Carp are sacred in Japan. My friend, Duncan, told me of one that was a gift from a 17th century Emperor. It lived for 250 years. They are hardy fuckers; eating and drawing sustenance from all manner of shit, garbage, and aquatic detritus. Frogs, minnows, paper-bags, pretzels, and any other gunk that falls in the water, all ring the dinner bell for carp. It is the very definition of a garbage fish, yet they are beautiful and fleet in the water, growing as large as their environment will let them. They have been a mainstay of Japanese art and literature since the beginning of the written and painted story.
My dog, Chooch, is kind of like a carp. He eats whatever falls on the floor. He was an orphan stray when I got him, eating from the garbage and starving when he was delivered to PAWS. He is a tough little bastard who found a way to survive, just like a carp. When lakes get polluted and all over the other fish go tits-up, not the scrappy carp. In fact they thrive. Most wildlife agencies consider the carp an “invasive” species meaning they wreck the aquatic neighborhood for the sexier fish like trout and perch. In the U.S., carp are considered inedible. In Asia, they are heavily fished as a food-stuff. I know guys down south who make carp-balls and swear they’re good. I guess if you deep-fry anything with enough cornmeal and spices, it will become palatable.
Though a freshwater fish, every once in a while, someone catches one in the ocean. There are stories of the ever-adaptable carp surviving saltwater.
Goldfish are basically carp, as are koi, which are the pretty carp and highly prized as ornamental accoutrements for ponds in Asia and Europe. In Europe, fisherman love them because they are an intensely hard fish to hook and once you hook them, you have to fight the fuckers. They do not go quietly off of this mortal coil. They live for as long is there is a steady food supply. Despite being a universally maligned fish, they are found in the art of almost every culture, including ours.
The MCA in Chicago had a koi pond in their downstairs space. Years ago, I had my exhibition of the alphabet etchings there and opening day was a family day where every swinging-dick in the city who had kids showed up. One little boy climbed into the koi fountain and took a shit; much to the delight of the koi and several onlookers. Nice of the tyke to serve the koi a hot meal.
In Japan, the carp move like a fleet, sad song under the water; drifting to the top when visitors appear to mooch food. They put their mouths to the very surface and make a sucking sound that is to say the least, disquieting. They have remarkably amiable personalities and are a whir of indecipherable oranges, browns, blacks and silvery whites. hey are luminous and sublimely beautiful.