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Susanne Krejsa MacManus' five finger excercise

1/2019: Between two evils. (2016)

The women manning the stalls at Vienna’s Naschmarkt were famously surly. God forbid anyone touch their pyramids of piled up apples, tomatoes or lettuce heads. They’d have loved nothing better than to chop their fingers off on the spot – from every one of them. Just not those of the Japanese customers, who came to Vienna from their diplomatic or other various outposts on the other side of the iron curtain to shop: they would pick out that one perfect lettuce, radish or tomato with their own hands – or they bought nothing at all. This was a language the market women learned quickly. From then on, Asians had the prerogative of selection by hand. If we Viennese were to dare to do the same, we would get bitten as before.

Paper cones made of rolled newspaper were typical for the Naschmarkt.

Anyone visiting the Naschmarkt today may certainly pick out his vegetables himself, but there aren’t many of them anymore. Instead, it is aprons printed with ‘I love Naschmarkt’ (presumably Made in China), free samples of Oriental treats, and hordes of pre-packaged spices that will yellow ornamentally at home that entice. Not forgetting the culinary mile, with its string of restaurants. The Naschmarkt is no longer suited for the weekly shop of carrots, tomatoes, endive or potatoes.

But on either side of the market there are a whole host of supermarkets offering a wide range of fresh fruit and veg, hygienically packaged in plastic. I know. Once I’ve pared my supermarket purchases from their wrapping, it’s time for a trip to the plastic recycling. I don’t need to first see the sea life suffocated in plastic in order to become a plastic-hater. Not at all. This is why, from the bottom of my heart, I donated money to the company Ocean Cleanup, even if their technology is still heavily prone to error.

Photo: Petra Haider. To enlarge, please click

Donating is good; ‘make-it-yourself’ is also good. An opportunity for this arose when I got to write some texts to accompany photographs of olive trees for a book.* Beautifully grained pieces of olive wood gathered on my desk,  gnawed olive stones, rolled-up, dried-out olive leaves. I called up Beatrix, in whose paper workshop I had learned bookbinding: “Can you make paper from olive wood chips?” “Hmmm. The fruits, we can rule out; I don’t know anything about the leaves; one could probably make something out of the wood. Should I try it? No guarantees though!”

The results were both exciting and disappointing at the same time: sheets of paper made of centuries-old olive wood. Brownish with lots of woody bits embedded, raw and rough; not smooth, but stiff and brittle. Lovely to touch, but no good for any use of any kind. The resinous wood fibres’ lack of propensity to bind needs to be compensated for by adding large amounts of cotton and Manila hemp.

To enlarge, please click

Other types of wood are considerably better suited for making paper. That of the eucalyptus tree, for example. I love the smell of eucalyptus, on our Madeira walks am constantly stooping down to the fallen fruits, which then still remind me of our trip for months afterwards. Eucalyptus trees grow quickly and supply the Spanish and Portuguese paper industry with large amounts of raw material. Eucalyptus trees also put a brake on the erosion of the island by retaining the fertile, red volcanic earth that otherwise would be washed down by the strong downpours.

To enlarge, please click

However, it unfortunately took many years until those in charge on Madeira realised the downside of their eucalyptus euphoria: originally native to Australia, the trees threaten the established vegetation and rob their neighbours of water – a single eucalyptus needs up to 500 litres of water a day; its roots bore almost 20 metres deep into the ground. But it gets worse: eucalyptus burns like tinder. Its long, slender leaves and the long, slender strips of its bark act as flying fire accelerants, as it were. Large parts of the island’s landscape have been once again destroyed by fire; many houses in the hills are now just burnt-out ruins; strong winds blew the fire down even as far as the capital, Funchal; people lost their lives. Yet a growing demand for paper will continue to encourage the planting of eucalyptus.

Choosing between two evils is difficult.


To enlarge, please click

* Another book about olive trees – neither a cookbook nor Greek mythology! A journey through the year with Petra Haider’s atmospheric photographs: interesting facts, useful titbits, the amusing and the bizarre. From luxury cars to houndstooth. From spitting contests to Mighty Mouse. And about olive oil. (In German) 170 pages. € 30. Published in 2018. Order .

My previous ‘five finger exercises’ and newsletters can be read here. I’d be delighted if they were shared!

I post my five finger exercises every so often, whenever I have something to relate.
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