Say it with narcissi: flowers to celebrate the Chinese New Year
’Tis said that the sense of smell is intimately connected with memory, something that Proust and his madeleines apparently turned into an incontestable truth.
I am not usually assailed by memories when smelling anything in particular; however, there’s one scent that does trigger a Proustian recollection within me, the scent of a flower that blooms every winter in my parents’ garden: paper whites, or Narcissus tazetta L.
Although narcissus aren’t flowers you’d usually associate with Spain, it turns out that the Iberian peninsula actually boasts the greatest biological diversity of this genus: we have them in all shapes, sizes and colours. The ones I’m familiar with belong to one of the few divisions, the Tazettae, whose members bloom profusely on each flower stalk (instead of producing a single bloom at the tip).
If I had to choose a single word to describe them, if would be fragrant. Their perfume though can be dangerous, or so the ancient Greek myths would have it: some versions of Persephone’s descent into the Underworld featured the narcissus as the sweet-smelling flowers that Hades used to lure the young goddess into his clutches.
Indeed ’tis said that the name narcissus could be related to the Greek root narkao — the same that gave us words such as narcotic.
Ladders to Heaven
“Dear Reader: You and I are related, both in blood and through figs.”
Figs have been part of my story since I was a child.
Not that I noticed them at the time; for many years they were in the background of my memories, whether as stumpy trees that yielded fruit others loved eating, or as the benevolent green giants that shadowed our front school yard.
I don’t think I knew they were related, my family’s fig trees and the behemoths at school. At some point though, I began paying close attention to this group of trees every time I stumbled across one, whether in real life or in books.
Fig trees crop up pretty often when you look for them, you see.
They were in the Egyptian myths I so loved when I was a kid; they were lining the streets of the cities I’ve lived in; they were in Ugandan craft shops transformed into bark cloth; they were in my mother’s yard, and on those incredible pictures of old Cambodian ruins...
In the end, coming to love fig trees was inevitable: they wear you down by virtue of being everywhere you look— even when you’re not seeking them out on purpose.
Such was the case with this book, which I found via the author’s blog Under the Banyan.