Christmas Eve: Feast of the Seven, Nine or Thirteen Fishes. And Omega3
Edited on Sat Dec-21-13 05:10 AM by No Elephants
My best friend in high school had been born in Naples and lived there until she emigrated to the US when she was 5. Her mother was one of several great home cooks whom I have been blessed to have had in my life growing up.
Her mother had grown up in northern Italy. She could do the standard pasta and tomato sauce beautifully, for sure, but the fare she cooked up daily was Northern Italian.
Which brings me to the feast of the fishes. She would serve it after midnight mass on Christmas Eve and on New Year's Eve. I always wore a relatively small size, but I also always loved to eat. So, my first encounter with being invited to eat after midnight was memorable.
I never counted the different kinds of fish she served. Guess I was too busy digging into the shrimp cocktail? But, as I got older, I heard more and more about the feast of the fishes.
Some say it's seven fishes, for the seven sacraments, or because seven is the number mentioned most in the Bible (or so wiki says). Some say seven, for the seven days of creation--but, there only six days of creation, followed by a day of rest. Some say it's nine fishes, for the nine months that Mary carried Jesus. Some say it's 13 fishes. I have no idea why.
Like a lot of religious traditions, it turns out to be good for you. Well, not necessarily 7 to 13 varieties of fish in one meal, but it turns out that fish is much better for you than meat. (And shellfish, forbidden entirely to Jews, is much less good for you than are other kinds of seafood.)
Did the shrimp that I scarfed down during my first feast of the fishes really religiously even qualify as one of the seven fishes, though, or only as seafood? Is it really a feast of seven fishes, or only a feast of seven varieties of seafood? Would seaweed and other sea plants qualify as varieties for purposes of the feast of 7(or 9 or 13) "fishes?" I have no idea.
What was the deal with Catholics and fish anyway?
An early Pope supposedly said that the Friday fast was in commemoration of Jesus's sacrifice on the cross on Good Friday. But why fish? Why not abstinence or dairy or veggies? I've heard that fishermen appealed to the Pope, who then instituted meatless Fridays and various other meatless days. Or was it because so many of Christ's disciples, including Peter, had been fishers before deciding to follow Jesus during his ministry? No clue.
BTW, the wiki on this ludicrously says that it was fish because meat and butter were forbidden on fast days, so Catholics chose fish, which can be fried in olive oil. Hello? Every Italian I've ever known prefers cooking their own cuisine with olive oil to cooking with butter. So, I'm guess whoever stuck that bit into the wiki is not familiar with Italian home cooking. (I've never heard of butterless Fridays, but I cannot speak to that part for certain.)
Anyway, eating more fish, very preferably wild caught, is good for you, whether on Christmas Eve or not.
BTW, some of the older Italian widows in my neighborhood who were in their 80s and 90s about ten years ago, would tell that me that their husbands fished for a living--out of Boston harbor. Of course, that ended when the water in historic Boston harbor got so polluted that nothing could survive in it.
(Oddly, the Standells were a Los Angeles garage band.)
The son of Italian immigrants, however, was instrumental in the clean up of Boston harbor, Judge A. David Mazzone.
"He will forever be remembered by the people of Massachusetts for his landmark rulings that led to the cleanup of Boston Harbor," United States Senator Edward M. Kennedy said to the Boston Globe shortly after Mazzone's death in October 2004.
such emphasis on fishes, either seven, nine or thirteen. Maybe that was a strictly Italian deal. But the prohibition of meat on Friday was in strict observance when I was growing up. If, by some unusual set of circumstances, one would happen to take a bite of meat on Friday it would have been a challenge to keep it down.
Nice tune too. Interesting discussion, No Elephants. You are on top of the game.
Plus, if you tell people that you live in Boston often enough, sooner or later, someone will sing Love That Dirty Water to you, whether they need to or not.
When I was a very little girl, elderly people who learned my first name would start singing a very old song about my first name, as soon as they heard it. Apparently, the song had been popular well before I was born. (I use the word "sing" loosely.)
Now, they sing me Love That Dirty Water when I say I live in Boston. Sigh. I wonder if people who live in Oklahoma have to hear show tunes whenever Oklahoma comes up in conversation out of state?
Yep. The feast of fishes is not a Catholic tradition, but an Italian Catholic tradition (Catholic because, AFAIK, non-Catholics don't have scheduled feast or fast days.) Then again, if what I heard about Italian fishing interests being the reason for a decree on meatless Fridays, maybe they had their way with the rest of the Catholics in the world, one way or another. Meatless Fridays took such hold, though, that my fundamental Bible camp did not even serve meat on Friday. We even had a song about it. I don't remember what each days meal was, but the song ended with "Fridays, fi-i-shhhh (pause), all you hungry campers, we wish the same to you!"
I met Judge Mazzone. He was very tall and lanky--not a characteristic of most of the older Italian people in my neighborhood, who tend to be petite, sometimes startlingly so. I thought that, when Mazzone was a younger man, he might have resembled John Wayne.
Coincidentally, when I met Mazzone, he said (to other people) something like, "Remember, gentlemen, when you ask a gorilla to dance, you don't sit down until the gorilla gets tired." (Sounds more like Texas than Massachusetts, but that's what he said.)
His wiki says that he personally kept hold of the Boston harbor clean up case from start until the bitter end, instead of assigning it to a special master, as would be customary for a long-term project.
So, I guess someone at the Harbor Polluting Disco had asked Mazzone to dance. Maybe Love That Dirty Water was the tune that was playing at the time? And they didn't get to sit down until Mazzone was tired; and Mazzone didn't get tired until the harbor complied with federal law. (I wonder if it still complies today?)
we even had a small contingent of Italian immigrants here in the wilderness of Ohio. In my area they sort of kept to themselves, possibly in the interest of preserving their little cultural traditions. I found them appealing. Some were very small in stature, as you said. When I was 12 years old I was taller than most of the adult male Italians in my area. They seemed to find this disturbing.
4. In the Northeast initially, Italian immigrants were not treated very well.
Edited on Mon Dec-23-13 11:56 PM by No Elephants
Names like guinea and WOP were used. (I recently learned that "WOP" was an acronym for "without out papers.") So, I imagine that they may have kept to themselves because they were not sure what to expect, especially if they were Sicilian or Southern Italian and therefore "swarthier, than their Northern Italian counterparts, thanks in part to Arab occupations way back in the day).
I think I've mentioned that Paul Revere's father, surnamed at birth something like Rivoire, changed his name after arriving in the US to disguise his French origins. He and his family attended a neighborhood church, that by the time that Rose Kennedy was baptized in it, had become Catholic, and still is. However, it was Puritan then. Paul, however, later went Anglican, Church of England--the very reason that the Puritans had eventually arrived in Massachusetts, instead of remaining in England. Life's funny that way.
Maybe Paul wanted to fit in with the 1% of his day. You know, the one's who told Paul when to leave the two-bedroom home he shared with his wife, mother and 16 kids, to make those nocturnal rides, risking his life to carry news of the British occupation thither and yon, while they sat safely in their homes by the fire, drinking tea that their servants had made and brought to them. After all, Paul, who supported 19 souls (along with whatever his older kids may have made as apprentices), was more expendable than they were.
And then, there is the Catholicism, which England--and therefore the colonies-- shunned for so long that England did not consider adopting the Gregorian calendar that we now use, for almost two hundred years. Nothing good could have come from Pope Gregory, or any Pope.
On the flip side, I do sometimes detect in my current neighborhood, a sense that everything that comes from Italy, be it a scarf or a human, is superior to anything or anyone native to the US. I did not, however, notice that attitude in the neighborhood where I grew up, where Bobby McHugh and I were the only two non-Catholic, non Italian kids in our elementary school class of maybe 35 kids. (This became evident to me when everyone else would get excused from school during Catholic religious retreats and Bobby and I just to sit quietly for hours, because there was no point in teaching anything.)
Jews are always accused of being "clannish." Well, if your religious practices and physical appearance and last name become a reason for you to be persecuted and shunned, yes, you will stick to people like yourself. Maybe change your last name, too, as did Paul Rivoire's French daddy.
If I were any whiter, I'd burn to a crisp just going across the street to put a letter in the U.S. mailbox. As I've mentioned my husband has green eyes and light brown hair. Still, I have never sought out the Brahmin types socially.
I never took active steps to avoid them, as some of my Jewish friends have. Once, though, I moved into a new neighborhood in Brookline (a town just outside Boston proper) without really thinking about the issue.
We had lived in a condo in a neighborhood of mixed incomes--some stately homes, some apartment buildings housing yuppies, some housing students, etc., but had bought a home in a nicer area. Only to give you an idea of the neighborhood, our home, which we had gotten at a very good price from an estate sale by the bank trustee, was on the historical register. I am guessing that it was not the only one in the area.
While I was out walking our adorable pedigreed Tibetan terrier, an older, tiny woman began talking to me, just a tad stand offishly. She introduced herself as--wait for it--Muffy something or other. Seriously, Muffy.
When I did not react to her last name (didn't really catch it because she was speaking rapidly, and in a clipped way ), she added that her father had donated a building to the city of Boston that the City now used as the Boston Evening Clinic (because people who worked for a living, rather than living off inherited wealth, could not always take time off then to see a doctor, no matter how sick they were).
I told her how much I loved that building.
(Imagine being able to afford to buy that in the middle of the city of Boston, even back in the day, then imagine being able to afford to donate it, even back in the day.)
She gave an almost imperceptible nod of her head, then quickly asked me my name. I told her my first name, never expecting someone her age to address me as Mrs.
Still speaking rapidly, she quickly said, "no I mean your last name." I told her my married name, which ends in a vowel. She said "Oh," as she walked away. I never saw her again.
Later I learned that the elderly (to me, then) daughter of the man from whose estate we had bought the home, a doctor descended from a doctor who had been in the Revolutionary War, still had a relative in the neighborhood whom she visited.
The daughter visited us a few times, unannounced, to let us know various things about the home's history. Once, she brought a dirty, raggedy flag that she told us had flown from above the main entrance. I guess we were supposed to put it back up. Another time, she brought herself to tears, telling me how she could never get her father's approval. (In researching the title before the purchase, our lawyer had learned that her mother had committed suicide, without a will, while the children were still unmarried, but I don't know how old she was when that horrible event happened.) So, the scars of childhood had lasted that particular Brahmin the better part of a century.
Our first Halloween there, as I took my son out for trick or treat as soon as it got dark, I stumbled across the two of them digging up our flowers for replanting in the cousin's yard. Also, after we bought the home, the daughter had given her nephew the key so he could bring a truck to take away all the fire wood that had been stacked in the basement when we bought the house.
The house had a fireplace in every room but the kitchen and the two attic bedrooms (where I imagine the servants had been allowed to freeze during cold New England winters back in the day. Such is the sense of entitlement among the wealthy of New England. And, by law, you get the house as you see it when you buy it. However, I had assumed that the bank had had the house cleaned out of anything that seemed extraneous.
Turned out, no, the grand nephew or great grand nephew of the man who had lived in the home before we bought it had returned to steal the only thing remaining in the home besides the tin sink and original bath fixtures, after the bank trustee had auctioned off the contents. (As the daughter had made a point of telling me, several local museums had been among the bidders. She even brought with her the sign in sheet for the auctions so I could note that she was not exaggerating. As if I cared.)
Anyway, not much later, I was volunteering (by request of a neighbor) for something or other and the volunteers were meeting at the home of someone in the area. My hostess asked if I was enjoying my new home.
Again, only to give you an idea, the upstairs bedrooms had been painted once since the house was built in the 1890s, the bathrooms had never been renovated, the kitchen had a tin sink retrofitted in I'm guessing the 1920s (though it did have a lovely maid's pantry and butler's pantry), etc. And it had been incredibly filthy when we bought. And my husband and I--mostly me--had been doing a ton of work.
However, I did not go int that level of detail with them, just that it was terribly dated and had needed a lot of cleaning and work before I could even call in contractors for renovation; and I was exhausted.
Being exhausted was probably all that I could think of, as I sat in someone's kitchen at around 9:30 on a work night, volunteering for I can't even remember what.
My hostess stiffened and said icily, "The (Surname of the family who had owned my home since 1926) were a wonderful family that has been in this country since before the revolution. You are privileged to be able to live in that home." And again, that was the last I saw of anyone present. I never even got another notice of the rest f the volunteers' meetings. (And people call Jews clannish?)
Anyway, about a year later, the mother of one of my son's Jewish kindergarten mates called me. Her husband's family had been in Boston for several generations. He owned an incredibly wonderful antique store in a wonderful, very old building in a prestigious area of Boston, the area in which the Kerrys; Boston home is. I don't know where they were living at the time she called, though.
I had not spoken to her in a while because her son, who used to come over for play dates with my son during kindergarten, had repeated kindergarten and was no longer in my son's school circle. As a couple, they were noticeably older than we were, so who knows what experiences they had had or had heard of from their parents.
She and her husband had seen a home in my neighborhood that they wished to buy. She wanted to know if I thought it was a good idea. I did not understand the question at first--couldn't imagine why she was asking me or how I was supposed to evaluate the idea, not knowing anything about their home or their finances, etc. Sensing my bewilderment, she added "For Jews to buy in that neighborhood."
I still wasn't sure what to say. What if it had just been me? Still, what had I said to offend Muffy beside my ethnic surname (which I now suspect that she already knew about before she stopped me while I was walking my dog)? So, I told her the Muffy story, adding that perhaps I had somehow rubbed her the wrong way without realizing it.
Anyway, long story long, things like these are the reasons some groups, like "WOPs and k*kes" may keep to themselves unless and until someone makes it very clear that they are more than welcome. Who wants to exposed themselves to the kind of bullshit that this naive home buyer faced when she did not foresee how unwelcome she and her family would be?
It probably did not help, either that we were one of two families in the neighborhood, us and the people next door, who owned a double lot, back and front, so that we had to walk around the block from our front door to see our entire property--and the house next to us was empty and up for sale the entire time we lived in that area, so we were the only residents who had to do that.
Several years later, we were asked to join some of the neighbors for caroling. Perhaps that was an act of Christmas charity. As luck would have it--and I am usually not that lucky--my mother had just arrived from out of state and we were just about to take her out. DANG!
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