Thursday, January 21, 2010

Der Lindenbaum and a Spurious Morel!

Took a nice walk up to Whitney Peak this afternoon; little snow left but lots of mud.Listening to Winterreise again--most appropriate. When "Der Lindenbaum"appeared in my headphones I stopped dead in my tracks, for only last night I had been perusing Thomas Mann's monumental novel, The Magic Mountain. I had skipped to the very end of the book wherein he quotes from the Schubert lied. Hans Castorp, the hero of the novel (although he's no real hero by any stretch)is seen as a soldier in WWI traipsing across a muddy, sodden battlefield in Flanders, rifle and bayonet in hand, and he can be heard singing snippets of this most famous song, so ingrained into Germanic culture that it is often thought to be a folk song.

"Upon it's bark I've carved there
So many words of love--

And all its branches rustled,
As if they called to me--"

But what does any of this have to o with mushrooms? (Stay on topic, dude!) One of the leading characters in the Magic Mountain is a doctor at the sanatorium where all the "action"-- such as it is in this amazingly narrative-less book-- takes place.Dr. Krokowski likes to give lectures to his captive audience of invalids and happens to be talking about mushroom, and succeeds in shocking some of his female auditors with a peroration on "one fungus famous since antiquity for its form and the powers ascribed to it--a morel, its Latin name ending in the adjective impudicus, its form reminiscent of love..." Of course, phallus impudicus (unlike Mann, I don't shy away from using the first part of its name) is not a morel at all! Its common name is "stinkhorn" and I wrote of it's cousin in an earlier blog (see Nov. 2, 2009)

These are astonishing fungi to watch as they seem to emerge and expand into their embarrassingly suggestive form rather quickly. Over the period of a day if you keep you eye on it, your can see this emergence. They do smell bad and attract flies (indeed, that's how they disperse their spores).
Mushroom taxonomy can be quite racy, and not just on the male side. One of the beautiful, and quite edible, amanitas is amanita vaginata sometimes known as the grisette.Its name refers to the prominent vulva like sac which caresses its lower stem. It's a popular edible in France.This is the only amanita I have ever eaten.

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