April fish and other hoaxes

Baruch Pozzi is a late descendant of Benedict de Spinoza and Archivist at Amalfi's Library.

The fool and the fish

Conca dei Marini (Amalfi coast), 1583

The boys knew what was going to happen: Nicola would forget the change. Although not the only forgetful man in the village, Nicola the Fool ("Nicola lo Scemo"), was a natural target. Indeed, he announced in his syncopated patois that he was still going to celebrate New Year on April the first. The Gregorian Reform had passed him by. As far as he was concerned "o primm e aprile è a festa" ("the celebration is on the first of April"); and accordingly he invited people to eat game at his house ("diman' magnamm' caccia, a casa"). On March 31st he laid out his bird traps in the vegetable gardens and the lemon groves on the terraced hill above Conca as he usually did, without bait.

The boys, returning from a fishing trip in the early hours of April the 1st, climbed the stairs of the terraced land around Nicola's house, and went looking for the traps.

"No wonder he never catches anything," said a voice, "he doesn't use bait."

"This is his lucky night," said another. They emptied the contents of a bucket, mullet, gurnard and perch, into Nicola's traps.

The next day Nicola was radiant. Proudly pointing at the fooled fish, he showed his catch around the village. This prompted hysterical laughter amongst the villagers, lasting all day and eventually turning into an impromptu celebration that, according to the local chronicle (reported by Padre Gaetano Lucibello), "outshone the newly introduced holiday (January the 1st) by way of enjoyment and noise."

From 1584 to 1601 the village of Conca held a "fish day" celebration on April the 1st. And so it is that the events of April the 1st 1583 in Conca dei Marini explain the origin of the expression "pesce d'aprile" in Italy, "pez de avril" in Spain, and "poisson d'avril" in France.

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