I’ve lost track of the mayoral race in Toronto but it can’t be sillier than an ongoing situation that pertains in our corner of the island. Across the straits of Corfu on the Albanian mainland is the town of Saranda. I have watched it, through binoculars, grow in the last 30 years from a grim-looking seaside resort for Communist party members to a substantial city. And they, I am sure have watched Corfu. Our island is green; their hills are dun-coloured and parched. Countless boats, from hired skiffs to the vast floating, Bond-movie gin palaces of the Russian oligarchs (ironic, no?), crowd the waters around our coast but until the overthrow of the Communists it was forbidden for ordinary Albanians to own boats or even live by the coast. Back in the ’80s, defectors would try to float across on inner tubes (it’s only a mile or two away) and we would watch gunboats with searchlights hunt for them in the night. The would-be refugees had seen the island so tantalizingly close on the horizon, heard tales of jobs and political freedom and liberal attitudes – had even heard the music of the Kassiopi discotheques on nights when the wind was from the west.
All that has changed now. Now Albania encourages visitors. It also wants to be seen as part of the modern world and to teach its own population that no one needs to envy Greece any more. To do this, a discotheque has been built in Saranda with immensely powerful speakers pointing outwards across the sea directly at Corfu. Disco music plays continuously, day and night, as a gesture of independence and cultural libertarianism. You can hear it quite clearly in Kassiopi. I can even hear it now as I sit on my terrace in the peace of this breathless afternoon – just the bass drum – so quietly it’s an almost subliminal murmur, as subtle and as unrelenting as my own pulse.
The mayor of Thinalion, the district which includes this village and Kassiopi, has complained to the mayor of Saranda. The mayor of Saranda just gave him the finger and turned up the decibels. Now western tourists who come to Corfu will know that Saranda is cool too. Albania has disco.
I can’t imagine how loud it must be for the citizens of Saranda itself! Unbelievable. I wonder if any of them ever wish for the silent curfews of the old regime?
In other news, I ended up using those delightful fresh anchovies in another way entirely – a different version of Marinato that is popular in Corfu Town and much more conventionally Mediterranean. They do something very similar in Spain, and I’m sure in Italy, and probably in Turkey, too, and each cuisine will claim to have invented the technique.
First, butterfly the anchovies by twisting off their heads, pulling out their guts and running a finger along the spine to loosen it from the flesh. The bone picks out quite easily and leaves you with a perfect butterflied anchovy fillet. Rinse them in water then lay them in a dish and marinate them in wine vinegar for two hours. The flesh turns as white as a rollmop’s. Two hours is plenty of time, in my opinion. Some people suggest leaving them in the vinegar overnight – or even for 24 hours – but then you are left with an anchovy that tastes of nothing but vinegar. Think of this more as a miniature ceviche.
After the two hours, drain the anchovies and, to mitigate the vinegar a little more, rinse them once in cold water and let them dry on a clean tea towel. After that, there are options. I gave mine a second marinade in olive oil that also contained a tiny amount of finely minced garlic. Then I lifted them out onto a plate (they are incredibly slippery so you need patience and a slotted spoon) and sprinkled them with chopped up Mediterranean parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice before tucking in. Scrumptious. You can taste the actual fish but the vinegar is still there, deep down in the background.
There were far too many to eat in one sitting so I covered the remainder in oil and put them in the fridge. The oil solidified overnight but melted again with an hour out of the fridge. You can keep Marinato for days that way. Today, for lunch on day three, I managed to finish them off, heaping the last of them over a salad of tomato, onion and small-leafed basil from the bush in the courtyard. A glass of very cold fino sherry would have been an ideal accompaniment but I had to make do with equally chilly retsina. It proved a surprisingly effective understudy for the sherry, the resin in the wine holding its own against the onion and the latent vinegar in the fish. All enjoyed to the very faintest throb of Albanian pride.