Sunday, May 10, 2015


I'd like to propose that we look at pearls a little differently.

This week,  I had an extraordinary thing happen.  I was out for lunch with a close friend. 
Don Charles and I have been friends for a long time, and conversation flows easily between us.
We were at Casamentos, and we do what is expected when you are there - we ordered oysters.  Half a dozen on the half shell, half a dozen chargrilled in buttery, garlicky, parmesan-cheese coated goodness.  We followed the appetiser oysters with entree oysters - an oyster loaf, with light, airy, chewy, crunchy french bread encrusted with golden brown flash fried oysters. We joked about oyster ice cream or oyster bread pudding for dessert, but I did sneak a peek at the menu to see if somehow it might have really been there.

When the raw oysters arrived, I grabbed one of the plumpest oysters I have ever seen while Don mixed up a horseradish sauce for us to use.

Unable to wait for him to finish, I slurped it, and immediately the salty flavor just infused everything.  I savored that oyster, while running my teeth along the surface, hoping to find a pearl.  My teeth clicked against something hard and glassy.  I spit out a pearl.

And then   another.

And then another.

And yet another.  Two.

For the next few minutes, I carefully - and VERY gingerly - chewed through the rest of the oyster, removing pearl after pearl from the flesh. Although none of them were terribly large, every single one was perfectly round, and briliantly white. Some were tiny - the size of the head of a pin.  Others were larger, roughly half the size of a tic-tac.

When I was done, thirteen pearls lined up on my plate.  (The final count ended up being twelve; I suspect one escapee pearl remained behind as an offering to the restaurant.)  All from the one oyster.

Pearls, as everyone knows, are caused by irritation.  The proverbial grain of sand gets in the oyster, and the irritation forces the oyster (or other bivalve) to secrete a nacreous substance that coats the sand grain.  It continues, year after year, coat of nacre after coat, gradually making small pearls into big ones.  If you slice a natural pearl, you willl see microscopic, concentric rings around an irregular center - the piece of sand.

It all starts with that irritation. That is how I have always heard pearl formation described.

But you know what?  After that lunch with Don, I see it differently.

I mean, c'mon.  If you look at the shell, the inside is mother of pearl.  It is the same substance as the pearl, without the benefit of portability.  The nacre protects what is a pretty fragile organism against the outside world by coating it with a layer of hard, slick, white substance - in essence making a pearlescent bullet-proof jacket.

Sure.  The irritation is there. In a perfect world, the oyster would secrete nothing.  But the world doesn't work that way.  The shell is rough.  The sand that gets in is rough. The work that the oyster does, however, serves to protect itself in the most lovely way possible.

My friends are like that for me.  Yeah, the work, the potholes and traffic, and the crime in the city often rub me the wrong way.  I grouse about the heat and the humidity.  I am irritated by things that I should let slide. 

But then I go out to lunch with an old friend, and the easy conversation acts as a balm.  It coats, soothes and relieves.  A half hour later, and I have a new layer of shine.  The irritations of the world slide off me much more easily.

My time with Don that day reminded me that it is not the irritation that makes the pearl.  It is how we deal with the irritation.

My friends protect me.  And make me beautiful. 

For what it is worth, the oysters were fantastic.  Some of the best I've ever had. But what remains behind, long after the garlic and parmesan fades, will be the delightful memory of sharing that moment with that friend.

A first century rabbi told a story of a man who sold everything he had to buy that one pearl of great price. Sitting across from Don, I think I understand that story just a little bit better.

No comments: