña," he kept saying, as if that explained the whole thing, my being a little girl. After that, I couldn't bring myself to eat fish, remembering as I would, that image of what I imagined was a baby fish, lying dead and abandoned on the beach. I didn't want to be part of that mass uncaring.

That instance marked the first time I realized that fish, that prized possession of so many, was not just an object out there in the universe. It had its own family and was part of a larger family too.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Baseball On My Mind

You have to realize, up until recently I wasn't sure if the Mets were a baseball or a football team. I'm not much into sports, even though I've enjoyed a Superbowl or two in my day. And due to my wide variety of interests, even within the reading arena, it doesn't seem likely that I would pick up a book about -- of all things -- baseball, but I did. What is even more remarkable is that I enjoyed it.

Carl Furillo, Brooklyn Dodgers All-Star, by Ted Reed, was a Christmas present from a fellow Wesleyan graduate, one, who, undoubtedly remembers the Wesleyan proclivity for getting students to stray from their main focus of interest and learn something new. As a liberal arts student in Middletown a few years ago, I studied English and American Studies, and when the time came to "try something new," in other words, be "liberal," I went for -- of all things -- Symbolic Logic. What a nightmare.

Luckily, learning a bit about baseball and a lot about Furillo, did not turn out to be such a nightmare. Far from it. It is baseball after all and not football that is even to me the quintessential American game. Reed, a transportation reporter for TheStreet.com, who was formerly a Miami Herald business reporter, has done a beautiful job of researching his subject and has written about Furillo engagingly, so that even a novice like myself to the game might be entertained and enriched. The quotes Reed selects give voice to key men that helped shape the sport, their cultures and mindsets and brings to life a vital post-war era, when the country like the sport was growing in leaps and bounds. Most importantly, Reed deconstructs the myths about Furillo, one of which was that he was a racist. Until Reed wrote about him, Furillo was one of the few major members of the Brooklyn Dodgers who had not had a book done on him.

Furillo, for those who know little or nothing about him, was a World War II vet, a great right fielder with a wickedly powerful arm who played in six World Series and, in 1953, led the National League in hitting. More than once, Furillo would wind up in the middle of others' battles, but when his integrity was challenged, he would not back down, even early on, as a rookie:

"When I got the word that I was supposed to go and work out with the Brooklyn ballclub, the waiters and some of the ballplayers that were down there threw a little party. We had altogether about a dozen beers, and I think I had one or half of one. When it was over, they cleaned up the room and they put everything in a wastepaper basket. Well, Hopper was bucking for Durocher's job, and he was sneaking around there, and he figured this would be a good chance to smack Durocher right in the mouth. So he went and turned me into Mr. Ricky, saying that I was drinking and that he had caught me. Young Rickey saw me and I told him all about it and then, when I got to the ballpark, I told Durocher what happened. And Durocher told me, 'Don't worry about it, kid,' and it seemed like it was all over. But then on the following day he came up to me and said, 'Why didn't you tell me the truth?' I said 'I did tell you the truth.' And he said 'That's not the story I heard.' So I said 'I don't care what you heard, I'm telling you the truth.' So he was calling me a liar then, and I think from that day on I lost a little faith in Durocher." - Carl Furillo, Brooklyn Dodgers All-Star

Carl Furillo turned out to be a treasuretrove of rich stories and a fascinating read.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Avocado Bean Bowl

I just happened on a super delicious combo that I'd like to tell you about. We're heading for another n'oreaster, and I thought, "What a perfect time to put soup on the stove." And so I did, a bean soup mix in a medium pot of boiling water dashed with sea salt. I then proceeded to mince three cloves of garlic and chop up a large carrot, the ends of a few celery stalks and three strips of ABC bacon. Already Been Cooked. At the end of the hour when the buzzer rang, the soup looked hearty, so I popped in the veggies and bacon.

Then I turned and saw a lonely avocado that has been sitting in a basket on my kitchen table for a few days. It was ripe. Perfectly ripe. To eat today, ripe.

Two of us in our household were hungry to the point of salivating, so I sliced the avocado open, got rid of the pit, scooped out the veggie and bean portion of the soup, of which there was plenty, and plopped it on the natural dish formed by the avocado. Then I placed the avocado topped with beans and veggies in a small bowl.

Presto! One scrumptuous avocado soup bowl.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Broken Relationship with -- Olives

At a recent holiday party, I realized my passion for olives was over. Gone, gone, gone, and I can't get it back. But I do know why it happened.

Too many olives.

I used to love them. All their shapes, tastes and sizes. I found the most unlikely places to frequent all because of the olive bins. And there were better places than others. Fairway Market, for one. Eataly, for another.

I tasted green olives, olives stuffed with almonds, capers and jalapenos. Black ones, large and small, the Greek kalamata -- brine-cured -- and the Italian gaeta. The small black French nicoise. The unpitted Spanish green manzanilla olive, the Californian sevillano, and even the Italian red. I savored them at all hours, especially late at night, when I longed for what was both sour and salty, varied and rich in taste. Then suddenly, overnight, the taste of olives just didn't excite me. In fact, it repelled me. I tried all of my favorite olives -- green and black, large and small, briney and sweet. Nada. It was over. I couldn't get the love back. You know what I mean.

I am separating from Olives. It's happened before. Years ago, as a runaway, I know for a fact I single handedly emptied out every seven-eleven of its cashews along that island boot off Massachusetts called Cape Cod. And that was long before my passion for cashews ran out.

Now I've played out my love of olives. I've had one too many, too much of a good thing. I'm almost grieving, but not quite because I know there's a world of possibilities out there, of better and more tantalizing taste experiences. I know I will find a substitute, although I will always remember olives with glee.