Oyster primer

Submitted by la miller on 10 June, 2007 - 18:55

Today is a prime number birthday for me. The last time I celebrated a prime was in 2001. (Can you figure out how old I am?) Last time, I was picking tics off my body in northern Wisconsin and bouncing around in my friend's school bus as we scouted the back country for the perfect DJ party setting. The best part was breakfast at a cafe in Eagle River. Greasy birthday eggs and hashbrowns -- YUM!

Like last time, I'm not at home, but no tics (yay!) and no grease. Today I went on an awesome bike ride by the river, checking out a wildlife refuge and doing a little birding. It rained and it was sunny -- the perfect Portland day. Two little girls called by voicemail and sang happy birthday. (Thanks!) And before I check my email, I thought I'd post a birthday blog.


A friend of mine was doing a poetry workshop two weeks ago. We hadn't seen each other in years. I was telling her a little about my life and she said, "oh, like opening an oyster."

"Um, Nadine, I've never opened an oyster."

"Well, you wedge your knife in there and -- uhh," making a motion with her hand to illustrate, "pry it open."

"It's work," she said. "Sometimes, it's really tough . . . like life. Can you tell I've been thinking about poetry all morning?"

Actually, I could see the gears in her head churning away on the oyster metaphor. So, I let her go and chewed on the idea myself. A few days later, I witnessed the opening of many, many oysters. I felt the silky raw delicacy in my mouth, not quite sure how to handle the gritty, crusty shell debris that got in there too. Such opposites -- the oyster and the shell.

The 17th century Dutch painters often featured oysters in their still life paintings. (This is something I learned at the Rembrandt show last week.) The oysters, however, were part of a moralistic messages. Like wine and tobacco, they were painted as reminders to avoid a decadent and gluttonous way of life.

Nadine's idea of the oyster was as a rich lovely thing, waiting as a reward for hard work. It was something special revealed. It was something hidden in a corse, ugly casing. To the 17th century Dutch, oysters represented overindulgence. And while none of these oyster commentaries have mentioned sex, I wonder whether it lay beneath the surface for the Dutch . . . and for my friend.