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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 4604

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

... It is no use for me to attempt anything like a detailed description of the fish Cyrillia brings me day after day from the Place du Fort: the variety seems to be infinite. I have learned, however, one curious fact which is worth noting: that, as a general rule, the more beautifully colored fish are the least palatable, and are sought after only by the poor. The perroquet, black, with bright bands of red and yellow; the cirurgien, blue and black; the patate, yellow and black; the moringue, which looks like polished granite; the souri, pink and yellow; the vermilion Gou?s-zie; the rosy sade; the red Bon-Dié-manié-moin ("the-Good-God-handled-me")-it has two queer marks as of great fingers; and the various kinds of all-blue fish, balaou, conliou, etc. varying from steel-color to violet,-these are seldom seen at the tables of the rich. There are exceptions, of course, to this and all general rules: notably the couronné, pink spotted beautifully with black,-a sort of Redfish, which never sells less than fourteen cents a pound; and the zorphie, which has exquisite changing lights of nacreous green and purple. It is said, however, that the zorphi is sometimes poisonous, like the bécunne; and there are many fish which, although not venomous by nature, have always been considered dangerous. In the time of Père Dutertre it was believed these fish ate the apples of the manchineel-tree, washed into the sea by rains;-to-day it is popularly supposed that they are rendered occasionally poisonous by eating the barnacles attached to copper-plating of ships. The tazard, the lune, the capitaine, the dorade, the perroquet, the couliou, the congre, various crabs, and even the tonne,-all are dangerous unless perfectly fresh: the least decomposition seems to develop a mysterious poison. A singular phenomenon regarding the poisoning occasionally produced by the bécunne and dorade is that the skin peels from the hands and feet of those lucky enough to survive the terrible colics, burnings, itchings, and delirium, which are early symptoms, Happily these accidents are very rare, since the markets have been properly inspected: in the time of Dr. Rufz, they would seem to have been very common,-so common that he tells us he would not eat fresh fish without being perfectly certain where it

was caught and how long it had been out of the water.

The poor buy the brightly colored fish only when the finer qualities are not obtainable at low rates; but often and often the catch is so enormous that half of it has to be thrown back into the sea. In the hot moist air, fish decomposes very rapidly; it is impossible to transport it to any distance into the interior; and only the inhabitants of the coast can indulge in fresh fish,-at least sea-fish.

Naturally, among the laboring class the question of quality is less important than that of quantity and substance, unless the fish-market be extraordinarily well stocked. Of all fresh fish, the most popular is the tonne, a great blue-gray creature whose flesh is solid as beef; next come in order of preferment the flying-fish (volants), which often sell as low as four for a cent;-then the lambi, or sea-snail, which has a very dense and nutritious flesh;-then the small whitish fish classed as sàdines;-then the blue-colored fishes according to price, couliou, balaou, etc.;-lastly, the shark, which sells commonly at two cents a pound. Large sharks are not edible; the flesh is too hard; but a young shark is very good eating indeed. Cyrillia cooked me a slice one morning: it was quite delicate, tasted almost like veal.

The quantity of very small fish sold is surprising. With ten sous the family of a laborer can have a good fish-dinner: a pound of sàdines is never dearer than two sous;-a pint of manioc flour can be had for the same price; and a big avocado sells for a sou. This is more than enough food for any one person; and by doubling the expense one obtains a proportionately greater quantity-enough for four or five individuals. The sàdines are roasted over a charcoal fire, and flavored with a sauce of lemon, pimento, and garlic. When there are no sàdines, there are sure to be coulious in plenty,-small coulious about as long as your little finger: these are more delicate, and fetch double the price. With four sous' worth of coulious a family can have a superb blaffe. To make a blaffe the fish are cooked in water, and served with pimento, lemon, spices, onions, and garlic; but without oil or butter. Experience has demonstrated that coulious make the best blaffe; and a blaffe is seldom prepared with other fish.

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