09 October 2013

The Watermelon

In 2008, the Hungarian farmers took to their tractors and stormed Budapest with carts full of their own home-grown watermelons—but these watermelons were not for sale. Instead they took them to the doors of the supermarkets and dashed them against the pavement, destroying every single one.  It’s hard to believe that a Hungarian, who for whatever reason has such a strong emotional bond with the watermelon (so strong that watermelons are called “Greek melons” in Hungarian), would intentionally destroy a watermelon.  But it happened, and it happened as part of a protest against the supermarkets selling foreign (from Spain) watermelons for less than the Hungarian farmers could afford to sell them to the supermarkets.  I know: you’re wondering how it is that Spain is managing to undersell Eastern European farmers, but when you think about it, it just makes sense.

I don’t think I have ever been so divided on an issue,  or struggled so much to choose a side.  On one hand, of course I have to applaud the Hungarian farmers for destroying so many useless watermelons, but on the other hand, I want the big supermarkets like Auchan and Tesco to continue paying the farmers practically nothing in hopes that the farmers will eventually stop growing watermelons all together. How can one choose sides when both are heroes?

I first started working on this post last year.  I can’t remember when exactly, but it was when we were reading The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil* in my Modernism class, because I then tried to model this entire post on Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, without having even read the Wikipedia entry on the book.  At the time, it really did seem to me as if the watermelon was a fruit without qualities (and I bet if given the chance, would have sex with its sister, probably the honeydew? And why not? The honeydew is a good looking melon. That instance of incest is, I believe, in The Man Without Qualities… not just a totally random mention of incest, although, I mean, there are worse things in this world than random mentions of incest. Like incest.)  After all, the watermelon kind of straddles the line between liquid and solid.  Like the tomato, it’s held together by a skin, but once you puncture that skin, there’s not much keeping the innards together.  But it would be a mistake to say that the watermelon is a fruit without qualities: it has several qualities, most of them bad. 
Here I am on the famed 2008 Victoria - Nashville road trip.  I think we encountered these
watermelons in rural Arkansas,which makes so much sense.

But let’s get the one good one out of the way first.  I will be the first to admit that there have been times when I wish I could join in on the summer fun of gathering around a platter of watermelon.  It seems like such a quintessential summer experience, and everyone is always enjoying themselves as watermelon juice dribbles down their chin. 

And now onto the bad.  But one time I did get in on it, and I hated it.  The texture of a watermelon has always been troubling for me.  I guess maybe it sort of reminds me of wet sand: it can be molded, but pressing a finger into it will make it sink down and lose its structure.  I didn’t realize how much the texture troubled me until I put the tiniest tip of a triangle in my mouth and immediately spat it out.  It was like… I don’t know, biting into that icy part of a slushy from Shell?  You know, what’s left after you’ve sucked all the syrup out?  It’s something that appears to have a certain form, but once you come into contact with it, that form totally evaporates?  Like if you bit a ghost.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning cradling
a slice of watermelon.
What else is wrong with watermelons?  Well, they’re cumbersome and large.  Or, when they’re not, they’re square, and just … no.  I don’t care one way or the other about modified foods, but I can’t get behind some scientist coming up with a way to make round fruit square to ease the packing and shipping process, just so that we’ll end up with even more watermelons over here. Related to their size, they’re always taking up too much room in a fridge, and there always seems to be a lot of pressure to “eat the watermelon” before it goes bad.  Why not just not buy watermelon?  Or, if you do, couldn’t you go halfers with someone else in town?  Oh, and they’re also at least partially responsible for watermelon-flavoured candies, which I’ve always hated.

I guess that’s about it.


*By the way, I loved that book.  I can’t imagine a book more perfectly suited to my interests: secret adolescent sado-masochistic gay sex in an attic at an all-boys boarding school in the remote outreaches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire?  Written by an Austrian and probably modeled on his own life?  Duh. 

Watermelon— How do I hate thee?  Let me count the ways.
I hate thee for thine depth and breadth and height
My arms can’t reach around, carrying thee is a plight,
And thine consistency is hard to place.
I hate thee, no matter what everyone else might says—

That “in the summer you are a most cool and refreshing bite.”

I hate thee freely, as is my right

I hate thee purely, in the face of others’ praise

I hate thee with a passion bordering on abuse

My hatred for thee is as strong and pure as others’ faith

I hate thee with a hate I shall never lose

It shall be a hatred of you whispered with my last breath

But if the Hungarian farmers should choose,

Then I shall only love thee after thine death!

Has anyone ever actually read this Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem?  Because this was the first time for me, and it’s really, really bad.

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