Gauguin’s Pearl Farm in Rangiroa

Gauguin's Pearl Farm-300x200It is Christmas morning and I have, temporarily, no Internet. Our entire covered balcony deck is wet, and the table where I set my laptop has puddles. Rain during the night must have crept in sideways over the rails and under our thatched roof. The wind had been strong enough to throw an empty Coke Light can against the door, but not so strong as to whip an empty bottle of our Spanish Baron De Castaneda from the table. Is it still paradise at Kia Ora Resort on Rangiroa?

Let me check. I hum a few bars of She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain, and yup, my voice is much better. I’ve been nursing a progressive cold for the past 5 days. Check. Sunburned back acquired from walking across the reef from the Blue Lagoon to Bird Island without wearing sunscreen. We made an emergency trip into Avatoru yesterday to the pharmacy to get an ointment with special properties beyond Aloe Vera, and it’s much less red and botchy today. The pain has subsided. Check. Hair. My hair is a tangled, twisted, poofy and swollen blob looking very much like Lyle Lovett hair crossed with Albert Einstein’s. Who gives a rats about my rat-nest hair but rats? Check.

My husband is ready to pull out his hair if he has to hear Dean Martin or Bing Crosby sing any more Christmas carols at the restaurant. It’s sheer torture to him, and the smiling French Polynesian waitresses have no clue. The words to those songs are complete lies, he says. There is no marshmallow world. I suspect he thinks of the world as evil and corrupt and doesn’t buy the pretty pictures painted by anybody, especially not by crooners from the 1960s and their ilk. I am much more hopeful for the world. Especially after our visit yesterday to the Gauguin’s Pearl Farm to witness the miracle of the birth of black pearls.

Because we don’t speak French, we had a private tour of the farm, which pretty much consisted of: here is a technician operating on the oysters, and here is the lagoon where we put the oysters to bed. Perhaps a better term for the technician would be doctor, I wonder? If they are calling the act of slicing open the appendix, inserting a pearl, followed by a graft from a donor oyster, an operation, then the person performing the operation should be a doctor.

Rangiroa worker holding oysters-300x200Gauguin’s Pearl Farm gets their pearls from the bottom of the Mississippi River in America. The pearls are small, very round, and they cover them in an antiseptic of sorts that is a pale lemon yellow. The grafts are very tiny, at least four times smaller than a sliver of clipped fingernail, a teeny rectangle. A different crew of workers push a plastic wedge into the oyster, which props it open just enough for a technician to peer into its opening. Using a tweezer type of instrument, the technician inserts the pearl, followed by the graft, into the open wound. Then, the oyster is tied to others and then placed into a pocket of the net bag. Each oyster occupies its own pocket. This way, if the pearl is not accepted by the oyster and is instead rejected, it will fall into the netting, and that oyster can be removed from production.

It takes a long time to make a black pearl. First, the oyster has to be at least 3 years old to be of age to produce a pearl. The pearl itself takes at least 2 years to create. By the time you hold a first generation pearl in your hand, 5 years have passed. That’s a long time for investors to wait, sighed our tour guide. Second-generation pearls, the larger size, take another 2 years, and the really large pearls, the third generation, well, an oyster will have invested 9 years of its life. That’s assuming no predators have eaten the oyster by then.

The real estate business in Sacramento is a much safer investment than pearl farming.



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