….yeah, okay. I’m a big liar and I didn’t finish everything I hoped to by now, though I did finish the hat, but I didn’t photograph anything , and I didn’t blog at all about it either, but in my defense, even though it has nothing to with this…
Yesterday, there was a carp in my bathtub.
Yes, I will explain.
The Christmas tradition of this area, and other neighbouring regions is to kill and eat a carp on Christmas Day.
What’s that, you say?
“But it isn’t Christmas yet, crazypants. And you don’t eat fish.”
I’m still explaining.
It is also a tradition among my local friends and my American colleagues to have a carp party once a year, commemorating this big tradition, and this year, my flat was the host. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but there you go. They got the fish from the market, it stayed in the tub for a few hours, then the assistant pastor stopped by, said a prayer for it, and…I didn’t watch. I was glad I hadn’t petted it or tried to make friends, though.
Now, to explain this whole thing. Around this time of year, outdoor markets, Christmas markets, and even grocery stores have bathing pools of Christmas carp for people to come buy; many buy them live, as my friends did, and take them home to camp in a tub, for anywhere from a few hours to a few days, until they cook it for the feast- traditionally on 24 December, though there are dinners like ours all throughout the month. As you know, I am indeed a vegetarian, and unlike one of my flatmates, not even a pescatarian. As a result, I am at the same time both horrified and impressed with this cultural ritual.
On the one hand, it’s not that humane. The pools they winter in are not very big, and they don’t get much food or space once they’re there; then they spend time in a tub like ours, possibly the best time of their lives, only to get killed. One of my fellow Americans, under the instruction of a local, killed it with two swift blows from a small hammer. Another traditional way of killing it is to bang the fish bodily against a counter-top; gross, but at least quick…however, it is still the killing of an animal for food, and unlike some people, I don’t care that it was raised for food. In my opinion, raising an animal strictly to eat it is a horrible and cruel thing to do, and no, I don’t care that without it we might have way fewer pigs and cows and chickens. I also feel the same way about the hungry and poor in many countries; their quality of life is so low, I question if it’s better than not living at all, though obviously it’s not a…perfect metaphor. Okay, preach of the day about the evils of meat production over.
At the same time, I find this whole thing really admirable and kind of fascinating. This one time every year, thousands of people here go out, get something live, kill it, and eat it. They go through every step of the process, cleaning and gutting, marinating and frying, taking the extra pieces and reusing what can be reused in soups and sauces. There is even a tradition of cleaning some of the scales and keeping them in your wallet; I did put one in mine. It’s a token that is supposed to bring you riches, which I will take from any avenue.
Anyway, as a result of this, many of the people I know who come from here have an intimate knowledge of how best to treat the fish before you kill it (if you’re keeping it multiple days, you have to be nice to it), how to do the killing, and how to use every part.
In perspective? This is like if about 25% of American families went to the grocery store on the 4th Wednesday of November, got a live turkey, and chopped its head off into the kitchen sink…then spent Black Friday making stew of the remains and decorating the house with its feathers.
One of my fellow teachers gave his students the assignment, after reading Romantic poets, to kill something and eat it over break, pointing out how rarely we ever do any such thing; admittedly, I don’t even remember the last time I killed one of my own vegetables (ha). So while it’s gruesome to me, I think it’s important that even once a year people are made aware of what they’re eating and how it got there. Whatever you eat on Christmas, it used to have some sort of existence somewhere else before it got to your plate- whether it’s a hunk of ham, a turkey, a fish, the mashed potatoes or the cranberries in your sauce.
So anyway, they killed a fish, they fried it, they ate it… and we had cookies and potato salad and cheese as well. It was pretty great, and the comments on my not partaking in either the fried carp or the spiced wine even stopped after awhile; eventually, people get used to your weirdness and it stops being weird, which is a good thing to know.