Things I Didn't Know I Loved*
* If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!
August 23, 2006
Sense and Sensuality
Today I blindfolded a near-stranger and passed aromatic spices under his nose. The room was silent, save for the shuffling of spices and this single-word exchange.
Me: *laughing* yes, that’s the name of the pastry chain. This is Cina-mmmmon
Me: Try again…
Him: Wait wait wait wait…cardamon!
Me: Yep! Carda-…?
Him: mom. Cardamom.
I am, among other things, an English teacher to adults; a great one, but often recklessly – unadvisedly – creative. I came up with this particular activity in a food-themed class with another group a while ago, with half the students “dispensing” and the other half “smelling”. It worked beautifully, but was an intense experience for all involved – I’d forgotten how intense. And now, here I was, trying it out in a one-to-one class, slowly realising my mistake. The room was hushed, thick with focus, and intimate – way too intimate.
Note to self: stick to the coursebook on occasion.
On my way home I remembered, years ago, going to a ‘attar (loose translation: apothecary) in Old Cairo, with someone who was then very special to me. I was bone-tired and didn’t want to be out, but he asked and I couldn’t resist him then. We were in search of the perfect perfume oil blend. I remember the ‘attar dabbing essential oils on the back of my hands, all along the pale vein-streaked skin inside my wrists, and up my inner arms. He was leaning in to sniff jasmine in the crook of my elbow, lavender in the flesh between my thumb and forefinger. We walked out of there after close to two hours, with a tiny bottle, in a drunken haze, heads spinning, nostrils tingling. I looked across at him, with this huge ridiculous dazed smile on his face and that look in his eyes; I must’ve looked the same. It’s not one of my favourite memories of us together – the perfume was for another woman – but definitely one of the most bittersweet.
Today, I got home from my class to this poem (I am not, in the eternal words of Dave Barry, making this up) in my inbox.
The Cinammon Peeler'If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.
Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.
Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.
I could hardly glance at you
never touch you
--your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...
When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said
this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume
what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler's wife. Smell me.'
Some of my favourite smells: strawberries; just-ground black pepper: good, earthy, pungent; fresh wet mint leaves (their fragrance is fully released with moisture); minced garlic crackling in hot oil; that sweet smoky smell of burnt candlewick just after a candle’s been blown out – reminds me of childhood birthday cakes. And cinnamon, of course.