Monday, February 20, 2012

The Welcome Fruit

Angers, France is a small city nestled in the heart of the Loire Valley. Its ancient city wall and fortified chateau were exotic to my small town, Southern eyes when I arrived there for my semester abroad. I loved to wander the narrow, cobbled streets and admire a world so very different from my own. The age of the place was overwhelming. Stone buildings which had stood for centuries cast cool shadows over me, the daughter of a young country, making me feel small. When people asked where I was from, no one had heard of Caroline du Sud. "Is that near New York?" they'd ask. If the inquirer knew the approximate location of Florida, I'd say my state was in the neighborhood and leave it at that. Talk about humbling.

Angers is also known for that whimsical artwork,
The Tapestry of the Apocalypse.

So it was with these feelings of displacement that my roommate and I went walking one day. On this particular morning, I paid especial attention to the decorative carvings in the edifices of even humble structures. I saw fleur de lis, dates, saints, gods and goddesses--and then I stopped in my tracks. Carved into the lintel above a door was that most Southern (I thought) of devices: the pineapple. My whole life, I had seen this fruit adorning bed posts, door mats, knockers, brass finials, generic office decor, and Tour of Homes mansions. I expressed my astonishment at seeing it here, and my roommate blurted, "The pineapple is the welcome fruit!"

The lore explained to me by a 19-year-old hopped up on cigarettes and a triple shot of espresso went like this: Back in the old days, sailors who visited tropical locations returned with pineapples. After recuperating from the voyage, a pineapple placed outside let friends know the family was ready to receive visitors.

Don't you just want it to hug you in
greeting and kiss your cheeks?
While I have been unable to authenticate this particular use of the pineapple, it is indeed an old symbol of friendship and hospitality. Before Columbus' voyage across the Atlantic, sugar was a rare, expensive treat in Europe. He returned from his second trip to the Americas with Caribbean pineapples amongst his cargo, and they became an instant object of desire. The difficulty in transporting the pineapple from its tropical abode to Europe made it extraordinarily costly. On both sides of the Atlantic, the ability to obtain pineapple became a show of wealth, and serving the sweet fruit to one's guests was the ultimate gesture of generous hospitality.

For a region renowned for its charm and hospitality, it makes sense that the South is awash in the pineapple motif. My insulated, young self thought it, like grits, was a Southern thing. Little did I know then that the decorative history of this delicious fruit wound back centuries and spanned oceans. Finding this common thread in a foreign land made me feel less out of place. The pineapple served its purpose that day. It bade me welcome and gave me comfort, the ultimate gift to a guest.

* * *

On that note, I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to the lovely new faces here at the Ball. I'm so glad you're here. Thank you for coming by, and I hope to see you often.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely story. I had no idea the pineapple was used that way. Makes me love it even more! :)