|In spite of all kinds of color and pageantry and diversions nearby, these boys had eyes only for i granchietti|
Granchietti, and fishing for them, were also the last things he talked about falling asleep that night, and the first things he talked about when he awoke the next morning.
On Sunday we brought along a similarly short length of hemp twine for C to use when we met him at the Arsenale, where the boat ramp--its long incline gunky and green, rocky and rubbishy, and not exactly fresh-smelling--was the boys' first destination, well away from the open house's main attractions.
Now, the fact that the crabs in question were quite small--the vast majority of them wouldn't have extended beyond the dimensions of Sandro's open 6-year-old's palm--didn't diminish any of the excitement (or fear). Nor did the fact that they were caught simply to be immediately returned to the water rather than eaten. The thrill of the hunt was everything.
The boys would drop their baited lines into the water and particles of grease from the fried bits of sardines, calamari or baby squid would silently burst into oily iridescent blooms on the water's dark surface, one after another, like an extravagant firework display in miniature upon the murky mucky shallows. But I was the only one who cared about such surface pyrotechnics; the boys peered right through them to the bottom, intent on crabs lurking among the detritus.
An entire ring of fried calamari tied to the end of one line brought up a dense seething cluster of little crabs, bigger than an apple, more than a half dozen at once--inspiring an appropriately agitated piece of choreography by C.
There were brief periods of time during the long afternoon of crabbing that other kids joined in, after having happened past the boat ramp with their parents on their way to look at the old submarine mounted on a sloped stone pedestal nearby. At such times there were as many as 10 or 12 kids huddled around Sandro's and C's two lines, or arrayed along the Istrian stone edge of the boat ramp with bare unbaited sticks they hoped the young crabs would clamp onto out of sheer curiosity or a callow lust for adventure. "Enorme!" the kids would cry as a crab was pulled from the water, and "Gigantesche!," with such relish at some supposedly monster crustacean hauled from the brine that I was almost willing to believe them--though all I actually saw were granchietti hardly more substantial than matchboxes.
Even the beast Sandro proclaimed "il Re dei granchi" (the King of the Crabs) as he landed it to a loud chorus of awe and wonder wasn't quite large enough to earn a spot on the humblest dinner plate in Venice.
But the kids grasped what I didn't: that the size of the crabs was, after all, relative. To an American raised with his native land's fond addiction to stark polarities of good and bad, Italy can seem both refreshingly and frustratingly devoid of ethical absolutes. I get no sense that Americans actually adhere to the ethical absolutes they love to preach about to others any more than Italians do to those they generally leave it to the Church to preach, but the habit of absolutes is a hard one to break, even in those many matters (like scale) in which relativity obviously rules. Italians, too, are ruled by absolutes, but in different realms of experience. That is, it may not be hard even now to find some Italians who will respond with a shrug to Berlusconi's crimes and shenanigans, but not a single of them will let you get away with putting cheese on a fish dish.
"Un granchiettone," is what Sandro called one of his last crabs of the day--"a big little crab": capturing and containing in a single Italian word, in a perfectly balanced and inseparable and vigorous ambivalence, what his American-raised English-speaking father would have needed at least three to express, and still not caught just right.