… when ordering octopus at your next seafood dinner, you will know that there is a 50% chance that there will be an alien on your plate…
Virtually every Greek island has beauty and history stemming from that same Hellenic civilisation that still seduces the world and, with it, travellers. Wafted by the winds of the Mediterranean and Greek culture that has long inspired us, we too at La Livella feasted on feta cheese and got inebriated on wine.
In front of us, as many others, a ritual unfolded: wrinkled-skinned fishermen brought red octopus from the mysterious depths of the sea to be dried out in the sun.
Every Greek island has beauty and history derived from that Hellenic civilisation that still seduces the world and, with it, travellers. We, too, at La Livella Magazine, driven by the winds of the Mediterranean and Greek culture that has long inspired us, feasted on feta cheese and washed it down with wine.
There is no other island where the same process takes place and endless rows of ococtopuses lie helpless in the summer sun like rags, hanging on a clothesline.
While this scene still reverberates, for a split second I remember a visual narrative that takes me to Japan where fishermen’s wives reminisce about an octopus, which is far from lifeless.
As the Japanese painter and engraver Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎; Edo, October or November 1760 – Edo, 10th May 1849) taught us a decade before producing his most famous work, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”. It is in fact during 1815 that Hokusai published three volumes of erotic prints. Among these prints was the woodcut Take to ama (Octopus and Diver Girl) – even though the title was translated as “The Dream of Fisherman’s Wife” – which depicts a supine woman who has a huge red octopus between her legs that is giving her a rather explicit cunnilingus.
Faced with all this, it is certainly no mistake to think that octopuses possess an unfortunate destiny. Like other creatures on our Blue Planet, it too is not entirely susceptible to human understanding, so much so that some scientists have not hesitated to entrust its origin to alien genetics. Most of these speculations, however, derive from a lack of knowledge – which has only in recent decades generated a certain level of interest. For its part, the octopus does not like to make itself known, it possesses remarkable defensive capabilities and, above all, prefers a solitary life.
Sometimes its tenacious struggle to have its rights recognised has earned it freedom as a reward (something else we may have in common). At the University of Otago in New Zealand, a heroic octopus caused countless short circuits by spraying jets of water on the bulbs in its aquarium. Its stubbornness finally prevailed, and the scientists were forced to let it go. What might be worth asking is: How often do the subjects we study disagree with our plans?
The octopus, to those who have encountered it, may appear creepy and reluctant to contact; however, those who have seen the documentary My Octopus Teacher know that it is actually curious and playful – if only one takes the trouble to gain its trust. Unfortunately, you don’t have much time to do this; octopuses have a surprisingly short life span for their evolutionary complexity – which is comparable to that of dogs. It is estimated that its life cycle lasts only three years, which makes you wonder how much it could learn and accomplish, if only it lived longer!
It is believed that there is an obviously specific reason for this ephemeral existence. Throughout the history of its evolution, the octopus has decided to follow a short but healthy life to that of a long decline, and not just out of selfishness: by doing so it does not run the risk of bequeathing to its descendants all the cell degeneration that old age causes. The wise octopus knows the importance of limitations and gives the best of itself to the genetic heritage of newer generations.
With its three hearts and gloomy appearance, the octopus now has new young admirers; it is increasingly studied and spied on in its natural environments with the desire to understand and protect it. Having said all this, when ordering octopus at your next seafood dinner, you will know that there is a 50% chance that there will be an alien on your plate and given the risk – the editorial team – suggests that you just order potatoes!
 My Octopus Teacher is a 2020 Netflix Original documentary film directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed