Friday, March 18, 2011

The Smell of Mint Leaves

Home is home and full of Mr Tabubil and therefore wonderful.  And I've been so busy - it's amazing how many tasks and trivialities pile up over six weeks - and turn into monsters while you're away, as if they've spent the time stewing and swelling instead of sitting decently  meek and quiescent-like on your desk.  And dining table.  And kitchen ledges.  And sewing machine.  And in your bedside drawers and ironing basket and washing pile and stuffed behind paperbacks on your bookshelves and - ugh!

I preferred to go around smelling things. 
          I hadn't done that before.  As far back as I can remember, I never did.   I could smell things just fine - as I stood in them, or with my nose stuffed deep inside them.  I was fine with cooking - if I took the lid off of the saucepan and inhaled deeply for half an hour or so, and I could certainly smell the eucalyptus blossoms when the trees burst forth and paint the town golden-yellow - if I crossed the road and cut a sprig and pressed my nose to the honey-scented blossoms, but there was a whole four-dimensional olfactory world all around me and I was deaf and blind and dumb.
            One week ago - three weeks post-nasal-surgery, I woke up in the morning with an extra sense.  The water from the Murray River pipeline that I drank with my breakfast tasted different: earthy, and faintly grassy, and I realized that I was tasting it with my nose, as well as my tongue. 
That evening I had my first cooking class of the new year.  We were making a curry, and I stood on my toes in the classroom, ardently sniffing the steam from the saucepans that wafted across the room and curled around our noses -
             - I could smell the coriander root - soft and blonde, like the taste of fenugreek seeds.  The cumin was dry and powdery - even as an odor, it tickled. The ginger was high and sweet and prickly and the  cardamom pods floated lower than the rest of the ingredients, deep and brown and humming slightly.
            The next morning I smelled the dry cereal as I poured it into a breakfast bowl.  Unsurprisingly, it smelled like cardboard.  I ate sour Greek yogurt and sweet oranges instead.
            And I've been making lists.  Yesterday I smelled:
The chickens next door - soft and faintly earthy.  The pungent, peppery smell of mustard weed, crushed under my feet.  Potatoes roasting in the oven - just like they taste, rounded and mealy and late-at-night-in-midwinter.  The hot, sharp smell of freshly ironed cotton.  A raft of jasmine flowers, pulling me up out of my sandals from the other side of the street.   Garlic like I've never known it before - an olfactory wallop that almost drove me clean outside into the garden.   And the mint!  The gorgeous, heady, HEAVENLY scent of fresh growing mint leaves.
            Our next door neighbor (he of the chickens) keeps a vegetable patch.  Yesterday he took me into his back yard and loaded me down with a basket of grapes (sugary and sickly-sour) and capsicums (damp and sweet) and spring onions (high and spiky) and mint, ripped by the armful from a border garden.
            Growing up in PNG, the rain was so heavy that we had to cut irrigation ditches across our grass lawns.  Mint grew wild along the edges of the ditches - thick and tall - we ripped it out and threw it away when it got too high, and when we ran we trampled it under our feet and everywhere the rich smell of it rose so strong and high and sweet and singing that you could get drunk on it.
            Last night I dreamed that I was back in high school writing an essay for an exam.  The topic was "Happiness is:" and I wrote three pages on"Happiness is the smell of mint leaves." 
            This morning I woke up and went straight to the refrigerator.  I opened the door and buried my face in a cloud of mint and just stood there, breathing.

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