Tuesday, January 22, 2013


    It wasn’t an apple that tempted Eve, it was a mango. I can just see it now: that immense fruit, in all of it’s sun-kissed glory, sitting in her hands, barely fitting between her two palms. All the while, a calm serpent, whispering from its perch, coiled around bunches of navette shaped leaves and plump fruit. Who could resist those yellow and red hues painted on that firm, purple-green canvass skin? Such tremendous fruits so easily plucked from low-hanging branches, as attractive in their accessibility as in their shear abundance. Each one seductively voluptuous and tender. Each bite gashing open new veins that bleed with sweet, warm juice. Descended from heaven, surely--wrapped up and offered under the deliciously cool shade of heavy, twisted trees. It was a mango for sure, and she never stood a chance.

An almost Platonic specimen, this Brazilian mango--about 1 week or 2 from its peak ripeness--hangs seductively around eye level. 

   Paraguay in the summer seems to ferment in mango juice. The air is thick with the sickly smell of it as the locals collect and consume as many as possible, discarding the skins and pits like bread crumbs along wind-swept roads as they walk to and form the fields. Still, so many untold numbers of succulent fruits are missed, picked apart by bees and insects on the ground. Hundreds are left to rot, to fertilize the soil and sow another generation of the world’s finest shade tree. For every person in Paraguay, there must be a million mangoes or more each season. Money might not grow on trees but mangos do, and on the hottest of summer days, nothing could be better.
Fallen mangoes--those left to fertilize the soil and seed the next generation.
This mango, left to rot on the vine, is being slowly worked on by spiders, flies and bees alike. Mango season is a feast for everyone.

    There 2 kinds of mangoes in Paraguay. The first, a native Paraguayan variety, are smaller and yellow and have a tougher, more fibrous flesh. These typically can’t be chewed as easily--instead one simply sucks out the juices and masticates the insides of the fruit to a mushy pulp before spitting out the rest, bit by fibrous bit. Delicious as they may be, they are undoubtedly quite a menace for people in a country that doesn’t seem to floss, although that doesn’t appear to stop anyone in the slightest.

The native Paraguayan variety of mango--slightly smaller, exceptionally juicy and very fibrous.

    Then there are the Brazillian mangoes: brilliantly colored and radiant, textured yet smooth, their flesh like soft orange butter with only enough fiber to remind you that nothing is quite perfect. This fruit might just be as close as it comes. Everything that these mangos boast in taste and beauty they match in size--they are enormous, some barely fitting in between two hands. Watching a little barefoot Paraguayan child with a full mango is like watching a mouse trying to swallow a soccer ball. Try as they might, they still struggle, giddy with all of their big-eyed, childish delight as rivers of juice run down their chins and onto their bare, protruding bellies.

Another beautiful example of the Brazilian variety of mangoes. Sexy.
     As if to add to the bounty, there are enough passion fruits (mburucaja in Guarani) and peaches and pineapples and bananas to feed armies, to cure the scurvy of a million wayward sailors, to drown the entire world in sweet, juicy surrender. Such plenty is one massively redeeming quality in a country that is otherwise suffocating in unbearable summer heat. That’s the trade off I guess--torrents of delicious tropical fruit, the product of incredible photosynthetic production, for mind-numbing afternoons. I’ll take it. I don’t really have a choice anyway.

A carpet of old, rotting Paraguayan mangoes, fermenting in the cool shade of a mango tree. They create a smell that is not entirely unpleasant, but not exactly an air-freshener. Its quite unique, hard to forget for sure.

    The summer days are long, infinitely longer than any other day I have ever experienced. The sun flirts with the horizon starting around five and doesn’t decide to leave until well after eight in the evening. At even the earliest hours, one can feel the echoes of the heat from the day before and the shadows of the heat of the day to come. It is ominous and foreboding, like the most obvious foreshadowing in a poorly-made film, but there is nothing to be done but sit and wait.
    Life here is always tranquillo, quiet and calm, but in the summertime it seems as if even the hands of the clock themselves have taken a vacation. Seconds are twice as long, hours are like days, and days are more like tired, sweaty lifetimes. Its the Bermuda   triangle of South America, except nothing disappears, it just gets lost within itself for an indefinite period of time, lost within an ocean of heat-haze and mangoes, laden with the weight of the atmosphere and aged like an old man when it finally re-emerges, withered and worn. And yet, the weeks seem to fly by. El viento sur (the southern wind) will be rolling in the fall before too long. I’ll be huddled next to a fire and sipping maté in no time--assuming I survive the heat, that is.

From Paraguay,
little hupo


  1. This reminds me of my peach story:

    My mother was raised in the South; she was the oldest child of ten. She has worked hard all her life--with purpose and priorities leading her way. She was a WWII Army nurse and then moved to Wisconsin to complete an RN degree. At 33, she married and had nine children; (this is where I come in), I was her sixth. I can remember her baking bread, churning the butter and quilting-in-between. Every other year was her time to travel south to visit relatives and to revisit her childhood memories. Only two children went each year and this was my year to go; I was 13. I will admit I was not an easy teenager, but none-the less, it was still my turn.

    The trip started out well. Dad driving, Mom getting more excited every mile and state we passed. The weather was beautiful and we were leaving the solitude of the farm. My older sister was not speaking to me, she was 17 and would not admit that I was growing up too and could actually carry on a semi-grown-up conversation. As we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, we came upon our first peach stand. My mother yelled at Dad to stop the car. She threw open the car door and leaped out and went running into the stand. We all followed her, hurrying to see what the problem was. She ran to the women that was there and asked, “Where are your over-ripe peaches?” The woman pointed to the back. My mother ran over, grabbed several peaches and started to eat them all at once. The peach juice was running all over her face, down her chin, and onto her clothes, as she gurgled to dad to go pay the woman.

    I knew at that moment that we had finally sent our mother over the edge. We were too much for her and now she was mad, crazy, she had lost her mind and manners. I decided right then and there to be a better teenager, after all, she had to last a few more years; I was a middle child and the younger ones needed her.

    It has been many years since that time and I now realize what really happened at that moment. The memories of doing something from our childhood make us feel young again. My children laugh at me when we travel to the family farm in Wisconsin and I attempt to climb my favorite tree. I am sure they have had and will have many moments where they think I have lost my mind. I hope that many years from now they will laugh at my antics as I have laughed at my mothers, with confusion, curiosity and love.

  2. Your Mom and Dad really misses you, thinks about you all the time and are very proud of you. Did you get the contact info from Dad's cousin Nancy?
    Daddy also loves mango's and loved this story he was salivating as I was reading.