Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Of Hooves and Hats

I found this in a junk shop recently;

   It's a Hoof Fungus (Formes formentarius). It grows on various hardwood trees and, occasionally, conifers. The one I found is mounted on chipboard the formica veneer of which is peeling, an unattractive backing not worthy of the magnificent fungus. With my customary insight into these matters I deduced that someone had attached the fungus to a plaque that had originally been used in a perfumery as it is there that a word such as “Amadouvier” surely belongs.

   It turns out that “Amadouvier” is French for Hoof Fungus. It's somehow typical that the French word sounds suited to a perfume and that the English version is reminiscent of athelete's foot.
   Both its English and French names refer to physical characteristics, the English one is obvious, but the French term reveals a hidden and more sensual aspect – many say that it is ultimately derived from the Latin ad manum dulce, “soft to the touch”.

   “Amadouvier” is linguistically derived from “Amadou” which is physically derived from Amadouvier. Amadou is the “soft to the touch” spongy material found within the fungus. When amadou is dried after soaking in a solution of saltpetre the desiccated result is very easy to ignite with a spark from, for instance, a flint - some French sources claim that “amadou” is from a Provençal word meaning amoureux/loving (“because it ignites so quickly”...). Such tinder was among the possessions of “Ötzi the Iceman” who was murdered 5,300 years ago and found, mummified by icy conditions, in 1991 in the Ötzal Alps (the mountains between Austria and Italy).

   The less spongy form of amadou (that nearer the surface) is used by dry-fly fishermen to dry their flies. It is prepared by cutting it into slices and boiling them for a few hours or soaking them for a week in washing soda or urine. The dried end product (below) is one of the most naturally absorbent materials known.

   Amadou can also be worked like leather or processed like felt (whose processing also traditionally involved steeping in urine). These crafts are still practiced in eastern Europe, various items are made including table mats, handbags and headgear;

Mycologist Paul Stamets sporting an amadou trilby. Very natty.

I find something disturbing about this assembly of amadouvian creations; a sort of nightmare in fawn dreamt up by Joseph Beuys.