Restaurant: Casamento's in New Orleans, LA
Norma was eight and a half months pregnant when she went to a Blue Oyster Cult concert. Hey hey GODZILLA yelled the band, and Norma felt the first contractions. It was her second child, so she knew there was no rush. With her firstborn, she called her mom at the earliest pangs. Her mother asked, “Well… are you hungry?” They went out for tacos, which made the pre-labor enema at the hospital worthwhile.
The girl was born mellow and peachlike. Oyster eating became one of her specialties. That, and scraping lemons from the peel with her teeth. Her uncle would say, “I never saw a kid as young as you eat raw oysters.” Later, when he reported meeting a two-year old in Mexico who happily slurped up them up, she felt dethroned.
For her, the pearl of the oyster was not the pearl, it was the taste. Clean and saline, satisfying chew. The rough rocky shell on her fingertips. The crack as it opened under the leverage of a knife blade.
She sought them out. In Istanbul, she ate them on the street. Boys carried trays of ice chips, with the opened oysters arrayed in concentric circles. Dinners at Mexican restaurants offered the seafood soup Vuelve a la Vida, “Return to Life.” Resurrection on the half shell.
As she got older, something strange began to happen. They started to feel like fat tongues in her mouth, rolling around before she got them swallowed. Then she learned the proper way to eat an oyster was to take the little fork and poke it in the blobby little body. You must watch for the squirm to prove they are alive. Otherwise, they are not fresh enough. She wondered Have I been eating them alive this entire time? Decades of little grey creatures sliding into me, like Jonas into the whale? Is my stomach a fiery pit of judgment? Or are they so delirious, it’s more like slipping under the surface of a hot spring? Do they ever survive the journey?
Still, she persevered. Life was there for the eating. On a trip to New Orleans, she took the Saint Charles streetcar looking for a place called Casamento’s. The streetcar shuddered at every stop, and growled when it started up again. She perched on a wooden bench seat, anxiously scanning street signs as the conductor headed away from the French Quarter.
Eventually the streetcar came to her stop. It was a quieter part of town, not fabulously uppercrust like the mansions of the Garden District, or raunchily degenerate like Bourbon Street. Casamento’s was a small storefront with an unassuming sign. She walked in and lingered near the front door, not sure if she should seat herself. The room was narrow, the oyster bar on one side, three tables on the other, checkered floor tiles, and few Mardi Gras beads on the wall. In the back there was a second room with more bustle and tables, with a galley kitchen beyond. A server, a larger woman who looked short on patience, motioned her to a chair by the bar. She perused the menu, watching the middle-aged black man working the oyster bar. He wore a heavy glove on one hand and wielded the knife with the other. “Fresh” he said. “Just came in.” “Where are they from?” she asked. “Area 2. Near St. John’s.” She nodded, not really knowing what that meant, but remembered that the oyster beds were damaged in Hurricane Katrina. She wondered if the silt-sucking mollusks had ingested any hazardous chemicals before they were harvested.
The server came back for her order, a dozen raw and a bowl of gumbo. The oysters came out first. She picked up one. Grit from the outer shell covered her fingers. Replacing it quickly, she wiped off her hands and picked up a fork. She poked the flesh of one, but couldn’t tell if there was squirming. She didn’t really want to know. Squeezing lemon over the tray, she dug in. The taste was mild, and the flesh was firm. There wasn’t much to be said about the taste, except for the flecks of shell that entered her mouth occasionally. Disappointed, she moved on to the gumbo. Rich and dark, the deep spicing satisfied her completely.
"To get long" meant to make do, to make well of whatever we had; it was about having a long view, which was endurance, and a long heart, which was hope.
- Fae Myenne Ng, _Bone_