Ulysses: A Potato

11-idaho-potato.w700.h700One of the fun things about reading these books which come from another culture is that you can learn about the culture in ways you wouldn’t expect.  Yes, you can learn about the psychology of the people, their religious culture, system of justice, etc.

You can also learn about the potato.

To wit:

On the doorstep he felt in his pocket for the latchkey.  Not there.  In the trousers I left off.  Potato I have.

OH.  So you have your potato.  Duly noted.  You’re leaving the house for the day, but you have, you know, your potato.  Or A potato.  Maybe there are many.

There’s a very good chance that if you were reading this in its time, you might have nodded your head.  Of course, Leopold has his potato.  Why wouldn’t he?

But, to the modern mind, we can only say this:

What the hell was he doing with his potato in his pocket?

What the ever-loving hell.

Here’s the deal.  It was…or is…a thing.

If you google potato in your pocket, you find lots of helpful information and not one Mae West reference.  Right now, I’m working off botanical.com, which might or might be authoritative.

To carry a raw potato in the pocket was an old-fashioned remedy against rheumatism that modern research has proved to have a scientific basis.

See?  Potato I have.  It was a thing.  More…

Ladies in former times had special bags or pockets made in their dresses in which to carry one or more small raw potatoes for the purpose of avoiding rheumatism if predisposed thereto.

They had pockets sewn in their dresses TO HOLD THE POTATOES.  They carried ONE OR MORE raw potatoes.  Now, importantly, this wasn’t something you did for just anyone.  You had to be predisposed.  The ad would go like this:

“If you have a family history of rheumatism, ask your doctor if carrying a potato might be right for you.”

Now we have a chance to duck back and revisit that whole “scientific basis” thing.

Successful experiments in the treatment of rheumatism and gout have in the last few years been made with preparations of raw potato juice. In cases of gout, rheumatism and lumbago the acute pain is much relieved by fomentations of the prepared juice followed by an application of liniment and ointment.

All right, then.  So, the use of potato juice can impact rheumatism if ingested.  That has a scientific basis.  But there’s no basis cited for a potato in the pocket having a “scientific basis” for curative powers.

Point is, you can find something like that and drill down and learn something which is both interesting and essentially trivial and of no use in everyday life.  Problem is, in a book like this, where there’s about 10 references on every page with the same kind of depth, you might read around one chapter a year.  Compromises have to be made.

But not on the potato.


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