It began in a wine cave.
The sommelier at a tasting in the French village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape recommended that we drive to a tiny fishing hamlet called Mèze. It was a three-hour trip in a direction opposite that which we were headed the following day, but the Frenchman raved about the oysters. The best! The finest in the world! He said they were so wonderful that after these, we would be unable to consume other, inferior oysters.
The next morning, we left Avignon and headed south to our oyster city of dreams. We sang along to the Backstreet Boys and Journey, REO Speedwagon and Britney Spears. We cruised past villages with names we couldn’t pronounce, headed further and further south, considered driving to Spain as it was closer than our actual final destination, and finally after three hours of driving, we found Mèze.
If we had been expecting something quaint and storybook like, we were mistaken. While it was, in fact, a fishing village, it was simply that, with no added romance. There were hair salons and dirty cars, cheap restaurants and crumbling paint. This was not a tourist town. At all.
We pulled over and did a desperate Google search of oyster restaurants on the French version of the site, as the English version yielded precisely nothing. The man who had recommended the city of Mèze for the oysters, unfortunately had not given us the name of a specific restaurant when we asked. He had instead shrugged in a way that is characteristically French, spread his arms out expansively and shook his head. “Anywhere,” he had said. Except when one really considers the word “anywhere,” it immediately becomes apparent that this is in no way helpful when giving directions. My husband was undeterred, however, and the moment I uttered the beginnings of a restaurant name, he was already plugging it into the GPS and driving toward it.
It was up the road from the middle of the town, and nothing special to look at – small and unremarkable. We parked the car precariously in a place that was both a parking lot and not a parking lot at the same time, more of a gravel area near the road where other vehicles were haphazardly left. We walked in, and realized immediately that no one spoke English; that it was possible no one had ever spoken English in this restaurant in the history of its operation. But we were hungry, and anxious, and we both loved oysters to distraction, so none of this seemed like a problem.
My husband forced me to order for us, since he has no French and I speak very good Spanish, and this somehow makes me a language expert in his opinion. I ordered water in a bottle, because I know how, and then ordered us 50 oysters and a crab.
At the time, this didn’t seem ridiculous. In retrospect, I’m appalled at my actions. In short order, the oysters arrived, and we ate every last one. Because they are Mediterranean oysters, raised in little oyster cribs, they are spectacularly salty. About six oysters in, I felt ill. After 23, I thought I might die. But, I finished my half.
For the next three hours in the car, all the way back to Nice, I clutched my stomach and groaned. There was no more singing, no more laughing, no more fun. I felt as though I had drowned in oysters.
Frenchman had been correct: No other oysters could ever compare. I may never eat them again.