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Sea-Urchin Soup

Sea Urchin, Greece
from Spearfishing in Skatahori by Matt Barrett

    After eating stuffed tomatoes and feta for lunch at Katina's, I wander over to the town  beach and play in the surf for about an hour. The sea is still rough and there is a strong wind blowing. I guess it's the Meltemi. It's due about now. Andrea returns from her art lesson and we walk back to the house to read away the afternoon. The girls all sleep but I'm engrossed in my book. This is the kind of book I make fun of other people for reading. Gory, sensationally white trashy and true. Why is it so fascinating? Why are my spiritual books so difficult to read?
    I tear myself away at around 6:30 and take my diving stuff  to catch sea-urchins(archinoos), since I had promised some to Niko the contractor from Egalion. I have my knife and my two fish bags which I fill up in about twenty minutes. Sea Urchins are all over the place. If I were Japanese this would be paradise. I go home to shower before going to Katina's for ouzo and dinner. I bring my Greek Rembetika tapes with me which Niko the cop and the old men enjoy
    When Niko the contractor shows up I run down to the sea to get the bag of sea-urchins. I had tied them to the dock so they would dangle in the sea and stay fresh. Niko the contractor is very enthused when he sees my catch and orders his fat son Bill to get a knife and a bowl. He then takes the sea-urchins to a far corner of the yard to open them. Andrea sends me over to see how he is doing it but I argue that I already know. You cut open the shells and separate the bright orange eggs from the guts and grit. They are delicious. But when I finally accept the possibility that there might be something I have yet to learn about the subject of sea urchins and walk over, I see that Niko is taking everything out and putting it in a bowl; eggs, guts and grit. I assume he has some secret method of separating the eggs from the crud that he will do later, so I go back to my ouzo, proud that I have at least made the effort to learn something new.
    Niko finishes his laboring and goes into the kitchen. He returns with the bowl of eggs, guts and grit, but now it's swimming in a sea of lemon, olive-oil and vinegar "Eat it" he commands us. I don't want to. It goes against everything I know about eating sea-urchins. Andrea takes the first mouthful and smiles at him. "Aureo" she says convincingly. Beautiful She's lying I can tell. I refuse the offering but Andrea tells me it would be an insult not to try it, in fact it would be an insult not to eat the whole thing, punishable by death, exile or castration.
"It goes great with ouzo" says Niko in Greek. I take a little taste. It wouldn't go great with anything, especially ouzo. I have eaten many archinoos in my life. In Crisopigi on Sifnos I had picked dozens off the sea floor and Andrea, Amarandi and I happily ate the bright orange eggs. Amarandi in particular loved them and kept sending me down for more. The eggs taste both fishy and sweet. But this tastes like raw fish guts, lemon, olive oil, vinegar and sand and the texture is even worse. I try to just eat the eggs but they are impossible to separate from the grit and guts now that everything has been bonded by the oil. The grit is probably reconstituted sand. I'm eating shit soup from a creature that only eats sand.
    Luckily Niko goes up the steps to his room to get ready for dinner and I have time to decide what to do with the awful stuff. I offer it to Niko the cop but he looks at me like I'm crazy. I offer it to all the old men but they all put up their hands in self-defense, waving me away. I have to get rid of it before Niko returns and makes me finish every mouthful while he slaps me on the back in encouragement. If I pour it out in the garden, one of the old men might squeal on me, plus it would smell and attract flies I decide to dump it down the toilet. I can't put it in the Turkish toilets upstairs because I might run into Niko or his son, though I could lie and say I was bringing it up to them. But then they might notice that I had hardly eaten any and force me to drink it right there. The best plan is to try to sneak past Katina in the kitchen and flush it down the downstairs toilet. As I pass her she catches sight of the bowl so I offer it to her. "Sure, leave it on the counter" she says, and I rush out relieved and hoping I'd seen the last of it.
    Rather then leave the rest of the bag of unfortunate sea-urchins to rot until lunch tomorrow, I take them back and tie them to the dock again. On the way up I stop in the bar and Esther asks me about them
    "You have some archinoos? " Word gets around in a small village.
    "Do you want some?" I ask her.
    "Are you kidding. I love them. They are the best mezedes with ouzo!" She declares with enthusiasm. I give her half the bag. I tell her I will supply her with all she wants.
    "Just don't give me any with my ouzo, especially if you are using Niko's recipe.

    The next day when I go to look at the leftover sea urchins they are gone. They had died during the night and all their spines had fallen out and been washed away leaving little round skeletons. I had seen these skeletons underwater but I never realized that they shed their spines so quickly after they died. I break the sad news to Niko the contractor and he seems disappointed at the prospect of no sea-urchins tonight, though come to think of it, I didn't see him eating any last night. Maybe it was a big joke and they had all stayed up in their rooms laughing at the stupid American who ate the sea-urchin-sand-shit-stew he had concocted. But I promise him I will find some bigger and better sea urchins when the sea calms down.

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