Now, I’m not really a fan of oysters. I’ve eaten them a few times, and found them not exactly unpleasant, but neither have they left me dreaming about the next time. Let’s put it this way: it wouldn’t be a calamity if I happened to never eat one again.
Nevertheless, I have been, in the last two day, s(h)ucked in by Mark Kurlansky’s “Molluscular” history of New York. I, for one, had no idea that oysters were one of the Big A’s claims to fame. Consider this: when the city started developing, the estuary of the river Hudson was found to house no less than 350 square miles of oyster beds.
Other interesting facts: one of the oyster’s biggest predators is the starfish. You thought they were just fun things to find with the kiddies on the beach? Think again. These evil stellar organisms travel in armies across ocean beds, and when they find their prey they simply attach themselves to the shells and methodically disintegrate them until they can get to the flesh.
The other devil in oyster-land is the oyster drill, a snail with a ‘long toothy tongue’ that bores down through the shell to suck the oyster out. Sounds like a slow, horrible death.
This doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly become oyster-soft, or oyster-hungry, but it really is a fascinating book. Kurlansky (who also wrote Salt and Cod) writes well and enticingly, and it is always a pleasure for me to find a piece of history that grabs me (I always hated history in school and never remembered a thing. I blame that on Mr. Malaza).
Here’s a final piece of trivia before I return to the finish the Epilogue: ever wondered where the term Yankee comes from? It originated from the British, who took over from the Dutch (the first European colonisers of New York). The Brits called their predecessors “Jankees”, ‘a sarcastic joining of the name John and the word cheese’.