THE SHIPWRECKED SAILORS & THE WANDERING COD
“I could tell you the story of the shipwreck,” says Steinar Larsen, smoothing his hands over the belly of a blue-striped sailor shirt. “But,” demurs the brusque proprietor of the Lofoten Stockfish Museum in the village of Å (pronounced OH-ah) “it would take too long.” Considering that the northern Norwegian summer sun never really sets, he’s got time.
Larsen fusses with a pair of dry, graying display cod, takes calls on his ancient flip phone, chats with a fisherman on the quay, and explains the minutiae of stockfisk (stockfish)—the dried cod that is this far flung archipelago’s lifeblood—to curious visitors. Despite his divided attentions, he manages, reticently, to tell the tale of the Italian ship and the central, almost mystical importance of the fish they found here.
Captain Pietro Querini, a Venetian merchant sailor, and his crew of 68 were bound for Flanders from Crete in the fall of 1431 when his ship was blown off course by ravaging storms near the English Channel. Damaged beyond repair, the drifting vessel was abandoned for two life rafts, one of which disappeared and was never seen again. The other floated up to the North Sea, finally landing on the rocky southern tip of Norway’s Lofoten Islands. Near frozen and delirious with hunger, Querini and his 10 remaining men clambered ashore in January 1432.
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