Béla Hamvas: Fish

I arrived early in the morning. I wasn’t in the mood to rest, I changed and went loitering at the port. There I discovered the restaurant under the oleander trees, I read the menu, and let’s say I understood it right away. All the fish of the season were on it, none of them missing. This set me at ease. At the same time the innkeeper appeared in the door and greeted me respectfully, aloud. He had the exact sort of belly that an innkeeper should have.

“This is the menu from yesterday, he said, there will be more courses made for tonight, welcome, you are a foreigner, but I can tell a serious man, an artist, I have insight into the character, you haven’t even looked toward the Bellevue, there, Sir, believe me (he points to the big three-story resort with endless pity).”

“I live in a country – I say – with no sea.”
He suddenly turns sad and looks at me compassionately.
“Sir, how can you live in a country like that?”
“Only – I respond –, if you come away as much as you can. But you know there is still a sky there.”
At dusk I stepped under the oleander trees and looked for the chubby innkeeper. He grabbed my arm and took me under the gate to a large chest – tin padded and full of ice. On top of the ice the whole aquarium: Salpa – Tuna – Molo – Scombretti Barboni – Dental – Sanpiero – Sardella –Kalamari. –
“Scombri”, I say, and point to the metal blue fish. He makes a bow almost as low as the ground and makes a hand gesture indicating that he understands everything perfectly. He is raising his hands protestingly.
“I know, he says, I know everything. With hot rice, mixed salad and cellar-cool red wine. Would you please take a seat.”
I sit down and start drinking. Then the fish comes, grilled over charcoal on a slow fire, the chubby guy carefully spread the oil on it, it was soft as much as crispy, juicy and tender. I couldn’t pay attention to anything else.
I didn’t even notice that five-six people stepped in and are now standing in front of the fish on the ice. The names of the fish are flying back and forth in the air and the chubby guy is making himself busy. All at once I can hear:
“Sir, you cannot force me to do this!” The guest asserts determinedly that he wishes to have the Dental fried, with onion and paprika. The chubby guy is polite, but huffiness and pungency are in his voice.
“Sir, would you please walk over to the Bellevue, they will do anything for money, even the Dental – although – maybe even better than, – but at my restaurant, Sir, never, – I prepared fish in my entire life, I know what I’m doing, -- this way the Dental is unpalatable – since my childhood – you can request anything, cut my hands off, never – respectable hands (stretches them out), cut them off, but I won’t make it with paprika, – respectable hands, they grew old preparing the fish (almost weeping), cut them off, but don’t force me, never, never – “
The man starts to yell. The chubby guy throws his napkin to the ground.
“Never! At the Bellevue, maybe there, not at my restaurant, I’m not making a fool of myself (guffaws bitterly), Sir, there’s the Bellevue, three hundred feet, would you please, there, Sir, they cook the Scombri and marinade the Tuna, even more, since my childhood, in my entire life.”
The stranger is screaming. The chubby guy stomping and raging.
The other members of the group are now encroaching and pleading their friend. He does not listen. Sends for the police.  The policeman is coming. Dental with paprika? The policeman was an expert and he was shaking his head. The chubby guy is roaring.
“Is that possible? Possible?” – He grabs the fish, smashes it to the ground and jumps on it. Then stomps. And screams.  The stranger wants to beat him up but he is held back. The policeman is becalming the chubby one.
“There’s the Bellevue, if you pay they’ll do it, such a place (spits out), never, never!”


The chubby guy is not a man of wide perspectives, but he is a believer. His sacred position in life is preparing the fish. A cult. The maintenance of life. Necessary tools: the chest with ice, the grill, the pan, the pot, the fire. His ritual is strict. The Dental cannot be fried. That is a sacrilege. The Scombri needs to be grilled on charcoal, incised at four places and smeared with oil. The modern Tower of Babel (the Bellevue) betrays the tradition for money. “You’ll get it there for money.” His life wasn’t resultless. He grew old preparing the fish. “These respectable hands.” The Dental has always been cooked from times immemorial, in a slightly vinegary vegetable broth, you can eat it with tomato sauce, or spaghetti, or potatoes baked to red and salad. It has a white soft and tender body, perfectly boneless, and you can eat a lot of it. The temptation of the chubby guy is to betray the tradition for money. Therefore he is sensitive to this sin. In the last moment of his life, if he could resist, he will let his soul part with a relief that he did not commit the betrayal. He despised financial gain and never fried the Dental. This kind of fish, when fried, is straw-tasting, tough: completely unpalatable. The chubby one is an enthusiastic man, just like everyone who feels truth being threatened by themselves. He is at the market at five in the morning waiting for the boats to arrive. If he doesn’t see one seasonal fish he quarrels with the fishermen and swears that he himself is going to go out fishing tonight. “You just have to do everything yourself...you cannot trust anyone…look at these lousy Barbonis!...Take them to the Bellevue, I don’t want  them, I’m not going to be laughed at by my guests.” He places the fish next to one another, looks at them, weighs them in his hands and smells them around. He pronounces the names of the fish as someone who realizes the cosmic position of the fish. No exaggeration, no underestimation. He knows the hierarchy of fish. The chubby guy does not look at the fish as a being, as a scientific object, or a subject of a painting, but as nourishment. The fish as the most important maintainer of human existence. Food itself. The significance of the rest is only to emphasize it (flour, vegetable, fruit, wine). He ignores meat, because he is dogmatic, and the advantage (disadvantage) of the dogma is to ignore something. The sea is the place where fish are caught. The fisherman catches the fish. The guest eats the fish. And he prepares it. He is in a key position. He has to hold his ground. He cannot succeed without faith. The Bellevue is the faithless one.

If someone is engaged in something like this, it’s needless to commit a sin that you only do because oftentimes you just need to defile yourself – out of pure loyalty toward God.

Translated from Hungarian by Andras Palyer

Népszerű bejegyzések

Kövess a Facebookon!