|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.