Pyrofani (pee-roh-FAH-nee). Fire and revelation in one word. Hunting with light.
You are a young man of fourteen. You want to do manly things and run with the big boys. You spend your summers in a seaside village--the village of your ancestors--and your time revolves around the beach. Every year, for a few nights, you saw the men go off in the evening with their nets and their spears and their lamps. Over the short years of your childhood, the understanding of this event has escalated from a mere acknowledgment of absence to a wish to join, to the certainty that one day you shall.
And then the day comes. Preparations begin before evening. You already know how to untangle and bundle nets, and how to smartly cast a line fifty feet out with no pole. You know how to row the boat. This time you, too, will take the brief walk, no more than a mile, to the shore and to the small, green boat tied up by the tiny concrete jetty. As dusk turns into night, the men have their usual hearty meal, laugh and argue about politics and sports, and drink white wine out of small water glasses while the women look after the little kids and the pots. The men, just the two or three that want to go, depart before midnight. Even four is a crowd for a tiny vessel so space will be tight.
The boat is rowed out over the rocky shallows and the gas lamp hanging over the bow is lit. Your elders are counting on the port authority's patrolmen to look the other way, should they stop the boat and find you on board, without a fishing licence. As long as you have only a 500-lux lamp with no mirror and nothing more menacing than spears, the patrolmen will give you the sort of look reserved for maggots and gruffly suggest that you get a licence because next time there'll be a fine. And other noises that figures of authority make in the middle of the night, mostly because they're expected to.
This is action. This is not fishing. This is not using lures and baits on hooks and waiting patiently for chance to bring a victim. Here you hunt. You confront your prey eye to eye and have one shot to get it before it swims away. If the law does not concern you, you can fish like the pros with nets and target squid or fish that come to the light in shoals. But here you're doing it the legal (which means nothing) and time-honoured (which means a whole lot more) way. You're standing over the bow, next to the light, with nothing but your kamaki, the same three-pronged, ten-foot spear that the ancients must have used. And your prey is invisible and as clever as you are. You can spot a young eel, barely three feet long, twitching along the bottom, or a cuttlefish darting around. Both are legitimate targets but they are not what you came for.
You came for the octopus. It is attracted to your light, but it is wily and does its best to remain camouflaged on the rocky bottom. You learn to watch for any movement. It is night and the octopus is hunting so he cannot stay still all the time. Just like you, he must move to hunt. And that's when you spot the gliding motion across the rocks, through the clear water six feet down. You are young and inexperienced when the men let you get up and try. You're balancing just inside the boat, right next to the lamp and peering into the water. Your thrust is too slow and poorly aimed. You rock the boat so hard that your uncle spills his beer and you almost take a dip behind the octopus, which surely is mocking you while the men behind you give you a deserved ribbing of their own.
Most of your time will be spent rowing. You paddle ever so softly, your oars not dipping but gently sliding into the water and out again as you barely provide enough speed to counter the currents drawing you into deeper waters and let you almost drift parallel to the shore. Sea creatures are easily spooked and you will have to move on to the next hunting ground if you make as much as a single splash. You're good at that. You can show that you're young and strong by pulling for dear life as your partners bag a swordfish in the daytime. At night you learn to be subtle. No fidgeting on the bench, no tapping your feet, no loud jokes.
Dawn comes early enough in early August. At the first hint of silver on the horizon, the silver that promises another hot, cloudless day, you start heading back to shore. You corral, as you've been doing since the first one was caught, the live octopus that are desperately slithering out of the bucket and heading for the gunwale.
The men tie up the boat and take the gear back to the house. They also take the fish and squid that were caught incidentally. One man stays behind for another ten minutes to show you your next job. You're left with a bucket or two of slimy mollusks. Your job, as the sun breaks, is to kill the catch, humanely or not, and tenderise it for the pan and red wine that await it at lunch time. Octopus are tenacious beasts. They've already been speared and hauled out of the water, some of them many hours earlier, but they're still doing their damnedest to escape. Your all-nighter ends with you slamming live animals against a concrete jetty, feeling tired and smelly but as content as you have ever been. If you're lucky one of your early-bird cousins will show up and lend a hand.
The fire reveals what's hidden in the night. The daylight reveals a young hunter and his prey, as it has done for many generations before in the innumerable places on Earth where little rites of passage build up into adulthood. By the Greek seaside they call this one pyrofani, the revealing fire.