UnNews:Calif. man eats wild mushrooms, dies

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13 March 2009

Freshly-Picked-Shrooms

Santa Barbara man Amanita Muscaria would forage for wild mushrooms in the hills and sell them on to local restaurants, shops and gourmets.

CALIFORNIA, USA -- Italian-American man Amanita Muscaria, like many people of southern European descent, had a life-long passion for wild mushrooms and was a common sight in the hills and forests above the town he'd called home for over 50 years where he foraged for them. He'd become something of an expert over the decades and his family didn't worry when he stopped checking his finds in reference books, believing as he did that the old man knew all there was to know on the subject.

However, they'll be glad they didn't join him for a dinner of his favourite pizza ai funghi last week when, mistaking them for Agaricus bisporus (the common white button mushroom), he inadvertently used 'death angel' mushrooms which, as the name suggests, are highly poisonous. Amanita, who was 82, died a week later of liver failure.

Tributes have been pouring in at the nursing home where he lived, with many residents sending floral bouquets to the elderly man's funeral. "I guess it was about 20 years ago now that old Amanita stopped checking his mushrooms, man," says close friend Serenity Haight-Ashbury, 76. "He'd frequently go up into the hills and bring back a basket of them which he'd share with all of us here at the nursing home. We appreciated them - it was amazing how he could find varieties that almost seemed to give us old folks a whole new lease of life - some of them made you feel like you were flying."

Luna Starchild had known the old man since the late 1960s. "Back in those days, he'd bring me mushrooms to sell in my shop, Esoteric Groceries and Magical Supplies which was situated on Main Street," she says. "They were the most beautiful things. I'd often eat a handful of them raw because they tasted so good and then I'd just sit there for hours admiring them, their incredible colors and textures. Sometimes, after tasting them, I'd feel so full of joy that I'd dance in the street. I guess some thought I was crazy, but it attracted young people who would come from miles around to buy whatever he brought to me."

"You know, back in the day when I first became police chief," says retired cop Dan Dreamsnake, "I used to get a bit heavy-handed with some of the younger folks in town. It was 1969 and I was part of the establishment, working for The Man, man. I saw these long-hairs, what we used to call beatniks, and like many people I felt threatened by them because they seemed to represent a threat to law and order. But one day I took my wife out for dinner at Luigi's, an Italian restaurant that had opened up. When we arrived I noticed there sure were a lot of these hippies in there and I was going to leave, but my wife had heard great things about the place and so I decided we'd stay just to keep the little lady happy. I went for cappello da prete, a pork dish stuffed with wild mushrooms. As I ate it, I looked around me and was suddenly struck by how beautiful and peaceful the hippies were. I could listen to all of their conversations at once, even those taking place on the opposite side of the room, and it sounded like the sweetest music I ever heard. Right after the meal I went down to the county jailhouse and I let the convicts go free, telling each and every one of them that they were Nature's beautiful children. I went by the restaurant the next day to congratulate those guys on a mighty fine meal and they told me that they bought their mushrooms from this dude called Amanita, so I looked him up and have been buying them from him ever since. He'll sure be missed in these parts."

Not everyone in the area was so enamoured with the Italian gourmet though. Blackfoot Reservation, ten miles from the town, is home to a community of 100 Indians who knew the man. "He used to come down here pretty regular," says Bobby Two-Crows, spokesman and chief of the community, "him and his freaky pals. At first we tolerated them because they said we were beautiful and our culture was something special. That seemed kind of cool, you know, because back in those days most white folks looked down on us. But he didn't really know what our culture was all about - some of our ancestors were into wild mushrooms I guess, but nowadays we like to eat fast food like anyone else and we drink whiskey. When he saw that, he started lecturing us, saying we had to go back to what he called the old ways of the land. I don't know if you've ever tried hunting down a buffalo weighing a ton in weight with nothing but a sharpened stick and living your whole goddamn life in a tent, but personally I'd rather take my station wagon down to the drive-through to pick myself up a cheeseburger and I'd take my house with its electricity supply and hot water over a teepee any day. Old Amanita got to be a bit of a pain in the ass if I'm honest, and we used to hide when we saw him and his long-haired friends driving over here in that ridiculous multi-colored old school bus of theirs."

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