This month’s theme of the Festival of the Trees is “The Magic of Faerie Trees.” Hosted by Salix of Windy Willow, it is an interesting if bewitching topic. If you are into magic and fairies, fine. If you are not, what can you say about mystery or magic in a tree?
On the other hand, how is it that the olive tree is capable of living thousands of years? Is there magic involved? With its strong roots surviving underground, even when the trunk looks dead, the olive tree can make a claim to magic – though less so to mystery, if the strong roots explain its longevity! Then there is its outstanding beauty: its silvery foliage, almost like a whispering cloud, fused with its ragged, gnarled, twisted trunk, providing a unique image. This tree has so many associations for me that I decided to find a space for it in my second novel, When the Colours Sing. An olive tree in pre-alpine Bavaria! We’ll see how this strand is going to develop. But first things first.
There is the lemon tree (for which I made space in my first novel, Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree) to talk about. Glossy foliage, waxy, white-purple flowers, divine fragrance, fruit to grace any table, book or poem!
Lemon trees are said to have originated in Asia and spread in the Mediterranean regions after Alexander the Great’s soldiers brought them back from India. They are treasured trees in the Mediterranean lands. They are as important as olive trees and vines. They are vital to the health and well-being of the people living in those lands, as they have numerous medicinal, hygienic, cooking and culinary uses. From the abundant vitamin C, to the taste-enhancing addition to salads, soups, and various dishes, to decorative and aesthetic uses, to the perfume industry, lemons are most versatile.
In Northern Europe and America, there are additional associations which emphasize the lemon’s bitter taste, as in the expression “when life gives you lemons,” or the “lemon car,” referring to a defective, multi-flaw car. In a painting by Paolo Morando, The Virgin and Child, Saint John the Baptists and an Angel, Christ as a child is being offered a lemon, an act frequently associated with learning a variety of tastes and therefore being weaned off baby food.
In this sense, the lemon bridges opposites in taste (bitter-sweet), between cultural perceptions, and generations (weaning the baby off baby food). Is that a clue for interpreting the Italian, unknown artist’s painting Man and Wife, in the National Gallery of London, which has a lemon tree as a background?
Readers’ Digest lists 34 uses for the lemon. In Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree, there is a whole number of other uses – some surprising ones – for the lemon. But please note: try them at your own risk!
(Forthcoming: Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree: www.voxhumana-books.com)
18 November 2010