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!

(Shel Silverstein)

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: Cumin
Him: Kamon
Me: Kyoo-min
Him: Cumin
Me: Yes

Me: Cardamom
Him: CardaMOOM
Me: CARDamom
Him: Cardamom

Me: Cinammon
Him: Cinabon
Me: *laughing* yes, that’s the name of the pastry chain. This is Cina-mmmmon
Him: Cinammon

Him: Uhh…cumin?
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
before marriage
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

and knew

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.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler's wife. Smell me.'

Michael Ondaatje

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.

that's hot ..
What smells do you like?
Tough one .
Lemme think ...

I like the smell of the magic marker ... i occasionally sniff the felt tip while working .

I like the smell of our cleaning lady .. She always smells of "Bledge" and "clorox" and onions and B.O. .... The smell of hardship .

I like the lazy smell of Fridays when i wake up in my bed : Incense , fried eggs , minted tea , freshly roasted coffee beans mixed with cardamom and , of course , my sheets stinking of my sweat after a long deep sleep .

An ex-gf used to go like " Hey , it smells like sex in here " .
I asked what does sex smell like .
She listed the ingredients : closed room's canned air , scented candles , genitals , sweat and body "fluids" , perfume and deodorant , toothpaste , cigarettes and wine .
I like the smell of sex , the smell of lust and/or love .

I like the smell of my niece : a blend of Johnson&Johnson shampoo and "Zara for kids" perfume .... The smell of innocence .

I also play this game with my nephew : i sit him up on my lap and smell his feet then make a disgusted face and go like "uuuuffffffffffffff" in a dramatic way .
It cracks him up and his giggles echoe into me and elate me like nothing else could .
Needless to say , his feet always stink but the sensation linked to that smell is just priceless .

I like the smell in my Granny's place .
I'm not sure if it's the oak of the hardwood floors or the polish she uses to shine her sliverware or the freon gas leaking from the antique refregirator or the dust on the piano that hasn't gotten laid in decades ...
I always link that blend of smells to authenticity ... or maybe it's the smell of death ? ...
I like it nevertheless .

I like the "Kabab" aromas . It makes my mouth water .

I like the smell of Parisian bakeries at dawn . It softens my mood like butter on toast .

I like the smell of leather in a new car or couch : the smell of success .
I mean if you can afford a leather couch or a "lazy boy" , you must be successful no ?!

I like the smell of a new book .
When i buy a new book i like to bring it close to my nose and leaf through it flipping the pages over and over so that all the trapped smell molecules would come back to life like a genie that's just been rubbed out of the bottle .
Then the smell molecules would thank me for freeing them and grant me one wish ; I'd ask them to make this book as enjoyable and stimulating as could be !

To name a few .....

And i love the smell of our prayer rug when i kneel on it during the prayer .
I don't know if it smells like my dad or it's dad that smells like it .

And my mom's natural scent ... i'm not gonna even try and describe that .

Dude they are just way too many to mention ...
Never thought of that. I like the smell of fresh basil and second-hand bookstores. Freshly washed hair on a woman. Arabic bokhour. Caramel. Oh, and teen spirit, to all you Nirvana fans:)

Michael Ondaatje is the fellow who wrote English Patient, right? His autobiography (Running in the Family) is pretty fascinating.
most orientalist post ever written, w!

also, what does michael ondaatje know about spices and the like? the man grew up in england and canada! i can vouch for canada having no smells at all. it used to drive me crazy.
interestingly, or not, the smell of cinnamon makes me sick to my stomach. i avoid cinnabons whenever i can.

Wow! I may have to publish that up there as a guest post.

Your magic marker habit may explain some of the content on your blog.

Ironic that 'Johnson&Johnson' + 'Zara for Kids' = the smell of innocence for you. It actually deeply saddens me how brand-conscious the whole new generation of rich Egyptian kids are. Met a brand-obsessed four-year-old the other day. It broke my heart.

I love the smell of books as well, both brand-new and dusty-old! And my're of the best smells in the world. (الأصل)

Wonderful, thank you.

Mr Fawlty,

Acid test of allegiance:

Do you pronounce that 'bah-sil' like a true Anglophile, or 'bay-sil' like a New Yorker?

Thanks for the book recommendation - will look that up.


The dude is half Sinhalese, was born in Sri Lanka and lived there till the age of 11. You may want to dial the bullshit down a notch. Just think about it.
Incidentally, going in to work the next day a security guard asked me "Fein el kharazana?" I could tell from the tone of his voice that it was a joke, but had no idea what a 'kharazana' was, so missed the punch(word) - and told him so. Turns out it's one of those canes teachers use to smack kids with, ubiquitous in 19th century English schoolrooms and the modern Egyptian educational system. Now, this was a new security guard that I'd never seen before, so I presume he meant it innocently enough (insofar as thinking of blunt instruments as an essential educational tool is innocent) - but under the influence of the blindfold incident of the day before, my mind, for a moment, exploded into S&M images.

Promised him to bring one in next time, and perhaps some spiked leather - stay tuned.
Rich Egyptian kids .... ooookkkkkk ... I'll take that as a compliment i guess !
And too late fot the guest post idea .
It's already on my blog .
I'm capitalizing on your kind invitation ...
and how exactly does the occasional sniffing of the magic marker explain the "content on my blog" huh ?
I dont like the sound of that .
Not one bit i don't !
BTW - cardamon is a perfectly acceptable spelling of the word, pronounced cardamuhn.

By 'rich Egyptian kids' I meant kids, you know, under-10s...which I sincerely hope you're not.

The magic marker thing was a reference to the surreal and freewheeling nature of some of your writing - both very good things, trust me.


Didn't know that - merci!
Dave Barry! Hurrah!
like i was saying...11 is really too young to have experienced the sensual spices of the orient. i know his life story, thank you, his writings were forced on me at university.

YOU might want to dial down kazza 7aga bardo.
College of Engineering at Unizah is a new college which is affiliated to Qassim University. It follows the same curriculum as that of the College of Engineering in the main campus.
Post a Comment

<< Home


February 2006   March 2006   April 2006   August 2006   September 2006   March 2007   April 2007   December 2009  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?