I had no hope for EAP, the program that placed us in such extreme living quarters, enrolled us in the world's worst intensive language program, and served us pizza from boxes upon our arrival. However, when our coordinators took us on a trip to le Bassin d'Arcachon, some faith was restored. This simple coastal village is built on an economy of oyster farming. I have never eaten fresher nor more delicious seafood than here on the coast of Gujan-Mestras.
While the moored boats in the harbor looked abandoned and unusable, they are in fact still up and running. The tide comes and goes every six hours here and the fishermen and boaters much patiently await the next coming tide.
At the Oyster Museum, all I could do was think about the Alice in Wonderland poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter". We were told about the life cycles of the oysters and they explained that these shellfish are ideal for consumption between three and five years old. This is quite young, considering oysters can live into their fifties! Now I understand, however, why the Walrus and the Carpenter lured the baby oysters from the water for their dinner.
In the photo above, you can see plastic rods that the oyster farmers use to "sprout" oyster seedlings. Unlike the terra cotta tile of traditional oyster farming, these plastic disks can easily be bent and the growing oysters pop right off, ready for the next stage of production.
|Digging for worms in the mud of Gujan-Mestras.|
Our museum visit was followed by the most beautiful lunch on a patio overlooking the harbor. Wooden picnic tables were set with individual plate of oysters, and chilled bottles of sauvignon blanc. These oysters were not the last bit sandy or oddly textured. They were the perfect little tastes of the sea and didn't need any mignonette to go with them. This was probably the luckiest day I can think of: the majority of our group was not game for trying les huites, so I got to eat thirty oysters for lunch! I've never had that many oysters in my life.
Oysters seem to be much less expensive here than in California. It is common at the markets here for there to be picnic benches next to the oyster vendor, where shoppers can sit down and have their morning repas of oysters and white wine.
I can't wait to continue with this tradtion!
P.S. I went back to watch this clip from Disney's Alice in Wonderland. It's so interesting to watch it now after learning a little bit about oysters. Traditionally, oysters were not harvested during breeding periods- months that contained the letter "r" (i.e. January, February, March, etc.) If you keep a close eye out, you can see a reference to this in the video!!