Monday, 12 September 2005

Here come the fishermen


Finally the big mass of tourists has gone. The island is recovering in the still warm weather, but at sea it gets busy. Medium sized fishing boats go back and forth and you ask yourself if there is anything left to fish because there are so many boats. Lesvos itself does not have a very large fishing-fleet. It is again the people from the cities that bring the turmoil: fishermen from Athens and Thessaloniki come here to fill their boats with palamidas which come in big shoals to the waters of Lesvos in this season.

In whichever restaurant you go to near the big fishing harbours like Plomari, Mytilini, Molyvos or Petra, you will find palamidas. In the months of July and August you can be sure to get sardines, of which the most famous are fished out of the Gulf of Kaloni. September seems to become the Month of the Palamida, although you still find some lost sardines, like my favourite dish sardelles past├Ęs (salted sardines which taste a little like the famous Dutch Herring) which is a perfect side dish to eat with a palamida.

In Molyvos and Petra it is difficult to buy fish because there is no fish shop. You need to keep your ears open to hear where the mobile fish shop is and then you have to take a run to it because you never know if he will continue to drive because there are not enough customers. Or you have to keep your eyes open in order to see the fishing boats coming back into the harbours.

In Petra the fishermen stop at the little jetty in the centre where you can buy whatever they've caught. Then for sure there will be a disturbance with wild gesticulating Greeks and pushing women who all shout for the best fish. In Molyvos harbour you will find the same scene, but in the winter there also come big fishing boats at night which bring part of their catch to the very small fish auction where you can shop in a more relaxed way. The other part of their catch is driven to Mytilini at crazy speed to fill up the shops.

It is not easy to know all the names of the fish here. When you want to eat fish and the owner of the restaurant pulls you into his business in order to show you what he's got for that day, the fish will stare at you and seem to say: I've been already so stupid being caught, so it does not matter if you choose me. Most of the times I have no idea what fish they are. The man of the restaurant will help you by saying their names, but that is in Greek so you still do not have a clue.

The sardines (sardelles) do not need any explanation of how they look. The smaller fish are marides, small anchovies which get fried and are eaten with the head and tail. Gavros are other anchovies, but bigger than the sardines. They get a little red when fried. There are some kinds of bream which are silver, flat and of average size, but do not ask me their name, they have several. A popular fish is the barbouni what is a red mullet and that one is easy to recognize because of its red color. Mackerel (skumpri) are regularly found and sometimes you will even find swordfish (xiphios). And then there are palamidas.

It took some time to find out what palamidas are. But I found it: they are bonitos, which are part of the tuna family. They look a little bit like a mackerel, the same size, but they have juicy white flesh and they are a pure sensation, especially after two months of eating sardines.

The research however resulted in another interesting find. Palamides (one letter different from the fish) was a hero from the Trojan War. He was buried on the (nowadays) highest mountain in Lesvos, Lepetimnos. Troy is opposite the north of Lesvos, just around the corner in Turkey and according to the writing of Homer it was Achileas and Aeas who buried this Greek hero. When the beautiful Helena of Sparta, wife of Menaleus, got abducted by Paris of Troy he took her to his hometown and married her. All previous lovers of Helena were summoned to fight against Troy. Amidst them was Palamides, a son of Poseidon. He found out that Odysseus was pretending to be ill because he did not want to go to the war and that is about all the feat of arms I could discover about this Palamides. Except, according to some writings on the internet, that he might be the inventor of letters and numbers.

In the Iliad of Homer there is the extensive story of the Trojan War with all the Greek Gods and big heroes. A lot of people think that this Trojan war is one of the many mythical tales from Greek Antiquity. But recent archeological finds in nowadays Troy prove that in the times of Homer's Iliad there was an extended war going on and that around 1200 BC Troy was that big that it was worth a big war. So scientists now speculate that the Iliad of Homer is not just a fantasy tale but based on historical memory.

While eating a palamida, I can look over the sea and the Turkish coast where once Homers heroes went by. I look at a mountain where once there was a temple dedicated to Apollo, where the observatory of the astrologer Matriketas was and where a real hero got his grave. All ingredients for an even more divine taste to that fish...

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

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