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Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Think about the word for a moment. What do you see? An erupting volcano?

We did this experiment in anatomy class last week. Every single person visualized an active volcano, lava spewing forth from its hot center. We were learning about association: For each of us, TV had provided our first image of a volcano. Our teacher had just met his first real volcano, a giant, slumbering mountain on a tropical island, and would stare at it, trying to reconcile Real Volcano with Original Erupting Volcano.

It was strange, too, that my Original Erupting Volcano had overridden the two real volcanoes I’ve known: Mts. Vesuvius and Etna. A web of associations emerged: a blue mountain in the distance, not too far away, with a curl of smoke forever seeping out its top; terrible nightmares that Vesuvius would overflow again during my two weeks in Pompeii; waking to find my face dotted with mosquito bites for lack of window screens; a huge beast of a mountain, far off, serene and quiet, presiding over parched hills; the tart lemon granita, which, years ago, had been made with ice gathered atop Etna; Sicilian peaches grown in volcanic soil, so sweet and alive that their juice ran all the way to my elbow in sticky rivers; my mother’s love for peaches, which I had never understood until that moment; her love for sour granny smith apples, which I still don’t understand.



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