November 1st – The Festival of the Squid

For the last few days, and indeed this morning before the sun rose, most of the anglers and fishers of Buentoille will have broken from their normal routines and swapped their normal nets and other such equipment for specialist squid poles and lures. These lures, or ‘jigs’, to give them their proper name, sink down to near the sea floor, and have many spiked barbs designed to catch hold of a tentacle or two with ease. Most of this kind of fishing is done close to shore, in the bay, and generally before it gets too bright, when squid, with their large eyes, tend to slink off to murkier depths. There are those, however, who have more specialised equipment still; thicker lines, heavier weights, enormous rods to catch enormous creatures. These fishers go far out to sea, into the inner ocean where its gets incredibly deep, and if they are very lucky they will pull up gigantic squid, metres long, not even counting the tentacles.

All of this is in aid of today’s festival, The Festival of the Squid, where the streets and plazas of the dockside districts will be heaving with folk munching on this seafood delicacy. Brightly coloured stalls line the streets, selling fried and battered squid rings, squid soups, squid-ink pasta and rice dishes, stuffed squid, pickled squid, squid salads and stir-fries. There are squid sauces and pieces of salted, dried squid to dip in them. For the brave there are whole squid, freshly killed (serving live animals of any sort is illegal in Buentoille, so please do not believe these myths), fermented squid, or squid marinated in super hot chillies. Squid potato cakes are there for those who don’t want to be reminded that their food lived recently. The stalls centre around Saint Fibrass’ Dock, where the central event, the giant squid, are unloaded and butchered into large steaks, which are served in a number of ways.

Other than a nice boost for the fishing industries, what is the real purpose of today’s festival? As with many of Buentoille’s food-related events, the festival is tied in with the early days of the Communal Reconstruction, when hunger was rife and starvation waited patiently at the window. No longer able to depend upon imported food after the Revolution, when the Seven Cities Trading Company attempted to destabilise Buentoille by cutting off their supply, the City was forced to look to neglected sources of sustenance. One instance of this was foraged foods and peas, as is celebrated on Pea Day, but also many more folks gave up their jobs and became fishers, where a more immediate source of food could be found. Before this point, squid and other tentacled creatures were seen as ‘dirty’ and not worth eating by Buentoillitants, and fishers would throw them back into the sea, but it didn’t take long for these attitudes to shift once hunger came knocking.

The real turning point of these attitudes was this day in 1909, the day that today’s festival commemorates, when starvation in Buentoille was looking most likely. This time of year is supposed to be the most bounteous, when the harvest has recently been brought in, and nature is a larder. Yet there were serious issues with the harvest in 1909; the weather had been awful and destroyed many crops, and a plague of squinnich beetles had overrun the fields. This latter detail was an extremely rare occurrence, and the beetles were almost definitely planted by the Trading Company or monarchists. The terrible weather had also meant that the City’s fishers hadn’t been able to go out on the water safely, although many had tried nonetheless and had been killed. For now there was still a small stock of non-perishable foods, but these were being kept for the long winter months when even less food was available. Things were beginning to look desperate.

What a relief it must have been, then, to see Warral Bastian and his small fleet returning safe and sound through the stormy waves, an enormous catch filling their hulls! They had gone out a week before and had been presumed dead, but now they were back with enough food to feed half the City, if you counted the gigantic squid dragged along by Bastian’s vessel, an enormous fishing ship called ‘The Smell of the Morning’. Stories of the squid’s size have no doubt been exaggerated over the years, but documentary evidence can prove that it was well over twenty metres long, too big to be hauled aboard. Bastian had apparently fought with the monster for seven hours before it succumbed to its harpoon wounds. Since that day nobody has caught anything even approaching the size of that squid, the nearest being fourteen metres. Perhaps the terrible weather that year stirred the monster of 1909 from the depths? It’s not that they haven’t been trying; every year before the giant squid are cut into steaks they are measured and the catcher of the largest each year is awarded a trophy, hat and title (Feeder of the People) as their prize.

Ultimately, this sudden influx of food was just enough to tip the scales in Buentoille’s favour. Whilst by itself it would not have fed many for long, it meant that the winter foods were not eaten straight away, and whilst many went hungry and malnutrition was rife, a tiny minority actually starved to death. Today those hungry days are long passed, and the celebrations are more about gorging oneself silly, rather than avoiding starvation, but why not? This was what those pioneers, those Communal Reconstructors dreamt about in bed with any empty stomach, after all.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Venerating the Deep Fathers
  • The Festival of Plant Feasting
  • The Sky Looks Lonely Day