Jonathan Swift once said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster”. He had a point but then I've always wondered who the first lunatic to purchase a Coldplay album was. Or worried about the mental wellbeing of the fella who willingly volunteered to have the inaugural Prince Albert. There are times in life when oysters are just what the soul needs. I’ve not once been compelled to spring from my bed, cast my eye across the glory of the unfolding sunrise, take a deep lungful of lazy morning air and say “today is a perfect day! No better a day has there ever been to pay a man called Digger to drive a needle through my genitals”.
There’s something rather visceral about eating oysters. You are forced to cross a cultural bridge. Each step forward is one away from a world of placemat settings and courteous small-talk. Somewhere far away from the jurisdiction of manners into the undomesticated dinner table; it is the wild. Eating oysters is the vitality of tasting the ocean. Leave your knives and forks behind. It’s gnashed teeth and self-conscious slurping. I’m sad to say I’m a latecomer to the party. I gatecrashed when the buffet had been plundered, the DJ was already packing up around the ankles of slow dancers and some joker was pissing in the punchbowl. Late but willing and ready to keep the party going. Whenever there is oyster on offer, I will order as many of them as is polite. Then I’ll order an impolite portion too. One of the main complaints people have with oysters is that they are slimy. I don’t see the issue personally. So are politicians and we put up with them. I can honestly say I’d prefer a slippery oyster to a dry one. You’ll tend to find spending time in the company of people who are content to play the role of the pedestrian in their own gastronomic imagination is much more detrimental to your health than a harmless little mollusc. Oysters are holistically speaking a good for you food, rich in those en-vogue nutritional darlings, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. High in protein and mercifully low in carbs. My sole complaint with oysters is simple; they couldn’t look any more extra-terrestrially inedible they tried. It’s as if someone tasked Douglas Adams and a Wookie with the starters. The best way to photograph an oyster? With the lens cap on.
A year or so ago on a blazing afternoon off in mid-July, I was lost, bumbling my way through a Brooklyn industrial estate with a hangover that stung like vinegar in a papercut. That buzzing, piercing kind of next day anxiety that lets you know your essential organs are working at the bare minimum requirement to keep the headlights flickering and no more. New York is a hell of a place, it’s a city with eight million different stories. Encompassing love, loss and the entire human struggle in between; all plaited together by unrelenting taxi horns and a calamity of stampeding feet and errant elbows. On this relentless afternoon it felt as if the entire weight of a New York minute fell just behind my eyes. Because it loves company, misery conspired to bring my suffering into conjunction with a friend. Emilio Di Salvo. A sight for very sore eyes. We stumbled into each other headfirst, almost not noticing one and other. The stale smell of yesterday told me he was in the same boat. More a free-floating plank than a boat really, which had sprung too many leaks to count. Wet ankles tolds us all we needed to know. Resigning ourselves to our destiny we lit up cigarettes for each other. Gentlemen till the very end. Down with the ship. The world should be in envy of Emilio Di Salvo. He might not have the universe figured out, but he knows himself pretty well. He’s so laid back he’s practically horizontal. He’s cool, in a “this is by accident” kind of way. One of the few people in the world who are instantly likeable and in possession a smirk that’s a binding contract for mischief. If he had a catapult in his back pocket, I’d bring the stones. We were in New York for a major booze convention; a labyrinth of recycled chat, free testers, civil nodding and tactful backing away. After a smoke and a catch up, we decided to press on. The sun hung high in the sky and pounded down mercilessly, boiling the already depleted brains cells into the single digits. Soon, we were back at Conventionland. Where Emilio leads us through the maelstrom into an oyster stand and grinned. Mischief. Granite flutes covered in amaranth and other unknowable slimy sea veggies were being shucked by the tray load. Revealing soft innards fringed by pearlescent slopes undulating under the soft air-conditioned atmosphere. In doing so, they sent up plumes of fine silver mist creating a microclimate of fresh sea air. A welcome oasis in the otherwise crusty-convention-desert. I wasn’t sure, even as evangelical as I was about oysters, this tested the confidence of my faith. “Your body won’t know what hit it. It’s too busy concentrating on the hangover, then you eat one of these little aliens and it’s a hard reset.” Shuck. Slurp. Chew. Gulp. Wouldn’t you know it! Of course, Emilio was so very right. Proof that sometimes the soul only calls for oysters. Naturally, we outstayed our welcome at the stand, leaving a small pile of decimated shells clattering about our feet we strode into the crowd. New men in search of a stiff drink.