The Delta Dictionary

excerpts Abroad. An incredibly large number of young people have gone abroad. To study, to work. The ego of those living in the countryside is much bigger. On entering Sarinasuf, there is only the sign marking the exit from the village. The sign that marks the entrance in the village is missing. It's a village which you only leave behind, a place where no one comes to stay. Accident. There are no accidents in fishing. Everything is the result of science. Planned, foreseen. Any small crucian carp, any white fish, any small perch you catch. You don't catch it because the fish is dumb, but because you are a skilled fisherman. You know exactly how deep to throw the bait, what are the gastronomic preferences of each fish, whether to use polenta, earth worms, or plain worms. You know what cochineal, and what bait to use to lure it. You know it's warm and it usually stays near the reed plots. That it dozes off under the willow trees and catches flies and small worms. It knows better what it does. When it feels the boat it pulls suddenly and knocks you off your feet. Nonsense, these are nothing but fairy tales! Fishing is something which does not depend on you. Those who consider it a sport are wrong. It's more like gambling. Something between poker and backgammon. Almost 40% science. The rest, nothing but luck. Or, as Mark Twain defined fishing, a fool waiting at one end of a stick for another fool to come at the other end of the stick. Obviously, these were the opinions of not so lucky fishermen. Attack. It's so quiet here in the Danube Delta that you feel like you should remain silent for ever in order to become a part of the surrounding silence. It's as if you were ashamed to chatter. Remember what a writer used to say: we build our own deafness. Nature speaks, but we no longer know how to listen to it. We create walls, curtains of sounds which hinder us from hearing the voices of nature. Only when we will have understood this will we realize that, in fact, we don't always have to speak in order to cover the silence. Bits and pieces. A pair of hooks found hanging in a willow tree. A sign of life in these places. Nearby, under the willow tree, large, clean, dry, sticky, sharp scales. A sign that there is plenty of fish in the pond. The Danube Delta is a world of traces and signs. And it has to be deciphered. Any waffle wrapping, any beer can has to be regarded as a sort of historical vestige. Or as some futuristic objects. Memories from the future. Memories of civilization. And while we're studying the landscape, a muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) swims calmly in the water. Being rude, it doesn't even notice us, as if we were a common sight. It has no idea that the science we practice now is called anticipatory archaeology.  Dobruja Dacia car. This is the local name of the donkey. Its trembling. The one thing that sticks out immediately. Slow pace, rash. Shaken.  Eagerness. As it seems, the people living here are very eager for tourists. And for plum brandy ("tzuica"). If you are from Prahova county, you have to bring some good plum brandy. That's what they say. They'd do anything for plum brandy. They'd cook some fish soup, or catch some fish. Because they are eager. They'd take you on a boat ride, use a tractor to tow your car stuck in mud somewhere "around the pumps". Plum brandy is the life-giving water. Fuel, and blood. Guide. His name is nea (ol') Mitică and he has a boat with oars. He charges you 200,000 lei to take you somewhere among the islets, next to the Lipovan Canal. The normal price asked by a common-sense teacher for a session of private tutoring. Earth worms – 50,000. Black earth worms. Good quality. He'll take you to a place where the parr usually is found. He doesn't have a motor boat. It would only scare the birds away. That's how the Italians he once took on a ride wanted to go. Slowly, quietly. So they could take pictures of the cormorant. He's up to date to the latest news. He found out about the Russian airplane that bumped into a UFO. He knows the affairs of the big bosses from Bucharest. What each of them sold and bought. He knows how to pose, photogenic. The Italians took his picture, too. Some cameramen immortalized him on film. Sometimes they think he wears the fisherman's suit just for fun. As if it were an opera costume. To create an artistic impression. To make him look like a fisherman. For 28 years he worked at the irrigation station, in Plopu. He sprinkled water from the canals. That's why the village smells like fish. He lives just there, the first house after you pass the kilometer stone. Just ask for nea Mitică and you can't miss him. Hookers. The number of hookers in the Danube Delta has been increasing, as well as that of "sturdy" houses. Cool houses. I saw a parabolic antenna in the yard of one of these houses. And also a 'bad taste' fence. Someone once told me how the local people looked awry at the owner of the house telling them how privileged they were to be living in this extraordinary landscape. Stubborn, they longed for Gara de Nord (the main Bucharest railway station). The beautiful sight of Gara de Nord! They had been there once. Only once. When the son had his entrance exam to university, or when they paid a visit to the doctor. The only occasions on which they went on a voyage. It seems weird, but the people living here have no understanding of the space they inhabit. Angling doesn't mean that much for them, either. They only make sense of whatever they catch using pound nets or anchored nets. Otherwise, a fisherman even confessed that he'd go crazy sitting still like that, holding a rod in the water. Besides the "cool" houses, you see nothing but reed fences, low houses deprived of foundation. Fences made of fishing nets as if people were the hostages of these places. Prisoners. Imagination practice. Mihai Beniuc, the greatest little poet, wrote a treaty on fish psychology. It would be interesting to know what fish think of fishermen. How they gossip about them. How they make fun of them. Intelligence. The ruff (Acerina cernua) is an intelligent fish if it manages to lead you by the nose. The result of laboratory synthesis. All sorts of similar things come to my mind. When I arrived here, I saw beehives in the middle of sunflower fields and I immediately thought that the bee that gives oil has been invented. The ruff has to be killed. You don't throw it back in the water. You have to kill the Ruff. With a capital letter. The primordial animal. The idea of ruff. It sounds like a sentence taken out of The Jungle Book. It should. Kilo of crucian carp – 15,000, 40,000 for a kilo of carp, zander, for those who are interested. These are the prices. You get a profit of about 30,000 per kilo if you bring the fish from the Delta. From the main source. Madman. Ceauşescu is a constant presence in any conversation. Nea Mitică mentions him vaguely, in a neutral tone, just to test the client. According to him, people are divided into two categories: those who curse and those who praise the Madman. Nea Mitică adapts his speech to the ideology of the customer, who should not be contradicted, no matter what the circumstances are. He probably has his own opinion, but he does not agree with it. Mitică (nea). He built his house from a sheatfish. He used the scales as tiles on the roof, and from the spine he made beams and rafters. The fish roamed the Delta waters for a long time, and it weighed 4-500 kilos. It was no small water creature, but a genuine, gigantic fish. It got into the habit of eating ducks and geese. It grabbed them from the bank of the river, from people's yards. It even swallowed, sucked the leg of a child. They lured the fish on a canal, trapped it there with a railing, and caught it there. They found a pair of boots in its stomach. You shouldn't believe nea Mitică. Nor the time when he comes to take you back to the village. It gets dark and he still doesn't show up. A different perception of time, a different kind of punctuality. He says that it's best to fish around here when it's prohibited. Otherwise, it's no fun at all. It would take 8 years of complete prohibition for the Danube Delta to recover its fish population. To "become populated", as nea Mitică says. The minute you get here, everyone asks you whether you want some fish. 20 or 30 kilos! The quantity is too small for them to bother. Respectable persons buy at least 300 kilos. Take some fish. Take a water melon from the field. Take a sunflower cap. It's not stealing. It's something else. It's your right. No man's land. Everywhere, the same landscape. As if you were walking in vain. You cannot advance at all. The same reed plots. There is no time here. It's like you were living on a giant record player where the needle got stuck in a crack in the record and plays the same piece over and over again. There's something magic about it. Just when you're fishing, you get the impression you communicate with a world from beyond. In a different medium. And the fishing stick is the mediator for this connection. That's why there's no point in using a sonar for fishing. The sonar does nothing but spoil the magic. Offence. Mini-markit. Written just like that, as it is pronounced. Old, dubious meat products. Socks, batteries, eggs. Plus mineral water. They are all the same, just like in our stores. It's depressing to think that we all eat the same stuff. It's offensive for those with a big ego. This may mean that we also think the same. Then why aren't we happy with such an achievement? Petrii Marsh. Nowadays, it has an owner, and it seems unfair. You cannot own the wind, for instance. Ruff. A mixture of goby (Gabiidae) and perch. It took the worst from both ancestors. The spines on its back which sting you when you touch it. You have to curse it, damn ruff! it sucks the earth worm, takes it out from the hook. That's why you have to curse it. It's also small, there's nothing you could take from it. It's a sort of scapegoat. Your little toy doesn't work, the fish won't bite, so you immediately blame the ruff. Damn it, and that dragonfly head it has. It has spread itself in every river now: Siret, Olt, Prahova. Beside it, only find fish that smell of oil, with soft, grey bellies can be found in the rivers mentioned above. Settlements. Rahman, Gârliciu, Chiciu, Nalbant, Beştepe. Oriental poetry. Frecăţei. How could a respectable person inhabit a town named like that? How could he stand the precarious condition of an inhabitant of Frecăţei? Cultura, 21-27 April, 2004

by Sorin Stoica (1978-2006)