If my poor back permits me to do so, allow me to bend down and pick up on a point made in Sebastien Cheraz’s generally excellent review of Pathenikolides’ increasingly well-known novel The Twisted Olive Tree. He writes:
We are in Greece, late March, following the hushed conversation of a group of teenagers lying on a hill outside their village, overlooking an ancient, twisted olive tree. They are playing what is known to many of us as the ‘cloud game’. This antique pastime (thought by many to have been invented by Pythagoras’ uncle Praxinimbus) involves nothing more than an ability to detect clouds in the sky and, with a little imagination, to compare their shape to that of an additional object. Thus the immortal last words of the Danish poet and philosopher Ingemar Hölleston: ‘God above! A cloud in the shape of a pomegranate!’ – spoken before choking on his own vomit (revealing a conspicuous drawback to a game that involves lying flat on one’s back).
Laying aside the eternally controversial issue of Pythagoras’ uncle, let us settle instead on the subject of Ingemar Hölleston’s last words – which appear here, it must be said, a little out of context.
First things first. Other than the fact that he spoke them in Danish, those were indeed Hölleston’s last words. His very last words, that is – not a sentence plucked from a range of those spoken around about the time when he made his final exit – nor a phrase invented posthumously by a team of last-word experts (such as those described by Koira Jupczek in the wonderful Death Charts). So, though I decline to name my sources, I would willingly stake my life (or, failing that, a really good wrist watch) on the authenticity of this legend.
A few pressing questions follow. What was Ingemar Hölleston doing staring at clouds in the first place? What caused him to vomit? And, most significantly: what would a cloud in the shape of a pomegranate actually look like?
It might help if I told you that Hölleston and pomegranates go back a long way. His notebooks are full of references to the fruit; almost as if he had a fixation with them. In fact, I take that back. There’s no ‘almost as if’ about it. He did have a fixation with them. Undeniably. Indeed, it was most likely due to the over-consumption of pomegranates that Hölleston was driven to spew himself all the way to the pearly gates. That he felt no remorse regarding this unhealthy obsession is, I think, confirmed by this final utterance of his – as is the possibility that his love of pomegranates had truly divine implications. Allow me to re-punctuate those closing words: ‘God above: a cloud in the shape of a pomegranate!’
Now it all becomes clear (or clearer, at any rate). Still, I haven’t explained what Hölleston was doing lying on his back staring at clouds in the first place. An army of sighs advances. Do I really need to do this? Goodness me: aren’t we all driven to do such things from time to time? Maybe so, though it will probably interest you to know that Hölleston was, by all accounts, a closet cloud-watcher. In fact, he relied on the sky (in its various shapes and forms) for the majority of his inspiration (and not, as is sometimes claimed, on strong black coffee). So there. ‘It’s written in the stars’ say some. Wrong. It’s inspired by them, perhaps, but it’s written in Ingemar Hölleston’s notebooks.
As for what a cloud in the shape of a pomegranate would look like, well, I leave that to your own over-ripe imaginations…