On the significance of turbot

Steamed fish on a bed of vegetables
Photo by Bern Fresen on Unsplash

Did the menu of the recent dinner held in Brussels by Ursula von der Leyen for Boris Johnson feature hidden messages for the guest?

Johnson was offered pumpkin soup and scallops to start. Such a starter may invoke memories of the “scallop wars” in 2018, when British and French fishing fleets clashed in a dispute about access to fishing grounds in the Baie de Seine.

But anyone reflecting on the second fish dish offered as the main course (steamed turbot, mashed potatoes, with wasabi and vegetables) should read Juvenal, Satires (1918) Satire 4 (A tale of a turbot). About a turbot presented to emperor Domitian, this is a satire on power, corruption – and the unwillingness of the lackeys to speak truth to power.

Juvenal, Satires (1918) Satire 4 (A tale of a turbot).

The first paragraph nails it! “Crispinus once again! A man whom I shall often have to call on to the scene, a prodigy of wickedness without one redeeming virtue; a sickly libertine, strong only in his lusts, which scorn none save the unwedded.”

It continues: “Did you, Crispinus – you who once wore a strip of your native papyrus round your loins – give that price for a fish? A price bigger than you need have paid for the fisherman himself…”

Johnson, as a Classics scholar, would understand the Juvenal reference and it would also serve as a nice reminder that so much of the UK fish catch is exported to the EU.

Dessert was Pavlova (with exotic fruit and coconut sorbet). This meringue-based dessert was originally named in honour of the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in the 1920s, , when she was on tour in Australia and New Zealand. It is part of the national cuisine of both countries. Was this an oblique reference to an Australian-type deal? Or are we reading too much into it?

Another meringue-based dessert, with full cream, the Eton Mess, was notable by its absence. But Avoiding a No Deal Brexit is Imperative for UK Coffee…no, surely not. Stop it at once.