The Exclusive Account of a Fish Monger-Turned-Contraband Smuggler Pt. I

Dearest friends, I have a tale to tell. A tale relating to my stay in Switzerland this weekend gone. A tale of crime; a tale of intrigue; a tale… of seafood.

Allow me, if you will, to set the scene: Switzerland is a country with which I have become increasingly familiar over the past few months given that Basel is the city – a Swiss city, at that – in which my father resides and a place which I have visited various times for that reason. That, and I do quite like it there, just as I predicted I might prior to my first trip. The Swiss, as a people, seem to trundle along quite nicely in their lives, without even so much as a sniff of political scandal, for example, or a national crisis thrown in for good measure. MPs making trivial expenses claims at the cost of the honest tax-payers? Government officials accused of scandalous behaviours or corruption? The banking sector plunging the nation into dire economic straits? No, none of that, thank you. I mean, come on, this is Switzerland after all. They just all seem to be OK and they’re OK with that (obviously). But – as in all places, there is a ‘but’ – one shortcoming which my dear, old Dad has been quick to pick up on with regard to his new home is a distinct lack of supply in a particularly important area. You readers may, as well-read and learned individuals, have the thought occur to you upon reading this that, perhaps, Switzerland lacks oil reserves. Perhaps gas might be the issue, since, as we all know, these are the fuels which make the world go round. These, and of course, smiles… But no bother. The Swiss are quite fortcoming with their supply of the latter and the fuels are imported without too much trouble. So, what then, might be the commodity which they are lacking so badly? Well, as the title suggests, as does the fact that Switzerland is a landlocked country, it just so happens to be fish.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that one can purchase a fish in Switzerland. I actually have it on good authority (read as: my dad) that it can be done. In fact, coming to think of it, I have even seen somebody with my own eyes do it in a supermarket (a sight to behold if there ever was one). However, the problem for fans of fish such as my dad is that it is most difficult to get your hands on a nice, fresh bit of fishy produce. Most unfortunately, fresh fish is just not readily available in Swiss lands. I have said the word ‘fish’ quite a bit in this paragraph. Anyway, with his beloved and only son residing in Barcelona, as I do for the time being, Dad requested that I bring him some fresh bluefin tuna over from La Boquería. Importantly, he reminded me, I would need to ask for said tuna to be vacuum-packed so as not to ruin the rest of my luggage with the tuna-ish(??) odours. If anything, the vacuum-packing of the tuna was almost a more vital aspect of the transaction than the tuna itself. With that in mind, what happened when it came down to me standing across a counter in Barcelona’s most famous of markets, pointing at the tuna steaks which I so desired, can hardly come as a surprise.

That’s right, I failed. I bought my tuna steaks – all 2 kilograms of them, served to me in 2 slabs – only to ask after the euros had exchanged hands that they vacuum pack my produce for me. Some would say a rookie error, others, desperately unlucky. I count myself as a member of the school of the latter; it just so happened that, of all the fish stalls in La Boquería – of which there are many – the one from which I bought the tuna was one of an overwhelming minority which was unequipped with the appropriate machine to be able to carry out the vacuum-packing… My heart sank. Well, maybe not to Titanic levels of sinking but, using the sinking boat analogy, it would definitely have resembled a small dinghy which had taken on a fair bit of water. So, there I was, stood in the depths of the famous Barcelona market with a green plastic bag in hand, filled to the brim with two hefty fillets of tuna, hatching my next plan of action. I wondered around numerous stalls like a lost schoolboy looking for his mummy, with blind hope in my eyes. Hope that someone, somewhere might find it out of the kindness of their heart to vacuum-pack my fish. Off I went to start my strange conversations with the various vendors behind the counters of their stalls, which, by and large, went a little something like this:

Vacuum-pack my fish?” “No.”

This was a brief and blunt dialogue which took place all too often for my liking and soon prompted me to call it a night. I was on my own. I, the fish monger with a grand total of zero fish-mongering experience, would have to devise a way for the chunky slabs of tuna to be packed and shipped over to Switzerland in an appropriate fashion. This, I knew, would be no easy task. Imagine the loss at which I found myself as I walked along La Rambla, wondering what on earth I was going to do with my non-vacuum-packed fish.

Imagine two of these bad boys, each bigger than this

Imagine two of these bad boys, each bigger than this, sat on my kitchen table, presenting me problems

Fumbling with my keys as I stood at my front door, I knew that I would have to find a knife in the flat, sharp enough to slice up these sturdy steaks. I was, at that point, not optimistic. But, my heart – the same heart that had sunk moderately at the fish stall in La Boquería – leapt for joy as I found a triumphant looking utensil which, until this very moment, I had never before seen in my kitchen which would be perfect for the job. With the tuna steaks sprawled across the kitchen table, juices messing up the place and smells permeating the entire flat, my career as a fish monger began in earnest. I got to the chopping and practically doused the surfaces of the kitchen, as well as my body, with tuna juice. At first, I must admit, it was a struggle. I was out of my depth but, as time passed and I honed my skills, the process became increasingly simple and remained consistently fishy throughout. An interesting experience, indeed. My evening was spent entirely by chopping up tuna and employing copious volumes of cling film but, finally, I had amended my earlier failures and had now become an amateur/semi-professional fish monger. Now all I had to do was get my newly wrapped tuna to Switzerland…

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