The Slow-Cooked Sentence

French kissing a mermaid

Rachael Conlin Levy
The Half Shell
Courtesy of Steve Snodgrass.

I’ve eaten an oyster.

To be completely accurate, I’ve eaten six.

Each one was like a wave exploding in my mouth, soft, salty, sharp. I swallowed and felt this rush, this high, this incredible feeling of aliveness like I get when I bodysurf, but this time the ocean was tumbling and crashing inside of me instead of me inside the ocean.

Man began eating oysters some 140,000 years ago, and I like to imagine that we’ve been uttering the same sound for oyster since prehistory. After all, the word hasn’t changed much: Oyster is a derivative of the Middle English oistre, which comes from Old French uistsre, which itself comes from Latin’s ostreum, which comes from the Greek word ostrakon.

My first oyster shimmered in its shell. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I watched others sitting at the Walrus and the Carpenter oyster bar then squirted lemon, added a generous pinch of fresh grated horseradish, drizzled vinegar, and slurped. I closed my eyes and managed one bite before it slid down my throat. A slow, silly smile spread across my face, the very same grin I get when I’ve been tossed head-over-heels by a wave and am yanking up my swimsuit so I can head back out and ride another. More. More. More.

Courtesy of Swamibu.

I worked my way from small to large and somewhere in the mix I ate a kumamoto (sweet, buttery and a bit briny) and a baron point (soft textured, with a slightly mineral taste and a musky finish). Apparently, oysters are like wine and cheese, with much of their flavor credited to terroir or the environment in which they’re grown, but my virgin tongue couldn’t taste the difference; all it wanted was more of the full-contact experience, another soft, salty, citrus-y wave crashing inside my mouth.

“I feel like I’m drunk and I haven’t even finished my glass of wine,” I told my waitress. “What’s going on?”

She rattled off various possibilities: The oyster’s considered an aphrodisiac, it’s raw food, the whole act of eating one is somewhat ceremonial. Then she pointed to the oyster shucker behind the bar, he’ll know more, she said.

The shucker pried open the shell, used his knife to flip the oyster onto its belly — they look prettier and plumper, he said — and nestled it in ice. He picked up his next shell, explaining that my “oyster rush” was a physiological reaction to the burst of protein and minerals, that this slippery, squishy shellfish is loaded with zinc, packed with protein and rich in amino acids that trigger sex hormones.

Hmmm. So that’s why author Tom Robbins once wrote that “eating a raw oyster is like French kissing a mermaid,” but since my plate was empty and there were no more mermaids to be found, I took the next best thing — my man — and went to Sunset Hill.

3 responses to “French kissing a mermaid”

  1. anno says:

    Great travelogue, a journey to a place I'm probably never going to visit. Enjoyed reading about it, though…

  2. Mmmmm, I love eating oysters! Have I ever told you that I spent the two summers on Cape Cod shucking oysters for tourists? Among other things like smoking fish and making extremely large batches of basil pesto, chowder and cocktail sauce. It was a fun job. When I visit you up there, I would love to go eat some oysters!

    Here's the link for the oysters I used to shuck:

  3. Rachael Levy says:

    Anno, you never know where life will toss you. I never imagined I'd be able to afford Seattle and oysters with four kids, but here I am!

    Lisa … if you're out there … I'm so happy to run into a former colleague. It brought back good memories; keep in touch.

    Kyndale, those wellfleets sounds good. Salt and beer. Yum!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe: rss | email | twitter