Remembering scents

Sensory cues are powerful mediums for setting moods and evoking emotions because they possess within themselves the magical quality of carrying small pockets of memories across time and space -memories inhabited by peoples, places, and events; memories which might be pleasant or sad; familiar or rare.

To me, the scent of cinnamon and apple promises the prospect of baking in a cozy kitchen on a beautiful cool autumn day.  The scent of old vinegar, when trapped in a cabinet, always transports me back in time to my childhood when I visited my aunt’s old house and held my breath while playing seek and hide in her food storage lined with tens of “torshi” ceramic jugs.

All the scents we remember are familiar I guess, but some are “expected”, like the smell of rain or snow or damp foliage in the woods, while other smells are rare, therefore much sharper in hitting you with nostalgia.

For those of us leaving a homeland behind, some scents are less accessible. For instance, I receive my share of dried orange blossoms (to be mixed with black loose tea) only through visitors from Iran. Then, there are some scents which are virtually non-existent in everyday life, yet they somehow manage to live on at the far recesses of my mind behind decades and miles, waiting to be awakened by a kick of destiny.

The delicate, clean whisper of basil is among the most emotion provoking sensory delights to me. Iranian basil cannot be found in the market where I live, and other varieties of basil simply do not smell and taste the same. When I manage to grow handful of baby basil in my backyard garden from the seeds I receive from Iran, I cherish every single leaf, inhaling their fragrance before carefully nibbling on some.  The scent of Iranian basil reminds me of the charcoal-grilled skewer kebab we used to buy back home from the close-by kebabi  –  the ones that came wrapped in one big bazari bread and nestled in heavenly smelling big-leafed, long-stemmed basil leaves.  The scent is associated with “good old days”: with abundance, and being grounded.

And a sensually pleasure I dearly miss is the sweet, potent fragrance of polianthes tuberose, with the tall stalks holding clusters of magnificent white blooms. During the early Fall days, flower stores in m y old hometown shiraz carried hundreds of “Maryam” flower at a given time, emanating channels of perfumed air into the sidewalks and elevating my spirit instantly.

Maryam flowers lasted very long, I seem to remember, just as their memories are long lasting; and the fragrance of one steam alone which I often kept in my bedroom both excited me and calmed my dreams. I have not smelled Maryam in years, but I vividly remember it, just as I remember my youth and lost loved ones.

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