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September 5th, 2006


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12:08 am - Eelmongering in the North End
From Boston Ways: High, By and Folk by George F. Weston, Jr., copyright 1957 Beacon Press and purchased for $7.00 at McIntyre & Moore:
Eels on Christmas Eve are as much an Italian tradition as is turkey on Thanksgiving for the New Englander. A few days before Christmas, metal-lined pushcarts appear on the streets. These are full of sea water--and eels. A crowd gathers around one of the carts to help an old, wrinkled Italian woman select her banquet. With the approval of the bystanders she indicates a noble specimen, full five feet from stem to stern. The vendor grasps him expertly and places him on the scales. Immediately he slithers off and back into the tank before his weight can be established. A huge paper bag appears from under the cart and the eel is dropped in, tail first; but before the mouth of the bag can be tied, the eel splashes back into his native element.

Excitement grows! The crowd takes sides! Some shout advice to the old lady, some to the vendor, and a considerable number call upon the saints to aid the eel.

Now the operator changes his technique and drops the eel into the bag head first. An exploring tail oozes out. The vendor seizes it, giving it a vicious bite. The tail withdraws into the safety of the paper sack. Quickly the neck of the container is securely tied and the bundle triumphantly placed on the scales. By this time the paper is so water soaked that the lithe captive has no difficulty in pushing his way right through the wall of his prison and back to freedom. The salesman admits defeat, loops a strong cord around the eel, guesses at the weight, and hands the other end of the rope to the elderly purchaser, who departs with a long black tail wagging in the dust behind her.

Peace again descends on Salem Street.
This book also contains a considerable amount of pictures of Boston "then and now" -- "now", however, being 1957. Many of the sights seen "now" are long-gone today. It's an interesting read to say the least.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:phonemonkey
Date:September 5th, 2006 09:43 am (UTC)
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I'll have to get some photos of the carp-merchants selling live carp out of barrels in the streets of Prague just before Christmas.
From:oakenguy
Date:September 5th, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC)
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Now THIS would make a wonderful Elementary School Holiday Pageant!
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From:derspatchel
Date:September 5th, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)
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Would eel-wrangling also be considered a suitable Feat of Strength for Festivus?
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From:ron_newman
Date:September 5th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)
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In the Minuteman Library catalog I see that this book was revised a couple of times, once in 1967 and again in 1974. It might be interesting to compare your version with the two later ones.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:September 5th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
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The pictures "now" at least would be interesting to compare. One of these days I'm s'posed to visit the BPL for some archival research; might as well check for those books too.
[User Picture]
From:fancycwabs
Date:September 5th, 2006 05:17 pm (UTC)
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I think the author just saw an old Italian woman out walking her pet eel and made up a story to go along with it.
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From:ron_newman
Date:September 29th, 2006 12:04 pm (UTC)
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thanks for pointing me at this book. As a result, I added the Leong Theatre to Cinema Treasures.

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