Wotter Otter

In 1962 relatives in Canada decided their poor English cousins would benefit from a generous bulk-load of cream cheese and sardines. For months my mother would mime our breakfast choices. Clucking like a hen to indicate dairy – don’t ask – or opening and closing her mouth like a fish.
I have no living relative to either deny or confirm my claims but I do remember having mashed sardines covered in black pepper, on buttery, burnt edged toast for weeks on end, and very tasty it was too.
So when it was decided that B roll would head out to Monterey Harbour it was with anticipated delight that we learnt that sardines were on the menu only they were not out of a can. Although ‘Cannery Row’, John Steinbeck’s book, and the area, are properly honoured in the main street.
Dominic Mercurio owner of ‘Cafe Fina’ revelled in his pole place on the pier. Small with deeply ingrained laugh lines, the white haired gambling man, who never went to college, described the pier as his playground. His grandmother was still alive and lived at the end of the boardwalk.
His father, and hoards of Sicilian fishermen, left Italy to work the boats in Tunisia. When they got thrown out they landed in Californian waters, where they stayed. Beautiful black and white photographs adorned the restaurant. His grandfather, father and life long friends, macho and muscular, standing aboard fishing boats beamed down off the walls, felt like we had travelled back in time.
A friend rushed into the restaurant clutching a fishing line and a bucket, Dominic demanded we chased after him. Cameraman, AP and me ran after the bucket. Along the pier and left down some steps. Sardines were chased around the harbour by friendly seals into the clutches of the veteran fisherman. As the sardines flapped around in the pale, we watched them as the hot sun baked our backs. Back at ‘Cafe Fina’ Dominic prepared his 600 degree pizza oven.
The sardines were cleaned and carefully laid on the fiercely white-hot coals.
Pulled out with a long handled pizza paddle, the sardines were served up on fresh bread and homemade tomato sauce. A bunch of parsley dipped into the sauce was used to brush the little fishy’s on our dishes, little parsley besoms.
This culinary adventure matched eating fresh sardines cooked under hot sand on a beach in Portugal 40 years before.
When Dominic served up pizza, so fresh, so tasty, washed down with superb Italian coffee, Roll B found it hard to tear ourselves away.

Professional as ever, though, we took our leave. We shot more B roll in and around the harbour, had a wonderful fishy lunch, then set off to meet the others.
Now eating fish can be as troublesome as eating meat when you are an animal lover. Not eating anything with a face can be tricky when you are filming a food show, so honouring the animals as they slip down your throat is a necessity, especially when you have visited the remarkable aquarium at the top of Monterey High Street.
We arrived early in the morning before the crowds turned up. And before you worry about captivity of fish this sea world is known for its remarkable conservation work. An aquarium with a forest of kelp dominated one wall. Standing outside the aquarium, looking up at the fronds of seaweed, waving back and forth, made me seasick, I kid you not, but it was thrilling watching giant sea bass and spotted sharks diving through the foliage, dodging the camera.
My nautical blue and white striped dress was perfect for a day by the sea, but before we left for the pier I was led to another fishy landscape.
Years ago, a wise man, using Native American cards, dealt me a spread to determine my very own animal totem. ‘You can only do this once.’ he said as he shuffled the cards.
I pulled the Otter. In Cherokee: tsiya nvwati, it represents femininity, balance and playfulness. Others describe the Otter as symbolising motherhood. Up until June 25th 2015 I had never seen an otter in real life.
Leaving the kelp forest it was across the hall, large and airy, past the open air amphi theatre outside, down three steps and there they were. The most beautiful of creatures swimming around. Otters upside down, chasing each other, mesmerising us with their antics. Huge stones and plants in the water enabled the otters to do what otters do, scratch and dive. I’m convinced my nautical dress attracted them. But my very own totems put on a display just for me……and the hundreds of other visitors.
We filmed up and down Monterey’s main street taking in an ice cream and sweltering in the hot sun.
Then it was all aboard for the 118 mile drive to San Francisco.
Music, nuts, bottled water and sleep accompanied the trip.
San Francisco beckoned. We were all staying in THE PALACE hotel. A hostelry of many Persian carpets and well tuned hospitality. I was put in room 711. It overlooked the car park because I had a bath, a tiny little one as it goes, perfect for one of the seven dwarfs, but since I’m losing height with age, it was also perfect for me. This was the hotel with the hot seat. My first sitting frightened the life out of me, I thought the bathroom had caught fire. The bathroom was furnished with crispy white towels, complimentary bottles of shampoo and conditioner and that hot loo.
The room had two huge double beds covered in white linen sheets.
I carried the moisturiser with me to slaver over my over heated face. Fancy stuff, then I read the small print. For three days I had been putting hair conditioner on my face. It didn’t seem to do any harm.
Room 711 was so comfortable I stayed in. Olly went to visit an old friend, the others went out carousing so I ordered room service. The table was wheeled into my room. Onion soup and salad, with fruit for afters. Too much salt. Having slurped my supper I tried to put the table down. Where was an ‘oosbind when you needed him? I could not get that table down. It was a big metal trolley taking up half the room. I tried to wheel it out of the room, it jammed between me and the bathroom door. I manoeuvred it round and trapped my fingers between the wall and the metal rim. I pushed and pulled, called down to reception to send me an engineer with a heavy mallet, and then I took a moment and wondered what would the old git do. I gave it a hefty whack and that mother of all tables bent double. I Wheeled it outside the door and cancelled the engineer.
Decided to take a bath, but couldn’t work the shower fitment. I called down to reception to send me an engineer with a heavy mallet, I pushed and pulled then did to the tap what I did to the table, gave it a hefty whack and bingo there was running water. I cancelled the engineer.
Then I called housekeeping to have somebody come and take the bottom mattress cover off. In came three delightful latino chamber maids who talked over the bed, me and my request.
‘Sorry’ they said.’There is no underneath mattress to take off, this mattress is zipped together, why’da want us to do Maam?”
They looked at me like the mad English woman I was. If I weren’t jeni Barnett I would have been extremely embarrassed, as it was we all laughed as I dismissed them.
Finally after a blissful knees up bath – couldn’t stretch my legs out – I slid into my undercover free bed and drifted off. China Town was on the cards, and a change of outfit, I fell asleep thinking about sardines, sandals and sun frocks.

1 thought on “Wotter Otter”

  1. OMG. I don’t know what the Palace is or where, but I recommend the Ritz Carlton. “Greens” is the finest vegetarian restaurant in SF. It is on a pier near where one walks along the park to the Golden Gate Bridge. Even my carnivore husband loves the food at Greens. If you get a spare moment, go there. XX

Comments are closed.