Reflections: 83 posts

5 Things That Inspire Me

When I work on any long-term project, my office looks as if a tornado went through it. Since I prefer to work at a low table sitting on a cushion, my legs folded in the lotus position, I use the floor around me as my canvas. Books, research materials, and reference volumes cover it in random looking piles and mixed among them are items I find inspiring. Of course, the chaos is not entirely random, and I can tell you where I have my Japanese-English dictionary, Philip Kraft’s guide to fragrance chemistry or a volume of Persian poetry, without having to get up from my table. (The table, by the way, was a $10 acquisition from a Turkish shop, intended for making phyllo pastry.)

Casting a quick glance at the items that surround me today, I realized that they are much more than the materials I use for my writing, but rather the things that inspire me, the things that give me pleasure simply by looking at or touching them. I’m sure everyone can make such an inspiration collage–and I’m sure that for every person it would be different, but I wanted to share mine with you.

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Late Summer Lindens, Lingering

Lindens have long finished blooming. They seem so distant, the early summer days when the city was filled with the fragrance so sweet and rich that I felt like I was wading in honey and even when I would return home, the perfume clung to my skin, my hair, my clothes. These days linden trees stand green and splendid, with no trace of blossoms on their branches. And yet, I can still smell the linden fragrance. I only need to ponder about it for a moment to conjure up the heady summer days and the lindens.

I always regret seeing the linden blooming season come to an end. It’s one of the summer highlights for me, especially so given its brief duration. While it lasts, I try to imprint the linden perfume in my memory to keep it as a souvenir for later. The appeal of scents is in their immateriality, their intangibility–and in the way they can be retained in your mind to inspire you later.

Wrapping up these reflections, I wanted to share with you a song I love. It’s called Spring (Vesna), and it’s performed by a Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha, one of the most innovative and original music groups. They use traditional songs in modern arrangements, and “Vesna” captures the season’s moods, from effervescent to mellow.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

5 Winter Pleasures

Winter has a certain beauty in its austere color palette and the way it slows down life to a bare simmer. Yet, weeks of overcast skies and cold weather can leave one listless and longing for warmth and sunshine. The Belgian winter is almost uniformly grey and damp, with hardly any snow days to remind me of the season’s more exquisite aspects. And yet I wouldn’t trade these three months for any other. Winter’s pleasures more than make up for the late sunrises and heavy layers of clothes.

Big Books

I’m not intimidated by big books. They hold many hours of reading enjoyment. They tempt me with their promise of new facts to learn and new experiences to discover. Such books aren’t satisfying to read on Kindle. I love the heft of a thick volume as I ensconce myself in my favorite bean bag chair. I seem to have more time for reading during the winter, which is why one of my seasonal pleasures is to go through all of the thick volumes that I’ve set my sights on. For instance, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Iryna Vilde’s Sisters Richynski, Charles Dickens’s The Bleak House, Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia, and the letters exchanged by Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Finishing Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, In Search of Lost Time, is my plan for this winter.

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The Memory of a Mulberry Tree

Not long ago I posted a photo of mulberries to my Facebook page and by the end of the day I had scores of comments and emails filled with the mulberry-related reminiscences. I was surprised how many people had a mulberry tree as part of their childhood. Reading the comments, I too tasted the mulberries of Esfahan and Israel, climbed the tall trees in Romania and Texas and made jam in California. In sharing stories, we made our own Silk Road spanning the mulberry memories and the globe. It also turned out be quite a cosmopolitan tree with the Eastern roots. It’s called tuta in Aramaic, tut in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew, duda in Romanian. In Ukrainian, it’s either called tut or shelkovytsa, the silk tree berry.

In my part of Ukraine mulberry trees are ubiquitous. They’re a reminder of the old history: of the manor estates of the Poltavan gentry and of the silk farms established as part of the Five Year plans by the Soviet government. Both the gentry and the five year plans are long gone. The mulberries remain. The berries cover the sidewalks in indelible ink stains and scent of fermented, overripe fruit hangs in the summer haze.

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The Promise Of a Blossom

Out of my window I can see a rose bush. This is my Ukrainian window, of course, because out of my Belgian window I see the Mondrian-like grid of buildings, the pale ribbon of the skies, and in the distance, the red tiled roofs that reveal the Nordic roots of Brussels, a town with a Gallic accent. If I peer hard enough, I can see my neighbor’s roses across the street, but having one’s own rose bush is infinitely better, and for a part of the year, I have that pleasure.

The rose bush is awakening slowly, and as I take a break from writing and look out of the open window, I see that each day the buds look fuller. At first, they are hard and green, like unripe cherries. Then, they swell, and I can catch a glimpse of a dark pink petal. Observing the flower opening is like watching a butterfly break out of a cocoon and spread its wings. For this reason, the French word éclore that means both to open and to hatch is so appropriate for describing the opening of the buds. The promise of a new bud is a promise of changes, beauty and even magic. The kind of everyday magic that nature offers generously.

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