Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Tony Deyal | A fine kettle of fish

Published:Saturday | April 17, 2021 | 12:05 AM

In Barbados, it is known as ‘fish soup’. In Jamaica, it is ‘fish tea’ and Belizeans call it ‘Bundiga’. But in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Antigua, the most popular seafood dish is ‘fish broth’. Because the road linking the fishing grounds of the Gulf of Paria to other villages in Central Trinidad, and passed through our little community, fish was relatively cheap and very plentiful. My mother and our neighbours all made fish broth at least once a week. This is why I always claimed to have a lot of ‘broth-upsy’, which has very little to do with fish soup and more with manners.

If I were a churchman, my favourite hymn would be Oh Broth-er Man and song would be He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Broth-er. One of my friends lacked my good habits and asked me, “What’s the difference between fish broth and pea soup?’ When I told him I didn’t know, he said, “Tony. Anybody can make a fish broth but …” I tried making a fish broth myself and, in pushing the ladle around in the deep pot we used, I created quite a stir.

‘SHORT WEIGHT’ CUSTOMERS

Every day after the ‘fishermen’ landed their catches at the Orange Valley bay, the vendors put whatever they had bought to sell along the route in the tray of their bicycles and, using horns or just their voices, came along the road announcing what they had to offer and the prices. They tended to cheat or ‘short weight’ their customers. I used to think that it would be easy to weigh a fish because it had its own scales. So they would never allow themselves to be robbed like the poor housewives who bought from the vendors. Fish are also smart because they live in schools.

I believe the reason the vendors try ‘short weighting’ and other scams is that their occupation makes them all sell-fish. The cheapest fish were the little sardines called ‘fry-me-dry’ which my mother marinated in lime, seasoned with onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and after dabbing them in flour, fried to a crisp. We also occasionally had the more expensive members of the mackerel or tuna family like ‘King-Fish’ or Crevalle Jack (or Cavalli). My mother curried or fried them and we ate them straight from the frying pan and wood-fire.

For a long time, we had no fridge and so we cooked and ate whatever we bought the same day. Only the fried fish were kept overnight in a wooden storage ‘safe’, lined with netting, to be warmed and eaten with bread or freshly cooked ‘roti’ for breakfast. I could swear that, when we bought them, especially the ones that were still alive, I could hear them arguing with each other like the comedy team Laurel and Hardy and complaining, “Another fine mesh you’ve got us into.” Almost like the two fish who swam into a concrete wall. One turned to the other one and said, “Dam!”

I am not sure whether it was from living in a community where fish was available every day or seeing my uncle and father trying to fish in the rice field, or watching the ‘fishermen’ coming towards the shore that made me almost fanatic about fishing. I was hooked from early. I never questioned my decision to fish or take any time to mullet over it. While Hamlet was into “To be or not to be, that is the question”, my version is “To fish or not to fish”.

That is not a question. Even though it is well known that a boat is a hole in the sea that you throw money into, or that the best days of your life as a boat owner is the day you buy the boat and the day you sell it, I’ve seen boat owners cry but not fish, although I have seen a whale blubber. I now leave the fishy business to the fish, since they start on a small scale. If I ever wanted to get back into that fishing trap, I know what to do. Learn from those fishes who, when they want to borrow money, go to the prawn broker or sometimes a loan shark. Or, if it is not working out well for them, they pray to Cod Almighty. When I sold my boat, I told my wife, “Darling, I’m off the hook.” These days, I sit in somebody else’s wooden boat or ‘pirogue’, carry my music with me and play something catchy. Fish love music and enjoy playing the bass while in their water beds or the seabed.

FISH AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE

I think about fishing and why I love it I realise that, for someone who loves the English language as much as I do, fish and fishing are more than a mere drop in the ocean of literature. Consider being “like a fish out of water” or comments like, “There is plenty of fish in the sea”, “I’ve got bigger fish to fry”, and, what I’m doing right now, “fishing for compliments”.

A few times out in stormy weather and lightning, I found myself between the devil and the deep blue sea, but at other times, when my friends went spear-fishing, everything went swimmingly. I’ve seen too many con-men up to ‘fishy business’ and that is a mere drop in the ocean of Caribbean politics. Many of us have met the lady who broke our heart and left us feeling gutted. Ladies are warned, don’t take the bait and date a man who is literally a bottom feeder. In other words, it is not always good things that come to those who bait. However, fishing is still the only sport where a limp rod continues to come in handy.

Except perhaps for the disciples of Christ to whom he promised that, if they followed him, he would make them “fishers of men”. It was not surprising that it was Matthew (4:19) who wrote, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Of course, some comedians fishing for laughs have changed it a bit. George Carlin turned it into, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.” I learnt the hard way that, if you teach a man to fish and it casts an unchecked spell on him. The version that I learnt from my wise wife, who allows me to go fishing whenever I want, is that, when a man is taught to fish, you can get rid of him for the entire weekend. In fact, teaching a man how to fish is not enough. You have to teach him how to cook. Tell him that it’s easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Tony Deyal was last seen asking, “How do you communicate with a fish? Drop it a line.” Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com