This post is not easy for me to write because it means reporting something about myself I am not really proud of and am currently trying to come to terms with. I can however say that I am quite happy about it. Which is kind of a paradox, as you can see.
I have told some of you this already: when in Portugal, I eat fish. It started three years ago. First it was harmless stuff, some pieces of Bacalhau, hidden in the creamy sauce of my friend Joao’s awesome fish lasagna. Then the next year: a whole Dourada, grilled, with eyes and teeth. Now this year, I moved on to seafood, trying without any emotion but curiosity different octopus and gambas dishes. So why is this a problem? Because actually I am a vegetarian, kind of always have been. It is not a phase, not something I started as a teenager to be cool and belong to some left wing circles I was dying to be part of. I started as a child, and not out of any superficial reasons but out of a deeply felt sense of right and wrong, and, especially, empathy. See, I tend to put myself into the shoes of whoever’s fate I encounter, and this includes animals. Or at least I thought. Now I think it is limited to mammals. Not eating fish has never been an emotional thing, only eating animals such as cows, pigs etc. always was. But as “vegetarian” usually entails not eating fish, and as a child my fish experience was limited to fish sticks which I could live without, I just kind of went with it. And never gave it another thought, until that day Joao made the lasagna.
Why am I writing about this? Because this whole fish thing gives me the perfect metaphor to try and describe what is happening with me here in Portugal, why I am so happy, what the big questions are that I am pondering. Because eating fish is a stomach thing, not a head thing. It is against all the reason I have accumulated since I was a child, against the image and principles of the person that I have attempted (and pretended?) to be since – always. The person I thought I was. Not eating animals has something to do with reason, with determination, maybe even superiority. With a plan. Usually a plan to avoid any insecurities, or eleminate them as soon as they reared their ugly heads. Not studying film was part of that, not quitting my studies even though they bored me to death, my job in PR. Coming to Portugal was the first thing that was not part of the plan, and objectively speaking not even very smart. Living off my savings, not paying into social security, risking a break in my career, a black hole in my CV, maybe never being able to get back on the horse? What am I doing?!
At the end of my street there is this traditional Portuguese place with an outside grill onto which they throw whole fish and potatoes, serving that with a simple side salad and olive oil. I went to lunch there twice recently, and the second one made me realise the actual meaning of all this: that eating fish is stomach, not head. It is acknowledging imperfection, moving in a moral grey zone, admitting that I just do not have the answer. It is capitulation before my own self. And it feels good. I do not always have to be consequent, let alone stringent. I do not have to have all the answers. I can be selfish. I think this is the best part. Eating this fish, in my world, is selfish, irresponsible, putting my own indulgence over another being, however coldblooded. Putting enjoyment over reason. Eating the soft flesh off a fish, peeling a gamba with oily sticky hands, this is pure lust for life. It is almost vicious. And I love it. At least for now. When in Portugal.