Toro Del Mar
A giant tuna appears near Catalina as the world lurches toward war.
Fishermen have targeted bluefin tuna in the Pacific Ocean for thousands of years, chasing a fish prized for its high-quality, deep-red meat. Historical records indicate that coastal communities in both Japan and western Canada were landing bluefin as early as 3000 BC. In Japan, small-scale fishermen took bluefin primarily by harpoon and hook and line before the use of traps and driftnets began to spread throughout the region in the late-nineteenth century. At the same time, recreational fishermen off the coast of California’s Catalina Island were targeting bluefin larger than 100 kg (220 pounds).
The Ama Diver 海人
October 16, 1938, 6:33 a.m.
A Japanese ‘mermaid’ clad in flowing white cotton glides over a submerged seamount eighty-five feet underwater offshore from Catalina Island, at a site called Church Rock. Attached to her ankle a mesh sack trails behind squirming with sea creatures. The members of her ancient Ama order are rigorously trained in deep water free diving so Japan’s royal tables could display succulent saltwater delicacies. This intrepid diver, Sachiko Berenguer is supporting her family — her Spanish Civil War-wounded husband, Jack and their teenage daughter, Kiko.
Using her kaigane tool, the diver pries the broad muscular foot of a particularly large white awabi (abalone) from its hold on the seamount wall when she becomes aware of a muffled murmur above. Even at her current depth of 85 feet she easily identifies the sound as that of an outboard motor. She quickly examines the mollusk, seeing that the lacy, beige and yellow-green of the shell tentacles shaded into the mottled orange-tan flesh of a healthy, mature white abalone. The white is the abalone most prized for its tender and tasty meat, so this one will surely bring an extra dollar or even more from The Catch in Avalon. With the two Pacific lobsters, sea urchins, several scallops and an octopus she has captured alive, this had already been quite a successful single breath dive.
Sachiko had been holding her breath while working underwater for over three minutes, but she calmly lingers a few more seconds to examine the wall for more white abalone and mentally mark their positions before kicking strongly up through the kelp forest toward the surface.
During her ascent, she hears a second motor, and then garbled voices. Sachiko carefully surfaces behind an emergent rock, controlling her air intake. Boat motors are idling on the other side of the rock. Two men are arguing.
These two men and their dispute mean nothing to Sachiko, and she knows it is wise to avoid intervening when men are upset.
She estimates her own boat’s position to be two coves to the west — she had moved with the east-flowing current farther than she had anticipated. She begins to sidestroke quietly back towards her boat when one man’s angry voice cuts through the morning air. She knows that voice.
“Where is the rest of it?”
“Take it easy,” says the second man. His voice is high pitched and aggrieved. “I can explain.”
“Where’s the rest of my money?!”
“There’s no ‘rest of it,’” says the second man, defensively. “That’s it.”
“My count is just under 50 grand. It’s supposed to be 73 grand. I’m missing 23 Grand. Plus!”
Sachiko is swimming slowly, quietly away, and is preparing to dive.
“That’s all we took in last night, Curt. About 47 grand. I swear.”
“You stupid shit. I’ve told you. No names!”
“Who cares? There ain’t nobody out here. We’re in the middle a fuckin’ nowhere.”
“Against my better judgment, Bert, I’ll give you one more chance. Where’s my money?”
There is a sharp metallic click as a gun is cocked.
“Jesus H. Christ. Put that away, before you hurt somebody.”
“Bert, if brains were leather, you wouldn’t have enough to saddle a June bug,” says Curt, with a humorless laugh.
“No, Curt. No. No. Please,” Bert says, the desperation pitching his voice higher as he fumbles in his pockets. “OK, look, I took a few grand, sure. But it was Johnny who took the rest.”
“I know all about Johnny,” says Curt. “You got more money on you?”
“Sure, I got it right here.”
Bert’s boat suddenly accelerates.
A sudden gunshot followed by the unearthly howl of a mortally stricken man.
Sachiko takes a deep diving breath and slips beneath the surface.
Another shot, muffled by the water.
She swims down and away from the sound of Bert’s prop spinning at high rpms. She looks up to see the boat moving quickly past.
Another sound, a third shot — the time delay drawing out the echo of the fatal shot. Bert’s boat above her suddenly slows and begins to move in a wide circle. Then, the other boat accelerates to join it.
Sachiko swims on with powerful underwater strokes into the current and toward her boat. She considers the probability that Curt Sauer has shot this other man, Bert. She has always feared Sauer, because of the way he looks at her. Even more frightening is the way he looks at their daughter, Kiko.
But, killing someone? She experiences uncontrollable chills as she swims. She tries to calm herself and to preserve her breath. ‘I must find my way safely back to Kiko and to Jack,’ She chants silently as she swims. ‘Jack, I’m coming back to you, my love. Jack, I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.’
Up on the surface, Sauer maneuvers his Chris-Craft “utility” boat adjacent to the other boat, which is still moving with Bert slumped inertly over the tiller. Using a gaff hook, he tugs Bert away from the tiller, and the outboard motor immediately decelerates. Sauer hangs two bumpers over the starboard hull of his utility and secures the other boat fore and aft.
He moves into Bert’s boat with two canvas bags, one empty and the other bulging. Bert is now lying face up on the bench, blood pooling on the planking to either side of the keel.
“You don’t look so good, Bert,” says Sauer.
Pressing Bert’s carotid artery, he confirms a lack of pulse. His second shot has killed the man instantly — through the back and out the front of his chest. He is disappointed to admit that his first shot has missed, though he allows that his aim might have been hampered by the gloves. He pulls the head up and closes the eyes. Sauer looks up at the steep Palisades of the island looming above but sees no movement. He kills the outboard motor.
“Preparation, Bert. That’s what my daddy taught me about huntin’,” Sauer says to the dead man. “He used to say, ‘Course you gotta shoot straight, but it’s preparation that gives a man his best chance to make a good kill.’”
Pushing the body back up to vertical, leaning it again over the outboard tiller, Sauer pats the dead man’s pockets. He reaches in and takes out a wad of money and tucks it into one of the canvas bags. He ties a hemp line to the bench support, loops it up and around the body’s neck, then ties it back to the bench again.
“Bert, like your mama told you, sit up straight,” Sauer says, with a satisfied chuckle. “I gotta tell ya, dead is a good look for you.”
Carrying a line attached to the bow he retreats to his boat, ties the line to his stern, and begins towing the boat slowly seaward.
Sachiko has surfaced next to her boat. She can hear the exertions of someone moving around. Then she hears Sauer say something but cannot make out his words. His voice sounds near enough that she dares not make any noise by boarding her own boat. Then, she hears an outboard motor operating under stress and soon after that the two boats become visible as they clear the coast.
She ventures a look to see that Sauer is towing the other boat, in which Bert is strangely sitting upright, apparently helping to keep the craft on course by using the outboard as a tiller.
Sachiko, for the moment trapped in place, wonders if she has heard correctly. Maybe there had not been any gunshots. Or, perhaps Sauer had missed. What if he only wanted to warn Bert and missed on purpose. Why is he towing Bert away from the scene? Maybe that was the noise she heard — his engine blew up? She waits in the water, hiding behind her boat hull, trying to stay calm.
After several minutes, she ventures another look. Judging that the two boats are now far enough away, she climbs nimbly into her boat, starts the outboard and begins motoring westward along the Palisades.
She first thinks it might be a good idea to put in at Ben Weston Beach and wait for a few hours before making another move. She knows that Jack will worry about her if she did not make their lunchtime rendezvous, scheduled to occur today near Binnacle Rock. But she reassures herself; there had been diving trips in the past that had taken hours longer as she roamed the ocean floor seeking delicacies to sell. She hoped he would understand. In any case, it made sense to be cautious. Once he is over deeper water, Sauer again boards Bert’s boat. He unties the dead body from the boat bench and strips it. This is a challenge as Bert’s overweight body has already stiffened from rigor mortis.
“If I had a dog as ugly as you, Bert, I’d shave his butt and make him walk backwards,” says Sauer, looking at the naked body with distaste. He puts the rope and clothing into a canvas bag. From the other bag, Sauer takes two leg cuffs with a 5/8” stainless steel chain connecting them. He opens each cuff, snapping it into place onto each of the dead man’s ankles.
“Thick ankles, buddy-boy,” says Sauer, forcing the final cuff onto one ankle that appears much more swollen than the other.
He drags out two large sandbags, each of which has been trimmed with stranded cordage and worked into a cringle grommet. Using a length of rope wrapped three times around the leg cuff chain, Sauer ties the rope ends off using a ‘sailor’s knot.’
“Here you go, Bert. Sinkers,” says Sauer. “Maybe you’ll catch a shark.”
He tests the integrity of his work and finds it firm. Straining at the dead weight of the body, he manages to pull and push it over the edge of the boat and into the ocean. For a few seconds, the body floats motionless on the surface, rotating to a face-up, almost fetal position, its closed eyes making it seem to be asleep. Once the weights are tossed overboard, the dead man is pulled abruptly down, with such velocity that both eyes pop back open, as if in surprise. Sauer watches the body sink out of sight into the deep blue below.
“Nobody fucks me,” Sauer says, glowering at the slightly choppy surface of the sea. “Cheap crook. He had it coming.”
He returns to his boat and steadily accelerates to the southeast, with Bert’s boat in tow. His plan is to intersect the Southern California countercurrent, which flows northward along the coast, and to release the empty boat. It would inevitably follow the current flowing north and thus land the boat somewhere near San Pedro or Palos Verdes. It wouldn’t matter where the boat landed, or even if it was ever found at all. They would find no fingerprints. The blood on the inside of the boat would confound whoever found it. The body would never be found.
Sauer is following a course diagonal to Catalina Island, periodically searching the horizon with his binoculars. During one visual scan along the backside of Catalina Island he catches a flash of light reflecting from what could only be a glass surface. He angles his course back toward the island to get a closer look. As he comes closer, he can see what appears to be another boat, nearer to the island, moving north.
Sachiko has pushed her diving goggles up onto her forehead. As she scans seaward in the direction Sauer has gone, a sunray shoots sharply off her goggles.
Sauer sees this and immediately slows, turning in a slight circle to avoid being overtaken by the towed boat. Needing now to move quickly and unencumbered, he must release the other boat, even if he was not as far into the countercurrent as he’d planned. He pulls the launch over to his own boat hand over hand, tosses the bow-line aboard and shoves the boat clear, not bothering to watch it any longer than it takes him to confirm it is floating clear and drifting away.
Accelerating his own launch quickly, he adjusts his course enough to reduce the distance between his boat and the other boat, though not enough to appear that he is chasing it.
This is bad, he thinks. Or, maybe it’s nothing. Fuck this weak thinking. It is what it is. So, find out what it is.
He carefully triangulates and reduces the gap sufficiently to confirm that it is indeed an outboard-powered boat being driven in a northwesterly direction below the Palisades.
Sauer looks at his watch and calculates the distance to be about 6 knots from the spot near the seamount where he had killed Bert. It would have taken this 15-horsepower outboard about 45 minutes to reach its current position. He looks again at his watch. About 45 minutes had elapsed since the shooting.
“God damn it to hell!” Sauer says. “Who’s in that boat?”
He adjusts his course again to draw closer, hoping he will still appear to be going past, rather than toward the northwest bound craft.
He raises the binoculars again. And recognizes her.
“It’s the diver!”
Sauer throttles back immediately. His face twitches involuntarily as he considers how to deal with the woman. His eyes flicker and then hold firm as he prioritizes his next moves. He knows this diver woman to be the wife of that one-legged fisherman, Jack Berenguer. He doesn’t know her name.
Sauer adjusts course to intersect Sachiko’s boat.
Sachiko has been observing Sauer’s boat with suspicion as soon as it appeared to be getting closer. Now, seeing Sauer coming straight toward her, she realizes she is in real danger. Her mind runs quickly through her options.
She quickly accepts the fact that he could outrun her — his modern Chris-Craft “Utility” is at least half-again faster. And she does not want to confront him boat to boat if he pulls alongside.
There is only one escape. She estimates that she has about three minutes until she must go overboard.
She loads her kaigane tools into the dive bag with the animals she has gathered. Then she takes a last look around the boat.
There. Her leather-bound journal, a parting gift from her mother in which Sachiko faithfully keeps detailed notes of her daily catch.
Hating to take it in the water and glancing nervously at Sauer’s boat looming her way, she hurriedly writes a warning note to her family, using her daughter’s birth name as a code. She drops the note into a gap between the hull and the seat support — it falls out of sight behind the board:
She throws the pen into the water well away from her boat, pulls her goggles down over her eyes, grabs her tools and dive bag, takes her deep diving breaths and jumps into the water.
This is perfect, Sauer thinks, as he sees her go into the water. Now, she’s stranded. She can’t climb the Palisades. She wouldn’t swim west — the long way around the island. Her only choice will be to swim along the coastline to the southeast past Binnacle Rock and get to Avalon that way. He would have time to get back to the Barranduna, get his diving gear and descend to his pocket submarine.
Satisfied with his analysis, Sauer opens the button on his left breast pocket and takes out his cigar case. He selects one cigar, reverently takes it using two fingers and looks it lovingly.
“Totalmente a mano,” Sauer says aloud, reading the cigar band, “Reserva de Montecristo, Numero Quatro.” He fishes a matchbox out of his pocket, scratches a match briskly on his pants leg, and lights the cigar.
As he leans back in his seat to smoke, Sauer relaxes. He is nearing 60. His face is a weathered, sun-burned map of his outdoor pursuits. His clean-shaven face has taken on a bit of a jowly look as he ages. He considers himself to be in good shape, though his height of 6’ 2” enables him to carry more weight than he will admit having. His pride is his hair, which he wears in a complicated combed-over fashion. It is artificially colored using hydrogen peroxide, resulting in an odd, orange tinge.
I got time, he thinks, let her swim. What’s her name, anyway? Some Jap. Maybe she’s all that the one-legged loser Berenguer could get. Why would she need to dive for abalone and exotic shellfish all around the island? Must need the money. Yeah. How much money is that shitty little glass-bottom boat making? She’s also the mother of that sweet young pussy, Kiko. Underage, but you don’t always have to throw them back. Sometimes you keep an undersized fish for the eating. That little Kiko would be delicious. I’ll have to kill this Jap diver, of course. Her being a potential witness is unacceptable. It will have to be done carefully, quickly. No mistakes. I’ll do it himself. Today. It has to be done while she’s still swimming. “
Sachiko surfaces within five minutes about 500 yards down current from the boats. She has removed her white cap and goggles, coming up in a thick bed of giant kelp so her dark-haired head seems to be nothing more than another gas-filled bladder bobbing up. Sauer now seems to be looking her way. He is sitting in his boat, and a cloud of smoke hangs around him. Sachiko takes more deep breaths and continues her underwater journey toward Binnacle Rock.
After three more dives, she feels she could begin to swim on the surface if she checks periodically behind her. She estimates her arrival time to be around noon if she can keep a steady pace — she has made the right move by diving and swimming away from the boat. Once again, she begins to believe she has escaped. And with each stroke she reminds herself …gaman …gaman …gaman…gaman… As her mother had taught her, if you persevere, you will make it.
Sauer does not see or hear her surface in the kelp bed. Knowing she is an experienced diver and powerful swimmer, he waits ten minutes for her to clear the area before advancing on her boat, boarding and searching it. He finds nothing.
Must’ve taken her catch with her, thinks Sauer, who was hoping to have gotten some nice lobsters and abalones. He decides against towing her boat, because it would raise suspicion. She might have told her husband or someone else the location of her dive. He searches it quickly, then leaves it where she anchored it, and heads away Southeast on his own boat.
He is pleased that his crew had stayed in Avalon harbor. Nobody else would be aboard when he returned to the Barranduna. Perfect, he thought, and then reconsiders. No, that’s not quite the word for it. It’s amazing symmetry, he decides, digging in his memory for the Aristotle quote.
“The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness,” he says, blowing smoke into the wind.
“I will definitely get you, little Jap bitch. I’ll use the pocket sub — come up on you from below.”
As she swims on, Sachiko begins to hear the hum of the power plant intermittently in the distance. This familiar sound is comforting — she is getting closer.
Swimming closer to the rocky shore, she is scanning the depths below her for sharks when a very large fish rises quickly up from the depths. It is the biggest bluefin tuna she has ever seen, a huge male weighing at least half a ton, and it swims slowly beneath her. Turning deliberately to one side, the great fish turns one eye toward Sachiko, who has stopped on the surface, watching the tuna carefully. The tuna’s eye rolls slowly away as it flicks its mighty tail and descends again in a stunning shimmer of refracted light from its body. The tuna disappears quickly into the depths below.
Sachiko is both excited and comforted by this sighting as she waits for her heartbeat to return to normal before continuing her swim.
Sauer stores his pocket submarine in a well-hidden underwater base near the Southern tip of Catalina Island, within underwater swimming distance from the anchorage of the Barranduna. The one-man sub rests 45 feet down, secured to mounting bolts drilled into an overhanging reef wall which shields the craft from view unless you somehow happen to be right next to it. Sauer approaches the sub using his Le Prieur compressed air underwater breathing apparatus. The air is contained in a Michelin pneumatic cylinder carried on his chest in a special harness, delivering air into Sauer’s diving facemask at a pressure controlled by a hand operated regulator. Excess air and exhaled breath are evacuated by slightly lifting the edges of the mask. Once he reaches the sub, Sauer swims up into an air-water exchange chamber which he then seals shut. Turning a mechanical valve, he activates a generator motor that begins to evacuate the water. Once the switch is clear of water, he turns on the mini-sub’s compressed air system, he opens an overhead hatch and climbs up into the sub’s cockpit. He begins his pre-route checklist.
Pity I can’t fuck her first, Sauer thinks, as he releases the mounts and backs the pocket sub out from under the reef. He feels the adrenal rush of primitive anticipation rising within him as navigates up to a cruising level a few feet below the surface. He raises the periscope.
“Now, you frisky little frail, let’s see where you’ve gotten to.”
Headline in Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1938: Woman Diver Found Drowned in Catalina Cove.
The Leaping Tuna
June 1, 1898
The following passage is by Charles Frederick Holder, Founder of the Tuna Club; Author, The Channel Islands of California.
“It fell to my luck — that ephemeral, evanescent something — to kill, under conditions favorable to the game, the first very large leaping tuna taken with rod and reel. Big tunas had doubtless been caught before; they had been harpooned, caught with ropes, shot, perhaps with bombs, or trapped in nets of rope, but this splendid fish had been tricked and played to a finish, with a line so tight that a jerk would have broken it. Technically, in the language of anglers, the line was a number 21. So, there were no regrets; the game had been fairly killed, and more than once had me on what is called the ‘run.’
“I believe this el toro of the sea, which was six feet four inches in length, and weighed one hundred and eighty-three pounds, was a typical tuna, the embodiment of what is best in the tribe, the hardest fighting game fish known, rich in reserve and force, prolific in expedient, and invested with an inexhaustible supply of that something which, translated, means ‘dying game.’ Such, in brief, was the incident in the catch of the fish that became the first record of the Tuna Club, which was founded on Catalina Island a few days later.”
[New York Times, June 1, 1898] Advices just received from Havana say that since 2 o’clock this afternoon the American fleet at Santiago de Cuba has been cannonading the batteries of Morro Castle, La Zocapa, and Punta Gorda. At the same time, it is added, the American ships have been engaged with the Spanish warships.
June 19, 1917
One Pacific Bluefin Tuna is born in the Sea of Japan. This buoyant tuna egg emerges as a single pulsating life among billions of others. Nearby, thousands upon thousands of adult Bluefin tuna actively spawn in clear waters.
After flowing four days down swift surface currents, the egg hatches and a small male larva emerges. A mere tenth of an inch long, this tuna has inherited the genes of its largest and most robust forbears, giving it a much larger head and jaws than any of the other tuna. The tiny fish also carries more than a hint of the brilliant blue he would become, especially on his still rudimentary dorsal tail. He begins immediately to feed.
This fish joins all the “young-of-the-year” tuna who move down the west coast of Australia and first appear in the Great Australian Bight. Millions of tunas gather in the Bight during the Austral summer, scattered east or west within latitudes of 30–40 S in autumn, and then return to the Bight in spring. Juveniles return each summer (December in the Southern Hemisphere) to the Bight where they form extensive surface schools.
[06/19/17] A partial solar eclipse occurs in the Earth’s Arctic region when the center of the Moon’s shadow misses the planet.
March 23, 1918
The tuna spends his first Southern Hemisphere summer, December through April, in Australia’s coastal waters. He then joins a deep ocean, large multiple species school, which includes albacore, yellow fin, bigeye, skipjack, frigate tuna, bonito, and yellowtail. His body is by now a metallic deep blue above and his lower sides and belly are silvery white, with alternating colorless lines and rows of dots. His first dorsal fin is blue, the second red. His anal fin and finlets are yellow, edged with black, and his central caudal keel is black.
[03/23/18] At 7:20 a.m., an explosion in the Place de la Republique in Paris announces the first attack of a new German gun. The Pariskanond, manufactured by Krupps, is 210mm, with a 118-foot-long barrel, which can fire a shell 25 miles, into the air. Three of them fire on Paris that day from a distant gun site.
The Fisherman and the Mermaid
October 12, 1921
A young man hikes along the rugged coastline of Palos Verdes, California, climbing rocks and jumping rock to rock over tide pools. He passes under a steep, high cliff into a small cove where he sees a small rowboat in which a beautiful young woman is standing, dressed all in white.
She has been in the water and her white garments are wet and clinging to her body. She is absolutely still, staring into the kelp bed below her boat. Then she stoops quickly, picks up what looks like a long file or chisel and a white bag. Taking deep breaths, she pulls on her goggles, and drops backwards into the water.
She is underwater for so long that the man begins to worry. But then, she surfaces calmly near her boat and dumps four or five large abalone from her bag into a wooden basket floating in the water. She takes more deep breaths and disappears underwater again.
The man sits down on a rock and patiently watches each of her long dives, is relieved to see her surface, unload her catch, and then dive again. Eventually she fills up five baskets.
As the afternoon blends into evening, she finishes her work. She climbs into her boat, glances quickly ashore, hoists anchor, and rows through the kelp out of the small cove. The sun is setting, creating an ever-expanding orange glow around her. Just before disappearing around the point, she turns towards the man, waves and calls out in a clear, sweet, high voice, in Japanese. The man stands and watches the sea as the sun sets and then walks back the way he came along the coast.
[10/12/21] The cruise ship City of Honolulu catches fire sailing from Honolulu to Long Beach. All on board are rescued.
October 13, 1921
The next day the mermaid has rowed to the beach before the man arrives. She has hauled the boat up onto the small sandy beach of the cove, and sits primly on a large, flat rock, smiling shyly at him as he approaches.
She is more beautiful than he had thought. She is so stunningly and naturally pretty that he is unable to speak. She says something in a quiet tone, almost a whisper. The man stands for a moment gazing down at her.
And then he kneels down beside her, takes one of her hands in his, slips a gold ring on her finger, and asks her to marry him.
She leans into him, puts her other hand on his face, and whispers in his ear.
They separate enough to see each other’s faces, each looking at the other steadily, calmly, for a very long time, without speaking.
“Jack,” he says, patting his chest.
“幸子,” she says, “Sachiko.”
“幸子,” he repeats.
“Jack,” she says.
[10/13/21] The first meeting of the American delegation to the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armaments and Pacific problems was held today in the office of Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. A letter from President Warren G. Harding was made public in which he warned that the conference could hope for nothing more than a beginning of armament limitation.
The Tuna Swims 6,000 Miles
October 21, 1921
Like many young Pacific bluefin tuna, this particular fish makes a cross-oceanic migration. With other juvenile tuna, he makes the 6,000-mile journey to the Baja California coast in search of food in the productive waters of the eastern Pacific. After two to four years foraging off the Mexican coast, the vast majority of tuna return home to the same western Pacific waters where they were born. Once they reach adulthood, they stay in the western Pacific for the rest of their lives, with some fish venturing further afield and a very few crossing the Pacific again.
Now in the Eastern Pacific Ocean near Baja, this particular tuna is hungrier than most of the other fish in his school. With his ease of acceleration, he can overwhelm smaller schooling fishes, of which anchovies are plentiful. He is also partial to flying fish, which the school efficiently herds into a tight formation prior to feeding, chasing them to the surface, and leaping to catch them. He is agile enough to become airborne for twenty yards to snap a flying fish from the air. He clamps its body and yellow, translucent wings in his bony jaw, then begins to gulp down his juicy prize as he re-enters the sea, his ventral fins already moving powerfully. Even so, herring are his favorite.
[10/21/21] Warren G. Harding delivers the first speech by a president condemning the lynching of blacks by Southerners. Harding speaks out against these illegal hangings — committed primarily by white supremacists — in Birmingham, Alabama, amid signs of increasing racial violence in the Deep South.
October 26, 1921
Jack and Sachiko sit together on the wooden floor in her family’s small home in Fish Harbor, Terminal Island, California. Sitting across from them, Sachiko’s mother, Nanami is speaking to the couple in Japanese, with an imploring tone.
Behind her and staring at Sachiko and Jack is a photograph of a stern Japanese man wearing traditional Bushido garb. The image is surrounded by burning candles and incense, in a carefully tended memorial shrine honoring the wartime death of Tomohiro Takeda, Sachiko’s father. Tomohiro was killed two years earlier while fighting in the Japanese Intervention in Siberia. After his death, Nanami and Sachiko immigrated to America to live near Tomohiro’s older brother, the fisherman, Yoshitori Takeda.
Before he departed for the Siberian front, Tomohiro had insisted to Nanami that a marriage be arranged for Sachiko — the custom of mi-ai — although there was no time to select her partner. After Tomohiro’s death, that decision was conferred upon Yoshitori, Tomohiro’s older brother. And Yoshitori had duly selected a young man from his Fish Harbor tuna fleet. Nanami is pleading with Sachiko to honor his wishes.
Sachiko quietly but firmly admonishes her mother that, as an 18-year-old, she has full rights. Further, as an honored “Ama” she knows how to provide for herself and has done so for two years. Like her mother before her, and her grandmother before that, and 20 generations gone by, Sachiko is an Ama, an ancient order of women who dive to the ocean floor to harvest seafood.
Historians wrote of Ama as early as the 3rd Century, reporting that their important mission was to provide fresh seafood for Japanese emperors. By the early 20th Century, Ama had evolved into a tightly organized, matriarchal culture of entrepreneurs providing the very best and freshest items for the sushi chefs of Japan: sea urchin, abalone, eel, nori (seaweed), scallops, lobster, octopus and blowfish.
Having perfected special breath-holding techniques, Ama, including Sachiko and Nanami are able to stay under water up to five minutes at depths of 50 feet or more. They have been known to continue diving well into their 70s.
Sachiko now announces to her mother that she wants to marry Jack. And go with him to wherever his home is — she doesn’t care — she is in love.
Nanami, an Ama herself and a thoughtful woman, considers this for a time, then makes her decision to approve, pending the approval of her brother-in-law, Yoshitori.
[10/26/21] William Darelay “Bat” Masterson, 67, sporting writer, friend of Theodore Roosevelt, and former sheriff of Dodge City, Kan., dies suddenly while writing an article at his desk in the offices of the New York Morning Telegraph. The last of the old-time gun fighters, he is said to have once been the best-known man between the Mississippi and the Pacific Coast.
October 28, 1921
In the spartan apartment of Yoshitori Takeda a man and two women wait expectantly as Takeda prepares tea. Berenguer sees a shortwave radio, hears its soft crackling sound. There are Japanese characters on a horizontal poster above Takeda’s doorway. Sachiko and Nanami are sitting together quietly on a small futon.
Takeda sips his tea and eyes Berenguer appraisingly for an uncomfortably long time. Berenguer does not avert his eyes, but holds his teacup gingerly — it is infernally hot.
Finally Takeda nods, emits a non-commital grunt, and extends his hand out to Berenguer as if in invitation to speak.
“Takeda-san, I am asking you to approve my marriage with Sachiko-san.”
Takeda says nothing. Both he and Berenguer look at Sachiko and Nanami, who also remain silent.
“We love each other very much,” Berenguer adds quickly.
Nanami translates both of Berenguer’s sentences into Japanese. Sachiko says in Japanese that she loves Jack very much and wants to marry him. Takeda nods, and his face turns firm.
“Your work?” Takeda asks, in English.
“Fisherman,” Berenguer replies.
Takeda’s eyes light up. He looks at Sachiko, back at Berenguer.
‘Hai,” Takeda says in Japanese, then adds in English, “Yes.”
Sachiko jumps for joy, hugs her mother, her uncle, her future husband.
Nanami smiles and bows gratefully to her brother-in-law.
“There is much to do,” she says.
[10/28/21] “The nations of the world must get together and organize for the collective handling of matters which are of interest to all…or the degradation of civilization which began in 1914 will go on.” Novelist H.G. Wells, at the Conference on Disarmament, Washington, D.C.
November 13, 1921
Though tunas can go more than 30 days without eating, this fish’s early years are rich with available food. He does not go hungry and grows accordingly. The tuna himself is sometimes the hunted, and here his agility is lifesaving. Large predatory fish and seabirds are always a danger to smaller, younger fish.
[11/13/21] The United States, France, Japan and the British Empire sign the Pacific Treaty.
The Basque and Japanese Wedding
December 17, 1921
Jack’s parents, Leire and Fermin, a whaling man, had left the little market town of Guernica in their Basque homeland for America in 1887. The once-robust whaling industry in the region was dying. There had been a precipitous decline in the Right whale populations in the North Atlantic.
Fermin had found a whaling station on Deadman’s Island at San Pedro, California. This job gave the young family a stake in America. Jack was born at San Pedro Community Hospital in 1898, the second of four brothers in the Berenguer family.
By then, Fermin had become a fisherman in the San Pedro tuna fleet. And, Jack and his three brothers had grown up wanting to be fishermen.The wedding of Sachiko Takeda and Jack Berenguer honors the heritages of both, with elements of Japanese Kekkonshiki 結婚式) and Basque/Spanish (Ezkontzak).
The bride wears a white wedding kimono called in Japanese, “uchikake” with a white headdress. The headdress is big, rounded, and bulky and is said to hide the bride’s “horns” as a symbol of submission. As a special favor in honor of the Berenguer family, Sachiko is also wearing a gold necklace with a Basque protection charm.
The “Eguzkilore” (literally: flower of the sun) is a flower with a pronounced likeness to the sun which is placed or worn to protect against evil spirits, sorcerers, and Lamiak (mermaid- resembling creatures with bird’s legs).
When Jack placed the necklace into Sachiko’s hands, he kissed her fingers lovingly, folded them around the charm, and then told her the Basque creation story.
“At the beginning everything was dark, humans were not able to see, and the bad spirits were very comfortable. They asked Ama Lur (Mother Earth) for help.”
“Ama?!” Sachiko smiled. “Your ‘Mother Earth’ is named Ama Lur?”
“Yes,” Jack eagerly replied. “And to help the humans, Ama Lur had a child, Illaski, the Moon. Once the spirits saw the light, they became frightened. But some of the evil spirits got used to the Moon, so humans asked Ama Lur for more help. Then she had another kid, Eki, the Sun, giving more light. Almost all the spirits disappeared, and finally Ama Lur gave us a final help, Eguzkilore, so spirits go away from us when they see one.”
For the wedding, Jack wears a Basque outfit, with a white, open collared shirt, a black vest and beret, and sports a red sash worn cummerbund-style around his waist.
On this celebratory day, traditional dances of the Basque Country lead off the ceremonies. To the sound of flutes and drums, a local Basque troupe performs with baskets of fish, which in their own Spanish region, and here in San Pedro, California reflects their reliance on fishing in the surrounding sea.
Father Maximus Benso, pastor of Mary Star of the Sea parish, the site of the wedding, begins an abbreviated Roman Catholic rite. His homily relates the “Miracle of the Giant Fish,” a huge tuna which was caught in 1873 weighing over 900 pounds, thus boosting the fishing industry in San Pedro. As he hears the priest’s story, Yoshitori Takeda makes a mental note to find out more about this giant fish.
With a friendly smile and a Japanese phrase, he has learned for the occasion, Fr. Benso turns the ceremony over to the Japanese Shintō priest, Tadataka Kawakami.
Kawakami speaks in an ancient form of Japanese (with a longtime Fish Harbor resident translating into English). He tells of the Kami tradition. As manifestations of Musubi, the interconnecting energy of the universe, Kami are considered exemplary of what humanity, exemplified by the wedding couple, Sachiko and Jack should strive towards.
Then, the congregants observe the unique Shintō wedding practice called San-san-kudo 三々九度 (three-three-nine-times), or three-time exchange of nuptial cups.
Three flat cups (dishes with small, medium and large sizes) are used, and sake is poured into each, and the groom first sips it three times. The bride then follows him. The moment the ritual is finished, the couple officially becomes wedded under Shintō tradition. Traditionally, at the wedding reception, a cask of sake is served. At the conclusion of the sake drinking, Kawakami performs the sacred Japanese wedding dance, Toyosaka No Mai.
It is time for “Pintxo” and beer. In the Basque country, these little tapa snacks are regarded as a cornerstone of local culture and society.
Leire, Fermin, Nanami, Sachiko, their family members and friends serve the meal: Fresh-made Sushi shaped by sushi-chefs onsite; Plates of Iberian ham; Yellowtail collars prepared in a soy glaze; Grilled octopus in both Basque and Japanese sauces; Micuit pâté with essence of truffle served with pear and pumpkin compote; Langoustines a la plancha; Kobe beef steak & candied red peppers, bacon and potato cake with a Rioja reduction; Savory leek cannoli filled with langoustines and mushrooms with lobster sauce; Monkfish on purée of Porrusalda (a traditional Basque vegetable mixture); Wahoo prepared Tempura style with special Japanese and Basque sauces.
The wedding feast, with plenty of dancing and good cheer, continues.
The Japanese custom of mamemaki concludes the wedding day. Yoshitori, as the male head of the household, provides toasted soybeans called “fortune beans” (福豆 fuku mame)) to all the wedding guests. The guests are invited to throw the fuku mame at a member of the family (Jack’s youngest brother, Antton, wears an Oni (demon) mask. As they throw the beans, the people say, “Demons out! Luck in!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) and slam the door.
The beans symbolically purify the married couple by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Then, as part of bringing luck in, each guest eats roasted soybeans, one for each year of one’s life, and one more for bringing good luck for the year to come.
[12/17/21] In a statement read by Baron Kato to newspapermen, the head of the Japanese delegation expressed the hope that “the attitude taken by Japan as to the proposed naval limitation ratio would make it futile thereafter for anyone to picture Japan as a bellicose nation.”
December 21, 1921
The young couple lies entwined on a futon in a small ryokan at South Central and East 1st St. in the “Little Tokyo” area of downtown Los Angeles.
A steady rain falls outside. A fireplace infuses the reed-lined room with a rosy, warm glow. The couple cuddle more closely under their soft, white quilt.
The fire in the Ryokan dances as a stray drop of rain somehow finds its way down the chimney and sizzles as it disappears.
Now, as they lay naked together with the gentle rain falling outside, they contemplate what they have done. And as they begin to make love, they are happy.
[12/21/21] Prince Iyesato Tokugawa of the Japanese delegation at the Washington arms conference, in an address last night at a dinner in his honor given at the Hotel Ambassador, declared that the four-power treaty (between Japan, Great Britain, France, and America) was a moral pledge to consult one another in a friendly manner to maintain the peace of the Pacific. He complimented Americans for the “speedy” work of the Washington conference and announced that “Japan as a whole will rejoice in these agreements. Now a new era has come. You in America are powerful, wealthy, and secure. Your remote position, might, and prestige have given you a remarkable opportunity. Nations in the past have been eminent and have had such opportunities, but usually they have turned their superiority to the use of domination and of conquest. It was left to you to lead the world upon a new road, and your spirit of justice would not permit you to falter.”
Michiko Itxaro Berenguer is Born
September 19, 1922
[The San Pedro News Pilot] Born to Sachiko and Jacques Berenguer, Michiko Itxaro, a baby girl, who weighs 8 pounds, 7 ounces, at San Pedro Community Hospital;
This tuna is nearing sexual maturity at almost four years old and over 600 pounds. His only fears are marine mammals, including killer whales and pilot whales. There are also, of course, the commercial fishermen who want him for the meat they put in cans. And still others have perhaps a more esoteric hunger, and they prize the tender, red, fatty, raw flesh of his midsection, “otoro.” But he survives, and even thrives.
The Would-Be Priest
April 6, 1923
Santiago “Tago” Vindman is hiking West through the pampa of Misiones province, Argentina. He has left behind the small Ukrainian Catholic immigrant community of Villa Veinticinco de Mayo.
Tago is the son of a Ukrainian immigrant, Oleksandr Vindman, who arrived in Argentina in 1885. Oleksandr’s original intention was to settle in the United States of America, but because of difficulties with the U.S. Department of Immigration he applied for and was granted entry into Argentina. Settling in Buenas Aires seemed a reasonable decision (the ship landed there, he had met others who already had relatives. However he had been a farmer and wondered often about life on the Pampas. In Buenas Aires, Oleksandr met (descendant of a Black slave) arrived with their elder son, Andriy (5) and their daughter Iana (3). Tago was born in 1899 in Argentina.
All of the families were sent to the northernmost province of Argentina — Misiones — an almost unpopulated region of subtropical forest and pampa, which required cultivation. The new settlers were each sold 50 hectares of government land and were allotted food supplies, seed, and agricultural implements.
Because there were no Ukrainian Catholic priests or churches, the Vindmans along with many of the other immigrant families had decisions to make. They could join Argentinian Catholic church communities. Or, they could keep their own Ukrainian faith, which would mean that they could not baptize their children or get married or be buried by the church. So, with their own resources, they built a chapel where they gathered for communal prayers.
Tago had served as a deacon in that chapel. In 1922, the Ukrainian parishes in Misiones were visited by the head of the Church, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky of Lviv. During the visitation to Villa Veinticinco de Mayo, Tago had officially applied to the Metropolitan to become a priest.
Tago has recently learned that his vocation will not be granted. The reason given is that he has never been officially baptized.
Knowing this could have been quite easily remedied, Tago suspects a hidden reason. But he won’t speak of it.
Instead, he intends to catch a boat up the Paraná River and make his way to the Brazilian town of Foz do Iguaçu, from which he will take a bus almost 900 miles south to Montevideo, Uruguay. From there, he hopes to find a ship on which he can book passage to North America.
The evening before he leaves, Tago sits down with his parents, brother and sister, making his final case for emigration to the United States.
“Since the Metropolitan’s decision, I have thought about what I want to do. I want to fulfill our family’s first dream. I want to emigrate to the United States of America.”
His family members sit quietly, not speaking, looking at Tago or down at the table.
“I have been studying English and feel competent enough in the language to get along. I plan to enter and attend the University of California, Berkeley, where I will study the great psychologist Carl Jung and become an analyst, perhaps even a college professor.”
“So, you will not become a priest.” Tago’s father states the sad truth.
“No Papa, and not by my own choice.”
“But, Tago,” his mother says, brightly, “so then you will marry?”
Tago looks at his mother and touches her hand lovingly. He turns to his father, who looks away, seemingly embarrassed. He glances at this brother, whose smile is forced. He knows his brother will be happier after he is gone.
His gaze lingers on his sister, Iana, who is already married and has two young children. He takes the hands of his mother and sister in his, breathing deeply.
“If it is God’s will for me,” Tago finally replies, smiling enigmatically.
He leaves for good the next morning before dawn.
[04/06/23] Hysteria Fills Petrograd In Fear of the World’s End. A wave of religious emotion is filling Petrograd, Russia, where thousands are convinced that the world is coming to an end. This rumor arose from a scientific report that the planet Jupiter, which is off its course, would strike the earth or sun, ending the earth’s existence with one grand slam.
So serious is the hysteria that the Petrograd Academy of Science has called meetings everywhere, inviting the public to hear free explanations that Jupiter’s veering off at an angle is not going to end the world.
The religionists assert that Jupiter’s collision with Earth will come at Moscow, on account of the trial of Roman Catholic clerics. Workers, and even the bourgeoisie, are taking the rumor seriously. Some say that Jupiter will hit the world in Russia, because the famine failed to stamp out Bolshevism. Others say that it will come in America because that nation is too plutocratic.