Game of chess with eel. La Zanzara, the Bison family and Po delta. 2/2

The Queen:
The undisputed queen of this territory is here, Her Majesty the eel that after a very long journey spends placid years in salty water basins, despite not disliking the soft water of rivers and lakes.
It's life starts and ends where "the first Portuguese ships that went exploring hit shores, the pirate vessels of sir Walter Raleigh and of the Earl of Cumberland, the Spanish fleet of don Pedro de Valdez" (Antonio Tabucchi, Donna di Porto Pim - Other fragments). Here in the Sargasso Sea the eggs hatch and millions of leaf-shaped larvae resurface from the depths where they were laid to let the themselves be transported by the ocean's currents for almost three years.
The reproductive cycle of eels if complex and mysterious, still object of studies and speculations: through the Strait of Gibraltar, the eel larvae venture and get lost in the complex water system of the Mediterranean basin. Where the sea waters meet soft water, thanks to the diminished concentration of salt, the larvae move onto an intermediate phase of maturation, acquiring a cylindrical shape and are known as "elvers". They have found their habitat; here they develop, completing their full pigmentation and gradually growing until acquiring the look we all know and living in the Valleys for many years.
Having reached - we don't know how, or when - their sexual maturity, their shape evolves and eels start eating with exaggeration; like wolfs in fairy tales, their mouths become bigger and bigger, at the same rate as their appetite, as their instinct quite rightly suggests that a 6,000 mile journey without any breaks requires a few provisions. Mocking so many famous castaways, the eel returns to the Sargasso Sea and here, exhausted, it reaches the depths to lay millions of eggs: this is the last act of the varied and adventurous life of the Ulysses of the sea.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.
(Kostantinos Kavafis, Ithaca, Seventyfive poems)
The Bishops:
The standard bearers of this land suspended, like everything else around here, between land and water, are the members of the Bison family, each with their own task: Sara in the dining hall, Samuele as the sommelier, Sauro as Chef, Giovanni (Sara's husband) at the grill, Elio naturally the patron and Vittoria holding the reigns of so many gascons.
Welcomed by anchovies and fried fish balls of pink crab, the notes of our hunger were amplified by a first starter, which was a small plate of fried lagoon calamari with a salad of Elio's home-grown vegetables.
If the overture is good, the concert that will follow will not disappoint: refined steamed mantis shrimps - maybe sirens - and pulp of "King crab" and champagne vinegar mayonnaise, with in between a symphony of rice with the traditional valley game-meat. Having been won over and having abandoned ourselves to this ancient home founded on folklore, she arrive, the Divine: eel cooked on the grill, cut into pieces and placed on a slice of white polenta, as required by a diktat of the neighbouring Veneto region, the area where the Bison family originate from.
The final touch is declined by a soft warm chocolate fondant with a gruè praline sauce. Definitely an excellent orchestra of refined and wise instruments, accompanied with subtlety by a basket of Ferrara "coppiette" and "carciofi" of simple bread: you will find nothing better in all the territory of the Basso Ferrarese.

The Horse:

According to Voltaire, nothing gives more meaning than the infinity of human's stupidity and this quote, here in the Valleys, acquires a new meaning. This corner of paradise in under threat. Eels are at risk of becoming extinct and the fishy Adriatic Sea is suffering: excessive fishing with trawling nets leads to  unselected fishing; there is a lack of nursery areas for the re-growth of sea varieties and the eutrophication of coastal waters caused by agricultural fertilizers used extensively in cultivations along the Po River needs to be addressed. The concentration of fertilizers causes the proliferation of sea weed, which then consume all available oxygen, depriving fish.
It's rare that environments as different as land, river and sea meet and marry in such a harmonious way: here it occurs, but few seem to be interested. The park of the Delta of the Po was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999: it's our land, legends, fogs and stories. Ours is the sea, its mysteries and its inhabitants. Equally ours is the crazy use of cement, the casualness, the exploitation without looking ahead. Ours the responsibility that despite being individual, always falls back on us all: so the safety or oblivion of this magic land of salt, sand and water is down to me and not somebody else.
But so – said Alice – if the world doesn’t completely have meaning, who can keep us from inventing one?
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Tags: alberto pocy rinieri / guendalina mantovani / Carroll / Kavafis / Tabucchi / Bellonci / Ulysses / Encyclopaedia / eel / La Zanzara / Comacchio Valleys / Abbey of Pomposa / Po delta / codigoro. /

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