“THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT FORCE YOU TO CHOOSE WHAT TO believe, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been the kind of person who chooses to believe what people consider verifiable, science over religion, the rational over the transcendental. But the eel makes that difficult. For anyone who has seen an eel die and then come back to life, rationality isn’t enough. Almost everything can be explained; we can discuss different processes of oxygenation and metabolism or the eel’s protective secretion or its highly adapted gills. But on the other hand, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’m a witness. An eel can die and live once again. ‘They’re odd, eels,’ Dad would say. And he always seemed mildly delighted...” (p. 192)
"For some reason, this gift from God to the early pilgrims has been all but erased from the grand narrative. The story of the colonization of North America is full of myths and legends, but the story of the eel isn’t one of them. On Thanksgiving, Americans eat turkey, not eel, and other animals—buffalo, eagles, horses—have been the ones to shoulder the symbolic weight of the patriotic narrative of the United States of America." (p. 104).
“In Italy, glass eels used to be caught in the Arno River in the west and around Comacchio in the east. There the preferred way of serving them was boiled in tomato sauce with a sprinkle of parmesan. ...These days, however, it’s a dying tradition. As the number of glass eels wandering up Europe’s rivers has plummeted, the fishing industry built around them has also ceased to exist.” (p. 90)
|Eel restaurant sign, Comacchio, Italy. (Source)
Here’s why I loved this passage: we once stayed in a hotel in the vicinity of Comacchio, and we went to a highly recommended restaurant where I remember eating a dish of glass eels (though I thought they had said grass eels and just found out that this was wrong). The eels on my plate were indeed very small and exotic, but I liked the dish. I don’t think in fact that they were in tomato sauce. It was long ago, before I carried a camera with me at all times, so I have no tangible evidence of this meal, only an indistinct memory. As eels become more and more endangered, it’s likely that this dish will no longer be prepared, and in any case it’s become very expensive, so I doubt if I will ever taste it again.
To quote another poet besides Shakespeare (after all, it’s National Poetry Month) —
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour” — by William Blake
Blog post © 2021 mae sander.