The Day I Stopped Being A Cannibal
It finally came to a head in seafood restaurant in Naples, Italy. I was seated at a lovely table in the cobble-stoned square alongside the imposing Castel Dell Ovo. This was the start of a walking holiday along the Amalfi Coast. I’d spent the Saturday morning touring the amazing baroque rooms of the Certosa di San Martino overlooking the city and the Bay of Naples. I’d fallen in love with the stunning collection of antique nativity scenes (presepe) next door in the Castel Sant Elmo. The afternoon had been spent walking from the castle down the hill through busy neighborhoods. I’d enjoyed watching Neapolitans spending their Saturday as we all do: shopping (grocery bags dangling from Vespa handles); doing laundry (drying clothes strung on lines across balconies) and catching up with friends and neighbors (outdoor cafes overflowing). This ancient city had captured my heart and now I was about to finish my day with some famous Neapolitan seafood.
Neapolitan seafood restaurants serve only the freshest fish with each day’s catch arranged in a grand display on a bed of ice at the inviting restaurant entrance. Fish and crustaceans of all kinds are laid out in great, “floral” arrangements, decorated with” flowers” carved from lemons and oranges, embellished with sweet San Marzano tomatoes from the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, and great seaweed “wreaths, “ “stalks” and “leaves.” The displays are a works of art, to be consumed each evening. Diners stroll from one restaurant to the next, examining the displays before making a decision on where to dine. It was not until I sat down that I discovered I had inadvertently selected a restaurant offering octopus(pulpo) along with a handful of his cousin, the squid (calamari). Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so hungry.
When I wrote and illustrated my children’s picture book, Monsieur Pierre, a little octopus became part of my family. Along the way, I started noticing how often octopus and squid appear on menus. Confession time: I’ll even admit to ordering it, before I created Pierre. Now the thought of ordering a dish of octopus felt like cannibalism. That moment at the seaside in Naples was a moment of transition; my decision was made. I’ll continue to enjoy dining seaside but from now on, I’ll try to follow Pierre’s example. In the book, he dines on hot chocolate, croissants and seaweed smoothies. Never octopus!