Monday, July 28, 2014

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.
How to eat an apple?
Here are my nine steps to eating an apple successfully.
ONE – Go to the local fruit-and-vege shop, NOT to the local supermarket where many fruits are expensively pre-bagged and even those that aren’t are over-priced.
TWO – Linger in the local fruit-and-vege shop. Enjoy the healthy smells of all the natural produce. Spend a short time fantasising about how, when you were still at school, you would have liked to get a holiday or weekend job in a place like this, but you never did.
THREE – Now, depending on what is available, or what is in season, choose the type of apples you will buy. Avoid Granny Smiths unless absolutely necessary – or unless your wife wants apples to cook. They are boring apples. They are apples you will eat greedily only if there is nothing else available. Consider Sturmers seriously – they have a wonderful stinging bite to their taste, but you have to be careful because you know some members of your family can’t stand them. And you haven’t seen them here for years. Braeburns will do as a substitute. Of course consider the Gala variety. Even consider those rosy-coloured Pacific varieties, the name of which you forget. They are such surprising apples. Hard. A bit chalky. But always sweet. And consider those delicious ones that have dappled and patterned skins. Curse yourself for never having studied botany and not knowing the right names, though you do know which ones you mean.
FOUR – Take home the type of apples you have purchased. Empty the bag. Arrange them neatly in a pyramid on the fruit bowl in your living room. If fate and time have forced you to ignore your own advice and buy them at the supermarket, then spend some moments picking off those annoying plastic labels that some marketing idiot got companies to stick on individual apples.
FIVE – Go up to your study. Vow to be strong. Vow to resist temptation and not to go down to the fruit bowl and start raiding the apples. It’s only an hour or so since you had a meal, for goodness sake. Soldier on writing at your word processor. Yes, soldier on stoically, heroically, ascetically. For about ten minutes. Then get stuck on the right word. Go downstairs. Give in to temptation.
SIX – Pick up the apple you have chosen. [OPTIONAL - Hold the stem between thumb and forefinger of your right hand. Hold the apple in your left hand and twist, twist, twist until the stem comes off. Drop stem in kitchen tidy (or chuck stem nonchalantly over shoulder, knowing it will be picked up in the next vacuuming).]
SEVEN – Bite into the apple. Eat the apple. Avoid swooning. It is like Camembert. It is like salami. It is like Lapsang Souchong tea. It is like parsnips. It is one of those tastes that reminds you there is a God. Yes, there can be disappointments. The floury tastelessness of apples that you did not realise had been refrigerated for a long tome. The hidden rotten spot. But as an apple connoisseur, you know never to throw away an apple with a little rot in it. You take a sharp knife and perform a rot-ectomy and then eat the apple, ignoring the pungent smell that might linger about the crater where the rotten bit was.
EIGHT – Yes, I did say eat the apple. I did not say eat part of the apple. I did not say eat a little bit of the apple and then throw the rest away, or set it aside so that its flesh browns to unsightliness. I said eat the apple. The whole apple. You are not a true lover of apples if you do not eat the whole apple. Eat the flesh and skin around the core. Then eat the core. [OPTIONAL – If you have not already detached the stem, you may at this stage hold the apple by the stem and then eat until there is nothing left but the stem, of which you dispose as instructed above.] Recently, a woman, whom I admire almost to the point of folly, was advising us of habits she detests. They included nail-biting and nose-picking [fair enough]; but they also included eating the core of an apple. I was forced to reconsider seriously my deep admiration for this woman. How can you possibly say you have enjoyed an apple if you have not swallowed its star of pips, not ingested the healthy roughage of its internal chambers? (Fragments of which will pass, undigested, through your body the next time you excrete.) Not to eat the core of the apple reveals you to be a superficial person who skates on the surface of life, taking only the obviously sweet without developing a view of life’s variety, the rough and the smooth. Not to eat the core of the apple is like not ever tasting salt on your tongue, or the sharp smack of ginger. You are probably the bland sort of person who does not put black pepper in your omelette. The core is an essential part of the true apple experience. One cannot be a real philomel without eating the core. Besides, in eating the core, you are performing a public service by not leaving any waste.
NINE – Sigh contentedly. Burp if there is nobody around. Go back up to your desk and resume work. Repeat steps FIVE, SIX, SEVEN and EIGHT as above, three or four times in the course of the afternoon. By dinnertime, begin to notice that the pyramid of apples in the fruit bowl seems to be much lower than you thought. Suggest to your wife that you should buy some more apples tomorrow.
Ah apples, apples! They should be the stuff of song and poetry the way wine is, but poems that directly address apples are lamentably sparse. I know you can go on line and find a list of twenty or so poems relating to apples. But the melophiles who compiled this list were really scraping the apple barrel, as some of the poems that are listed are obscure and unmemorable, or have apples only as incidental details. When I think of apples in poetry, I at once recall W. B. Yeats’ “Song of Wandering Aengus” with its last stanza where he says that he will “walk through long green dappled grass / And pluck till time and times are done / The silver apples of the moon / The golden apples of the sun.” And I think of Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill” (“I was young and easy under the apple boughs”). But most of all I think of the best fully-apple-oriented poem, by a very minor poet who was generally not particularly good. But in this case he has caught a good part of the apple experience, even if he has not got to the core of it.
Here is Laurie Lee’s poem “Apples”:

Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole. 

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