Pearl Culture

By Michelina Docimo

All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography. ~ Federico Fellini

I woke up feeling fresh, as if a fog had lifted.  Mixing clothes and changing shoes on repeat, I felt like a DJ, and settled on an appropriate beat of toile pants, cream top, and leather ballet flats.  I wanted to take an earlier train and was almost there.  Parking the car, I heard the train horn.  No – it’s not mine, it’s coming from the other side.  I’m running on the sidewalk, up the steps, and as I hit the platform the train peels off.  I missed it.  So I wait for the next one.

On the train I felt still in a dream state, especially after the Cole Haan Nolan ad – like I was unscrambling some pictogram.  No breakfast, I feel ready for lunch.  I’m meeting Marcus, an architect, at 1:00 at the Grand Central clock.  Marcus is not just an architect, he’s a visionary – he doesn’t just design buildings, he designs for building sustainable, equitable communities all over the world.  I’ve spoken to him twice over the phone regarding a project, in between meetings, the conversations were rushed and incomplete.  So when he offered an opportunity to meet in person, how could I refuse.  I arrive at the clock, walking around, looking for someone I’ve never seen before.  A text comes in, “Hi Michelina, I’m here.”  I call back and he says “I’m wearing a purple sweater – oh I see you.”  He hangs up – I’m glad he saw me because I would have still been searching for a purple sweater.  It was more indigo and I think to myself, why do I have to take the color so literally, it’s close enough.  Then I remember to take my sunglasses off and it is a more purple hue.  He offers options for places to eat, the first one is the oyster house and mentions a few more.  I say – yes the oyster house, I love seafood.

I look at the menu and make a decision quickly – grilled swordfish.  Marcus orders the mahi mahi and a plate of 12 half shell oysters to share.  While we wait for our dish to arrive, I offer an abridged version of who I am, what I do, and how we’re here.  In my head, I’m connecting the dots of the timeline of decisions, one by one, I’ve made over several years that have led to this meeting.  He listens intensely.  As if reading my mind, he says, “It’s amazing the decisions we make.  How we live parallel lives, on one track is destiny, the other track is choice.”  I thought about the person in car 2 on the train and told him the story.  I admitted that I wanted to know more about what happened.  I couldn’t let it go like other passengers who may have been slightly bothered by the inconvenience, but then just let it go.

The plate of 12 oysters arrive and I realize they’re raw.  I don’t say a word as he generously squeezes two lemon slices over the shells, except that I love lemon.  I pick one up and use my fork; Marcus slurps his.  The first one went down, cool and salty like the sea.  I wash it down with ice water.  I try one more, and let it linger.   I notice one grain of sand in my mouth and I think this could have been a pearl.  We discuss our childhood, immigration, family, and people’s tendencies to either assimilate into a culture so fiercely that they forget where they came from or those who live with their feet on this soil, but their minds back home.  I eat my third oyster and tell Marcus he can have the rest.

Marcus opens up completely and tells me things that make me realize the bold decisions he’s made to explore who he is, who we are as individuals that make up a collective whole.  Everyone has this opportunity to move beyond their circumstances and create the life they want to live.  Sometimes a person or event enters our being and affects us so much, that we take this, what may seem insignificant, moment and cultivate lustrous pearls, stranding them one by one.

P.S. – Mikimoto knows pearls.  There is an art and science of giving birth to a pearl:

Creating pearls is a fascinating process that requires much time and dedication. The oyster bed is a natural habitat that must be painstakingly nurtured before a pearl can even be conceived. The cultivation process begins with a core. In natural pearls, this is simply a fragment of shell, fishbone or sand that floats into the shell of pearl oyster. To protect itself from this irritant, the oyster secretes thousands of layers of nacre, forming a pearl.

Photo from


Leave a Reply