In a rough year, it has been the smallest things about life in Paris that have brought me joy – from walking down the middle of the empty street in the silence of the first lockdown, to befriending a local hedgehog in the park and doing jigsaw puzzles from the Louvre gift shop.
But nothing has brought me more joy than acquiring the phone number of a man who will bring me oysters on demand by scooter.
As the year draws to a close and I look back on months of lockdown, a cascade of terrifying news, missed travel and cancelled plans, Oyster Man stands out as the hero who redeemed 2020.
It was in the miserable days of mid-May that I first noticed a phone number scrawled on brown paper and stuck in the window of a nearby Poissonnerie.
A waiter in Paris serves oysters on a platter. Photo: AFP
LIVRAISON GRATUITE, the sign read. Sluggish in the late spring heat and tired of home cooking, I texted the number. “Do you have oysters?” I asked.
Mere hours later I was sitting in my front yard with a glass of sparkling something in my hand, 12 fine de claire on a plate in front of me and the first proper smile on my face since February.
It was the start, as they say, of a beautiful friendship. In summer, Oyster Man provided the perfect socially distanced way to see friends. We could sit in the yard, two metres apart, with six oysters each (OK, 12) and life almost felt normal.
And at a time where many are relying on the rampantly unethical offered by food delivery apps, this direct connection to a supplier felt like a proper way to support my local community.
And it is so simple.
I text Oyster Man and ask him for oysters.
He writes back: bien sûr. I tell him how many.
“Open or closed?” he asks. “Open,” I say.
Then at the allotted time, he arrives on a scooter with the pre-shucked platter balanced precariously on his knees.
I give him the cash and off he goes on his merry way. I am told this bears a certain similarity to the dealing of illicit substances, but I couldn’t possibly comment on that.
I call this person Oyster Man but he could be a series of Oyster Men or Women, an Oyster family perhaps. Who knows?
The WhatsApp picture is of a giant dog holding a sign. I have no conception of whether the cheery person who answers my texts is the same person who navigates the tight corners and thrumming traffic of the 20th arrondissement by scooter with a giant plate of ice and bivalves in his lap.
The beauty of Oyster Man is that you don’t have to think about him too much. You simply ask, and he delivers.
The simplicity of it is where the genius lies. Living in France is in many ways a dream come true, but in others it is an exercise in frustration.
I recently tried to buy coffee beans from a renowned coffee shop that had been written up in The Guardian as a local gem.
I approached the owner and asked for 500 grams. The man looked pained and shook his head slowly.
Ça va être compliqué, madame, he said, surrounded as he was by kilogram upon kilogram of roasted beans, piled in fragrant mounds, the scales to measure them out just a hand’s reach away. I walked away empty-handed.
There is none of this with Oyster Man. It does not matter how many oysters I request; it does not matter what time of day I request them.
I ask, they arrive, I pay. Nothing is compliqué.
Paris is full of oyster bars, but they have had to slim down to a minimum delivery and takeaway service due to the Covid-19 health rules. Photo: AFP
Yesterday morning, as the news of a new variant of coronavirus swept across social media, as lorries piled up in Kent and borders closed around Europe, I wondered what on earth I was going to do for Christmas.
Since moving to France, I have either spent my Christmases at home in Australia drinking white wine in the sun, or here in Paris cooking for a gaggle of fellow migrants.
With neither option on the table this year, the prospect of putting on a huge spread for myself and my partner alone felt too grim. Doing nothing at all felt even grimmer.
Then it hit me: my Christmas miracle was just a quick scooter ride away. I texted Oyster Man and within five minutes I’d fixed the holiday.
I’ve got 24 No 3 Céline oysters coming on December 25th at 11am.
Megan Clement is a freelance journalist living in Paris.