The 41st parallel runs through, among other countries, Spain, France, Croatia and Kyrgyzstan. It was the path taken by author and fly-fisherman James Prosek, on his journey to explore the fishing cultures around the world. Host Pippin Ross talks with Prosek about his new book, Fly-Fishing the 41st: Around the World on the 41st Parallel.
ROSS: The 41st Parallel slices through, among other places, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, China and Japan. It's the route traveled by Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great in their campaigns of conquest. It's also the path taken by author, James Prosek, who left is Connecticut home on a quest to find the native trout of mighty rivers such as the Seine, Tigris and Merced. The result is a memoir of that journey called Fly-Fishing, the 41st. James Prosek joins me in the studio. Hi, James, welcome to Living On Earth.
PROSEK: Hi. It's good to be here.
ROSS: Now, this is remarkable to me that your address where you live in Easton, Connecticut is 41 Kachele Street. But I'm really wondering which came first, your address or the pretty much undeniable fact that the 41st Parallel winds through incredible countries.
PROSEK: Well, the idea to travel a latitude line around the world was my editor’s at Harper Collins. But we settled on that I would travel the latitude line of my home because it kind of justified the journey a little bit, the 41 degrees north. Because if I traveled the latitude line of my home, I would be leaving in a straight line from home. So I would be escaping home and heading toward home at the same time, which I think is something we're all kind of doing, in a way.
ROSS: Do you think that entering these countries as a fly fisherman on your quest gave you an advantage over other foreigners?
PROSEK: Oh, definitely. Fishing is one of the few universal things that we do. I think it's because it's part of our evolutionary fabric and the fact that we're predators. Our procedure for trying to find native trout in a place like Turkey was to walk into a village, find some usually elderly person walking down the street because they'd been there for a while, and say alibalek, are there trout here, and they would say, evet, or yok, yes, or no, and then oftentimes would invite us for tea. We would have to endure the tea ceremony, and then they would take us upstream in their tractor or on their horse and show us where the trout were. But it's definitely something that people do everywhere, and I found it was really a good connection to disparate cultures.
ROSS: So you must have learned the word for trout in about a dozen languages?
PROSEK: Yeah. In Iranian it's ...(inaudible). In Armenian it's ...(inaudible) or ...(inaudible). In Italian it's ...(inaudible).
ROSS: You and an Austrian named Johannes Shoffman, who is sort of an amateur trout biologist. You traveled thousands of miles together, and really in pursuit of real native species, which, of course, often reflects a degree of environmental healthiness. What did you find?
PROSEK: Well, it's really difficult now to find pure genetic native trout in Europe. They began propagating trout artificially in hatcheries about 150 years ago. East of the Balkans, Serbia or Greece, if you can find fish at all, you know that they're pure genetically and that they're native fish, because they've never introduced non-native trout there. The problem is that recent wars have sort of taxed the fish populations. I returned last summer with Johannes to former Yugoslavia, and in Croatia, in Serbia, the people-- we were looking for native trout, and the people said, well, you know, we were really hungry during the war, and we threw explosives in the stream to kill them to eat.
But other streams, ironically, the fish benefited from the war. There's a river called the Zrmanja in Croatia, which was on the front line during a lot of the fighting in the Balkans. And they mined the banks of the stream so heavily that the locals are afraid to go there now. And for the last 10, 12 years, the fishing population has been totally untouched.
ROSS: You are, aside from a writer, a very accomplished painter. And one of the things that was really great about this book-- because I haven't seen a book like this since I was about 10-- and it has pictures in it. It has your own paintings. They're watercolors, mostly. As an artist, what are your most lasting images of this journey?
PROSEK: Oh, I love architecture. And other than the people, I love seeing the different buildings and drawing them, everything from Mosques in the Black Sea Drainage in Turkey, to the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The architect, Frank Gehry, is obsessed with fish, and the titanium plates on the outside are supposed to resemble fish scales. So you see tributes to water and fish in everything. And these different images of the people, the things they build, are things that kind of stick in my mind.
ROSS: You know, you're really starting to make me see--
PROSEK: See fish.
ROSS: See in fish.
PROSEK: Well, you see yourself in the fish, because the scales are reflective. When I take photographs of fish that if I was wearing an orange sweater or something, the fish would look kind of orange, and I didn't think of it before that what I was wearing made a difference in how I painted the fish. Because I work from photographs sometimes, and the fish are reflecting myself in them, which is kind of nice and something I only noticed recently. But I do love fish.
ROSS: James Prosek is author of “Fly Fishing, the 41st: Around the world on the 41st Parallel.” James, thanks for speaking with me today.
PROSEK: Thanks, Pippin, for having me.
ROSS: And you're listening to NPR's Living On Earth.
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