The steel of bowls, the salt on the walls, my world is small but immense

From here I can smell them. I wait until April, maybe May. They’re short, wide and flat, with a green color that can turn to gray. To catch them we use trezze, nets, laying them in the shallows of the lagoon. And then we use serraglie to help us.

The first player’s already thrown the jack … now we’ll see some real bowls!

Serraglie are long barriers of poles and nets, we put them in the water at the beginning of the season and we wait patiently for the first warmth of spring. Clean and orderly. Connected to them are cogolli, traps that resemble small funnels where they inevitably end up. They must end up there. Everything that we catch is thrown into burlap bags to keep the right humidity and to transport them into the thatched fisheries, where we sort them.

First game! First bowl of four. I feel lucky … I feel unbeatable! Step up to the line …

Inside the fisheries we see which are the softest, the ones that are changing their shell. The others we throw back into the sea. Those that are selected are then placed in wooden boxes and semi submerged in salt water, to allow seasonal molting.

And it’s landed snug against the jack! At the first shot! Wow! A hair’s breadth away from the jack. Now you have to nudge my bowl away if you want to take my point!

Now, this is the story of the moèche – some say mollecche, be- cause they’re soft, when their shell is molting. And that’s the important point. The moèche are crabs of our neighborhood. They’re male salt marsh crabs. They’re good for a fish fry, to eat on the streets or on the waterside along the canal. Typically local, from Burano and Pellestrina, from Giudecca. Things to share with those who approach the Lion of Venice with due reverence. Things that people eat when they want to taste something typically Venetian.

Yes … I knew it … the next guy’s just thrown, and he’s turned the tables on us completely. I hate him. Two light steps, the usual pitch before he’s even come to a standstill and … BAM! … my bowl ends up almost outside the rink. We have to start all over again.

How to cook them? Some say boiled. But it would be like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope. I do it like this: I prepare a pot and crack about twenty eggs in it. I beat them as if I had to make a huge omelet. Then I soak the moèche alive and leave them there. At first they struggle, but then they start eating all the eggs in which they are immersed. And slowly, they finish them. While they’re enjoying their last supper, I prepare the flour on the table.

I’m all for accuracy, my bowls dance lightly across the rink. They always arrive a hair’s breadth away. That’s why I prefer to play in pairs. I build and someone else destroys. At the end of the round it’s always us who win. Alone, I can’t get into it. Everyone knows this at the bowls club in San Sebastiano, Venice.

When the oil is really hot, I take the moche and throw them in. Alive. It seems horrible and maybe it is. Yet, when they take on “a golden red color that’s a sight for sore eyes, and they have a sweet taste, which is heaven when blended with a spicy taste of seaweed and sea,” I go crazy, and it’s always the words of the painter Elio Zorzi that come to mind.

When it strikes midday I finish my glass of white wine, and I go back to my damp walls in Calle del Vento. I cross the Ponte del Cristo, through Campo de l’Anzolo Rafael, and I arrive at the waterside on the Giudecca Canal. Here, on the lagoon, where I can smell them.

This is my world. The steel of bowls and the strip of earth they roll across. The salt on the walls I lean against. Low tides and floodwater. My world has its rules and rituals. My world is small but immense. My world is Venice.


Francesca Occhi

Francesco Costantino Ciampa