Smiling flirtatiously, the blonde, elegantly-dressed woman approached the man behind a table lined with mounds of anchovies, sardines, squirming lobsters and bright-orange shrimp.
Immediately the seductress, playing a “cat and mouse” game in this Trogir, Croatia fish market, she mischievously asked, “What can you offer me that is right out of the sea, something really good for my husband?”
A place for gossip, romantic liaisons, and heated arguments, Ribarnica is more than a mere market. This historic, red-tiled institution only a short drive from Split on the Adriatic Sea, is a raucous, often salty-tongued “playground.”
Beyond the shouts of “fresh fish, fresh fish scallops that will change your life tonight,” the emotional, passionate, and even volcanic temperament of Croatian people becomes very evident.
“Pretty lady, I have something very delicious for you, I am here just to please you,” laughs the fish seller, grabbing a lobster and rather provocatively dangling it close to the woman.
“I am here just for you, speak to me, how can I help you,” he quickly adds, reaching for a long knife, and adding, “try this swordfish. So perfect for grilling. So are these sardines. Believe me. Eating them with some good wine will make your husband a new man.”
The thinly-veiled innuendos—and acerbic repartee that eventually entails haggling over prices—evokes the fun and entertainment of a Middle Eastern bazaar.
“It’s always a knockdown fight, a contest of wills between egos and pocketbooks,” observes an elderly man in between sips of coffee from a nearby cafe.
“Everyday it’s different here. Who knows, always exciting, sometimes a dog barks, and sometimes a rabbit runs. Tomorrow that money thing could change. The rabbit, not the seller, will have a good day.”
Visitors win everyday. Ribarnica is theatre. There are so many verbal acrobatics, jousting for position, give-n-take over tables filled with exotic-looking creatures, this colorful market has a distinctly earthy Mediterranean flavor.
But “dangers” still lurk. Especially from stampedes.
Provoking this wild, very amusing spree, a fisherman yells, “Skuša, skuša, mackerel, the freshest, heavenly mackerel. Come! Come! Now!”
Dozens of housewives and men over-burdened with packages start dashing towards the fisherman’s stand.
“What’s the price of your unbelievable mackerel?” scoffs a wry skeptic.
“100 Kuna (13 Euros). That’s nothing. Very good price!,” barks the fisherman.
“100 Kuna? Are you crazy?”
“You don’t like? Then go home to your wife with no fish. See what that gets you tonight”
The banter continues. Soon there is no more mackerel. It’s been good day for this particular “barking dog.”
One more day is over, one more Ribarnica story has been written.
A meeting place for women to secretly talk about their husbands; a rendezvous point for lovers; and a convenient, relaxed setting for arranging business deals; Ribarnica is all about anger, love and mystery.
If only its’ stone walls and tiles could talk.
Or perhaps not.
Maybe it is far better to savor some grilled sardines, and to allow those mysteries to remain hidden.
What do you think? Please let us know!