The Doors of Pineappleception (Part Nine)

[Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight]

I don’t doubt that more can be said on the effects of drinking fourteen pints of pineapple juice. That I am the man to say these things must, however, be questioned. Pioneering volunteer I may have been – pioneering scientist I am not. What goes on in one’s mind during such an experience can be explained, to some extent, in layman’s terms. This I have attempted to do. But the whole thing goes deeper than this. A mind is a complex thing, as well you know – and knowledge of its inner workings are, I fear, far beyond the knowledge of a literary critic (or this one, at least). I was the guinea pig, granted, but this was Emmanuel Yile’s experiment. I left it to him to put my pineapple-induced adventuring into some sort of scientific perspective.

That he didn’t do this wasn’t exactly his fault. He intended, no doubt, to expand upon his pineapple theories. I say this with some misgivings – in truth, I’m not sure the experiment went quite as well as he expected. How so I cannot say; it’s just that he didn’t seem, to my mind, entirely pleased with the results. The effects took a while to wear off, so I can’t say for sure, but if my wife is anything to go by (and she usually is), Yile was far from excited by all that had occurred. He wasn’t downcast, exactly – but then neither was he elated. And Yile was, as previously noted, a naturally enthusiastic man. One expected it of him. Anything else and you’d be concerned.

Why wasn’t he happy? I’m not sure. I don’t know what his expectations were. He had always said that he thought the pineapple-fuelled participant would experience a ‘different state of mind’. This I did. But was it different enough? Yile didn’t appear to think so – but then what did he know? He was taking my word, and my actions, for it. And I was, in my way, perfectly enthusiastic – so why wasn’t he? Had he expected me to shoot off like a rocket; to cavort around the Scottish streets like some lunatic, stripping off my clothes and squealing like a frightened piglet on speed?

I don’t know. I don’t quite know what he expected – nor do I know, for sure, what he made of it. In short, I know very little. And I cannot say whether this is because there was very little to know, or because there was a lot which was not said. In either case, very little is all I ever shall know, for now I know that Yile will never say all that he might, or might not, have said. And this is because Yile, Emmanuel Yile, he of the sturdy and sumptuous shoulders, is dead.

You could say that, were Yile alive, the mysterious properties of the pineapple would have been revealed to all, once and for all. You could also say that, were Yile alive, we’d be just as ignorant as we always were – and happily so. Yile’s genius was, I confess, of the uncertain sort. He seemed as though he possessed a wonderful mind – but did he?

His death doesn’t really answer the question. He killed himself, of course. I say ‘of course’ – not because it was inevitable, but because it wasn’t exactly surprising either. Had it been obvious, I would have done something to stop it. I might have answered that phone call in the middle in the night. I might have replied to that e-mail a little sooner. As it was, I didn’t, because I didn’t know that the man’s life was hanging on the line – though, in retrospect, it doesn’t shock me to know that it was. Emmanuel Yile was never quite of this world, and it doesn’t feel strange to think that he isn’t still in it.

The sordid facts are as follows. About two months after the great pineapple experiment, Yile was found dead in a bath of pink water. He’d slit his wrists, they thought at first, though it soon transpired that he had, in fact, drowned – in cranberry juice. You might argue that he was experimenting until the end. Or you might just say that he was deliberately killing himself in a suitably peculiar way. Read it as you will. I shall say no more on this.

As for the pineapples, however, a few closing words – for this was not an episode I should wish, for whatever reason, to pass over without due comment. The fact is, I experienced something very interesting that day. I delved beneath the veneer of ordinary existence and left my dirty fingerprints on the doorknob of deeper understanding. Can one keep quiet about such a thing? One cannot. Anything that teaches one to read in another way; that gives one a different perspective on Art, oh so precious Art, should never be sneered at.

On the other hand, what to do with it? Is there any sense in recommending that other readers should follow me down the road of copious pineapple-juice consumption? Was it really worth it?

To put it simply; in the right spirit, and under proper conditions, I should not dare to turn my nose up at anything which leads one to a new perspective; to a fresh way of looking, not just at the world, but – more importantly – at text: at the book, that holiest of objects, that most beautiful of earthly things: our saviour. It isn’t for everyone, perhaps, but I speak as a critic – and we, of all people, should take every care never to rest on our laurels. There is never one way to experience something: there are a myriad ways of viewing this world of ours – and we’d be fools to overlook any way of thinking, however strange it seems, and however unhealthy it may turn out to be. In short: drink away (but I wouldn’t go so far as fourteen pints, unless you want to embarrass yourself in a public park).

[finis]

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The Doors of Pineappleception (Part Seven)

[Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five and Six]

But of course, this is not all. Not all at all. Pleasures abound in the strange old land of pineapple juice abuse. It drives the senses wild; it moves us one step closer to madness, you might say, ever-teasing the restless mind, in ways too many to count. What else can I say of our walk, excepting my new-found fondness for contorted folds? I could start, perhaps, with the cobbles; the cobbles on which we walked, the cobbles which, post-pineapple-consumption, rose like loaves and hung above the ground, eerie slabs of doughy stone floating around my feet, threatening to entrap my poor tingling toes. Up and down the cobbles we strolled; my wife and Yile nonchalant; myself strained and excited, bewildered and bewitched. For them it was nothing but an old street – for me a fantastical playground, a medieval minefield: an ever-changing landscape strewn with innumerable wonders.

From the left I was struck by a row of black railings, leaning strangely low, like a wall of soldiers bearing spears. From the right tall houses, cliff face high, pockmarked with toothsome windows and noisy doors, doors I thought might suck me in, into the dark throat of their dusty hallways and down into their warm damp cellars. Does this sound as if I were frightened? Perhaps I was, but more than anything I recall a sense of exhilaration: of sheer delight in my surroundings. The grass we passed was greener than any I’d ever seen before. The late September leaves sparkled like flecks of gold. The banks leading down to the canal gave a feeling that I can only call ‘positive vertigo’; a dreamy sort of fear – a heartwarming impression of furious height. At one point a cat rambled by, a dead damp mouse in his mouth. It was a sight that, to a normal person, might have risen only briefly above the mundane. To me, however, it offered a glimpse of some inner truth. This cat contained, to me, the very facts of our existence.

What then of Emmanuel Yile’s shoulders? Remarkable in standard circumstances, surely they clambered their way up to a whole new level when under the influence of pineapple juice? Perhaps they did – though I’m inclined to say that they didn’t. In truth, I was far too busy focusing on a fold in his bow-tie to care. Strange things happen when one is stoked with pineapple juice; the pretty details tend to overtake the larger point of view. One sees small things big and big things small. You could be so enchanted by a twig you might miss the thunderstorm raging around you. This can make you a frustrating companion – God knows how Yile and my wife were able to cope with me going into constant raptures over the shade of a leaf. Certainly it wouldn’t do one much good to be in such a state all of the time. You would, surely, get nothing done. But this doesn’t mean that it hasn’t its uses, this state of mind. Wandering around Edinburgh on an autumn afternoon may, I admit, be done just as well in a sane frame of mind. One can learn to truly appreciate the colour of leaves without drinking fourteen pints of pineapple juice.

There was, however, always more to the experiment than this. What the juice did to my vision of the world around me was one thing. What the juice would do to my reading was quite another.

[Part Eight]

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]

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]