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69


An 1892 map of the natural oyster


grounds of Maryland in the US


MARINE LIFE


SHELL SHOCK Charles Clover


uine pride in preserving the past and giving back to the cities that have nurtured their own businesses are becoming increasingly necessary. They should be embraced, provid- ing they are reputable – even if they come from unlikely sources. McDonald’s has gone up in my estimation precisely because of its somewhat incongru- ous commitment to heritage. Four years ago, a significant stretch of ancient road in Frat- tocchie, just south of Rome, was conserved with an injection of €300,000 from the fast- food chain as it happened to pass under the ground where a new restaurant was being


constructed. A glass floor was even installed in the new eatery-museum, allowing diners to admire the second-century BC remains be- neath their feet. (A similar solution was reached in Chester, on Northgate Street, where a branch of Pret a Manger was built over a series of Roman columns.) Ancient subterranean remains may lack the glamour of the Rialto Bridge, but they are every bit as worthy of attention. And we might reflect that any plaque or poster placed upon them is likely to pale in comparison to Nero’s 30-metre colossus, which puts modern branding efforts in the shade. S


THERE IS AN ELEMENT of jeopardy asso- ciated with oysters. It is not just whether, af- ter severing the muscle that holds it to the half-shell and seasoning it with onion vinegar or lemon juice, you can get it down in one and experience that fleeting moment the nature writer Peter Marren has described as one’s mouth filling up with the taste of the freshest rockpool in the world. There is also the lurk- ing fear, fed by stories mostly from before modern environmental health regulations, of people eating a ‘bad oyster’. That was, we now realise, a classic example of a transferred epithet: the oyster was all right but had imbibed, and was processing, some pathogen picked up from humans. Arguably the most famous oyster scare was in 1902, when the town of Emsworth in Hampshire gave a banquet in Winchester to celebrate the success of the local oyster indus- try, which then employed between 300 and 400 people out of a population of 3,000. A number of guests at the banquet became ill and the Dean of Winchester died from ty- phoid attributed to an Emsworth oyster. The industry was devastated for a generation. The extent to which oysters pose a risk to us has obscured the extent to which we pose a risk to them. Only in recent years have we re- alised from studying the devastation we caused to oyster populations in the New World what we must have done in Europe too. The oysters of Chesapeake Bay formed reefs so large that visitors to North America in the 1600s described them as hazards to navigation. The enormous extent to which oysters existed in Australia, and were entirely fished out by the late 1940s, is a case of what scientists have called ‘collective, intergenerational amnesia’. What happened in Europe is less well doc- umented, but it can be assumed that coastal oysters were harvested out in all but a few places,


PHOTO 12 / CONTRIBUTOR VIA GETTY IMAGES


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