The Doors of Pineappleception (Part Five)

[Parts One, Two, Three and Four]

And so I submitted to his whim; I lay myself down at the feet of exploratory science; I loosened my tie and let the world take a peek at my soul. More than that: I agreed to drink sixteen pints of pineapple juice on the basis that it would reveal something other than the fact that a copious amount of fruit juice necessitates frequent lavatorial sojourns. Was I mad? Perhaps I was. But I don’t regret a single minute.

****************

It was autumn in Edinburgh. The leaves were burning torches of pink, orange and red and a filmy blanket of mist lay low to the ground, skulking with infinite grace. We met Yile at a coffee shop overlooking the castle. He seemed a little flustered (we didn’t know it yet, but he had just been kicked out of his tutoring job after making ‘unsuitable advances towards a junior lecturer in Archaeology’. The rumour is that he threatened her with an ancient Roman trowel after trying, unsuccessfully, to pour pineapple juice down her top). His eyes had lost some of their usual sparkle, and I’ll wager he hadn’t washed for a week. Still, his shoulders were just the same as ever. Oh, those shoulders! My wife couldn’t take her eyes off them any more than I could – and she had never much liked Yile. They were the sort of shoulders that restored one’s confidence in people; that made the world seem like a safer place. All the morning’s doubts were washed away when we saw those shoulders. They helped us make sense of the madness.

From the coffee shop we headed north, stopping off for supplies along the way. Contrary to expectations, Yile had not planned the experiment with any sort of thoroughness. He hadn’t even bought the juice: a curious oversight, we thought, for what shop would sell sixteen pints of pineapple juice on a cold Saturday afternoon in Edinburgh? But we had underestimated the size of the Crocodile Foods stockroom. It was only a small shop, yet Yile knew it well. Leaving us outside he blew into the cavernous store with a certain coolness, emerging five minutes later, laden with pineapple juice cartons – and a small bag of yoghurt-covered hazelnuts, which he proceeded to share around. The sparkle was, at last, creeping back into those large green eyes of his.

‘So,’ he said. ‘We start outside, yes?’
I wasn’t looking at her directly, but I could already see my wife’s eyebrows begin a steady ascent.
‘We start wherever you want to start,’ I said.
Yile grinned. Up, up, up went the wife’s eyebrows.
‘First we walk around,’ said the large-eyed Belgian, ‘then we sit and read. Maybe later we do something else’
‘Something else?’ I said.
‘Or maybe not,’ he said, hurriedly. ‘Maybe we walk and read. Yes. We walk and read’.
‘Walk and read,’ I repeated, nodding my head. This is all very good, I thought. I drink some pineapple juice, I walk – and I read. All in the name of science. Nothing wrong with this. Nothing wrong at all.
‘Are you ready?’ asked Yile.
I took another look at those shoulders. Then to her eyebrows, then back to his shoulders. To eyebrows, to shoulders, to eyebrows to shoulders. And thence to the first carton, held out in front of me, freshly opened, inviting me forwards, singing to my lips: drink me, drink me, drink me. The very first carton of pineapple juice.
‘I’m ready,’ I said.

[Part Six]

Intermission (The Love of Everything)

From an early essay by Jave de Lasse:

Difference springs from ignorance. Just as racial or religious hatred is fuelled by a naive fear of the unknown, so too is the dislike of certain art forms. The man who sayeth: ‘I hate romantic fiction’ knows not the subject of which he talks. Maybe he is scared of it. Maybe he hasn’t yet got around to it. All we can say is that he doesn’t know it – and that is why he doesn’t like it. If he did know it – as well as he knows, for instance, ghost stories – we can be sure that he would love it. For all that is known can, nay will, be loved. Only the lazy critic trades in hates.

Postscript: Ten years later and, yes, Jave de Lasse trades in hates like the best of us. On the plus side, he’s also stopped writing ‘sayeth’.

The Doors of Pineappleception (Part Four)

[Parts One, Two and Three]

Interesting people often appear in Vladivostok – but they just as often disappear. After our initial meeting, I saw very little of Yile. Things weren’t going well for him at the university and he left soon after. We promised to stay in touch, as you do, and I had half an idea that we would – Yile being the sort of man who takes promises seriously (almost as if they actually mattered). For a year, yet, nothing. Not a squeak. Then, one day, a letter from Edinburgh.

He had secured a tutoring job, he said, on top of which he was making strides in what he called his ‘personal research’. Everything was going very well, he said, but he required some volunteers. I wrote back: volunteers for what? (I was simply being curious; not setting myself up as a potential guinea pig). He replied: ‘The participant will be required to consume a large amount of pineapple juice, after which he/she will be expected to perform a series of simple tasks, from walking to reading’.

I thought about this for a while. I will confess, my interest was piqued. I wanted to let Yile go: him and all his crazy pineapple-ventures. But at the same time I couldn’t help but acknowledge that his research interests collided with my own. Drinking copious amounts of pineapple juice and then reading a book. What was that if not an experiment in Active Reading? Granted, a broad stripe of mild lunacy was painted across its pungently fruity chest. But how often can one say that? Johannes Speyer was often coming out with ideas that ballerined on the edge of reality – yet who could deny his genius? Could Yile’s excitement really be so misplaced? He was no amateur scientist, it seemed. He knew his stuff. And if he thought that large amounts of pineapple juice could transform the relationship between reader and text, it seemed churlish to dismiss him just like that.

But this wasn’t, of course, the only reason I volunteered. No – there’s more to it than that. Restless adventurer in the literary wilderness I may be, but as people have often pointed out, there is a smidgen of reluctance lodged deep within my reckless soul. I don’t always rush madly into new experiences. In this case, however, coincidence and convenience were on my side. I was due to be in Edinburgh later that month. I would have a little spare time. Why not take that time and give it over to a strange Belgian scientist? Why not present my young healthy body at his door and say ‘Here you are good sir, now fill me up with pineapple juice until I almost explode’.

Why the hell not?

[Part Five]

The Doors of Pineappleception (Part Three)

[Parts One and Two]

This is neither the time nor the place to go into the cultural history of the pineapple. Interesting though it would be to explore their role in ancient Paraguan society; to note their significance amongst Southern Brazilian tribes (several of which worshipped them as deities); or to chart their appearance in Europe in the early eighteenth century, where, as status symbols, they held a power equal to the clavichord or the eight-wheeled cart; fascinating as this would certainly be, my readers are nonetheless advised to seek this story elsewhere. For I am fit to pursue other avenues; to wander down different roads; to dive into less regular pools.

Pineapples themselves are wonderfully intriguing objects. Visually stunning, they also combine magnificent textures: the tortoise-shell-like skin, the sleek sharp fronds and soft, yielding centre, hardening to a stony core. They are harsh fruits, in many ways, but also playful. I can for instance think of few better ways of spending a rainy day than chopping the top off a pineapple and balancing it on your head like a hat. People are known to have fun with pumpkins – but to my mind, at least, nothing beats the fun one can have with a pineapple.

And yet, like I said, they can be harsh fruits. One can get on the wrong side of a pineapple frond, with ghastly consequences. A full-grown pineapple tossed, with gusto, can injure almost anyone, whilst sharply cut slices of pineapple, put into the wrong hands, can cause serious harm. This is not something you can say of a mango, a passion fruit or a banana. Say what you like about watermelons (and some of you probably do), but I would much rather go to war armed with a pineapple. Step aside star fruit: this fight is for the pineapple tribe.

Leaving aside tropical fruit warfare for the moment, let’s dip our toes into quieter waters. Wonderful as pineapples are in their natural fully-armoured forms, I am rather more interested in what goes on inside those horny jackets of theirs. It is the juice that intrigues me. The sweet yellow juice, with its soft honeyed tang, its subtly sour, scintillatingly sugary aftertaste. Pineapple juice will never refresh one with the well-meaning directness of your orange or your apple: but it will ever beguile, mesmerize and, occasionally, even irritate its drinkers.

The restorative properties of pineapple juice are relatively well known. Mouths blighted by ulcers have long been known to be healed by the mixture of toxins and vitamins it contains. Cancer victims, I have heard, are amongst its greatest advocates – a worthy testament to the fruit’s kindest character.

The mind-altering qualities of the pineapple, on the other hand, are less well-researched. Pitzney (1993) says something about it – as does Fulcrome-Leap (2001) – but their words amount to little. Neither of them goes as far as Emmanuel Yile would like them to. But then no one but him has ever had quite so much faith in the brain-juggling, soul-shaking and, above all, life-changing qualities of pineapple juice. And why would they? For all the passion I have crammed into these paragraphs, history tells us that pineapples have their uses, many of them rather good, but none of them especially extraordinary. And whilst history is a dirty liar most of the time, it saves its greatest lies for the big stories: the stories that really matter. And the mildly-hallucinogenic properties of pineapples is not, all things considered, the biggest story you’ve ever heard, is it? Why would anyone suppress it? Why, in short, should we believe a man who thinks chooses to think differently, based on nothing more than gut feeling (and a handful of figures and charts that only a scientific genius could understand)?

[Part Four]

The Doors of Pineappleception (Part Two)

[Part One]

God only knows how long we went on talking that night. In any other case I would have tried to shake him off before we left the supermarket. Vladivostok is where I go to escape the world; conversations with wild-eyed Belgian scientists are not something I’ve ever sought, or had any trouble wriggling out of, for that matter. But something about Yile put the brakes on my customary wriggling. I felt, for once, that he was someone worth listening to; someone worth risking the wrath of my wife when I invited him back to our cottage for a dribble or two of Japanese whisky and a crawls-on-till-morning chat. One can never be sure, of course, but he seemed like someone in whom it was worth investing time. I didn’t even choose the cheapest whisky.

It would impossible to relate all that we talked about. A range of topics were covered, albeit sparsely, by the rich blanket of our words. I recall a short debate on the merits of fifteenth century German poetry, followed by some witty banter on French art of the medieval ages. Art was not, of course, all: we also delved into Austrian politics, crane construction and the farming of cabbages. In fact, I rather think that we also sorted out all the problems in the Middle East between ourselves that night, though I struggle to remember exactly what our particular plan of action entailed.

At one point or another, however, conversation finally turned to the subject on which our acquaintance depended. It was in fact my wife who brought it up, popping her beautiful little head around the door and enquiring if I had managed to come back from the supermarket with a little more than a mad heavy-shouldered scientist. ‘Ah yes,’ said I, ‘I almost forgot – the pineapple juice’. And at this I saw Yile’s face light up. He too had remembered something. ‘The pineapple juice! Yes!,’ he cried, ‘the pineapple juice!’

What was it about pineapple juice that excited Emmanuel Yile so much? That, in one sense, is the subject of this article. Suffice it to say, for now, that this was something he truly cared about. Enthusiastic about all aspects of life, he was almost delirious with exhilaration when one broached the topic of pineapple juice. His shoulders shook with pleasure every time he, or anyone, so much as whispered those two words. When I poured some of the precious liquid into a glass for him, I thought his eyes would pop out. What would happen when he drank it, I wondered? Would he be able to get the glass to his lips before fainting?

As it happens, he didn’t seem too interested in drinking in. He preferred to examine it instead, as if were a fine wine, rather than cut-price fruit juice. ‘Look at the colour,’ he said. I looked at the colour. ‘Smell it,’ he said. I smelled away. ‘Think about it,’ he said. I thought about why I should be thinking about it – and then I thought about it. ‘Now drink it,’ he said. I drank it. A glass of pineapple juice. ‘Now,’ he said, as I pulled the glass away from my mouth, ‘read this’. And he passed me a scrap of paper, on which was written a four line poem. I read it. ‘It’s good, huh?’ he said. I nodded, uncertainly. It wasn’t special, but I didn’t want to offend him. ‘Ah,’ he said, noting my reluctance, ‘but imagine what it would be like after drinking sixteen glasses of pineapple juice!’ I tried, and failed, to imagine this. It was, in all honesty, beyond my comprehension. Why would anyone want to drink sixteen glasses of pineapple juice?

This, my friends, is the question.

[Part Three]

The Doors of Pineappleception (Part One)

[As promised]

One late summer in Vladivostok I met a man called Emmanuel Yile. He was on placement at the university, researching the properties of a substance he called ‘Vitamin T’. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had been given this assignment for one main reason: it kept him out of the way. I should have known this – Vladivostok is full of such characters; men and women cast adrift from the main stream of life, pushed into the margins: sent into informal exile. I suppose you could say that, all things considered, it isn’t quite a centre of cultural excellence. Then again, you could say a lot of things about Vladivostok, not all of them true.

He approached me in the queue of a cut-price supermarket. I like to think that it was because I possess the palpable aura of a phenomenally remarkable man, but it was probably because I spoke good English. And because I was cradling in my arms a rather large carton of pineapple juice. Why was I doing so? My wife, it turns out, had requested the item in question. Or at least she had asked for orange juice – but, alas, there was none, which explains the recourse to pineapple. Which explains, in turn, the encounter with Yile.

The first thing I noticed were his shoulders. Broad, yet elegant. Powerful, yes, but also graceful. Above all, noticeable. And I speak as a man who isn’t usually drawn to the shoulders of another man. Yile’s shoulders, however, sang loud – they simply refused to be ignored. ‘Here we are,’ they sang: ‘Snub us at your peril’. His was a full figure, granted, but one could never say that he took up too much space. No, if ever a man had earned the right to have an extra pound or two of flesh, Emmanuel Yile was that man. Don’t ask me why – that’s just the way I feel.

From his shoulders I moved upwards, along that noble trunk of a neck to the large and kindly face above. To that soft alluring smile, that charmingly bulging nose and those big sparkling eyes. Wild eyes, maybe, but the kind of wildness that kept you interested, not the sort to scare you off (unless of course you lacked the will to live adventurously). For Yile, it was clear, was not an easy man. And yet he had something that few people have. He had true enthusiasm. That and strangely handsome shoulders.

[Part Two]

Many-headed Dinosaurs

I’ve been dreaming of many-headed dinosaurs. Who hasn’t? I refer, in the main, to the readership of Fjona Uu’s new novel, The Brontesaurus Sisters, but then one doesn’t like to exclude anyone who might be engaged in personally-inspired many-headed dinosaur dreaming, does one?

In all honesty, I don’t know much about these so-called Brontë Sisters. They wrote some books, I’ve heard, and were, I’m told, sisters – thus the collective title. Indeed, being related to one another seems to have ensured that they are considered, more often than not, as a group; that they are compared to, complemented alongside and in constant competition with each other. Charlotte, Anne and Emily were their actual names, but it is much easier, is it not, to simply say ‘Brontë Sisters’?

Easier, yes – but is it fair? To what extent should we allow ourselves to stuff siblings into the same categorical sandwich? No doubt the sisters shared a similar background; perhaps even more than this. Maybe they led very similar lives, who knows? Clearly I don’t. But I do wonder whether this isn’t worth a second look, this whole ‘sibling group’ thing. No?

My wife, for instance, has a sister she hasn’t seen for thirty years. They have so little in common, these two – and yet one can see how someone from the future might be tempted to compare the two. For they are, after all, sisters. They come from the same family. And what are families, ultimately, but an elementary filing system: a way of ordering this chaotic universe of ours?

As non-readers may have guessed from the title, Fjona Uu’s book imagines the three Brontë Sisters as a single entity, albeit a three-headed single entity. In short, a Brontesaurus. Imagine that: a Brontosaurus  with three heads, each representing a sister in the same family. Now imagine your own siblings (should you have any) as heads on the shared body of a large dinosaur.

Why imagine such a thing? I can’t quite see why, but at the same time I can’t quite help myself. I hear that someone is contemplating a critical biography of the entire Laami family and, once again, my Fjona-U-fueled-fancy takes glorious flight. A bloated diplodocus hoves into view, fourteen or fifteen heads swaying above its fat heavy body. I see it in the swamp, thrashing wildly. I see the heads turn on each other, snapping and snarling. I see rivers of senseless blood running around the thick feet of Triassic monsters.

I’ve been dreaming of many-headed dinosaurs. Perhaps I should stop reading Fjona Uu and eating cheese before I sleep at night.