6. Feeding the sea lions at the zoo. Growing up in New York, I was on intimate terms with the zoo. The gorilla, Jo Ann, had the same name as my sister and once spit at my grandmother. The monkeys hurled orange rinds. The bears climbed a Manhattan schist mountain, and you never stuck your arm through the fence because of the debutante story: A New York debutante stuck her arm through the fence and the bear ripped it off. A one-armed debutante in a strapless dress. It was enough to fill a whole generation with bear respect. The animals that looked happiest were the sea lions. They broke from the water in unexpected places. They swam upside down. They sunned themselves and smiled. Best of all was feeding time, when they'd shoot into the air, jet-propelled. I've always yearned to feed them.
Two phone calls later I get to. Scooter, April, and Seaweed press their foreflippers against the pool's edge, look me in the eye, and chomp silver capelins (a kind of smelt) right out of my hand. Their mouths are pink. Their teeth, perfect little black pyramids. I get to feel their whiskers, their breath. They bark and catch fish on the fly. They gulp them down without tasting. Why? What makes them lust after a slimy, semifrozen, four-inch capelin more than, say, a zucchini? Do animals experience food pleasure someplace other than their mouths? Do they taste in their stomachs? In any case, I am euphoric. I am beyond happy. When you are truly, completely in the moment, you can only scrutinize it later. While it's happening, you feel it. Afterward I decide my hands don't smell like fish, they smell like the sea. They smell like—what? They smell like the amuse-bouche at Alain Ducasse.
Patricia Volk is the author of Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family (Knopf).
Ready for Your Own Adventure?
From the May 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
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