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all together

William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence starts with some of the more famous lines ever written. (And I like them quite a bit, so I’m hardly going to miss a chance to quote them.)

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

I suppose his meaning was more metaphorical and mine here is more literal, but I think that every time I peel open a grapefruit, the act connects me instantaneously to all of nature’s structures.

Nature, of course, is a whole book in itself, a book of books, some might even say THE book of books, and I refer only to the structural aspects of it here, that is to say, a chapter or three from this massive tome, but to me they are fascinating chapters. How things are put together has always intrigued me — the intricate structure of a honeycomb, of a sea shell, of a pine cone. How these forms are attained is a whole other story in itself (an entire giraffe arising out of a bitty egg and one sperm — I still haven’t fully grasped that one!) but for now I am content to focus on the final structure alone, and the chosen object of meditation is the grapefruit, at least partly because it was the most happening object in my house last week.


I have written about another fruit before. That time it was the mango, and the very particular pleasures of eating one. This time, it’s not about eating the grapefruit per se, but about admiring it, and being awed by its structure -while- you are eating it. Both are zen-like experiences, and don’t stale with repetition. And as I said with the mango, so with the grapefruit — the full experience is only available if you are paying close attention.

We start with the packaging, a peel that is about 5mm thick. A peel that protects the juicy stuff inside, and keeps it from going dry for months on end. Also, a peel that gives us zest to put in cakes. And that gives the fingers an intense grapefruit smell, thanks to the oils therein.


I suppose one may peel the peel better than I do. But I usually have to do a second round of peeling, this time peeling off something that’s less than a millimetre thick. One can make it look pumpkin-like at this point too.


After this, all that remains between the juicy stuff and the external world is a translucent membrane. You can even see the pink that is hiding inside.


The grapefruit now gets split open, half the segments on each side. Some unfortunate segments may get split in two in this process. Too bad. Each segment is housed in its own little crescent compartment, with its own fine membrane on either side.


This is where my fingers start to get sticky for the first time. The membrane of each segment needs to be peeled off because it is usually too bitter to eat. (This may be the real reason grapefruits send me into paroxysms about Nature’s structures — they require a good bit of delicate dexterity to eat, and the experience cannot be rushed. This gives you the time to really get fully involved and appreciate everything.)


And once it is peeled off, you really are in the sanctum sanctorum. All the beautiful capsules of grapefruitness are neatly lined up before you. They have the light of pink-orange jewels, and though they are hard to work with using fingers, they are perfect to work with using lips, and basically just beg to be plopped into the mouth.



I think what gets me about all this is the seeming randomness of it. Or the seeming particularness, I suppose. Why this specific structure for a grapefruit and not some other? Why not the structure of a pineapple? Or a pomegranate? Or a banana? Why all these layers and membranes and segments and capsules? I guess it was just nature trying out an experiment that worked particularly well, and so decided to stick with it. I suppose that is where both the randomness and the particularness come from.

It is something of a pity that this beautiful structure has to end up being eaten, which is such a banal way of ending things, but that is the nature of the beast I suppose. Perhaps if you admire the grapefruit sufficiently the atrocity of eating it is somewhat mitigated. Or so I tell myself.