This photo represents perhaps the most aromatic, stimulating memory that I hold with my biological brother, Hunter — one crafted together while traveling through North Africa, 6 years ago.
As Spring comes into bloom, here in Canada, I am reminded of this day through scents, colours, quality of sunlight and Being.
Last night I attended a classical music concert in an old church and wore, for the first time since his funeral, this bursting, potent Magnolia oil that he bought for me in the depths of a tiny shop in the main market of Tunis.
The smell takes me right back to that moment with him, in that thriving souk. I remember that day so clearly – his coming into Manhood, at the age of 18, negotiating prices with merchants and selecting only the most precious elixirs, with a keen and critical eye; not to be tricked by the cunning nature of the alchemist’s smile and flirtation with words – and my own maturation, of holding my femininity with a soft strength and humility within this Arab-cultured country, allowing my younger brother to stand in his power and, in subtle ways, protect me – a very new dynamic for the two of us to explore.
I recall how we made our way out of the maze-like market, moving slowly with the heat, the stream of people, ducking under hanging tapestries, breathing in the sights and sounds and smells – jewelry, fried food, tea, pipes, curious sets of eyes. And, in our playful nature, we hopped on a train, no destination in mind, but content knowing that it would be winding, somehow, up the peninsula towards Carthage.
A racket ensued, metal doors clanging, babies crying, sea breeze enveloping us, both completely aware but unafraid of being the only fair-skinned humans on the train.
The women were warm, welcoming me to rest on the bench, amidst their overflowing bags and squirming children. Hunter stood above me, steady in his foundation yet swaying with the motion of the train as it rocked its way along the ocean.
We spent the rest of the day climbing hills, exploring ancient abandoned amphitheatres and grand mosques perched on barren peaks. We followed overgrown pathways through orange groves, leading us up into humble museums, holding the great ruins of collapsed civilizations. We listened to storytellers, learning of the love and war and life of the people who occupied this land; of the years of grandeur, once an empire that held great power; the movement of people, the blood that was shed to secure this hub of trade, this key in the history of capitalization, this gateway between Europe and Africa. We were lost in time and space there, immersed in the stories, held in the suspense of curiosity and imagination, walking slowly through displays of crumbling statues, transfixed by the sun that danced on the walls, silent and smirking.
And then out and down towards the sea, peeling oranges, fresh from the tree.
Sour, juicy, sweetness, just him and me.
Fresh fish from the pier, grilled by the sea.
Olive oil and lemon and salt – what a feast.
Smoking hookah and drinking mint tea.
Marinating in the romance of being entirely free.
Magnolia is a sweet, complex scent with hints of citrus, woven with something close to liquorice and lavender too. Intoxicating.
Hows does one capture a smell and pull it down into words? And the stories it holds – indescribable, though I try.
I try for the sake of digesting my abundant life experiences, each holding great wisdom, waiting to unfold.
I try for the sake of remembering, as these words pull me into a place of Great Peace – to revisit these stories of times and places gone by.
I try for the sake of the people who’ve moved on, though never lost nor forgotten – held here in my heart, my prefrontal cortex, and this glass vile of Magnolia oil.