CHAPTER 7: The Mediterranean in Forty-Eight Hours
Inside the Mediterranean, then, I could catch no more of
its fast-passing scenery than a traveler might see from an
express train; in other words, I could view only the distant
horizons because the foregrounds flashed by like lightning.
But Conseil and I were able to observe those Mediterranean fish
whose powerful fins kept pace for a while in the Nautilus's waters.
We stayed on watch before the lounge windows, and our notes enable
me to reconstruct, in a few words, the ichthyology of this sea.
Among the various fish inhabiting it, some I viewed, others I glimpsed,
and the rest I missed completely because of the Nautilus's speed.
Kindly allow me to sort them out using this whimsical system
of classification. It will at least convey the quickness
of my observations.
In the midst of the watery mass, brightly lit by our electric beams,
there snaked past those one-meter lampreys that are common
to nearly every clime. A type of ray from the genus Oxyrhynchus,
five feet wide, had a white belly with a spotted, ash-gray back
and was carried along by the currents like a huge, wide-open shawl.
Other rays passed by so quickly I couldn't tell if they deserved that
name "eagle ray" coined by the ancient Greeks, or those designations
of "rat ray," "bat ray," and "toad ray" that modern fishermen
have inflicted on them. Dogfish known as topes, twelve feet long
and especially feared by divers, were racing with each other.
Looking like big bluish shadows, thresher sharks went by,
eight feet long and gifted with an extremely acute sense of smell.
Dorados from the genus Sparus, some measuring up to thirteen
decimeters, appeared in silver and azure costumes encircled
with ribbons, which contrasted with the dark color of their fins;
fish sacred to the goddess Venus, their eyes set in brows of gold;
a valuable species that patronizes all waters fresh or salt,
equally at home in rivers, lakes, and oceans, living in every clime,
tolerating any temperature, their line dating back to prehistoric times
on this earth yet preserving all its beauty from those far-off days.
Magnificent sturgeons, nine to ten meters long and extremely fast,
banged their powerful tails against the glass of our panels,
showing bluish backs with small brown spots; they resemble sharks,
without equaling their strength, and are encountered in every sea;
in the spring they delight in swimming up the great rivers,
fighting the currents of the Volga, Danube, Po, Rhine, Loire, and Oder,
while feeding on herring, mackerel, salmon, and codfish; although they
belong to the class of cartilaginous fish, they rate as a delicacy;
they're eaten fresh, dried, marinated, or salt-preserved,
and in olden times they were borne in triumph to the table of
the Roman epicure Lucullus.