A Geezer
In Paradise

Bananas, Mangoes,
and Zapotes
f nothing else, none of us who live in Puerto Perdido will die of vitamin C deficiency. In our public market, fruit is literally a dime a dozen. There are close to a dozen different varieties of bananas --- including Manzano, Macho, Tabasco, Castilla, and Costa Rica. There are large tangerines with a pitted skin, not unlike a teenager in the rosy throes of early puberty. There are at least seven varieties of mangoes with names like Oro, Manila, Payaso, Ataulfo, and Perón. There are green oranges with blotchy black spots, and green lemons with blotchy yellow spots.

When you peel any of these, they turn out to be fresh, sweet, richly flavored, and fragrant --- especially the Macho and Castilla bananas and the Payaso and Criolla mangoes. Most of the pretty, juiceless ones get shipped north of the border to appear on U.S. supermarket shelves after they have been carefully aged in trucks and boxcars for a couple of months. The ugly ones get sold locally for pennies to those of us who eat anything that even remotely resembles fruit: not only mangoes and bananas, but oranges, grapefruit, zapote --- along with those we don't know the names of: long, fat striped green and orange things which, they tell me, will make you break out in hives if you don't peel them right; hairy fruit which has the same consistency of a durian without the stink; and --- best --- a large nectarine fruit that appears to be some sort of a tumorous green scrotum.

Not long ago I sent Juan to the corner abarrote --- the grocery store --- to pick up something cool for me to drink and he came back with a carton of Mango Juice packaged by United Fruit. This is rich, because in the two or so acres I have rented on the hill, we have almost twenty producing mango trees --- Mangifera indica --- mostly Manilas.

Starting in early April and for the rest of the month, we should be wearing bright orange construction site helmets around the orchard because each tree produces somewhere between fifteen and eighteen thousand mangos which fall, willy-nilly, through the leaves --- crashing noisily, and leaving their imprint on the ground, on the cars, and on any dogs and people who happen to be standing around.

The irony in all this is that some of us can't stand mangoes. The flesh is soft and stringy, so much so it puts me in mind of eating one of my fellow geezers, and the sugar content is enough to put our diabetic sugar spill-over into the red. My sister adores them, but has the added advantage of being allergic to them: her face turns into a balloon when she eats even a single plump yellow bite.

In season, mangoes sell for about two cents a dozen in the local market, so in the huerta we usually leave them where they lay. Ripe mangoes, just off the tree, have a half-life of about ten minutes and there is nothing more salubrious on a hot day than the stink of a few thousand or so rotting fruit, surrounded as they are by hoardes of hornets, wasps, African bees, flies and vicious looking black insects about the size of a Sikorski CK-2 helicopter, making about as much noise. Finally, when it gets to be too much we load them into wheelbarrows and take them down the hill where we dump them for fertilizer. In the old days this was known as conspicuous consumption.

Drinking that mango juice from the carton reminded me of my friend Joe, who spent two years in the Peace Corps, in the mountains of Ecuador. His job was to visit with the poor folk who work on the coffee plantations there, offering advice on medicine and nutrition. He said that for their coffee break each day, they would adjourn to the nearest cantina for a cup of instant Nescafé --- the only coffee to be found in Ecuador that's not tied to a bush.

Not long ago, I e-mailed my friend Jon who teaches genetics in one of those factory universities with an enrollment of a hundred thousand students. I told him to give up his job trying to interest brainless pimple-faced kids in fruit-flies and zygote. I told him he belonged here. I told him about the sunshine, and the gentle sea, the lack of MTV, freeways, and MacDonalds. I told him about the mangoes, bananas and the other fruits that grow everywhere here, willy-nilly. I told him one of my new favorites was something called Zapote Negro. He wrote back:

    I am bound by honor, tenure, and my checkbook to stay here. Furthermore, I would never touch anything called zapote. It sounds like a cross between a revolutionary, a shoe, and an animal. Besides, I have moral scruples about consuming our brothers/sisters the plants.

    Doth not a plant have feelings? If pricked, does it not bleed? If sliced and diced, is it not quickly sauteed in butter with a pinch of lemon? And who authorized us to pinch the lemon? The bumper sticker on my car proclaims: End the Cruelty of Salad Bars. Tomorrow, I will sneak into the Botany Department greenhouse and liberate all the ferns. Arriba la revolución!

--- Carlos Amantea

[Note: parts of this essay appeared previously at salon.com]

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