Seal Hunting Newfoundland and Labrador Canada 1965–1966 (Photo Albums Livro 13) (Portuguese Edition)

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To a cod, ocean floors mean safety. That is why they were rendered commercially extinct by bottom draggers. Trying to insert the tag in one cod, the men stick and poke it so many times that it dies. That makes no one sad, because they are hungry. Bernard kneels over a portable Sterno stove at the stern. He uses his thick fishing knife to dice fatback and salt beef and peel and slice potatoes. As Bernard stirs his pot, Sam records tag numbers and fish lengths with his pencil, while at the bow Leonard silently hauls up one young cod after another with his fast-moving gloved forefingers.

Bernard dumps the food on a big baking sheet, which they put on a plank across one of the holds, and they stand in the hold where the catch should have been and with plastic forks start eating toward the center. What stands out is the stark whiteness of the thick flakes of fresh cod. This is the meal they grew up on, and, as often happens when old friends are eating their childhood food, they start reminiscing. As children, they went fishing with their fathers every morning just before daybreak. They would come to shore midday and go to school—until the first black cloud passed overhead and they had to run down to the harbor, to the racks, called fish flakes, where the salt cod were drying, and turn them over skin side up so they would be protected if it rained.

It is not that the weather has changed. But back then, there had been no lightweight microfibers to hold in body heat, nothing to help the fingers reeling in line dripping with icy water. All this in a season with little sun, or even daylight, for warmth. The fishing was good into January, but when, in , unemployment compensation was made available for fishermen after December 15, that became the last fishing day until spring.

Years later the date was moved to November But they remember fishing into the winter. Just wool. Traditional Newfoundland food is based on pork fat. Everything is cooked in it and then seasoned with scrunchions— rendered, diced fatback. Ten years ago, this record fish would have been barely the average size. Only three of the forty are large enough to be capable of spawning.

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The men in the other boat worked three lines and caught their fish with a total weight of pounds. This means the average is less than four pounds at the time of year when Petty Harbour used to get some of its biggest catches—boats with fish having a total weight of 3, pounds. They set aside the parts for the scientists and divide the rest of the fish into bags containing about ten pounds of fish each.

A ten-pound bag should have been one cod, but most bags have two or three.


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When the two boats come into the harbor, some fifty people, mostly from other towns, are already waiting in a polite line. This is Canada. These people have jobs or are on public assistance, mostly the latter these days.


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They are not hungry but simply yearning for a taste of their local dish. The big fish companies, the ones that owned bottom draggers that had cleaned out the last of the cod before the moratorium, now import frozen cod from Iceland, Russia, and Norway. Sam had once sent a shipment to New Orleans, and the chef had complained that it was too fresh and the meat did not hold together well. Only fishing communities know what real fresh cod, with thick white flakes that come apart, tastes like. And the fact that the cod could talk was not especially surprising.

But what was astonishing was that it spoke an unknown language. It spoke Basque. The Basques are enigmatic.

They have lived in what is now the northwest corner of Spain and a nick of the French southwest for longer than history records, and not only is the origin of their language unknown, but the origin of the people themselves remains a mystery also. According to one theory, these rosy-cheeked, darkhaired, long-nosed people were the original Iberians, driven by invaders to this mountainous corner between the Pyrenees, the Cantabrian Sierra, and the Bay of Biscay.


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  6. Or they may be indigenous to this area. They graze sheep on impossibly steep, green slopes of mountains that are thrilling in their rare, rugged beauty. They sing their own songs and write their own literature in their own language, Euskera. They also have their own sports, most notably jai alai, and even their own hat, the Basque beret, which is bigger than any other beret.

    Though their lands currently reside in three provinces of France and four of Spain, Basques have always insisted that they have a country, and they call it Euskadi. All the powerful peoples around them—the Celts and Romans, the royal houses of Aquitaine, Aragon, and Castile; later Spanish and French monarchies, dictatorships, and republics—have tried to subdue and assimilate them, and all have failed. Basques have been able to maintain this stubborn independence, despite repression and wars, because they have managed to preserve a strong economy throughout the centuries. Not only are Basques shepherds, but they are also a seafaring people, noted for their successes in commerce.

    During the Middle Ages, when Europeans ate great quantities of whale meat, the Basques traveled to distant unknown waters and brought back whale. They were able to travel such distances because they had found huge schools of cod and salted their catch, giving them a nutritious food supply that would not spoil on long voyages. Basques were not the first to cure cod. Centuries earlier, the Vikings had traveled from Norway to Iceland to Greenland to Canada, and it is not a coincidence that this is the exact range of the Atlantic cod.

    In the tenth century, Thorwald and his wayward son, Eirik the Red, having been thrown out of Norway for murder, traveled to Iceland, where they killed more people and were again expelled. Even in midsummer, when the days are almost without nightfall, the sea there is gray and kicks up whitecaps.

    Newfoundland and Labrador

    In the spring and summer, chunks broke off the glaciers, crashed into the sea with a sound like thunder that echoed in the fjords, and sent out huge waves. Eirik, hoping to colonize this land, tried to enhance its appeal by naming it Greenland. But he injured his foot and had to be left behind.

    His son, Leifur, later known as Leif Eiriksson, sailed on to a place he called Stoneland, which was probably the rocky, barren Labrador coast. Woodland could have been Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, or Maine, all three of which are wooded. But in Vineland they found wild grapes, which no one else has discovered in any of these places. The remains of a Viking camp have been found in Newfoundland. More than years later the Beothuk tribe of Newfoundland would prevent John Cabot from exploring beyond crossbow range of his ship. The Beothuk apparently did not misjudge Europeans, since soon after Cabot, they were enslaved by the Portuguese, driven inland, hunted by the French and English, and exterminated in a matter of decades.

    How did the Vikings survive in greenless Greenland and earthless Stoneland? How did they have enough provisions to push on to Woodland and Vineland, where they dared not go inland to gather food, and yet they still had enough food to get back? What did these Norsemen eat on the five expeditions to America between and that have been recorded in the Icelandic sagas?

    They were able to travel to all these distant, barren shores because they had learned to preserve codfish by hanging it in the frosty winter air until it lost four-fifths of its weight and became a durable woodlike plank. They could break off pieces and chew them, eating it like hardtack. They had another advantage: The more durable a product, the easier it is to trade. In the Mediterranean world, where there were not only salt deposits but a strong enough sun to dry sea salt, salting to preserve food was not a new idea.

    In preclassical times, Egyptians and Romans had salted fish and developed a thriving trade.

    Salted meats were popular, and Roman Gaul had been famous for salted and smoked hams. Before they turned to cod, the Basques had sometimes salted whale meat; salt whale was found to be good with peas, and the most prized part of the whale, the tongue, was also often salted. Until the twentieth-century refrigerator, spoiled food had been a chronic curse and severely limited trade in many products, especially fish.

    When the Basque whalers applied to cod the salting techniques they were using on whale, they discovered a particularly good marriage because the cod is virtually without fat, and so if salted and dried well, would rarely spoil. It would outlast whale, which is red meat, and it would outlast herring, a fatty fish that became a popular salted item of the northern countries in the Middle Ages.

    Even dried salted cod will turn if kept long enough in hot humid weather. But for the Middle Ages it was remarkably long-lasting—a miracle comparable to the discovery of the fast-freezing process in the twentieth century, which also debuted with cod. Modern maps show that this is not at all the shape of Greenland, but it is exactly what it looks like from the southern fjords, which cut jagged gashes miles deep into the high mountains.

    Royal Library, Copenhagen last longer than other salted fish, but it tasted better too.

    Once dried or salted—or both—and then properly restored through soaking, this fish presents a flaky flesh that to many tastes, even in the modern age of refrigeration, is far superior to the bland white meat of fresh cod. Catholicism gave the Basques their great opportunity.

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    Because fish came from water, it was deemed cold, as were waterfowl and whale, but meat was considered hot food. In total, meat was forbidden for almost half the days of the year, and those lean days eventually became salt cod days. Cod became almost a religious icon—a mythological crusader for Christian observance.

    The Basques were getting richer every Friday. But where was all this cod coming from? The Basques, who had never even said where they came from, kept their secret.

    By the fifteenth century, this was no longer easy to do, because cod had become widely recognized as a highly profitable commodity and commercial interests around Europe were looking for new cod grounds. There were cod off of Iceland and in the North Sea, but the Scandinavians, who had been fishing cod in those waters for thousands of years, had not seen the Basques. The British, who had been fishing for cod well offshore since Roman times, did not run across Basque fishermen even in the fourteenth century, when British fishermen began venturing up to Icelandic waters.

    The Bench ends from St. In the s, a conflict was brewing between Bristol merchants and the Hanseatic League. This fellowship organized town by town and spread throughout northern Europe, including London. By controlling the mouths of all the major rivers that ran north from central Europe, from the Rhine to the Vistula, the league was able to control much of European trade and especially Baltic trade.

    By the fourteenth century, it had chapters as far north as Iceland, as far east as Riga, south to the Ukraine, and west to Venice. For many years, the league was seen as a positive force in northern Europe. It stood up against the abuses of monarchs, stopped piracy, dredged channels, and built lighthouses. In , mobs rose up in England and hunted down Hanseatics, killing anyone who could not say bread and cheese with an English accent.

    By then, dried cod had become an important product in Bristol. It had become a leading port for dried cod from Iceland and wine, especially sherry, from Spain.

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