The Erotic Tomato

By Mariachiara Ficarelli

The Musée du Luxembourg halves the student ticket price at 4 p.m.. Arriving at 3:35pm, waiting less than half an hour to save € 4.25 is an easy decision. Museum gift stores are a good place to kill time.

In theme with the on-going Pissaro exhibit “La Nature Retrouvée” (Nature Rediscovered), the majority of books exhibited in the store are on agriculture, rural life and fruits and vegetables.

Lodged between two large books on traditional French recipes is a tiny, white Dictionnaire Littéraire et Érotique des Fruits et Legumes (Literary and Erotic Dictionary of Fruits and Vegetables) by Jean-Luc Hennig. The dictionary is a serendipitous discovery.

The pomme d’amour makes its first appearance of the day in the form of a chapter titled Tomates Farcies (stuffed tomatoes).

The tomato has a sensual history. With its bright red color, it became a symbol of female menstrual blood. The tomato was assigned bewitching and hypnotic powers. Hennig claims that in the Middle Ages there was no aphrodisiac more powerful than this blood. The tomato was associated with the sinful female blood. It was considered a red fever.

These days, the tomato has lost its associations of being a poisonous power. Yet, its pervasiveness around the city of Paris is like a tantalizing belladonna. There seems to be a tomato fever all year round. Fresh, preserved, dried, chopped or frozen, the tomato lures its lovers regardless of whether or not it is in season.

At Saint-Denis market, Emmo Itani, a fruit and vegetable vendor says, “My customers always buy my tomatoes even when they know they do not taste as good.”

It is an overcast first day of spring. But in a couple of months the tomato will be in full season, growing in all its juicy, red glory under the sun. Tasting better, the price of the tomato will increase. And so will the tomato frenzy.

Launching into the history of tomatoes. Photo by Mariachiara Ficarelli.

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