16 December 2010

Alma-Ata, Father of Apples

A wild apple tree growing outside of Alma-Ata (L); The genetic diversity of apples from twenty-one M. sieversii trees (R) [from ScienceDaily's interesting article].  "Appleseed" Chapman, eat your heart out!

Welcome to the long-overdue Part Three of KGB-Approved Curiosities from Former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I'm not sure how I can top the historical interest and intrigue of "The Fantastic World of Иван Билибин" and "Faces of Old Samarkand," but I'll essay (!) to do so.  

The city of Alma-Ata, now called Almaty, is the former capital and largest metropolis in the erstwhile Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan.  The city's old name (Alma-Ata) means "Apple-Father," and its current name (Almaty) translates as "Apple-full" in the Kazakh language.  (Because you don't know anyone who speaks Kazakh, you'll have to take my word for it.) 

On the seal of the city of Almaty, a wild snow leopard, commonly kept as a pet by the city's wealthy petrocrats and professional magicians, dines on its favorite fare, wild apple flowers. 

The forests around the city are known for their abundance of wild apple trees. The area near Alma-Alta, populated with the species Malus sieversii, is thought to be the ancestral home of the apple tree. Specimens are noted for their great genetic diversity, with each tree producing unique-looking apples. The apple is a great hybridizer and botanic migrant, and people spread the apple to Europe, then the Americas.  

As you may have guessed, not a very accurate or updated map of Kazakhstan.  It's actually a 1791 French Revolutionary map of La Tartarie Independante qui comprend de Pays des Calmuks, celui des Usbeks, et le Turkestan made with the objective of exploiting the region's ressources de la pomme. 

So why are Kazakh leaders allowing these irreplaceable forests to be cut down to make way for capitalist bourgeoisie suburban housing developments? Maybe its because Kazakhs hate eating healthful apples and drinking delicious cider. Or maybe their mutant apples make poor fare. No one can be sure, but it probably has to do with makin' the $теңге$.  As I say, mo' теңге, mo' проблемы. But an алма a day keeps the врач away!  

Until next time, have a cup of wassail this season in memory of the Father of Apples!

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