There's a parasitic fish that for some, makes a strangely welcome appearance near the shores of the Atlantic each year. Rubbing against unsuspecting victims, they attach themselves like vacuum cleaners and scour tissue away with razor sharp teeth. Breaking the skin, they siphon away the host's life and leave their target for another mark.
The sea lamprey return to shore each year to spawn. Nights from January to March, on the northern Portuguese shores, fishermen gather - braving the blistering coastal winter winds to spear these repulsive freeloaders. I'm told they have a distinctive taste, being cooked in their own blood – besides the good business. Local eateries fetch $75 for one fish.
Providentially, last week I met a lamprey fishermen. It is was late. I had come believing the beach would be deserted, and it was.
That is, until I was ready leave. It was then that I noticed someone had leaned a thirty foot cane pole against the sea wall. The pole had what seemed to be a miniature grappling hook attached to the end. Curiously I waited while an old beat up station wagon backed into a parking place. The driver steered with his right hand and with his left, he pinned a similar pole to the car. With ends extending past both the front and rear of the car, he appeared prepared for a joust. He carefully lowered Goliath's cane pole to the ground and unloaded a plastic box. It would eventually serve as a seat. He also brought a makeshift work light attached to a car battery.
No way I was going home now. With the light hung half way down the twenty foot sea barrier, he turned the plastic crate on its side, deftly perched himself on top, and lowered his jouster's lance into the icy water.
I made my way over, and for the next ninety minutes I got a fishing lesson that taught me more about life than the elusive lamprey. I made a friend who has lived in the small waterfront village everyday of his 48 years. He was born their. He grew up there with his three sisters and six brothers. He raised a family there, and from what I gathered, he intends to die there – just like his wife did two years ago after their youngest daughter's birth.
She had a pulmonary embolism and died suddenly and somewhat cruelly. The disease left him a widower after 26 years of marriage and four daughters. The others help with the baby, but the sorrow like a lamprey with a healthy cod desperately tries to suck the life from him. Being almost to the day, two years removed from the worst day of his life, he passes these lonely nights fishing – sometimes staying until four or five AM.
He fishes, but he has a lot of time to think. I told him I was bad luck from the very beginning, and we didn't see so much as a minnow that night. With patience he stayed. Probably long after I did. Perhaps the cold stone wall and bitter wind mixed with stinging rain can be more comforting than an empty bed and painful memories. Before leaving, I begged his pardon for the poor luck I brought and told him what a pleasure it had been to meet him. He responded in kind and said simply of our time together, “It was beautiful.” Kind words from an aching heart. My prayer is that on nights like these, he rids his soul of more grief than he does the water of parasites.
Written by Michael Andrzejewski for The LaGrange Daily News.