Tag Archives: history

Rent-a-Fruit

In the April 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine, Nick Rennison writes that pineapples were such elite fruits in the 18th century that they cost “about the same price as a new coach.” And that you could rent one to display on your table. (Like potatoes, tobacco and chocolate, they came from the New World, hence their exoticism.)

“Confectioners were able to rent out a single fruit for weeks to a succession of different customers eager to demonstrate their wealth and social status,” Rennison writes. As it got passed from customer to customer, the fruit naturally started to rot. “No one could eat it…and it grew more rotten each time…but its presence on the dinner table was enough.”

This story illustrates what I love about history. That some spiky fruit I’ve always taken for granted once meant everything to the upper classes of Europe. If that doesn’t change the way you look at present day status symbols-Louis Vuitton handbags for example-I don’t know what would. (If LV products are still around 200 years from now I can only imagine how people will view 21st century people’s obsession with handbags.)

I’ll remember this story every time I drink a cold slushy concoction from a pineapple. Unless that is, I go senile, in which case, I’ll have forgotten its storied past, and that will be quite a shame.

[A 17th century painting by Hendrik Danckerts. Charles II receives a pineapple from his gardener.]

Kirkus Reviews Man of War

An amusing and insightful memoir about the wacky world of historical reenactments.

Living in Los Angeles, the past was never a subject that writer, radio producer and actor Schroeder spent much time thinking about, preferring to immerse himself in the never-ending stream of current events and activities of modern life. However, his perspective changed after attending the “largest multicultural living history event west of the Mississippi,” which featured 75 groups including Romans, Vikings and Civil War and Revolutionary War soldiers. “I found it fascinating to learn about history in a three-dimensional, interactive way,” writes Schroeder. “To ask questions of people who loved a time period so much they felt compelled to dress like one of its inhabitants.” The author’s curiosity extended to the “vibrant, eccentric subculture” of the reenactment world and feeling what participants describe as the “period rush”—the “sensation that you’ve traveled back in time.” During his travels, Schroeder lit a canon at an old fort during a reenactment of a French and Indian War battle; helped row a large wooden boat down the St. Lawrence River in an attempt to experience life in the 1700s; dressed up like a Nazi; volunteered to be a radio operator in a Vietnam war game; and reenacted the Civil War in Florida. After traveling thousands of miles, reenacting more than 10 time periods and reading dozens of books on the subject—he even staged his own historical reenactment in Los Angeles—Schroeder realized he knew less about war but more about history and contemporary America.

An entertaining read. The companionable author’s gimlet eye rarely misses the absurd or touching incidents he encountered during his explorations.