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Palermo, June 24th. IN
the course of our acquaintance with some gentlemen of sense and observation in this place, we have learned many things concerning the island, that perhaps may be worthy of your attention; and as this day is fo hot that I cannot go out, I shall endeavour to recollect some of them, both for your amusement and my own. The thermometer is up at 811 So you may judge of the situation of our northern constitutions.
There is one thing, however, that I have always observed in these fouthern climates; that although the degree of heat is much greater than with us, yet it is not commonly attended with that weight and oppression of spirits that generally accompany our sultry days in summer.
I am fure, that in such a day as this, in England, we should be panting for breath; and no mortal would think either of reading or writing. That is not the case here; I never was in better spirits in my life: Indeed I believe the quantities of ice we eat may contribute a good deal towards it; for I find, that in a very violent heat, there is no such cordia al to the spirits as ice, or a draught of ice-water:
it is not only from the cold it communicates, but like the cold bath, from the suddenness of that communication, it braces the stomach, and gives a new tone to the fibres. It is strange that this piece of luxury (in my opinion the greatest of all, and perhaps the only healthy one) should still be so much neglected with us.
I knew an English lady at Nice, who in a short time was cured of a threatening consumption, only by a free indulgence in the use of ices; and I am persuaded, that in skilful hands, few remedies would be more effe&ual in many of our stomach and inflammatory complaints, as hardly any thing has a stronger or more immediate effe& upon the whole frame ; and surely our administering of warm drinks and potions in these complaints tend often to nourish the disease. It is the common pra&ice here, in inflammatory fevers, to give quantities of ice-water to drink; nay, so far have they carried it, that Dr. Sanghes, a celebrated Sicilian physician, covered over the breast and belly of his patients with snow or ice; and they assure us, in many cases, with great success.But, indeed, I ought in justice to add, that this physician's pra&ice has not been generally adopted.
Perhaps it is from the present benefit I find from ice, that I have said so much in favour of it; for I am fully persuaded, that if I had not a quantity of it standing here below the table, I should very soon be obliged to give up writing, and go to bed"; but whenever I begin to flag, another glass is sure to set me to rights again.
I was going to give you some account of the fisheries of this iland.
The catching of the tunny-fish constitutes one of the principal Sicilian amusements during the summer months; and the curing and sending them to foreign markets make one of the greatest branches. of their commerce. We were invited yesterday by the Prince Sperlinga to a party of tunnyfishing ; but the violence of the heat prevented it.
These fish do not make their appearance in the Sicilian feas till towards the latter end of May ; at which time the Tonnaros, as they call them, are prepared for their reception. This is a kind of aquatic castle, formed, at a great expence,
of strong nets, fastened to the bottom of the sea by anchors and heavy leaden weights.
These tonnaros are erected in the passages amongst the rocks and islands that are most frequented by the tunny-fish. They take care to shut up with nets the entry into these passages, all but one little opening, which is called the outward gate
of the tonnaro. This leads into the first apartment, or, as they call it, the hall. As foon as the fish have got into the hall, the
fishermen, who stand sentry in their boats during the season, fhut the outer door, which is no more than letting down a small piece of net, which effe&tually prevents the tunny from returning by the way they came. They then open the inner door of the hall, which leads to the second apartment, which they call the anti-chamber, and, by making a noise on the surface of the water, they soon drive the tunny-fish into it. As soon as the whole have got into the anti-chamber, the inner door of the hall is again shut, and the outer door is opened for the reception of more company.
Some tonnaros have a great number of apartments, with different names to them all; the saloon, the parlour, the dining-room, &c. but the last apartment is always stiled la Camera della Morte, The chamber of Death: this is composed of stronger nets and heavier anchors than the others.
As soon as they have collected a sufficient number of tunny-fish, they are driven from all the other apartments into the chamber of death
; where the slaughter begins. The fishermen, and often the gentlemen too, armed with a kind of spear or harpoon, attack the poor defenceless animals on all sides; which now giving themfelves up to despair, dalh about with great force and agility, throwing the water over all the boats; and tearing the nets to pieces, they often knock out their brains against the rocks or anchors,
and sometimes even against the boats of their enemies.
You see there is nothing very generous or manly in this sport. The taking of the Pesce Spada, or sword-fith, is a much more noble diverfion: no art is made use of to ensnare him; but with a small harpoon, fixed to a long line, they attack him in the open seas, and will often strike him at a very considerable distance. It is exactly the whale-fishing in miniature. The Sicilian fishermen (who are abundantly superstitious) have a Greek sentence which they make use of as a charm to bring him near their boats. This is the only bait they use, and they pretend that it is of wonderful efficacy, and absolutely obliges him to follow them ; but if unfortunately he should overhear them speak a word of Italian, he plunges under water immediately, and will appear no more.
As these fish are commonly of a great size and strength, they will sometimes run for hours after they are struck, and afford excellent sport. I have seen them with a sword four or five feet long, which gives them a formidable appearance in the water, particularly after they are wounded. The flesh of these animals is excellent; it is more like beef than fish, and the conmon way of dresling it is in steaks.