Many years ago I wrote a column about spitting and my inability to learn how with any degree of accuracy and finesse. At the time, I wanted to replace cigarettes with chewing tobacco, a choice between nastiness.
In retrospect, I can’t believe I set such a disgusting goal for myself and am glad I failed miserably and simply quit all tobacco. However, I remain impressed with the talents of those who have mastered the fine art of expectoration, especially its Zen-master "Josey Wales."
Until now, I thought it my most disgusting column. Well, insofar as subject-matter is concerned, today’s breaks new ground, descending from spitting to throwing up.
Actually, my subject is interesting, at least to me. I’m continually fascinated by how cultural uses and demands bestow values on particularly weird items in Mother Nature’s pantry or waste basket.
One current example is the reality show, "Wicked Tuna" on the National Geographic channel. I’ve fished all of my life but never knew a $10,000 fish existed.
It makes me wonder who’s the prey and who’s the bait. Those fish must make cosmic sushi to fetch such cosmic prices. It’s all about cultural values.
And speaking of value of cultural demands, not long ago an 8-year-old English boy by the name of Charlie Naysmith was walking along the Dorset beach with his dad and picked up what he thought was an odd-looking rock.
The "rock" turned out to be a pound chunk of ambergris worth north of $60,000! I remembered reading about ambergris many decades ago in a mystery book. I couldn’t remember the book or author and neither could Google.
I suppose a search of "ambergris mentioned in a book" is a bit broad. I came up with a lot of informational hits but no literature other than a 1910 book of poetry.
This stuff is worth a lot of money to the fragrance industry. High-end perfume makers such as Chanel and Lanvin use it to fix their scents to human skin.
I can’t imagine how that attribute was discovered. Somebody in the distant past would’ve had to decide to add a pinch of whale vomit to a perfume batch to see what it did.
Yep, that’s what this extremely valuable stuff is: whale vomit or more specifically, sperm whale vomit. But in the interest of scientific research, recent studies suggest that for centuries we humans may have been concentrating on the wrong end of the whale.
Whichever end receives credit for depositing the "treasure" isn’t a big deal, and I’m sure Moby Dick couldn’t care less how he got rid of it. Ambergris is intestinal slurry ejected by sperm whales into the ocean which eventually hardens as it bobs along.
Because of the sperm whale’s endangered status, use of ambergris in U.S. perfumes is prohibited. The French perfume industry has no such restrictions; hence the huge demand that drives the price.
So this English kid hit the jackpot because a whale blew chunks. Spicoli would be amazed. Gnarly.
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.