Thursday, March 10, 2011
Ever since a restaurant called "Lucky" opened up in Roanoke, I find myself having a love affair--with oysters. Flown in fresh from the Rappahannock River a couple of times a week, the oysters get shucked by a bald-headed special-hire, who looks like a kung-fu master, and then immediately brought to the table by an enthusiastic waitress. Eating oysters at Lucky's is like inhaling helium. Maybe it's the high zinc content, in combination with all the other minerals like calcium, iodine, iron, potassium, copper, sodium, phosphorus, manganese, and sulphur, but a good helping of oysters makes the whole world, which these days can seem pretty bleak, look and feel better again. Apres les huitres and a good glass of chilled white wine, my mind stops acting like an engine ready for takeoff.
This past week I have been able to indulge my new passion several times. With the result that I am worrying slightly less about Libyan youths--armed with rocket-propelled grenades they don't know how to use--being mowed down from the air by Quaddafi's mercenaries. An editorial, written by a novelist recently shortlisted for the Booker Prize whose father is a "disappeared" political dissident in Libya, and published in the New York Times today, describes the fighting witnessed firsthand by one of his relatives on the ground there:
" 'Treachery, cousin, treachery,' he said when I asked what he had seen. 'Qaddafi’s army forced the women and children out into the streets and placed snipers on the rooftops. Whenever we tried to approach, they shot at the civilians.'
He went on to describe the horror of seeing a child shot in the head with a 14.5-millimeter round: 'The skull exploded like a pomegranate.' "
Libya may seem far away to us, but a dangerous civil unrest is escalating right here, courtesy of Scott Walker, the Gadaffi-like Republican governor of Wisconsin, who is engaged in dismantling labor unions and stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights. As of this writing, the originally peaceful protests in Madison have begun to go rogue across the nation and turn violent.
At night, in my dreams, I find myself navigating with difficulty through excited crowds, trying to get across check points in an unidentified place. The last time I was at Lucky's, the oysters had not arrived, but they did serve this special drink with a mystique: key lime martinis. I'd hardly drunk half of it when I happened to look out (through the plate glass windows) and saw a girl dressed in black, bobbing along on stilts. A minute later she was followed by another one, and no, I was not hallucinating. Right after that, a young woman in a white gauze tutu with flashing red lights underneath it, came inside to greet my friends, whom, it turned out, she knew. She turned out to be a performance artist named Beth Deel, and explained that the folks on stilts were practicing for the St. Patrick's Day parade next week.
Oysters can be expensive in places other than where they are harvested. A single oyster at Lucky's now costs $2.25, which is 25 cents more than the $2.00 a day I read is the daily wage that 40% of Egyptians live on. (It's a statistic that causes me to wonder if I should tie my tongue in a bow.) The price doesn't include that requisite glass of French muscadet (Coing de Sevre 2008), a crucial element in the equation of making me feel like a guest at Gatsby's house in late winter.
That night we ended up going for coffee at the girl in the gauzy tutu's cafe, two doors down from Lucky. It's a tiny, raffish place, pertly called "Get" in honor of its special affinity with the restaurant (as in, just add the two together and Get Lucky!). Going to the bathroom, I had to pass through a mini-boutique of vintage clothing (getfreckles.com) while Beth Deel made me a hot chocolate. There were books scattered around the cafe area for casual reading, but no chairs. Just a few stools, and a monograph on Julie Taymor (think "Spiderman," NYC) on one of the narrow counters. With Beth's permission, I made off with one of her books "Toward 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age," a compendium of essays edited by Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan. In return, I promised to bring her a copy of "Living the Magical Life, on the occasion of my next oyster binge, this coming Saturday.
All in all, it was a super happy evening.
"I don't believe the purpose of life is to just be happy," Andrew Cohen emails in his quote for this week."Why would God take fourteen billion years to produce highly evolved sentient life-forms that would ultimately develop the extraordinary capacity for self-reflective awareness, simply in order for them to be able to experience happiness? It's my conviction that we are here for a reason, that there is a grand and great purpose to our presence in this universe, and that none of us are going to truly find what we are looking for unless we get over our misguided pursuit of personal happiness and connect with that greater sense of purpose—that ultimate reason for being."
Hidden somewhere between skulls exploding like a pomegranates in Libya and me eating oysters in Roanoke sluiced with lime martinis, there must be, as Andrew suggests above, some "grand and great purpose to our presence in this universe." There must be some reasonable explanation for why they are there (in Libya) being shot, and I am here (in Virginia) enjoying myself. I intend to continue looking, with the same passion contenders on "Survivor" search for the hidden immunity idol, until I find it. And. if ever I do find it--that grand and great purpose--I promise you will be the first to know.
Meanwhile, if anyone wants to join me, I am quite willing to share some oysters, just as long as we get there on the right night.