Alliteration and potatoes

3 October 2013 § 1 Comment

3 October

In the process of purging my room of all superfluous documents and many fluous ones, I found a few treasures.

A page with the heading “New Year’s Resolutions” (from 2006, I think) is filled with a list of lifelong ambitions, including 1) study Italian grammar and 2) [the last on the list, presumably begrudgingly added] Be more positive about chemistry.

Clearly, I laboured/resolved under several delusions: that grammar governs or is even a significant part of Italian, and that my attitude towards chemistry would ever change.  It actually did; it just happened when mandatory study of it gave way to studying from whim rather than necessity.

Strangely, no one offers alchemy, so chemistry is just a placeholder.

My first choice was alchemy. Chemistry is just a placeholder. My loyalties remain with Robert Boyle.

This list is written on the back of an alliterative story entitled “Pilbert the Precocious Penguin from Poland (and his Problem)” that Katie and I must have written in the delirious stages of a school trip.  An excerpt:

Pilbert is a pretty penguin who likes to play poker with pieces of pine trees. . . . and, oh dear, there are bits about practising piano and a pretty pink guitar and pleasing prizes and prancing past pathetic parents and performing presumably for the populace of Poland.  Then come the passionate pity poured by the pint into puddles.  It’s preposterous, and it ends, finally, with “Points for Pilbert.”  And points for the waste basket.

Pilbert is but a sliver of heaps of alliterative compositions, many of which made their way into the school literary magazine and all of which should now be burned.

(The above was written in July.)

Tulipmania.

Tulipmania.

Do see this further exploration of tulips, this time more of the Lutheran variety.  Tim Keller has a more diluted sermon about predestination, but I cannot seem to find it, and I listened to it two years ago without taking notes.  That was during white nights when my roommate and I could not fall asleep.  Probably a Dean Wells sermon would have been slightly more soothing.

White nights: when the sun never sets and the roaming never ends . . . glorious.

White nights: when the sun never sets and the roaming never ends . . . glorious.

I am currently occupied with “Tuber or Tuber Not: Russia’s Hate-Love Relationship with the Potato,” an article posted on Russian Life . . . thirteen years ago.  This is probably the most exciting potato article since the one about Pizarro and the potatoes in South America from high school European history.

Well-fed, even in death.

A whimsical tribute.

In any mention of potatoes and their predominance and powers, one must never forget to mention Frederick the Great, whose grave at Schloss Sanssouci, that yellow marvel in Potsdam, still receives potatoes strewn over it by grateful pilgrims preserving the memory of their precious patron.

Ambling through the grounds of Sanssouci. Our guide was in the yellow pants and explained the special paint to me. Note that the tiny bookbag is already in use . . .

Ambling through the grounds of Sanssouci. Our guide was in the yellow pants and explained the special paint to me. Note the tiny bookbag already in use . . .

Potatoes plodded later into Russia with Peter the Great on his journey back from Europe.

Quite tall. Built city on swamp. Fond of ermine.

Quite tall. Built city on swamp. Fond of ermine.

Apparently he plucked some seeds from the Netherlands; yet there are murmurs that the potatoes also came from the easterly direction.  Perhaps one of Sarah Palin’s Aleutian ancestors tossed some sprouts across the water.  The Russians kept trying to eat the potato bush blossom rather than the part underground, though, and even after Catherine the Great issued a treatise on proper potato cultivation and consumption, the only people growing potatoes were Germans living in Russia, i.e., my actual ancestors.  I’m on a quest to find my fellow Russian-speaking distant cousins and hope there is at least a streak of Russian Orthodoxy in them.

I am about 2/3 certain that this is the book my grandmother has about our family's community.

I am 4/7 certain that this is the book my grandmother has about our family’s emigration club.

There are heaps of books about the Germans from Russia.  First on my list is Escape by Troika.  The Dark Abyss of Exile: A Story of Survival; 900 Miles from Nowhere; and Autumn Thoughts—Under Ruins and Snow also look promising.  I can only assume that Paradise on the Steppe is some sort of sardonic parody, so I’ll leave that behind, as tragedy is best taken straight or with subtle black humour.  (See also: the possibly nonexistent limits of parody.)  A book that would be fun to read (or research and write) would be a comparative study of German-in-Russia and Russian fairy tales.  What did the Germans make of Baba Yaga?

Yes, she is terrifying. Yes, she will eat you. Yes, her house is literally on chicken legs.

Yes, she is terrifying. Yes, she will eat you. Yes, her house is literally on chicken legs.

John Denver (Deutschendorf) was a German from Russia.  So was Catherine the Great.  And Lenin.

"I'm leaving on a jet plane . . . don't know when I'll be back again . . . probably never. Russia is just too cold."

“I’m leaving on a jet plane . . . don’t know when I’ll be back again . . . probably never.      Russia is just too cold.”

Nearly half a century later, in the early nineteenth century, Nicholas I put on his father cap and forced his people to eat their starch.  Like everywhere else, Russia really only adopted the potato on a large scale once a food crisis arose and then only by royal decree.  Amusingly, the potato was at first seen as a threat to Russian (food) identity, and the peasants feared that any governmental attempts to improve their lives would necessarily make them worse, so they burned entire potato fields.  Even the nobles, probably dining on the finest cream-soaked julienned potatoes, debated the issue from their peach-tinted plush chambers.  Government-mandated potato projects sparked widespread protests, most notably in places that are now essential potato-growing regions.  Naturally, prime offenders were either conscripted (a funny reversal of fate) or shipped off to serf camps.

A more recent potato protest. (Daily Mail; art installation by Peter Pink.)

A more recent potato protest. (Daily Mail; art installation by Peter Pink.)

The tumult died down, though, and soon enough, Russians were winning prizes for their potatoes at international competitions.  Mandatory potato service was pressed upon students, even after World War II.  Perhaps this could be a suitable American alternative for those who are conscientious objectors in wartime: they would have a nutritious and noble project to do, and we could diversify our crops so that we will not all die of corn poisoning and irrigation nightmares.  Those hoping for a reprieve from military service would welcome this change, but we should learn from Russian experience, which is vast, and avoid giving this job to students—apparently kartoshka-dodging became quite the sport.  If they had planted potatoes obediently, who would have become an astronaut?  As my professor in St Petersburg was fond of saying, triumphantly, “Feerst man in space—vass a Russian.  Feerst dog in space—Russian dog!”

St Yuri, patron saint of all three million space museums in St Petersburg.

“I kartoshka-dodged, and you can, too.”  St Yuri, patron saint of all three million space museums in St Petersburg.

Potato missions are no longer mandatory, which is a shame.  Everyone knows that it’s not real work unless you’re harvesting something.  Fret not, though; potatoes are still of political primacy and can be used for proper protest practices.  You can, for example, keep a stockpile of them in your bag in case any civil unrest arises.  No one else will be carrying potatoes, so you will win the skirmish.

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