yo musiclovers, the nyt times has an interesting article today, oct 27, on Russians’ ancient atavistic passion for mushroom picking, which I started to express myself spontaneously, not knowing anything about it, being severed from my rootskies, in my twenties. Maybe it is inscribed in my genes. According to the article, Russians are so passionate about looking for wild mushrooms, the “quiet hunt” as it’s called, that they can lose their bearings in the woods and be lost for days. Search parties are sent out, helicopters comb the forests from the air, but some are never found, maybe because they are eaten and their remains thoroughly buried by bears. Before setting out, they whisper endearments to the wood spirits (another Russian custom is to sit quietly for a moment and collect yourself before you are setting out on a journey, wonder if they do that, too) and wander around in a trance state. Usually, it is the “people of the pavement” who get lost, not the locals. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Services(who helped me in my Dispatch from the Siberian Arctic), claims the number of people who get lost is so small that is it not statistically significant (but this is little consolation to those who do). One married woman disappeared for 24 days and reappeared no worse for the wear and fresh as a daisy. Her friends gossiped that she had actually run off for a prolonged tryst with her lover.
My book, Russian Blood, ends with a quiet hunt in Ukraine, formerly Little Russia, and see the Mushrooms section in the Dispatches, which needs to be developed. Gordon Wassen, an American banker who married a Russian woman named Valentina who turned him on to mushrooms and they went to Mexico and met the shaman who turned them on to ‘shrooms (the hallucinogic species of the genus Psilocybe) and later took down the Beatles to meet him, wrote a fascinating book called Russians, Mushrooms, and History, in which he argued that Slavs are crazy about mushrooms because they never worshiped them, while the people of
the British Isles did, and the early missionaries to convert them to Christianity had to convince them that mushrooms were loathsome “toadstools,” which is why Brits and Anglo Americans are squeamish about mushrooms to this day.
Off to Prague, where I will be curious to see if the Czechs are as mycophilic as the Russians. Later, or as they say in Russian, poka