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The Horse Chestnut, and what moral lessons may be drawn from it

horse chestnuts are the fruit of the horse chestnut tree. This tree is called ippocastano in Italian, and it was probably the first tree I learned to recognize.
The horse chestnuts themselves probably rank among the first one hundred objects I learned about. They are like little chunks of some precious wood, like oak or cherrywood, that someone has roughly cut, filed, sanded and polished to a glossy deep brown finish.
Horse chestnuts cannot be eaten. They are only for admiring. The trees in the Giardini Pubblici (or Parco Ducale) in Parma every Autumn produce millions of these lovely, useless chestnuts that come packed into bright green spiny balls.
Children sensitive to beauty gather them up in bags and bring them home. At home, the bag is usually forgotten in a corner, and left to rot. My grandmother tolerated that, and she never got impatient when I asked her which particular chestnut was the most beautiful. I know that she still does the same with my little cousins.

Of all those horse chestnuts, I would be surprised if more than ten every year ever turned into a tree: the park is meticulously kept. But the trees are generous.

One of my first moral lessons was definitely that:

Another moral lesson was cutting open a horse chestnut: the illusion of wood shatters, as you realize that its beauty is skin-deep. That illusionistic skin conceals a greenish pulp that is incredibly bitter.