jacktellslies: (sebastian)
I'm drinking a bottle of the cider I started brewing in... February? March? Cider is more like wine than beer, so you can ignore it for as long as you like and, as it will only keep improving in flavour and alcohol content, you get to feel productive the entire time. I'm not sure I'd realised quite how long I'd been ignoring it, though. I only just bottled up the last of it a couple of days ago. The verdict? I think it's good! My friends claim to be excited when I offer to bring them some more, and even strangers, warned that they're about to experience my first attempted home brew, seem to be consistently pleasantly surprised. And goodness me, but the stuff gets one crunk rather quickly. Apologies if grammatical mistakes accumulate towards the end of this missive.

Now that it's all bottled up, I'm plotting my next batch in earnest. I'll admit that I've been pining for a more professional brewer's recycled, and therefore interestingly flavoured, wooden barrel. But I always hesitate to obtain anything expensive, or heavy, anything that I might want to keep. I'm buying some land somewhere one day, and as soon as I get there I'm buying a set of fantastically well-crafted knives of the sort that give young fish nightmares, a cask, and I'm building a beehive. And it seems silly to rush off towards the expensive equipment with only a single try behind me. This one was made with only a plastic bucket, my favourite local cider and, at the time, my favourite local raw honey, a bit of brown sugar, and some white wine yeast. This time I'm considering some wood chips, as a test of whether or not I deserve or require a wooden vessel, and perhaps a touch of cloves and cinnamon. I also managed to scavenge a second appropriately sized food grade bucket from the bakery's recycling bin at work the other day. I'm not particularly offended by the cloudy brew obtained from doing everything in one container, but apparently one can improve the clarity by siphoning everything but the bulk of the dead yeast that has settled to the bottom into a second. I don't turn down gifts from the crossroads gods, so I'll do it in the name of science.

A couple of days ago I had the best day in recent memory.

~ I bottled the cider.

~ I started some seeds: another round of spinach, onions, purple and orange carrots, parsnips, and a variety of red lettuces. (I'm a fool for unusually coloured vegetables.)

~ We've been selling fig trees at my shop. They're small and don't cost much. I don't plan on staying in this house indefinitely, and the lot next to my house isn't mine, but there ought to be trees in the ghetto, and fruit-bearing trees at that. So I'd been admiring them, gazing at them dreamily while I worked. While watering my potted potatoes and slug-ravaged cabbages and my herbs and roses in the back, I noticed a leaf waving at me over the wall. It looked very much like a fig leaf. I'd not explored the side lot much since the spring, as it's become beautifully overgrown. The little trees that were barely my height when I cleaned up the lot on the first warm days of the year are now about the size of my house, and, I'm pleased to report, no one could climb through the lot to my back door at night. We're guarded by underbrush. I climbed through the alley, over jagged cement and tall weeds, and found two fig trees, about my height, right where I'd wanted to plant one. I cursed for surprise, felt up their fuzzy leaves and branches. I have no idea what variety they are, or whether or not they'll bear fruit. I'll find out in the fall, I suppose. I'd seen them around in my neighbourhood before, but I assumed that they'd been planted deliberately. How strange and good.

~ I visited my community garden plot to find tomatoes, green but plump, some squash growing on their sprawling vine, ripe blueberries, and the first nubs of what will eventually become yellow bell peppers.

~ On the way to work I passed the mammoth, healthy grapevine owned by a neighbour but spilling into their back walkway right where it opens onto the street. I'd been watching the full bunches of grapes, waiting for them to ripen, and I grew impatient. I tasted one. It was sour, but it's getting close.

~ I'm starting to consider raising rabbits for food.

~ I cleaned a bit. I drank some tea. The ability to drink tea without rushing is often the mark of a good day.

~At work we were massively busy, but I worked with a favourite fishmonger friend of mine. His father builds and reconstructs old barns, so I mentioned that if he happened to hear of anyone who might be willing to teach me to butcher livestock or raise bees to please let me know. And apparently everyone in his family, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, raise bees. So he's attempting to get me an invitation to help the next time someone harvests honey. Bees! Honey!

~ ...and I had a crying orgasm.
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
I email my favourite coworker quite often. My missives are never anything more than a link or two, something I find that I think he might like. In the past couple of days I feel as if I've been writing him constantly, so I thought perhaps some of this deserved a wider audience.

To begin with the most simple: a visual tool for determining the ecological footprint of and toxins contained in popular seafood.

While we're on that topic, if you don't already know of it, the pocket guides provided by the Monteray Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch is invaluable, but alas is only useful to its maximum capacity within the US.

I enjoy BlogFish a great deal, and the Plitt Seafood Twitter feed, which somehow manages to rival me for regular ecstatic fishmongering updates, but both might appeal more to those of us in the industry rather than out of it.

The Ethicurean's review of The End of the Line, a documentary on overfishing and the ecological impact of modern fishing practices that I've not yet seen, suggests that the film doesn't ask enough of viewers. Switching to smaller fish that are lower on the food chain is an excellent start, but the author, who apparently goes as, ahem, Twilight Greenaway, wonders if significantly lowering our seafood consumption might be the only truly viable way to save the world's collapsing fisheries. I've wondered this often. But I think that the best solutions we've found so far include human jobs and traditions within the definition of sustainability. I'd note, however, that when people speak of the jobs of fishermen, they're usually referring to people in large boats with expensive GPS systems, not the communities of indigenous people upon whose coastal waters they are encroaching. This is old news, but that sort of thieving is why we have Somali pirates.

Increasing acidity in the Pacific Ocean is preventing west coast oysters and other shellfish from successfully building shells after their larval stage, so no new ones are growing. This is very bad, both for the cleanliness and health of the waters that they filter, and for the larger fish who feed on them. And, obviously, for humans, who would become dull, unintelligent, uncultured, and lacking in all vigour were it not for the oyster. I wonder if this isn't one of the issues that led to the closure of the California and Oregon salmon fisheries for the second year in a row.

Fortunately for us, small-scale aquaculture is possible. This regularly sends my fishmongering friend and me into incoherent raptures.

And, as neither of us have land of our own just yet, a farm in a box sounds pretty exciting, too.
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
No one has ever been able to satisfactorily answer this for me, and it's a practical concern. Why do household spirits stop working for the people with whom they share a home when thanked or given gifts?

It's halibut season, which means that my fellow fishmongers and I can glut ourselves, indulging our longing to cut naught but immense fish. Yesterday my boss, faced with an unusually massive beast, actually dimmed the lights. "If I had to choose right now between sex, and cutting this fish," he admitted, "I'd take both." Fishmonger psychology, explained.
jacktellslies: (this machine)
I work long hours, and that does not trouble me much. I dislike it, however, when I must rush from work to some other thing, or leave when my shift is done but there is yet more to do because I have another appointment. I run home from work or fencing in order to catch something barely approximating enough sleep before I dash off to work, or yoga and then work again. I hate the feeling that when I rest there is some other thing I ought to be accomplishing.

I suppose this means I'm doing too much. I've weighed my options, and scaling back seems preferable to developing an unsavoury addiction. I may change my mind later.

However, for now, for my own reference, my priorities would seem to be the following, in no particular order:

Cook and learn about food. Brew closet booze.
Spend time with friends.
Breathe. Take baths. Sleep.

I'd been rather excited about gardening, but for various reasons, not least of which being lack of sufficient sunlight, I'll have to abandon my grand hopes and content myself with my houseplants. I like sewing, and I'd like to improve, but I think for now it shall have to be an occasional experiment rather than a course of study. Knitting, playing the accordion, I'll long for you a little, but I can wait. I'll have you eventually. I'd hoped to write here more often, too. Ah, well.
jacktellslies: (circusfolk)
Pardon my silence. The last while has been painfully busy. I work until I drug myself to sleep so that I can rise and work again. I'm building new muscles, tearing them again before they have time to heal, and gods, they hurt. Shrove Tuesday I was running to work by four thirty in the morning, but when I was done I was racked and cracked, then massaged, then found good liquor and good friends. Our table was strewn with my masks, and we told them our worries and our plans. Tom was newly tattooed, more fatigued with pain and with high ritual than I was with work and with practice. I felt as if I stayed up late, but I was asleep shortly after ten. Today I swore I wouldn't get out of bed, and I haven't. I read. I spoke with my lover, plotting a tricky seduction. I took a bath with candles and a glass of wine. I accomplished none of the personal things that piled up while I worked. It is Ash Wednesday, and I am repentant for nothing. And staying still felt so delicious, so decadent, that my work ethic, one of the American flaws in my temperament, recoiled in horror at my sloth. I start work again in the morning. I suppose I'm ready for it.


Feb. 12th, 2009 12:40 pm
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
I'm told it's nearly Valentine's day. In that case, some of you may find the following information useful.

The confused and frightened men who fall into my store near the fourteenth often gravitate towards my case, desperate to appease the womenfolk with dead things dragged from the depths. They frequently choose sea scallops. They are correct.

My sea scallops are hand-caught by divers. Someone sunk down, searching amongst the dead things and the swimming things. They returned with a bright shell with something living and soft inside, something that you may present to your lover. The modern world is not known for such luxuries.

Besides being quite romantic, diver-caught shellfish involves a minimum of environmental impact. The sea floor is left as it belongs. Once again, the alternative is dredging.

When selecting scallops, you want to be sure that they are dry. Dry is the term used to indicate that they are neither bleached nor inflated with chemicals to appear to be larger than they are. If you distrust the word of your fishmonger (as, really, you ought) colouring is a good test. If every sea scallop is white, suspect unnatural influence. You want a variety of colours, mostly white, but some brown or even orange. Difference in colour implies no difference in flavour.

The darker ones are female. Some of the white ones are, too, but the darker colour indicates that they are or were recently ovulating. They soak in their own juices, absorbing them, thus succumbing to an aroused blush. Delicious.

jacktellslies: (Default)
PETA is a more openly reprehensible organisation than most. When they aren't killing puppies at their no-kill shelters, brainwashing children, and demeaning women for being mammals, however, they apparently come up with delightful nonsense like this: sea kittens. They want people to start calling fish sea kittens. They drew pictures of fish wearing cat suits, and produced a children's book about fish playing with balls of yarn. I suppose it must be quite the shock to people for whom fuzziness is a central component of their ethical decision-making process. If I wore tee shirts, I might want one of these.

If, on the other hand, you'd like to make adult decisions regarding the ethical consumption of seafood, I might recommend Taras Gresco's Bottomfeeder. It catalogues fish populations that are at risk and explains in detail, with real scientific evidence, why they ought to be avoided. Better than that, it also recommends fish that are not only currently in no danger of being overfished, but species like the oyster for which their cultivation for consumption actually represents sophisticated ecological stewardship. Gresco is as much a gastronome as he is an activist, which makes the book a surprisingly adventurous and enjoyable guide to saving the world's fisheries from imminent collapse.


Jan. 13th, 2009 07:43 pm
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
Bastard fish got me in the knuckle before I'd even taken a knife to its fat neck. I cursed and laughed at the thing, a big grouper, the spines on its back thick, and sharp, and apparently a fascinating oasis of poisons and bacteria. The knuckle swelled and ached, but we catch ourselves like this often, and that's normal. As my boss mentioned just before I was stung (he predicts the funniest things) most days we have hands like fighters. But an ache like a bad bruise climbed like a serpent from my wrist, twisting around the elbow, and up and under my arm and into the shoulder. I've had poison in the blood before; I recognised the way that it hurt. So I walked to the hospital, and Bernie, who consistently proves himself to be one of the most patient and generous people I have ever had the pleasure to know, joined me there around eight. The red lines of my swollen veins followed that invisible bruise, crawling up to just below my underarm after the first five or so hours in the waiting room. An hour later they put me in a bed and left us there until eventually giving me an antibiotic IV drip. We watched endless hours of slaughter and sex splayed out on the streets of New York, soft-core late night pornography given to us by the BBC and Victorian novelists. And the advertisements all insisted that the body is made to fail, that we are flawed and weak and lacking something. We are neither thin nor strong enough, our hair thins, our cocks are too small and our wives despise us, we lack the shaman's bones of iron and the quartz heart. We stumbled out onto Spruce Street again a touch after six, thankful that it was still dark and still felt something like night. There are fish secrets swimming in my blood. I'm drinking a dangerous gift. I'll know the fish I cut, and if any is left when I return to work tomorrow I'm eating the last of it with salt, a hateful yet flirtatious sacrament. This poison and these spines are mine now.
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)

My family and some close friends came over for a potluck on Midwinter. For the occasion I stuffed a whole Arctic char, and some of the people in attendance asked for a recipe. As the vast majority of my cooking is done without measurements or concrete plans, this may not be a recipe as much as it is more of my usual ramblings. But I'll do what I can.

Arctic char is quite similar to salmon, a bit more mild and very juicy, verging on oily. It's smaller than even sockeye, the smallest of the salmon with which I am familiar, making purchasing a whole one a relatively reasonable thing to do. It is also more sustainable than salmon, usually being farm raised in clean inland lakes and pools. They're pretty, too, often having speckled sides.

I didn't work the day of the party, but my coworkers were kind enough to save one for me and let me sneak into our back room to use our cutting block and good knives. I left the head and tail on but cleaned and butterflied the fish, leaving it whole but removing the guts, gills, spine, ribs, and pin bones. You should be able to ask your fishmonger to do this for you, but be warned: not all fishmongers necessarily know how to do all of this. I'd recommend making inquiries ahead of time. Working illicitly, for my own benefit and in my good clothes, was magnificent. I'll have to do it more often. I dripped a bit of fish slime on my Italian boots, and was simultaneously horrified and delighted. My favourite coworker applauded, insisting that fish scales on good boots ought to be taken as a sure sign that one is living correctly.

Once home I put the fish in the refrigerator to wait for me while I sautéed a large diced red onion and a great many chopped carrots of various colours in local organic butter, a bit of raw honey, and some sea salt and spices. I believe I used mustard seeds, coriander, thyme, lavender, and red pepper flakes, but spices, to my mind, ought to be left to your whims at the moment that you're cooking. While the carrots and onions did what they were meant to be doing, I put some walnuts in the oven for a few minutes. Once all three were ready for me, I stirred in the walnuts as well as more of the spices, some dried cranberries, and about four slices of bread that I'd allowed to go a bit stale, seasoned, and sliced into cubes. I sautéed that for another minute or two before turning off the heat and ignoring it while I paid attention to my fish. I wanted to glaze it, so I painted the outside of the char, head and tail and all, with more of my raw honey. I'd never painted a fish before, and I enjoyed it, so I painted the inside as well on a whim. I'm glad that I did.

I then convinced as much of the fish as possible to fit inside of my pan and stuffed it with the stuffing I'd made. Sometimes I'll use cooking twine that I borrow from work to tie the belly closed, but in a roasting pan it just doesn't seem necessary. I knew that I had and that I'd want more stuffing than would fit inside of the fish, so I allowed it to spill out into the pan. I then put the pan in the refrigerator and ignored it until halfway through the party, at which point my oven was no longer busy with my mother's vegetable lasagne. I believe I baked it at four-hundred degrees Fahrenheit for forty minutes. When it was done we ate it, and I gave the blackened tail to Tappy, claiming that it was the last remnants of a baby mermaid that I'd burnt for her benefit.
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
Monkfish, however delightful and distressing and delicious, most likely ought to be avoided. I'm displeased that we sell it. Besides being overfished, they're bottom feeders and thus caught by trawlers, those weighted and dragged nets that devastate the ocean floor, destroying life and habitat indiscriminately.

Instead, I recommend oysters. They increase the surface area in the bodies of water where they live, which creates more homes and hiding places for other aquatic creatures, and act as natural filters, removing pollutants and harmful algae. A healthy oyster bed can filter a bay several times over in a day. Unfortunately, pollution and aggressive overfishing have resulted in dwindling wild stocks, leaving the ecosystems of which they are a vital part ever more vulnerable. The wild caught ones can be harvested using methods as destructive as the catching of monkfish, but unlike most commercial fish farms, the side effects of oyster farming are overwhelmingly positive. Supporting this sort of aquaculture supports the health of the bodies of water from which they are drawn. And, as it happens, we're at the height of the oyster season now. Try some. Few luxuries lend themselves quite so well to environmental activism.

Steamed Oysters
jacktellslies: (sebastian)
Filleting a monkfish feels a lot like giving a bris with your bare hands. Only the infant has a one and a half foot long tumourous monster cock completely covered in thick yet loose foreskin, and the foreskin is coated in pink and grey mucous.

A Monkfish from Rialto
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
I am a fishmonger, and my hands are wounded as often as they are not. I am kissed by knives, tricked by oysters, and made swollen and sore by the spines of fish. I ought to tell you what I think of gods and of sacrifice, but for now let me tell you that I know precisely what the gods of the seas from which I pull my livelihood demand. Beings of liquid and of hunger and of salt, they want the oldest and the simplest and the most obvious of things: my sweat, my tears, and my blood. So with hands constantly besieged, it seems strange that I ever find meaning in it. I know little of palmistry, and my ignorance lends it an air of mystery and certainty that things that I understand better might lack. And so sometimes, very rarely, my hand bleeds, and I feel in the wound the sense that something is being overwritten. The lines carved anew, destiny yields as I make a choice.
jacktellslies: (dandy)
It came to my attention on Saint Patrick's Day that my grandmother and some of my aunts and uncles were under the impression that I don't drink. As they've seen me do so at most family gatherings, it is apparent that their definition of abstinence ignores the consumption of three drinks or less. My dear family, I'm terribly sorry. I was not aware that you expect me to be wasted beyond reason every time we see one another. Please trust that I shan't disappoint you again.

My uncle is interested in genealogy. He recently discovered our oldest known ancestors, a family of five siblings living in the South during the Civil War. There was a daughter and four sons, none of whom were mentioned in military records on either side. He couldn't imagine why, until he discovered that all four of the men were deaf. They must have had fascinating lives; I believe sign languages and schools for the deaf existed by that time, but I tend to assume that such things weren't always particularly accessible to the lower classes. But with four of them, I wonder if they created their own language.

It's unrelated, but my own hearing is fairly bad. I get by just fine, but not without worrying that I'm inconveniencing my acquaintances with the frequency with which I'm forced to ask them to repeat themselves. When on my counter, I repeat my customer's requests back to them as a standard practice. It works well, as it isn't particularly obtrusive or even unexpected, and "half a pound" and "have a pound" do sound a great deal alike, however good your hearing might be. Unfortunately, a larger percentage of my customers than one would expect are British. Really, there are a good number of them. As it happens, they pronounce turbot, which is sort of like a buttery flounder, more like it is spelled, the second syllable rhyming with the second in robot, whereas the Americans I know pronounce it more like ter-bow. It may also be worth noting that the American tendency to be a bit loud has its advantages, such as in instances when I'm actually trying to hear what they say. So, on occasion, someone asks me for a fillet and I haven't heard a word they've said. If they have an accent of any kind, I'm unaware of it. In such cases I'm not repeating their request half as much as I'm interpreting the direction of their gaze, reading small gestures, or simply using my amazing psychic powers to venture a guess. "Turbot?" I ask. The icy rage with which they articulate the word when they repeat it again, as if I'd been trying to correct them, is entirely unexpected, if deeply familiar. I'm always so surprised by it that this is the last remaining scenario in which I can't quickly disarm (if not permanently disable) a rude customer. Neither, "I promise that I'm more sorry than you can possibly understand for having learned to speak on this side of the ocean, but please don't hurt me?" or a more likely, "Bitch, please!" ever find their way out of my mouth. It's fast becoming one of the reasons I'm so looking forward to leaving this place for a bit: if I'm going to continue losing this particular battle, could I at least be spared the humiliation of losing it on home ground?
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
In creating the world, evolution, that god multi-limbed beyond reckoning, saw fit to create the oyster, to take a sharp, bastard little rock, and to fill it with food. Yesterday an older gentleman asked me to shuck a few for him, and, in his infinite wisdom and kindness, he tipped me fairly extravagantly for the service. In his honour, I'd like to tip my hat to the oyster once more.

I've told you of their lovemaking. To review, here we have gender-deviant molluscs who engage in orgies massive enough to influence entire ecosystems. Good. Now, if I may, I'd like to speak a bit about the eating of them.

The most ancient of human settlements found on earth thus far are marked by mounds of shells, opened and bearing scars, the evidence of some of our first experiments with tools. The lure of flesh has been the spur of the mind of many species to breed intelligence at the same time that the chemical properties of protein itself are required for the development of more complex brains. Shellfish was, I imagine, a reasonably reliable source of the stuff in a time when exceptionally few things were reliable. They are old allies. We owe them much.

Remember in eating an oyster, please, the hands that opened it for you. Despite all of my less than cautious waving about of knives, oysters are more likely to hurt me in my toiling than nearly anything else. Opening them involves pressing a blunted knife into a small crevice between their two shells and twisting. Oysters, as I mentioned, are sharp, and the knives are likely to slip and wound. I nearly always have a gash or a transitional scar on the flesh of my palm or on a knuckle as a result of their affections. I don't mind it. I'm speeding their death; the scratch is only fair. (More fair, perhaps, if it was worn by the one who would devour it, but then why would the world need fishmongers?) But remember when you drink one that it is most likely the result of a blood sacrifice. Be kind to your servants, and appreciate the fact that we've suffered for you. When was the last time someone young, and perhaps attractive, and maybe a bit rough bled for your account? Taste it, along with the salt.

It's hardly the only sacrifice. The oyster represents one of the few creatures that the human beings with whom I associate swallow live, and whole. I recommend meditating on that before taking one, really savouring the fact that you, at that very moment, are about to take a life, and then perhaps to take another five or more. Taste in its wet flesh the fact that this little god will die that you might live. The resulting endorphin rush alone is worth the price.

This brings us to the taste: their flavour depends largely on the waters from which they were drawn, and thus, in sampling oysters, one can tour the brackish waters of the world. They're salty things, and fleshy, and if someone were to tell you that it doesn't remind them, pleasantly I hope, of fellatio, then they're either liars or Puritans.

My fellow fishmongers and I swallow them illicitly in the back room. We'll open them all together, or one of us will be kind enough do the honours for the others. It's spectacular: the help, filthy and rushed, gathering in a circle for a stolen moment, for the sacrament, for the pleasure of it. We take them with borrowed lemon and cocktail sauce or we'll take them as they are, exploring their charms and faults, the nuances that set them apart from their kin. I've been served oysters by a pretty boy in a restaurant nicer than anything I deserved. They were delivered to me on a bed of sea salt, big coarse grains in a mound across the plate. I've tasted them in a bar in New Orleans, opened by old, dark, swift hands. He shucked six dozen in the time it would take me to whisper my way into nine, and I am, if I may say it, reasonably skilled.

Enjoy the flesh you taste tonight, my darlings, whatever form it may take.
jacktellslies: (Default)
On the worst of days, while enmeshed in the more crushing aspects of toil and drudgery, I like to attempt to incite class war. It lies somewhere between a joke, catharsis, and the smallest hope that my compatriots will join me and we can free ourselves from the evils of capitalism by savagely and gleefully unleashing hell. Recently, however, I was asked how a gentleman such as myself should behave during a good riot. Allow me to offer a few brief examples:

1. "Pardon me, sir. I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to light your place of business on fire. If you'd be so kind as to step outside?"

2. "Madam, my quarrel is not with you, but with the class system which divides us, which, here, is represented by the glass of your window. Would you be so kind as to move aside while I heave this rather large rock?"
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
The world has discovered a rarity: perhaps the first documented six-legged octopus. He's been dubbed a hexapus, and named Henry. Henry the hexapus is British, and, Beth and I assume, wears a top hat, is good at math, enjoys writing poetry, and writes me sweet letters in which he requests that he be allowed to consider himself my boyfriend.
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
Last night the moon was full and eclipsed totally. It shifted, white and black and red, red being the colour of the earth's shadow. Beth and I went walking, standing on the sun and looking at the red moon. The sky was clear, to my great surprise: I'd heard rumours that it would be a cloudy night, as it has been every other time such an event had blazed across the heavens. (I don't often converse with sky gods.) We aligned ourselves with a pyramid that stands atop one of Philadelphia's skyscrapers, and there found a mural in a playground of a sort of cosmic vagina-tortoise, opening red and shining beams of white light, surrounded by fish while a young voodoo priestess or grade school student, one of the countless denizens of the uplifting murals of this town, waved her arms in encouragement. It seemed to summarise the event nicely. Two older citizens of the ghettos found us standing still, looking straight up. They found the marvel before we could explain ourselves and joined us. The woman instantly exclaimed, "You just know something's going on tonight. Mm. You've got to keep the faith." And she was right. We shook hands and introduced ourselves at their most polite prompting, and they encouraged us to stay safe. "It's crazy out here." Right again, friends. We parted ways and kept walking, finding the Broad Street Victorians, stained glass saints and plants and lights and children reading from the Book of the Dead in their windows. We kissed on a street corner while snow fell from a still cloudless sky. On the way home we passed a house with a large statue of Mister Punch and a smaller bronze fish on its porch. We kissed Mister Punch and I pet the fish, and then turned for home. Before returning for cider and warmth, Beth kindly reminded me that we hadn't yet danced paganistically under the bleeding moon. She raised her hands in a salute of dark and hysterical high magics and we danced a terrible tango in the dark in honour of a rare moon dressed in sun and earth and shadow.
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
I was wondering if you'd be so kind as to tell me your thoughts on this?

The Whale Hunt.

So far as I can tell, nearly all of this is preparation. At the very end Inuits, and, it seems, an artist or journalist or two, hunt and harpoon a whale. The body is pulled to shore, and the community pulls the leviathan out of the water by hand, with rope. They cut it using an immense blade on a pole, something like a scalpel the size of a spear, and pull the meat away in strips with hooks.
jacktellslies: (Default)
Occasionally, whether because I'm visiting family or I've taken a lover or become the victim of some improbable adventure that necessitates my borrowing a stranger's shower, through subtle acts of piracy, intrigue, or their consent, I find myself allowed the use of someone else's toiletries. I always enjoy this a great deal. It's like finding an alchemists's notes: you don't necessarily have a bloody clue what it means, but you get a certain sense of their technical habits, of choices made in metaphor, chemical, metal, and scent. And finding, in this mess of fascinating ingredients, something that would work for you as well, some piece of yourself in them, is a puzzle, an exercise in identity, in becoming, in this small thing only, a reflection.

I just learned that my sister's fiance, whom I like a great deal, is the son of a gentlemen who crushes rocks in a perfume and cosmetics factory. He breaks the earth to bits in order to give us colour, scent, and exotic powders, and renders women, and I hope men, and any other manner of creature, beautiful, not through accidents of biology or luck, but through skill and art. I, of course, also dismantle the natural world for a living, but I deal only in small, aquatic souls and in keeping people alive and fed. He wields his hammer for beauty, and I cannot help but feel that his is the more noble profession.
jacktellslies: (execution)
While scaling, through the skin, I could tell that the meat was too soft. Cutting meat of that sort isn't easy: you want something firm, something through which you can feel the difference between flesh and bone, licking the line with the edge of your knife. Anything too wet falls apart or melts. Even if you're a god with a knife, no one will want what you have left to sell. Even customers can tell a bad fillet, sometimes.

It isn't the fish's fault, mind, nor is it even that of the warehouse. (We don't call our middlemen by name. They're "the warehouse," or, "those fucking bastards.") Salmon don't eat as they swim upstream to spawn. It's why the first run is so exciting: as the season goes on the fish caught are the ones that have made it further up the river and starved longer. First they start to lose their scales, then they go soft, feeding on their own flesh. Besides not eating, they've also been beating the hell out of each other. Late season salmon are warriors, some more bruise than fish.

(Salmon such as the four on my cut board today mean that the season is about to close. If you enjoy the fresh Alaskan stuff, get it now; good fillets still exist. The season could draw out for another month, but I doubt it. By this time of year, however, we're buying from less responsible or more desperate fishermen. If you care about sustainability, wait until next year.)

I changed my mind. It was the warehouse's fault, those fucking bastards. Besides the fact that I knew these were shit before my knife touched them, two of them weren't coho, and one of those two wasn't even salmon. I don't know what the hell the first one was. It was a runt, and its markings were all wrong, and it hadn't eaten in so long that its bones were soft. Usually if you hold a fish skeleton by the tail, it maintains the natural range of motion it would have had in life. This one was almost completely limp. The meat was nearly worthless to me. The other one was a fucking trout. Which, actually, is amazing. I'd never cut a wild trout before. But I'm a peddler in flesh, and trout and salmon aren't exactly worth the same thing.

I won't apologize for my language today, but I will explain it. Working in the service industry, you curse a lot. It's cathartic, and a kind of camaraderie: every day I tell Lenny that he's a repulsive swine, and my boss that he's a liar and a whore. On both counts it's true after a fashion, but they're good men, hard workers, and I like their flaws as much as most people's strengths. I'm thinking much worse than that about some of my customers and overlords, but I can't say it to them, and, more importantly, I wouldn't. They wouldn't be able to take it, and etiquette dictates that we never tell our betters the truth. If we can antagonize one another, I respect you.

On my board, a fish will be torn apart on several planes of existence. While cutting it we're exploring it: scars are admired, full bellies examined and mocked. Taking note of these things is the closest a fish gets to a eulogy. And we laugh a lot. We curse when we mess up, and we curse at the fish and each other. We're an archetype. When you spend all of your time surrounded by and smelling like the dead, when you know the exact rate at which you are going to rot, where the rotting starts and what it looks like, and even what it tastes like, because every one of us has been hit in the face with slime, gallows humor comes whether you will it or no. It isn't nervous laughter. We aren't poking around death because it is terrible and unfathomable, shining its boots and not looking it in the eye. We're moving around bodies, physical remains. And part of moving around physical remains is ensuring that they are only remains, separating them from the idea of the fish, the thing that has other work to do and doesn't need to be trapped in meat anymore. You do that by laughing at the body. We're your grandmother poking at the bear you'd had since before you were born: "This old thing? What would you want with that?" Pardon me if this seems silly to you. As I said, we're an archetype. I'd be treating the fish this way whether I knew why I was doing it or not. What I would know, however, is that the fact that I could do it meant respect, that the fish and I are more alike than me and most of the people to whom I'll sell it. When you're buried your gravediggers will do the same, or else you won't have been buried correctly.

The fish I met today I cut perfectly. Fishmongering centres me. I'm not myself, but the act of cutting. This time I was better than that. My knife was slow, and I was patient. I was kind to the fish: it had had a hard life. That was clear. But I still had a job to do, and the meat was, after all, total shit, so I showed the other boys its limp spine and strongly implied that it wasn't man enough.

Those are the three parts of respect: to know a thing, to do well by it, and bad jokes.


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August 2009

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