Monday, 18 February 2008

5 - The Great Crabescape



Hi All,

First a note regarding 2 key dates that are rapidly approaching us:

1. Wednesday 20 Feb Lunar Eclipse – keep ya beads peeled to enjoy the astro-spectacular event. Note Earth’s Shadow! Here’s a useful website
In London it’ll start about 01:45 (early early on 21 feb) and hit total at 3am but you won’t see it behind all the clouds anyway.

My total will be in Brazil at midnight – great!

South Africa you have total at 5am (again this is really early on 21 Feb)

And in Victoria/Vancouver/San Fran/LA the moon should rise (20 Feb) during the total phase of the eclipse, which could be really interesting – large and red – and a great opportunity for some interesting photography with it close to the horizon. I don’t know when moonrise is though – 7ish?

2. Leap Year so there’s a BONUS day - 29 Feb I know its just another day and many of you will have to work (hahaha) but I think its as good a day as any to make a point of doing SOMETHING you really want to do - perhaps for yourself or someone else or perhaps just for the FUN of it! I plan to spend it as irreverently as possible and from my radical “FUN-damentalist” position I recommend you do that too.

What I will be doing is a well-kept secret (I’m keeping it even from me) to make sure you make your own choice about what to do that bonus day! Ok I am pretty sure whatever I do that day it will ALSO involve at least one interpretative dance to “With Cat-like Tread (upon the way they steal...)” from The Pirates of Penzance which one among your number have been familiarised with.

And now for the main attraction of this posting along with a couple of shots...

Crab Rescue

In a previous ‘despatch’ 3 – Crab is off the menu I spoke of the desire to rescue a crab:

“I will save a crab. And I will return it to its habitat. And it will probably not even realise its fortune. And it’ll probably just get recaught again the next day. But maybe not. Maybe that crab will go onto to fulfil its full crabness. Either way I will not know. I know the gesture is only tokenism but at least I will believe that there is a crab out there that is linked to and alive because of me. It will be like Schrödinger’s Crab – it may be alive if I do not know it is dead. So it can live for as long as I, and any memory of it I pass along, survive. Like the Little Prince who upon finding vast fields of roses on earth learns that what is special about his rose on his planet is that it is his rose. It is the rose he knows and loves. So for me too, I will know there is one crab out there that is my crab, one I love and one I know.” 28 Jan 2008

This quest resumed immediately after the baptism of fire that Carnaval in Olinda was. Carnaval is an incredible cultural event and a huge party. It warrants an essay of its own but its not getting it, not yet, not now but I would repeat the experience in a heartbeat in the same amazing front-line way with the same salt of the earth people. Post carnaval I headed back North to Fortaleza – the crab-hungry capital of the North East of Brazil. I did not want to stay long in this town. I felt my time in the area was done (for now) and I wanted to head to the South of Brazil. I was also in desperate need of a complete reset in terms of laundry and headspace. But as a Completionist I had this one last task. Its good I’m not Herculean in my self-tasking though. This seemed an easy prospect...

But I arrived in the evening and immediately my rescue plans were held up by a lack of information. I asked many people where I might be able to buy a live crab and got as many different answers as people but none convincing at all and mostly that it was not possible. I figured a trip to the main beach restaurant section might turn up more and better info. Quite possibly I may even only be able to purchase a live crab from a restaurant and insist on taking it away, kicking and uncooked. Snatching life from the boiling pot of death!

After an expensive cab ride to the area, I was disappointed to find the region nearly deserted – it being more of a daytime, sunset area. At this point I took to explaining to my elderly cab driver, Flavio exactly what it was I wanted to do with a live crab.

In my shattered Portuguese I was able to say this:

“Eu gusto de carangue moite. Mas nao comer. Eu vo compra uma mas vide. Possu du livre”

Literally translated this means something like – “I like crab very much. But not eat. I want to buy one but life. Can to free”

Eventually this phrase and my extravagant hand movements worked. His smile when it clicked was both wonderful and telling. That I was mad but that it was a funny and kind enough thing to do that he should be part of it. He confirmed what another cab driver had said about a crab buying location - early the next morning (and only that morning – no other, thank the great crustacean lord, I did no relish any more time in this town than necessary). He voluntarily discounted our journey that night and agreed to pick me up the next day. He earned a tidy amount from this adventure, which is good. It proved that taxi drivers get to see a lot of strange stuff and know a lot about their towns. He also got a good story of a crazy crab-loving foreigner that day too.

I’d been concerned that as a crab-clueless gringo I’d be sold dud crabs. Crabs missing legs or too far-gone, dehydrated and uninterested in survival. That would defeat what I was trying to achieve. My desire was to be able to believe that out there, was a crab, mine, like the Little Prince’s rose, special only to me and only because it was my crab. I’d also hope that out there, is a crab that has a special human in amongst all the humans because that human is hers. And for me to believe that would require a strong display of desire for life and freedom from the crab itself.

Flavio picked me up an hour late - just at the point I was fretting in a useless touristic fashion and overheating at 830 am – the day already up to 29 degrees and looking set to go to 38. We drove to the crab selling street corner. Here there were some 4 or 5 piles of crabs – perhaps 100 crabs in each pile. When we walked up several guys bustled about us proffering ‘racks’ of 8 crabs closely tied together with reed strips. This purchase period was unnecessarily frenzied in my opinion making me (rightly so) suspicious that the ‘rack’ contained duds. Why were we rushing the sale? There had been rumours of illegality in this kind of sale though that can scarcely really be credible. There was a lot of movement amongst these crabs but impossible to see that each had every leg. I agreed on a particular rack being waved around a lot – probably in an effort to wake the groggy crustaceans. One crab from a different ‘rack’ had somehow sprung its bonds and made a break for freedom, only to be grabbed back by a handler. This display of desire for survival endeared it to me. Having one ‘rack’ of 8 already I got this loose lively one added to the deal. 6 Reis they cost – less than £2.

While Flavio drove, I chatted to the crabs in a bucket in a rucksack and poured water over them. They just watched me, calmly, as if resigned to their fate. I guess they’d been captive long enough and had tried hard enough to escape that they figured they had no chance.

I’d selected a large inner city park and mangrove region known as the Parc Ecologique de Coco to release them into. Its a very big park and surrounded by favelas on many sides. Flavio insisted on dropping me at a region well patrolled by armed police. I was pretty sure they were there for the safety of any visitors/joggers and not to stop people bringing crabs in. But I was playing at eco warrior, feathers in my hair, crabs in my bag and being unsure of the legal status of inner city crab release I was nervous.

The first thing I noticed was that this mangrove swamp did not need any more crabs. There were already thousands! Many different kinds, colours and shapes. Ah well, I thought at least it is crab friendly. More on this in a minute...

I found a secluded corner next to a major lake and set to the task of releasing them before I myself was hauled in for eco-terrorism. Cutting the grass/reed strips holding them together was intense yet super simple with my knife. With each cut came a satisfaction entirely different in meaning and denied to the celebrity cutting a cord/ribbon on a new appliance store.

As the little lovelies were cut free they began to scatter. Well, one of them was on his last 3 legs (bastards) so did not make much ground – I helped it into the water so at least it would have some relief. One other was already dead. I placed his remains in the water too, he will feed others of his kind rather than man. The remaining 6 crabs were all seemingly fit and strong The last of the ones tied together nearly made it into the water with the grass bounds still about him. I managed to grab him and cut him completely free. It was quite a frenetic 2 minutes or so. I knew I would write of these moments so wanted also to illustrate the tale with a photograph or two. So I was wielding a camera and leatherman in a ridiculous dance of record, cut and release with a host of terrified but active crustaceans.

I’d liked the idea of them, having been tied together for so long (possibly even from the same neighbourhood back in the mangrove swamp) and now being able to discuss amongst themselves the fortunes and misfortunes of their situation. Tricky. So far away from home with a brain the size of a pea. But most simply scuttled away from each other and me. 2 remained together disappearing into the same hole. I liked that.

I guess if they had an inkling of their fate - rumours getting back to the distant villages or overhearing hungry humans discussing their culinary plans – then the crabs may have been anticipating one last moment in which they would have a chance to escape. So they may have been primed for just this moment to bolt. “Ok lads, we’re going to have one last chance so be ready, conserve your energy but don’t go to sleep – be alert and at that moment we all just go for it – ok?”

Naturally I am personifying but crabifying is too hard for me as a human with no exoskeleton, recessed eyes and only 4 limbs.

After cutting free the 8 - I turned back to the bucket. I’d brought many green leaves to provide some sort of comfort for the journey from street edge to sanctuary. Nestled amongst these was the 9th crab. This was the one. This one had shown the most fight and will to live. This one had caught my eye. Slightly smaller than the others, I had imagined her a female, which I liked – allowing the prospect of belief in breeding to create a dynasty.

This last one and I regarded each other. She watched me closely. I watched her just as closely; marvelling at her beautiful colours, purple though greeny-white. When I reached in she did not try to move away but revolved her eyes around in opposite directions, once, returning them to watch me. Gently I lifted her hard, surprisingly weighty body out of the bucket and placed her on the mud of the mangrove. As her legs touched down and she felt my grip loosen, she took off. Eyes still on me but directly away, into the water, to safety and hopefully to live a life.

Its not lost on me that what I did might have been ecologically immature and even dangerous to the ecosystem I added them into. After all this mangrove already had enough of its own crabs. But it is the same region so hopefully its all ok. I do not know enough about crabs to know of sustainable breeding group sizes or species crossing. I strongly suspect that these crabs – the magnificent 7 – may be dead very soon. Traumatised by their alien abduction. Stuck in unfamiliar surroundings with potentially hostile inhabitants. They were a group and might’ve been friends but I doubt their brains work to function as a team pulling together for survival in this type of extraordinary situation. But that does not matter to me. What matters is that I saved these crabs from being eaten by men. And even better, these crabs each tasted the sweetness of unlikely redemption. All had struggled to escape and they all had a moment in which to rejoice and believe they were going to make it. To be free once more. If in the end they starve or die a lonely death at least it is a natural one and all of us arrive at this fate.

It was this moment of urgent success and elation at reaching safety that I gave to the universe that day and with it I savoured something akin to it too. I expect that day and those moments to remain with me for some time – keeping me smiling and crying outward and inward at appreciation for the wonder of life.

I imagine there is another possible brief moment of elation as some of these crabs are released into tanks in restaurants. This however, is a false dawn that doesn’t bear thinking about. As they then watch their comrades being taken and eaten until finally their own fate is sealed with a trip to the kitchen.

I hope when the time comes, I too am feisty and ready enough to take advantage of any random selection for rescue.

It does make me wonder about all the ecological impact studies and so on that must be raging all over the planet in an effort to understand and sustain the environment as it is - suitable for human and species life as we know it now. After all its not the planet we’re trying to save just humans. The planet will take care of itself and snuff out the destructive species we humans are in good time. As ever. Just a shame that so many other innocent species will be wiped out with us.

Also why not put this kind of energy into really doing something about the situation. Such as improving the transport link so less crabs need to be taken. Keep the price high by only taking the same end number. Thus enriching upstream. Sadly though that would inevitably mean less manual crab catching labour positions so people would be out of jobs and in the end they’d also still probably catch crabs and send them the old way as it’d still be as lucrative and there’s no way, I, as a gringo could control this trade and action. Sigh.

But there is a crab out there that I love because it is my crab. A crab that counts a human among her angels. A crab that can now always have hope and may speak of redemption and positivity to her fellows. A crab that no matter how bad a situation may be, will always believe there is a chance! And it feels good to me to know that and to believe it of my own life.

It was the work of a Modern Romantic Completionist (sub-category Completing Idealist). I did what I promised to myself I would do all those many days earlier on the hot banks of a distant river. If you must know I backtracked a long way to achieve this task but keeping this kind of promise is important to me.

Oh Crab...