Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Things We Leave Behind

It isn’t often that cookies inspire deep thoughts, but bear with me.

I was wandering through World Market the other day and spotted this package of Arnott’s Mint Slices, which were my all-time-favorite, special-treat biscuits (cookies) during the years I spent in Australia. Since I’m supposed to be on a health kick I didn’t get them at the time. But they haunted me so much that I finally went back and bought them. And the entire experience started me thinking about the things we leave behind in life.

My life is littered with wonderful taste sensations that have entered my orbit and then departed, never to be experienced again. The world’s best chocolate-filled pastries from a hidden lane in Florence. Airy confections from the shop down the street from my apartment in Athens. Devonshire teas everywhere from Winchester to Wellington to Adelaide. Fish strewn with lemon and spices and cooked in foil by a Palestinian refugee with a stall in downtown Amman. (Notice this litany is heavy on deserts; I have a sweet tooth.)

But it isn’t just great foods that I’ve had to leave behind. It’s also pleasures and pastimes and the patterns of my days. Catching snowflakes on my tongue. Casting a lure just so in a clear mountain stream. Waking up in the morning to throw open my bedroom window and gaze out over a Spanish plaza once known by Romans and Moors and medieval knights. Trekking across a sun blasted, stony Arabian desert to come upon the ruins of a city abandoned two thousand years ago. Cutting back a bougainvillea rioting over my garden in the Adelaide hills and pausing to listen to the haunting, ever-exotic cry of a kookaburra.

And then there are the things I’ve lost without even realizing I was leaving them behind. As a teenager I played the guitar and had a horse. In my twenties I was absolutely fluent in French. At one point I went through a ballroom dance phase and swam a mile every day. Then I was seriously working toward a black belt in Tae Kwan Do. But life got in the way, my focus shifted, and before I knew it, those things, too, became a part of my past.

And don’t get me started on the friends and lovers I’ve left behind.

This constant letting go and loss is probably hardest on those who move around a lot. But I suspect everyone’s life is this way to some extent. A few nights ago, I was sitting at the sidewalk table of a local Lebanese restaurant with my husband of (almost) six years and my gorgeous, dark-eyed, twenty-something daughter. The air was heavy with the scent of night blooming jasmine and Mediterranean spices. An Egyptian singer was wailing over the sound system as the St. Charles streetcar went clanging past. It was a magical blending of old and new, lost and recently discovered.

Life, bittersweet, but good.


Charles Gramlich said...

For years I left the countryside behind while I lived in the suburbs, but now I've got it again in Abita Springs and I treasure it even more. Sometimes the things we've left behind come back, all the more pleasant for having been gone.

Sphinx Ink said...

What a wonderful, evocative, thought-provoking post. One thing you never left behind is your magical skill with words!

Steve Malley said...

I'll save my own litany of loss and longing and love-- enough to say you've brought a tear to the eye of this rambling old gypsy... Thank you.

Barbara Martin said...

Poetic words to convey nostalgia...beautiful.

Lainey said...

A life filled with memorable experiences, travels to exotic destinations, so hauntingly told. I hope that you've found some of what you were searching for.

Is that Byblos Restaurant on Magazine, the Lebanese restaurant that Tobie liked so much?

orannia said...

That was beautiful! On the bright side *pulls Pollyanna hat firmly on* you'll always have those memories *grin*

I love how the sight, smell, sound and/or taste of something can trigger such vivid memories.

As for Arnott’s Mint Slices...hmmmmm! Have you ever tried a Toffee Pop?

cs harris said...

Charles, the countryside--especially mountains and pine forests--are high on the list of things I miss.

Sphinxy, thank you!

Steve, being a rambling gypsy is hard on the heart strings.

Barbara, thank you.

Lainey, it was actually Mona's. But we went to Byblos tonight to celebrate my mom's 92nd birthday!

Orianna, I've never tried Toffee Pop. Get thee behind me, Satan, I'm supposed to be on a health kick...

liz fenwick said...

Beautiful, evocative and so true. Much of your litany overlapped mine and set my mind racing to things lost in the past...but even to have had them once brings joy.

ps at the moment the oddest one - screen doors???

Rowe said...

Hi Candy, this post struck a chord as I've moved around a fair bit. I live in Australia so Mint Slices are always close by though I only buy them occasionally to keep them special.

cs harris said...

Ah, Liz; a glass half full kind of person. And I personally think screens are one of humanity's greatest inventions.

Rowe, that one package will do me for a long time!

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