A Memorable Place

The two fishermen and the chef


By Scott Nixon Shindell



Would there be anything for dinner? I was beginning to wonder.

I'd come to Venice to stay at Locanda Montin and eat at its restaurant, and I'd reserved a table in the garden for that night. But down below me, on the sliver of sidewalk between the hotel and the canal, the head chef was -- for lack of a better word -- hammering on the two fishermen who were hoping to sell their morning's catch.

From my window I'd seen the little wooden workboat approach. One man stood in the stern, his hand on the throttle, confident and relaxed. Another man sat on a large plastic ice chest toward the bow. They pulled up in front of the hotel and double-parked.

A man in white soon appeared, the chef. He was imperious and impatient. The fishermen did nothing to improve his mood. I did not yet understand Italian, but their actions and voices spoke volumes.

The man at the bow opened the ice chest and pulled out a tray of crabs -- mottled and glistening, claws probing and snapping.

The chef delivered an instant verdict: No good, too small, get them out of my sight.

The man put the tray aside and pulled out a second, this one heaped with blue-black mussels.

The chef barely looked at them, said nothing, flicked them away with a wave of his hand, and asked -- with little hope in his voice -- to see something else.


Little pink fish appeared, palm-sized and arrayed in layered rows. Tails flipped, gills pumped, but they, too, were dispatched to seafood purgatory.

A white bucket of shrimp was then offered. The man plunged his hands into the ice and pulled out 4-inch shrimp, heads on, tawny and dripping. He spread them across an empty tray, lifted one and gave it a twist to show its freshness.

The chef was impressed, reluctantly but finally. But the shrimp seemed to be too little, too late, for they too ended up with the other rejects. The man in the bow sat down and began to scoop shrimp back into the bucket. The transaction seemed to have reached an impasse.

Then suddenly the chef turned and walked back into the restaurant. But instead of packing up and pulling away, the fishermen grabbed the stack of trays and the bucket of shrimp, and followed him inside.

I thought that nothing had been bought, but somehow a deal had been struck, even though no one was happy. The chef was buying "garbage" and the fisherman were being "robbed," but now I knew that this was just a dance, the Italian system of checks and balances, and I was glad for it. Tonight's specials were going to be good.

About 10 minutes later, the two fishermen re-emerged, glum and unsmiling but with empty trays. I picked up my phrase book, looking for the best way to say "little pink fish."


Scott Nixon Shindell lives in Pikesville.

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