Burmese Mermaid

Burmese Mermaid

Thursday, September 29, 2011

La Casa di Gigi

Tonight, my Italian mermaid friend Michelina listened as I recited this poem as we swam towards the Tuscan shore, near Aquila and it's little town Acqua Pendente. It is a poem that came to me in a dream of being on land. I will do my best to translate it for you:


















Vado in Campagna /I'm going to the countryside
Alla casa del mio amico Gigi / To my friend Gigi's house
Per trovare la tranquillita. / In search of tranquillity.

La casa di Gigi / Gigi's house
Sta in fondo nella campagna / is deep in the countryside
Fuori il piccolo centro di / outside the town center of
Acqua Pendente. / Acqua Pendente (Water Fall).

Arrivo da Roma nel paesino, / I arrive from Rome in the little town,
Una straniera. / A foreigner,
Mi sento un oggetto urbano / an urban artifact,
Meno umana della gente di / less human than the people of
Acqua Pendente. / Acqua Pendente.

I rumori qui sono come / The sounds here are like
Una musica strana, / a strange music,
Ma gentile, mi accarrezzano / but gentle, that envelop me
Con una pace totale. / in total peace.

Camminando per la stradina / Walking along the lanes
Il profumo squisito di pane / the exquisite aroma of bread
Mi prende per sorpresa! / takes me by surprise!
Lo compro per portarlo / I buy it to take
Alla casa di Gigi. / to Gigi's house.

Sommersa nel verde splendente / Enveloped in the lush green
Fuori Acqua Pendente / outside Acqua Pendente
Scendo dalla macchina / I get out of my car
In mezzo delle vigne / in the middle of a vineyard
Che sembrano tanto larghe, / seemingly infinite
Da chilometri. / by kilometers.

Chiamo, Gigi, Giigiii! / I yell, "Gigi, Giigiii!"
Perche mi sono persa. / because I am lost.
Persa tra le vigne, / Lost amongst the low vines,
Migliaia di vigne storte, / Millions of twisted vines,
Vigne che crescono di natura libera. / Vines that by nature grow free.

Fa niente che per addesso mi trovo persa. / It means nothing that I am lost for now.
So che Gigi mi rispondera, / I know that Gigi will respond,
Eventualmente. / Eventually.

Piano piano come scende la luna / Slowly, slowly just as the moon descends
In campagna, / in the countryside,
Nella campagna di Acqua Pendente, / in the countryside of Acqua Pendente,
Alla casa di Gigi, / at Gigi's house,
Trovero la strada giusta / I will find the right road
Per arrivare alla contentezza. / to contentedness.

Sotto il sole in campagna, / Under the sun of the countryside,
Nella campagna di Acqua Pendente, / in the countryside of Acqua Pendente,
Alla casa gloriosa di Gigi, / at Gigi's glorious house,
Mangiamo insieme / We eat together,
Pane fresco. / fresh bread.

Nella ciottola di legno, / In the wooden bowl,
I pomodori con basilico. / fresh tomatoes with basil.
I dolci migliori del mondo: / And the best sweets in the world:
Le pere colte daglie alberi. / Pears picked directly from the trees.

Le mangiamo ancora calde, / We eat them still warm,
Profumate. / Aromatic.
Sono arrivata alla casa di Gigi / I've arrived at Gigi's house
E qui mi sento davvero umana. / and here I feel truly human.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Delmonico 4


What do you think of when you hear the word Delmonico? A fancy steak perhaps? Or the chic restaurant?

Delmonico 4 is a place, not a steak ala Delmonico, or the 4th item on the menu at the restaurant Delmonico's. It is a place on the 4th floor of a rambling, turn of the 19th century, brick and ivy covered building on immaculate grounds covered with old deciduous trees, protective and dark.

Delmonico 4 is ethereal. That is, it doesn't seem to quite exist. Sometimes, a person in a nightmare finds themselves in Delmonico 4. They wander through endless corridors painted a putrid yellow. The air within is filled with the co-mingled scents of rubbing alcohol, cafeteria food, mildew and secret substances that are ruthlessly injected into the brains of all those who must enter.



Delmonico 4 is staffed by compassionate people from the outside to oversee suffering souls sitting blank eyed in front of screaming televisions splashed with images of death and violence. These souls are probed by cynics disguised as doctors with too much knowledge of the wrong kind. They decide that suffering souls are dangerous, to themselves and to society. They have a plan.

Delmonico 4 is permeated with constant electronic chatter. The Televisions. It is essential that the Televisions are heard and seen everywhere, at all times. The captured souls steep in the omniscient voice of the Televisions, which renders them defenselessly mute, as part of the plan to pacify, stabilize, and medicate but never to cure.

I wandered the halls of Delmonico 4, lost and fragile, but I was lucky to be able to leave through the front door, unrestrained. From the green lawn, looking back, I could see reflected in the empty windows the faces of those who had been captured there, long ago. They looked out at me, pleading for release.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cuttlefish Stew



I'm just getting to know the amazing qualities of cuttlefish. Did you know they are one of the most intelligent animals on land or sea?

Asians and Italians are the world's most enthusiastic consumers of cuttlefish (in Italy, cuttlefish are called totani; squid are called calamari). Asians most often preserve cuttlefish by drying them. Most Italians obtain frozen totani originating in Asian waters.

We Burmese eschew cuttlefish, along with most other ocean cephalopods and salt water fish, for some unknown reason. Instead, river prawns and fresh water fish are our protein mainstays.

Once, about 80 years ago (mermaids live a long time; I myself am 567 years old; and contrary to myth we are not immortal), off the coast of southern Italy, I was served a dish of cuttlefish stew by a fisherman. We mermaids would never kill to eat one of our co-inhabitants of the ocean...
but I watched as he made the stew and...relished the finished dish.

Cuttlefish Stew ~ Totani in Umido
A pound of totani will serve about 4 people.

First, clean the totani by removing the inner sac of the body. Remove also the flexible, bony cartilage. It should slip out easily. In the middle of the tentacles, you will find the eyes. With a bit of pressure, they should pop out easily.

Next, using a pair of kitchen scissors, separate the tentacles from the body. Cut the body into bite sized pieces, about the size and shape of a small pinky finger. If the tentacles are large, cut them also into bite sized pieces. For easy, tender totani, use a pressure cooker and cook for about 10 minutes in a bit of water or wine. Drain.

Make the sauce: saute garlic, thinly sliced onion and hot red pepper in olive oil. Add the totani along with a splash of white wine. Let it cook over a vivacious heat for a minute or two. Then add about a cup of crushed tomatoes, fresh or canned, without the liquid, and toss in a sprig of fresh basil. Simmer, covered, for about 20 or 30 minutes. Remove cover in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Good hot or at room temperature. Serve with good, crusty bread.

I happened to be very hungry that evening after playing non-stop with dolphins all day. And while I was most appreciative of this dish, which deeply satisfied my body, my heart ached for my cuttlefish brethren who end up on a plate.





Monday, September 5, 2011

My Friend Irene, the Hurricane



Hurricane Irene made her sweeping entrance along the East Coast of the U.S., just as I was visiting my mermaid friends in New England. At the height of the storm on Sunday, August 28th, I swam close to shore, in a place called Pawtuxet Cove, seeking refuge from Irene's tantrum in the wake of her fury (read: reduced to Tropical Storm from Category 3).

There was hardly any rain throughout the day, only a salty spray falling through the air and carried by immense swirls of 60 mile per hour winds. I tasted the salty rain. The air was humid and heavy with the scent of flowers, grass and ocean carried along by the wind. I sought shelter below an old bridge, where the river empties into the cove, and where the ocean swells petered to rough, shallow water that I knew could not harm me.

But it was the wind all day long that I feared. It came in rhythmic gusts, reaching spasmodic crescendos that felt to me like the waves of a woman's birthing labors. I held these rhythms to my heart and my belly, feeling the surge and ebb of Irene, until she was done with her work late that evening, moving north, pruning the landscape as she went.