perfume and memory: 2 posts

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 Fragrance of Old Things

Walking around the old châteaux in the Loire Valley, I kept cataloging the scents–damp stone, varnished wood, fading lilies, old tapestries. In the Château de Saché where Balzac used to stay for prolonged periods of time, the damask upholstery of the chairs heated by the morning sun gave off a waffle like sweetness, while the green cabinet in the Château de Chenonceau, out of which Catherine de Medici ruled France for 30 years, had a salty whiff of driftwood. Though the former residents of these places are now ghosts–just names in history books, monuments, symbols, it seems through these scents that they linger still, in the shadows.

Old things, things touched by many hands, things bearing marks of time, always drew me. It seemed that they might have their own spirits. Years later when I had the chance to spend time in Japan, I realized that this idea was less fanciful than it seemed, and the whole system of Shinto beliefs is based on the idea that everything possesses a spirit. A place. A tree. A stone. A writing pen.

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