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]

Rediscovered Doors

Speaking of pineapple juice (as I was somewhere below), you may be interested to hear that I have just recovered an old notebook, once thought to have been lost forever. Not, alas, this one, but another, more recently misplaced book, in which I had taken notes for and completed the first draft of an article I had hoped to publish at Underneath the Bunker sometime last year. The title of the article is The Doors of Pineappleception, and it concerns the findings of a vaguely dangerous cultural experiment involving one middle-aged man (also known as ‘myself’) and rather a lot of pineapple juice.

Though I always find it hard to return to projects months after the original inspiration has lost its fierce grip on my ever-wandering mind, I think you will agree that such an essay hardly deserves to languish within the pages of an old notebook. I will therefore make every attempt to dust it off, clear away a cobweb or two and make it in some way palatable to the present day reader, either here on the blog, or over at the main site.

Meanwhile, I recommend that all my readers drink pineapple juice responsibly.

Conversation (You Men and Your Vomit)

My wife sits at the breakfast table in a rumpled dress. She has been looking for her slippers. They have gone missing. Again.
‘Did you put up that vomit quote?’
I prod my slice of watermelon with the back end of a teaspoon. I think it’s a long way past its best. ‘Vomit quote?’
‘You know. The Leo Barnard vomit quote?’
‘Oh. I see. The one about the historical process.’
‘And vomit.’
‘But mostly the historical process.’
‘Any excuse to use the word vomit.’
‘Not in the slightest. The word vomit is merely employed to make a point. No excuses are needed.’
She takes a glass out of the cupboard. ‘You men and your vomit,’ she sighs – ‘you just can’t get enough of it, can you?’
I push the melon to one side and wonder whether it is worth boiling an egg. I smile. ‘I must say,’ I say, ‘I can’t say I’ve ever had any especial fondness for the word vomit.’
‘And yet you’re always using it.’
‘I think not.’
‘I think so. Your journal is full of it. Vomit everywhere.’
‘Not in my articles. I can’t vouch for my contributors. I’m only a lowly editor.’
‘Any good editor would have wiped all that vomit up long ago.’
I shrug my shoulders.
‘What’s more, this pepperpot is empty.’
‘Look in the cupboard.’
‘Also empty. More pineapple juice?’
‘Thanks.’
She pours me another glass of pineapple juice, before returning with a vengeance to the subject of vomit, on which she dwells for at least another four minutes. When she is done, I go to the cupboard and look for peppercorns. I find none. I return to the breakfast table.
‘I must say, this is incredible stuff coming from a woman writing a story called Hieronymous Bosch and the Holy Bottom Conspiracy.’
That’s the last glass of pineapple juice I’m offered for a while.

Disclaimer for Anxious Democrats

Since posting the contents of a dream a day or so ago (see below) I have received correspondence from no less than one Anxious Democrat, casting aspersions or seeking reassurance (I can’t always tell those two apart) on a couple of issues.

First up, I seem to have mentioned that the President of the United States – or my dream version of him, at least – was ‘dressed in red’. This, thinks the Anxious Democrat, reflects poorly on me (or on my sub-conscience). The obvious allusion is, he thinks, either to Communism or (probably by association) to devilry. He backs up the latter claim by explaining that the scene as a whole, ‘taking place, as it does, on a park bench’, has ‘more than a passing resemblance to the opening of a famous Russian novel: Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita’. This ‘almost certainly confirms the connection to Satan’, he writes – something I can hardly verify, as I have never read Bulgakov’s book (and would be surprised if my sub-conscience had done so without my knowing, although it’s true we do differ on some things).

Our Anxious Democrat is also concerned, it seems, by the manner in which the President departs from my dream: falling or flying through a hole in the ground. Again, devilry springs to his over-anxious mind. Of course! It all becomes clear – this dream wasn’t related to my interest in the differences between editions of the same book (as I first thought). It was instead an incontrovertible expression of my facist, racist, paranoid and idiotic mind, filtered through the medium of a book I’ve never read. Silly me for thinking otherwise.

What to make of all this? I cannot say and can barely be bothered to try and wriggle out of a hole that was never there in the first place. Let me simply state that, during the few dream moments I shared with the crimson-suited President, I never once suspected him of being anything other than what he was: The President in a red suit. A nice fellow, so far as my sleepy self could tell. From whence the suit came, I do not know: but I am almost certain that it is not connected to a deep-rooted fear that the most powerful man in the world has a holiday home in the Underworld. Exactly how the President came to creep into my dream I am, again, uncertain.

What I do know is that all this does well to illustrate my wife’s favourite saying  (‘Keep your dreams to yourself’) if not her second favourite saying also (‘Don’t drink a whole carton of pineapple juice before going to bed’).

A Mouse for Magda

I stayed up late last night drinking pineapple juice, eating warm fig rolls and having the toes of my left foot massaged: almost the perfect conditions for re-reading C P Pedrik’s novella A Mouse for Magda. I read it first in Vienna, on a park bench – and was not overly impressed. Second-time round, one shakes the literary jar with more expertise; with a far more cunning swing of the wrist. Lo and behold, more things rise to the surface.

The story, as you may know, is a simple one. Magda wants a mouse. She can’t get one. Her parents (Magda is, for most of the story, a child) won’t allow her to keep a pet and her attempts to capture a wild mouse consistently fail. She lives, it seems, in the only region whose cheese (a runny goat variety) is considered passé to the rodent population. Only when she becomes an adult does she finally manage to procure her perfect mouse. It carries disease – and both Magda and her mini-mammal hop into a canoe, clutching a one-way ticket to nothingness.

Pedrik (author, of course, of The Ignoble Trilogy) tackles his topic with the usual tenacity, boring into child pyschology like the manic woodworm he is. ‘Boring’, some might say, is the operative word (‘to read Pedrik is to willingly sink into a state of hebetude’ wrote Peggy Grounter recently) but I would disagree. So long as one is open to engaging with this work, the hidden layers will almost certainly open up in front of you. Like jasmine and amaranth blossoming in the hot water of intellectual curiosity. Like the mating dance of the Pisi-Pisi finch. Like the artichoke I ate last thursday.

One note lingers. F# or G? It’s hard to tell… Still, I wonder – should I be feeling sorry for Magda? Pedrik teases our emotions throughout; not roughly, but with forcefully gentle hands, moulding our thoughts like putty. He loves characters who frustrate the reader: who can be neither hated nor loved; who are almost literally taken to our hearts, whether we want them there or not. There they sit and brood, keeping the blood pumping with the rhythm of their personal history. B-bum, B-bum, B-bum. Magda does not command sympathy: she is – and that is all. It is enough.

Lamenting things that are lost

My previous post on Fabio Muzakaki (below) made mention of the fact that the second half of his second novel was lost due to a computer malfunction. This was somewhat of a tragedy, no doubt about it, albeit one of a rather undramatic nature. Oh yes indeed.  The best way to lose half of your novel, as any fool knows, is to drop a solitary handwritten paper copy into a strong wind near a lake. This looks great. We know this because cinema has told us. If you’re especially fortunate, there may even be an attractive member of the opposite sex on hand to help you put on the pretence of picking up the pieces.

Next time I lose something important I shall certainly make every effort to ensure that the process reeks of high drama. Indeed, I came close to achieving this quite recently when the estranged husband of an author whose book of poetry I was publishing stormed the launch party and made off with the first print run. The whole scenario was vaguely reminiscent of a chase scene from a blockbuster film, except that no-one really gave chase. They came, they saw, they stole the books. Bemused faces looked on from the gallery. More on that another day.

Meanwhile, something of greater importance has been lost. I know not where, I know not how. All I know is that its disappearance contained as much high drama as a play by Kristin Rindolf, or the type of minimalist symphony that rises to a climax with all the urgency of a broken kettle.

One day I had the idea to add a line or two to a piece of writing on which I had been working. It was a draft of an autobiographical text, fashioned to support a selection of works from my journal. There was nothing much to it; just a collection of memories, around thirty pages or so, covering several years of my career, painted in prose of a vaguely purple hint or hue. Not great work, but (in light of the inevitable difficulties one has in the sphere of autobiography) perfectly serviceable. Eminently serviceable, in fact.

Lo and behold, the notepad in which these things were contained could not be found. Never ye mind. I did not panic. I did not fall to my knees and throw out a prayer or four to St. Anthony. I did not flap my arms about and spin wildly around the bedroom, knocking Chinese vases off Japanese cabinets. I did not tremble in a violent silence – rising slowly to a bubbling boiling point – or simmer into a furious nothingness. I did not even drown my sorrows in pineapple juice. ‘It’ll turn up’ said I to myself – ‘it’ll turn up’.

Three months later and, of course, it hasn’t turned up. Gradually I have come to accept the fact that it is lost. The calmness with which I accept this significant fact frightens me somewhat. Have I replaced the words I lost? Otters above! Not at all. I fear I cannot. I am almost certain that I cannot recapture what is lost. Though what is missing is, in essence, very little, it seems probable that I will now have to abandon the project altogether. The thought of what is lost gnaws away at me; but it is terribly quiet sort of gnawing: an alarmingly quiet sort of gnawing. I shall be all eaten up before I realise what it is that’s eating me.