May 01, 2005

Fungi are Friends


Between 1919 and 1922, the great Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky worked day and night to create posters for the Russian Telegraph Agency (ROSTA), which broadcast the latest revolutionary news in storefront windows. Mayakovsky writes in his memoirs that he was so carried away by his work that he hardly slept; his meals were catch-as-catch-can. Even so, in season he managed to take time off from his revolutionary activities to supplement his meager diet with nearly daily forays into the woods for mushrooms.  With typical hyperbole, Mayakovsky explained to his friend Roman Jakobson, the brilliant linguist, that mushroom gathering was the ideal pastime for inspiring poetry. He claimed that he wrote large portions of Mystery Bouffe and 150 Million while in pursuit of his favorite fungi. 

Exaggerated as Mayakovsky’s story may be, there is no disputing that Russians profess a deep love for mushrooms. Here is another Russian writer, Vladimir Nabokov, reminiscing in Speak, Memory about his mother and mushrooms:

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