It's not the eye-watering onion or the all-powerful chilli, not even the dextrous daintiness (poetic licence for those of you viewing the door-step pictured in the link below) of the rolled-up flatbread. It's the smell; the spicy, warm, bready, just-cooked-eggy scent of a roadside food stall in rural Bangladesh. It got us talking about the evocative nature of the sense of smell, that fleeting whiff across the nostrils that has us momentarily in a different place or time. For Jacqui, Bangladesh was locked inside that paratha, but my Bangladesh wafts on a nostalgic air of RID insect repellent...
Christine had a vat of it with her on that first trip and as it was far superior to mine and she appeared immune to the bugs anyway, I commandeered it. I noticed the smell at the time, of course, pungent with it's throat-catching chemicals but back in Ireland the empty container was consigned to the bin and that was that until a few years later when I saw Christine at home in Sydney. It was sunny, spidery and I was sleeping on the floor of her music room; 'Here,' she said, throwing me a spray can, 'douse yourself before the bed bugs bite.' I took the lid off and my head - metaphorically - spun. One sniff and I was back in Khalia, in the Peace Library in the midst of an interminable (now rose-coloured) House Meeting... Back in sydney, each time I awoke during the night to check for funnel web spiders, I uncapped the RID, had a quick snort and was transported. It was like my very own olfactory time machine.
If I could bottle the effect, RID would be one of several:
- woodsmoke rising from a village in La Creuse
- Chanel No.5 in the midst of the freezing, snowing backroads of Co. Mayo one February
- cooking oil frying the chipsi mayai of Songea, Tanzania
- Elizabeth Arden's Red Door perfume framing the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica
And it was just after that paratha-brunch, I realised that time doesn't dull the effect either. I opened a pink bottle of Johnson's Baby Lotion the other day; it was handed to me to slather on Simon and I'd no recollection of ever using it before. Then, in a nano-second twenty-five years disappeared and I was on Kibbutz Kfar Hahoresh, near Nazareth, getting ready for the Friday Shabbat dinner...