Things of Latvia: No mushrooms

The Latvian love of foraging for wild mushrooms is a matter of record. Indeed, while Latvians like to regard it as a national oddity (treating with barely-concealed disdain the claims of French and Italians to be keen on fungal foraging) the great mushroom hunt is in danger of becoming a cliche.

However, there is another aspect to this mycological phenomenon that is less well known, but becomes worryingly evident to anyone who has had extended exposure to chanterelle enthusiasts.

Known in the medical journals as Mushroom Absence Disorder (MAD), this peculiarly Latvian affliction is the autumnal warm-up act for Seasonally Affected Disorder (SAD), the better-known psychological condition that has everyone drinking moonshine and hiding sharp objects from each other in February.

Like SAD, MAD is seasonal. However, while SAD affects everyone who is shy of vitamin pills and sun lamps, MAD restricts its victims to a very specific segment of society: mushroom maniacs.

MAD is caused, as the name suggests, by an absence of fungoid fun, which in turn triggers symptoms including depression, anger and feelings of persecution. Also flu-like symptoms, if only because any illness worth having is always described as having flu-like symptoms.

A brief clinical episode of MAD can be prompted by something as simple as going to a favorite mushrooming spot and discovering there are no mushrooms there. If this lack of mushrooms is caused by the suspected presence of a previous mushroomer stumbling upon a claim, MAD can occur, but this is MAD in its acute phase: brief and possibly accompanied by low-level psychosis involving thoughts of violent retribution upon the person of the trespasser, but with no lasting effects. A cure is quickly effected by finding another patch of mushrooms to pick.

An even milder form of MAD is caused by the sight of button mushrooms in a supermarket and will usually manifest itself as nothing more serious than a snort of derision and a mental note to go mushrooming tomorrow.

But far more dangerous is chronic MAD, in which the sufferer convinces him- or herself that nature has inexplicably suspended the laws of the cosmos. The reasoning runs thus:

1) Autumn is mushroom time

2) It has just rained

3) The weather is warm

4) Everyone is going mushrooming

5) There must be mushrooms

When conditions 1-4 are fulfilled, condition 5 is taken a priori. If it transpires that there are, in fact, no mushrooms to be had, the Latvian mind is thrown into utter confusion and turns in on itself in the belief that some unimaginably malign deity is ruining the mushroom season on purpose.

If this occurs multiple times and the MAD victim traipses repeatedly into the forest with large plastic buckets only to return empty-bucketed, total personality transformation is all too often the sad result: the kindly granny becomes a vicious, bitter harridan who calls in to radio shows to moan about pensions and pills; easygoing hipsters deprived of their mushroom quiche are suddenly talking about going paintballing; artistic types who usually rhapsodize about the unbeatable charms of Latvian nature book package holidays to Egypt. To all these people, a Latvia without mushrooms is not worth living in, at least temporarily.

But just as the sun always returns in spring, so the mushrooms will always pop up somewhere. Somewhere... they must be around here somewhere!

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