Mango

Every time I eat a mango, I’m transported back to an afternoon in Strasbourg, France. My friends and I had spent our junior year abroad perfecting not only our French but also the art of the picnic lunch. We would pool our money and visit an epicerie for some cheese, saucisson, fruit and, naturellement, chocolate. Then we would stop at a boulangerie for a baguette and wander towards a park somewhere, maybe along the river Ill, maybe in the Orangerie. For this particular picnic someone- not me – had chosen a mango as one of our fruits.

I knew what a mango was, or at least I felt like I did. I had the sense that I liked it, but I couldn’t remember eating one. This seems odd now, not having had mango, but at the time, mango was an exotic fruit and could not be easily procured at the grocery store. This was a time before we expected so much to be available so often, when the one Vietnamese restaurant in my small town billed itself as “Chinese” but made Vietnamese if you asked. Coconut came only in plastic bags, shredded and sugary, and no one had even imagined pomegranate juice.  I knew what a mango was, but only in a distant way.

We settled onto the grass – had we brought a blanket? did we sit on our lightweight sweaters? I can’t remember – and laughed as we tore chunks from the baguette and wrapped the crusty goodness around soft Brie. Someone cut some slices from the mango and passed them around.

The smooth orange flesh of the fruit slid across my tongue and my eyes widened. Sunshine. Laughter. Something like distilled happiness. I swallowed and glanced around. What magic was this? I took another bite of the sweet, tangy fruit. Again, I was gone. Where was I? I closed my eyes. Happiness, happiness and so warm. I felt tears well up. What on earth was happening to me?

I retreated into my own sphere, still with my friends but far from them, too; far from France, far from the moment. I savoured the sweet smoothness and heard the echoes of bird calls. I breathed deeply, overwhelmed, and then… just like that, I knew: Panama. I had eaten mango when we lived in Panama, the country we left when I was only three years old. The country I couldn’t remember at all. It was the only explanation – those sounds, those senses, that feeling of freedom.

Another deep breath and I was back with my friends. I didn’t say a thing about what I’d experienced. What would I say? Who would believe that a single taste could have such power? I didn’t even know how to describe it. Instead, I laughed and chatted and walked back to classes when we finished our lunch. That night, I called my mom. I asked my mother: did we eat mango? did we eat mango in Panama? “Oh yes,” she was matter-of-fact, “you loved them, but Daddy is allergic to their skins, so I never looked for them when we came home.”

Mango. Now I can have them almost any time I want. In fact, I just had one with lunch. And for a moment, I was 19 and in France, I was 3 and in Panama. And then I was in my kitchen again.

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9 thoughts on “Mango

  1. They say smell is the most evocative sense. I hold this post of yours up as evidence that taste can outdo it. I was absolutely drawn by why the mango had such an emotional effect on your nineteen-year-old self, and pierced right thought the heart to know it was from a time you were three. How powerful is memory and senses attached to place – and we can never assume little ones won’t remember. Those little brains are mighty recording mechanisms. Through your memory, I heard the birds in Panama – a place I’ve never been. I felt the sun and the “distilled happiness” … and wanted to cry at the pure peace of it all as perceived by a little girl of three. That’s power.

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  2. Oh my goodness, this is beautiful and the story kept transporting me along with you; the tears that well up as we psychically move away not to expose our emotional selves in moments that others cannot comprehend. I love everything about this piece, one so unexpected and rendered so artfully. Who would know that mangos could be so powerful?

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  3. What an exquisitely written piece! Your beginning about “the art of the picnic lunch” in France was wonderful. Love the part with the baguettes with the brie. It took me back to eating paninis on the street in Florence last summer. Such great writing. Amazing how the taste of mango took you back to Panama. Fabulous post. Thank you, Amanda.

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  4. I love mango. I found some last week and made mango salsa for chicken tacos. I also add it to my smoothie. Your post makes me want more mango in my life.

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  5. The power of food to take you back to when you were 3! And then, again, to 19. So amazing. I have this feeling when I make homemade pizza. I remember every detail of making it with my mom, pulling up the stool next to the cutting board, slicing the mozzarella, stealing bits to put in my mouth…I love this mango story, and I especially love that your mom was able to validate that provocative experience with your friends, the mango, and France. I ate mangoes all the time in Guatemala, but, for some reason, I haven’t had one since. You have me craving one. Considering I’ve had to wait 2 weeks for groceries to be delivered, I’ll have to wait awhile, but I think it’ll be worth it!

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  6. Thank you for writing about mangoes! If you ever really really want to taste the best, I’m pretty sure you have to come to India. Of course they export them, but I think fruit tastes best in its own country and the mangoes here can be enormous as well as mouthwateringly delicious!
    Thanks for your wonderful vivid descriptions and the accompanying memories, I could feel France and Panama in your writing…I wonder if we’ll appreciate tastes and foods even more after all this (and did we enjoy food more when there was much less choice??!)

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  7. I lived in France the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. It wasn’t a mango, but I do remember trying a new fruit for the first time… WHITE PEACHES. Every time I eat one, I am transported back to that summer abroad. (On another fruit-related French note, I lived in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, which was in a major prune-growing area. Pruneaux D’Agen, I believe it was called.)

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