April 14, 2007
I took the oyster from the man’s large, scarred, and strong looking hands, smiling close-mouthed, trying to disguise my general concern about whether raw seafood is a good idea. Nate Blank, Stephen Finney, and I were standing on France’s northwest coast, on a small field of dark grey rocks protruding out into the English Channel. We had already had it in our minds that we wanted to eat seafood that we harvested ourselves. We were roughin’ it for a four-day backpacking trip along the beaches and cliffs of Brittany, from Saint Malo to Mont Saint Michel. We approached a couple who had white buckets, hand gardening tools, would scan the rocks, then bend down to work.
“Mangez. C’est bon,” he said. “Alrighty,” I said, “c’est bon.” Nate ate one of the man’s oysters 12 seconds ago, and he’s not dead yet, I thought. Stephen shrugged. I put the half shell to my mouth and tipped my head back. I swallowed the thing and looked down at hundreds of mussels clinging to the rocks like thick black flower petals under my feet. I tried not to think that the oyster looked to me like a giant booger. It was fresh, salty, and glided down quickly. Not bad.
“Haha, oh man, c’est bon.” I nodded and smiled reassuringly at the man. He wore rubber boots, jeans, a sailor kind of black
hat, and was carrying a chisel and hammer for cracking the oysters from their impressive grip on the jagged rocks. He looked at his wife and they grinned at each other, seemingly pleased to have willing learners. They showed us their white pail full of oysters and said some encouraging words, as well as a warning not to eat the mussels. We speed-walked down the beach, found a rock jetty, and gathered oysters using a small sharp rock and a larger flat rock for a hammer; caveman style.
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