Baldi had a deep voice and headed the church choir. Every Easter, he would bear the cross ahead of ten men carrying a marble sculpture of the body of Christ. All of them wore pointed hoods with eyeholes, much like those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. They sang mass as they meandered through narrow streets, followed by villagers holding candles.
Baldi used to fish octopuses, and sometimes he would come back with a bucket full of them. One afternoon, I saw him head back to shore, and I asked him how many he had caught. He told me he had fished over twenty, but he had thrown the smaller ones back in the sea.
‘How do you do it?’ I asked.
He replied 'Octopuses are like people – they seek company. They hide in nooks inside rocks, and they only come out when they see one of their own approaching. I swim up to the rock and wave a white plastic bag. After a few seconds, one or two octopuses, crawl out of their hideout – and that’s when I grab them.’
‘Do they fight?’ I asked.
‘Yes, and you must take them out of the water to kill them. But you must kill them in a certain way otherwise their flesh becomes hard and rubbery, and they’re no good to eat.’ He said.
‘Can you show me?’ I said.
He fished an octopus from a bucket full of water and holding it by its tentacles, he turned towards me.
‘You bite into its head, smash the head on the ground, turn its head inside out and bite out its beak.’ As he spoke, he performed this in front of my eyes. There was nothing violent in the way he did it. He looked as if he were doing just another chore, like repairing a fishing net, or sandpapering the hull of his boat.
‘Now, it’s your turn he said,’ handing me an octopus.
I was only ten, and I was scared, but I didn’t want to disappoint him. Also, some of my friends were watching, and I would never have heard the end of it if I’d backed down.
Somehow, I did it, finishing off by spitting the octopus's beak in the direction of my wide-eyed friends.
I thanked Baldi for teaching me all his secrets and handed back the octopus. He held up his hand to stop me, saying that I could keep it, as long as I was going to eat it.
‘Never kill anything you are not going to eat - that’s a sin.’ He added.
That summer, I caught so many octopuses my mother started putting them in the freezer and giving them to her friends.
Not many summers after he had taught me to fish octopuses, Baldi died of a heart attack. Now, every time, I pass a fishmonger, and I see an octopus, I can hear Baldi saying to me ‘Never kill anything you are not going to eat.’ And forty years later, I still try to live by that code.