Sorry I haven’t written sooner but Friday I was up to mid-thigh in water, this time by choice, trying to become the Great Southwestern France Fisherman in 24 hours. Caught the fish, couldn’t figure out how to cook it.
On Thursday morning, the farmer, a.k.a. M. Marty and his friend almost literally speared two Barbu (kind of looks like a catfish, but isn’t) in the new pond left by the Great Flood of 2008, on Mr. Marty’s side of the path that leads from my house down to the river, right near the terrace. Speared because Mr. Marty used his pitchfork to hall them in. That night, with the assistance of Bernard (the mason-neighbor who’s done most of the work on this house, in which he used to play 40-plus years ago, when horses still lived in it), I propped up the bright red aluminum fishing pole I’d bought at the vide grenier on a branch planted in the soil after casting the line into the middle of the new pond. That netted nothing. Friday morning, Mr. Marty was out there again, or rather on the road looking over the pond; he’d seen at least two more fish. I saw them soon too, jumping out of the water. They might even be brochet, a fish which, as it happens, I’d seen the night before on “Louis the Brocante,” which stars Victor Lanoux as a brocanteur (kind of like an antique salesman, but better) working around Lyon who solves crimes and/or family dramas, usually associated with artifacts that also come into the purview of his work (old paintings, a guignol puppet, etc.). The fish was there because after turning up her nose at the idea of actually eating it with Louis, his ex-wife had seen a stuffed version at a taxidermist she’d gone to after Louis suggested that stuffed beasts might be just the thing to please the English lady who’d commissioned her to decorate her new chateau. There, the ex had seen a stuffed fish. She rushed back to Louis, evil taxidermist at her side (evil because later she tried to steal a pre-historic crocodile discovery from a kid), for the brochet, only to find Louis savoring his lips above its skeleton. “You ate the whole thing?” “Well, no, of course I used some for mousse and some for quenelles!”
I’ve recounted this episode at length because perhaps it was the prospect of a similar culinary/Frenchy experience that prompted me to repeatedly insist to the farmer that I’d be happy to jump into the water to help catch the theoretical brochet. He finally consented, with this scheme: He’d put a length of fencing across the mouth of the gulch at the far end of the new pond which had no doubt conducted the ‘brochet’ to the pond, and I’d jump in at the other end, then stomp through the water like a sea monster scaring the fish towards the barrage. Jump in I did, ‘protected’ by nothing but my blunstone shoes and yellow rain pants. Result: The fish immediately hid, then were obscured by the mud I stirred up, and my shoes and slacks under the rain pants got very wet.
Finally, late that afternoon, a friend of the farmer’s came by with full pro fishing gear, including water-proof over-alls, a whale net and a hand-held net. Anxious to defend my eating rights, I insisted on helping out as spotter and soon spotted one mother of a two-feet long theoretically brochet hanging low in the reeds at the side of the net, so still I thought he might be dead. The pro fisherman told me not to budge as he crept towards the fish, but when he swept his net down the brochet suddenly came to life and darted away. A few minutes later we saw another, with the same results, and finally one of the two again, who this time jumped out of the fisherman’s net. I decided to take a break to dry off and switch to my fifth pair of pants for the day. About 20 minutes later the fisherman finally landed a beaut, two-feet long and more than six inches across. We put him in a mucky barrel outside the farmer’s. Later, Bernard and Stephan came by (I’d spread the word earlier; when Bernard said I probably shouldn’t go around telling everyone in the neighborhood about our new pond full of fish, I assured him, “The only person I’ve told so far was the postman.” Er….) Stephan got in with his water-proof thigh-length boots and infra-red sunglasses, I waded in to aid him, and after a lot of reconnoitering and stirring up of muddy waters, I finally spotted three ‘barbu’ practically tail to tail. Stephan bagged the first immediately and, so as to make room for the second, handed the creature to me charging me to take it to land; I instantly realized the only way I’d be able to do this was to follow Stephan’s instructions to hook it by the throat with my thumb, whereupon the fish immediately produced a choking sound.
I threw this one into the barrel with the carp — the big ‘un we’d caught earlier. The farmer said I could retrieve it in the morning, but my appetite for fish had suddenly diminished, or at least for this particular fish that I’d practically choked to death with, as the US corporate media might say, ‘harsh fish retaining methods,’ and that was now brewing about it in muddy water. I was in luck, because by the time I opened my storm-windows the next morning, the pro-fisher guy was back in the water and had already netted four barbu. “Do you want to eat barbu today?” he asked, handing me the fifth. I handed it off to the farmer while I found a deep blue pot to hold it in while I hurried to town to buy the white wine vinegar everyone told me I’d need to marinate the barbu in to separate it from its bones. This I did, but unfortunately did not think to rinse the vinegar before I cooked it the next day, even adding to the citron content by squeezing a lemon over it in the frying pain, producing a dish that tasted more than lemon than fish, except for the blue-green things which Stephan later explained to me by pointing to his wrist.