On Saturday, July 9, in Ioannina, the capitol of Epiros in northern Greece, we had lunch at Spuntino, an Italian restaurant set on the edge of Lake Pamvotis, a deep glacial lake surrounded by mountains.
The lake contains an island where Ali Pasha was executed in 1822 by assassins from Constantinople because the Sultan believed the Ottoman Albanian ruler had gained too much power over his realm.
Ali Pasha wowed visiting poet Lord Byron with his luxurious lifestyle, amid his mosques, palaces, Janissary corps of soldiers, his harem of 300 women and the seraglio of young men.
Inhabitants of Ioannina believe that the mists rising over the lake in the morning are the ghosts of the many women Ali Pasha had his henchmen drown in the lake, tied in bags weighted with stones, because they had displeased him in some way.
Visitors ride to the island in small boats to see the sights and eat at the fish restaurants, featuring tanks full of live eels, frogs, trout and other fresh-water seafood. (Once in the seventies, when I visited Ali Pasha’s summer home on the island, where he was killed, I saw that Jackie Kennedy Onassis had signed the guest book at the top of the page.)
But we like to eat on the mainland lakeside, called the Molo, usually ordering the shrimp risotto at Spuntino.
As we watched the boats sail past and the loon-like birds diving for fish, our meal was interrupted by a Greek fisherman climbing over chairs and tables while he played what was clearly a very large fish on his hook.
He followed it around, through the restaurant, patiently exhausting it –letting it out and then pulling it back--without breaking his line. I couldn’t help thinking of Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea”.
We carried on eating and watching the lakeside drama until the fisherman managed to exhaust the fish and drag it close to the lakeside, where a friend produced a large net.
By the time the fish was landed, a crowd had gathered.
The triumphant fisherman was applauded by the crowd as his dying prey flopped on the shore, trying uselessly to get back into the vast lake of ghosts and legends.
And then Nick and I went back to our dessert of watermelon and honeydew.
(If anyone can tell me what kind of fish this is, I’d love to know. I did ask the fisherman and bystanders, but got a variety of answers all of which meant nothing to me.)
P.S. An eerie coincidence. As I was typing this at noon on Thursday June 21, the Greek TV news is announcing that a small firefighting plane has fallen into the lake of Ioannina—but I don’t know yet if the legendary Lake Pamvotis has claimed another victim.)