The Exclamation Point is a feature where I look at the moment a piece of culture made me go [!]. Today’s subject is A Fairly Good Time, a novel by Canadian writer, Mavis Gallant.
“The canals and rivers froze and there were no fresh vegetables in Paris. I saw a picture of a market stall in the morning paper and under the paper was written, “The dreaded rutabaga has again made its appearance . . .” When people talk to me about the Occupation of Paris they mention the dreaded rutabaga . . .”
–Mavis Gallant, A Fairly Good Time
The Boundary and the Price of Immortality
While I was working as a produce clerk, nothing we shelved puzzled me more than the rutabaga. (To me, the word sounded like an incantation that doesn’t quite cure warts or polyps.) Unlike green peppers, which wither if you look at them wrong, no amount of time ever affected the appearance of the rutabaga. Over the eight months I worked at the grocery, I’m not sure anybody ever restocked a rutabaga. Once or twice out of sheer anxiety, I asked a manager if these rutabagas were still good. If I interpreted the answer correctly, nobody on earth knew or cared.
Sticking It Where It Doesn’t Belong: Your Mouth
Whenever I look at a rutabaga, I think of Pu Songling, author of the eighteenth-century collection, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. He wrote about a man who brought home a leather dildo, which was found by his wife. Not sure what to make of it, she boiled it for hours and served it at dinner. It proved more or less edible.
Last Christmas, my brother-in-law cooked us a rutabaga. I like vegetables a great deal, and if prepared properly I am hard pressed to name one I don’t like. I would classify the rutabaga as “more or less edible.”
Je ne Les Aime Pas, Sam-C’est Moi
Since you can eat a rutabaga and it cannot be bothered to rot, you can appreciate its utility in times of war and famine. However, now I think of once-gay Parisians under the boot of the Nazis staring at a cartload of rutabagas and wondering if it might not be better to starve to death.
Please do this too.