Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fishermen and gatherers under the palm trees

A coconut straight from the tree
Gathering coconuts
Coconut palm trees grow everywhere in Martinique, and Mihai and the children enjoy gathering coconuts. It is important to note that a freshly fallen coconut is more complicated to open than one from the store. Coconuts have a big shell of fibrous material through which the little coconut bud grows its roots before reaching the ground. The bud and the shell are removed by the time the coconut is sold.

Eating and Thinking
Mihai the coconut breaker
Mihai's way of breaking the big coconut involves letting it float on the waves and then hitting it with rocks. Nobody has been hurt yet by this procedure, and it proved to be eventually functional. Once the big coconut is taken apart,  the little coconut is hit with a machete until it reaches the right frequency, resonates, and breaks. The machete seems to be the typical device for breaking coconuts, which we borrowed from people who live here. Unfortunately, we have to return it when we leave. I suppose carrying it on the plane with us would have been a problem anyhow.

The big coconut and the little coconut.
Finding and breaking coconuts is fun for vacation. The younger and older children in the house enjoy it. However, if we were to go back in time many thousand of years and be lucky enough to live on a tropical island, we would most likely make pretty lousy gatherers. I think we would not starve, though, which would be a major achievement. We would also not only be eating coconuts! There are a number of other amazing weird fruits that grow here in addition to the ones I expected like bananas, pineapples, and mangoes. I was most impressed by the bread fruit. A whole family can eat from one, and it's more filling than rice or pasta.
The fish here are very beautiful

Furthermore, a huge number of fish and other creatures live here, too. I am not a big fan of killing & eating things, but we did eat two eels, and some fish. I believe it's important for the children to understand where the food comes from - all the food, but especially the meat.

Mihai caught the fishing bug from my father, who gives us valuable advice via skype every evening. We cheated only once by showing him the fish that we bought instead of the ones Mihai caught with the excuse that it made him happy. Growing up I remember my father fishing, and my mother
Mihai the fisherman
Assisting with fish cleaning
remembers him catching lots of fish in the Danube Delta. I only remember him fishing, and seldomly catching a few really small fish. When Mihai and I released the last two fish he caught in Romania, I was not yet in high school.

My father continued fishing occasionally without success. He went fishing every day  when he visited me in the US. By that time I was a postdoctoral scholar in Pennsylvania and I owned a house by a small river.  Despite his persistence, he never caught a fish in PA.  He then explained that his fishing was not the problem as there were no fish in that part of the river. This he said was because the fish could not climb a small waterfall, which had 3 steps, and would have apparently been difficult for any fish to climb. No being a fish, I did not venture to question his explication. However, David, who was 3 at the time, proved him wrong by catching a really big fish by hand (with my mother) in that same area after the 3-step waterfall. Its eye had be eaten by an animal. However,  even though my father did not catch many fish in the last 30some years, he still loves fishing...and going outside for an hour or so is always good for him.

Two eels
 Here in Martinique, the owner of the house we rented provided a fishing rod, and Mihai has been fishing for short periods of time every two days or so. The children watch him enthusiastically. They have seen that fish have scales, intestines, and lots of little bones that need to be spit out when they are cooked. So far we caught 9 fish out which we released 5 and still have some more to eat, and bought a few more. The big fish we bought sometimes had little eggs inside them, which I find sad because the eggs will never turn into little fish once the parent is caught. Since most little fish do not have eggs and even if they did, they would be fewer, fishermen should be releasing the big fish and eating the little ones. Also, if they plan to release a fish they should do so immediately, and not wait for it to be either dead or half-dead.

Over the holidays (Xmas & New Year) more people with scooters & motor boats showed up, and the fish avoided the shores. A lady who was on vacation and had been fishing every day blamed the phases of the Moon.

I fail to understand the fascination that some people have for speed in the water or on land. In places where there is so much fauna and especially at times when turtles are approaching the shores to lay eggs, motors should be used sparingly or not at all. It would nice if there was an effort made to use small boats with oars and pedals and motor scooters should be prohibited all together. Oars provide healthy exercise for many under-exercised and often slightly overweight tourists.

On "my" lake in Fallanden, Switzerland they prohibit motors. Only the life-guard and the ferry boat can have one. There are still plenty of boats on the lake. One might think that Switzerland is richer and they can well afford to make rules for its tourists, but I do not think that such rules will turn a significant number of tourists away especially if people are educated about the problems that motor boats cause.

Edward and the Sea
Under the trees
I wonder if David and Edward will like fishing when they grow up. Perhaps we'll only be catching virtual fish by then, and all the meat will be grown in the lab without a brain or soul. By then I would be conversing with my computer who will answer back and provide meaningful advice, and my children will be busy with beautiful women and hopefully some children of their own.

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