Saturday, July 24, 2010

Avocados, Kiwis, Mangos and the Tuba

When I was a young boy I slept outside most of the time, the reason; I liked it, it was exciting to sleep outside, the air was fresh, I could smell the trees and the flowers, watch the sky and see how the stars and the planets changed through the months and the seasons. And the sounds; I got to know the different birds and the insects, and I could tell when the wind blew through the trees, whether it was the eucalyptus trees up in the back of the yard or the avocado tree that grew next to the fish pond in the yard next door.

There was a special sound I will never forget, when an avocado would fall from the tree and splash in the pond. Most of the time it was a perfect sound, like several percussionists hitting so exactly together, it resulted in one unique impact. I was also able to discriminate the difference when the avocado hit only water or if it hit one of the round flat fleshy water lily leaves that covered much of the surface.

I loved avocados; they were a part of my life as far back as I can remember. When my family ate together we would frequently have an avocado salad with dinner or sometimes my mother would make an avocado sandwich for my lunch that I would carry to school. They were great and they were a part of the Mexican heritage that was part of growing up in Southern California.

When I was 18 years old, and went away to study at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, it was 1956 and I was shocked to discover most of my schoolmates had never heard of an avocado. I can remember trying to explain what an avocado was; it was difficult; It's a fruit that's like a vegetable, not sweet; oily and never cooked, good with lemon and salt and pepper and frequently used with Mexican food. We would mash it, put in a little onion and make guacamole! Once, my brother-in-law Harry, told me that he had sent 12 avocados from California. I was counting the days, telling my class mates what they could expect; it took weeks and when they arrived they were crushed, black and smelled bad.

One of my summers back in California, after a year in Rochester, I was given a new fruit I had never seen or heard of called a kiwi. It came from New Zealand and it was wonderful. It tasted great in a fruit salad or just by itself, it was like having sex or hearing a Mahler symphony for the first time; after you've experienced it you feel you know one of the great secrets of the universe, ready to share it with the right person.

Mangos were not much different than kiwis except I had heard of mangos in songs, mostly Hawaiian or Polynesian. In these vocal lyrics, mangos were presented as an exotic sweet secret of the tropics. When the time came to taste my first mango I was not disappointed, it was better than all the songs had hinted, like an orange but better, like a peach but better and a little like a banana but better.

It seemed to me in those days, that everything came a little sooner in Southern California. I looked forward to bringing avocados, kiwis and mangos to the places that hadn't had the good fortune to those exclusive Southern California privileges. I wanted to go out into the world and share the wonderful discoveries and in one or two occurrences I was successful.

But something unexpected happened, avocados, kiwis, mangos and even papayas started to show up in the markets of the world; Kiwis grown in Italy, 4 times larger and sweeter than anything I had ever seen from New Zealand appeared in Italian village markets, avocados were available all over the world and had become a staple in sushi, and mangos became as common as apples. They were not exotic anymore, they were there to be enjoyed by anyone shopping in any market in any village. They became part of life, available there, if you liked them. I could not take responsibility for having discovered them.

The tuba was not that so different. Short version: a boy in Southern California (or anywhere, there were many such boys) discovered something wonderful and showed it to the world as much as he could, finding that much of the world had already experienced his discovery before he was finished showing it.

That's the story of our time. How lucky to live in this period where ideas, when there time has come, spread around the world like radio waves.

Success is anticipating the future, because if we adjust only to the present, we will be late.

Island of Lesvos, Greece. Summer 2003
Updated in Tokyo, July 24, 2010