Thursday, July 10, 2008

Regarding mangoes...

There is a tree near my house that stretches its arms to heaven and dwarfs all of its neigbors. Its status as the tallest tree in town, as well as its proximity to the road make it something of a local landmark. Everyone knows "the mango tree". Its branches are thickly laden with fruit right now, but the height of the tree prevents fruit lovers from from dining at leisure. We have to wait for a nice stiff breeze, which brings about the "plop, plop, plop" of the falling fruit. Lately the fruit has been fattening, so it falls frequently. Sometimes it seems to be raining mangoes.

The foot of the tree has become a gathering place for the local kids. When the fruit falls the kids gather up as much as they can carry, often taking off their tshirts for use as sacks. They lug their loot off to a corner where they spend a good long while eating their fill. My proximity to the great tree is a wonderful thing. It means that the kids, whether from generosity or guilt, always feel the need to share their harvest with me. They often give me their best mangoes.

At first I was reluctant to accept these frequent gifts. It wasn't because I didn't like mangoes; I love them. Nor was it because I was hesitant to take from people who less than I do materially (their wealth in fruit is great, as testified to by the fact that they can barely carry all the mangoes they have picked up). I was slow to accept the fruit simply because I felt like an idiot trying to eat it in front of people.

Where I come from we deal mostly with fruit of the "user friendly" variety. Bananas and oranges come in wrappers that are easily removed and disposed of. Apples, plums and peaches can be eaten as they are, with special care given to avoiding the pit. Grapes, strawberries, and blueberries can be taken whole. We don't know much about things like mangoes, papayas, or passion fruit. They might be a flavor in an exotic juice that we enjoy, or part of a fruit salad at an expensive restaurant. But most of us could not tell you what a mango fresh off the tree looks like, let alone how to go about eating one. And the mango is certainly no easy fruit to eat. Its inedible skin is more difficult to remove than that of an orange or a banana, and its pit is much more tightly bound to the fibrous fruit than that of an apple or peach. Consumption requires a lot of pulling and cutting, which is no clean work given the sweet juiciness for which the mango has been dubbed "queen of the fruits". If one had a cutting board, a good sharp knife, and a large fork it would be possible to eat a mango with some semblance of neatness. Yet these implements are hardly readily available when a grinning four year old hands you the greenish gold fruit out on the street and tells you to eat. Bashfulness always kicks in, because I see how wet and sticky this kid is, and I don't want to have to take my second bath of the day so early.

The kids have no problem with the process. They tear into the bottom of the fruit and rip off the skin with their teeth. Then they suck the fibers completely dry with a depth of joy that makes me think about life. By the end, their hands and face are completely drenched in the sticky orange colored juice. This process did not appeal to me. It was too messy to fit my attempted image of "professionalism," and I really hated spending hours picking those little fibers out from between my teeth. Eating this fruit is a sticky ordeal with an irritating aftermath.

Ah, but I have forgotten the reward, and the reason that children all over the world always run toward the "plop, plop, plop" of falling mangoes. That taste! The juice of such refreshing sweetness and subtle flavor the beckons the desire, even after years of separation. The queen of the fruits is indeed a temptress, and she quickly seduced me to forget my hesitation. I now eat mangoes in the same way as my young neigbors. Sometimes four or five in an afternoon. I realized that the mango season, much like life, is short. We need to bite that skin and the suck the juice out while we still can, and enjoy that succulent flavor as it drips down the chin. It's what I've decided to do. If you'd like to join me, I know a good tree.


Ralph & Polly said...

Ahh, mangoes! It reminds me of the last time we were in Pakistan in the summer. Grandpa ate at least one mango a day. True they are messy, but the heavenly taste...we sometimes buy mangoes here, hoping to experience it again, but we are consistently disappointed. They need to be eaten near to where they're grown.
Enjoy a couple and think of us!

Anonymous said...

Haha, Tim! What a great description of mangoes... I'm in the Philippines now, and there's a terrific mango tree right outside my dorm. Unfortunately, the season is more or less over, and the wonderful "plop-plopping" sound doesn't come so often anymore. Mmm, they were so delicious while they lasted though. Nothing like free, juicy fruit in a hot, hot climate.

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