Today, as I sat under the carport that has been set aside as our seating and BBQ area, I saw a bee alight on the pink and lilac flowers of a blouse that was hanging on my washing line.
So, a bee's memory can be fooled by bright colors that mimic real flowers; and our memory can also trick us with a sudden spark of color, a sudden burst of sound, a sudden issue of scent that bring us back to another place, another time.
In Italy, there are no "varieties" of coffee, no fancily named concoctions of syrups and foam and milk and chocolate, in different shapes of cups; there is only espresso, and espresso doesn't come in "one shot or two?" (a question that here always makes me chuckle internally), you order it simply as un caffé, a coffee, because it's the only coffee there is (yes, there is also cappuccino, but no one in Italy would drink it in the middle of the afternoon as tourists do, only in the morning for breakfast with a cornetto—a particular type of Italian croissant—or a brioche to go with it).
The smell of coffee, or espresso, has accompanied me all my life in Italy: if Naples is the Italian capital of pizza, it is also the capital of espresso. You can use Naples as a departure point on the scale of espresso strength and move upward along the boot, with the strength of coffee decreasing as you go. Espresso in Milan resembles more the kind of coffee you get in Paris (also simply called coffee, not espresso), with the unlikely yet nice twist of a lemon rind draped along the rim of the cup like the scarves that Parisian women do so well.
But, in Naples, coffee is dark, black with a brownish tinge, strong, very strong: as we say in Italy, ristretto (literally, tightened, or short, to indicate a small amount of coffee). It is served very hot, in a very hot cup (at the bar—which in Italy is not a drinking hole but a place where you drink your coffee or other drinks standing up at the counter—they keep the coffee cups immersed in boiling hot water).
And the smell, the smell is everywhere, the sharp and slightly acidic and nose-tingling smell of coffee wafting out of every window in every apartment block in the city, at most hours of the day (and, sometimes, night).
And I miss that smell, and when I make myself a coffee at home, it brings my city back to me—my crazy city with its over-the-top behavior, its over-ripe smells, its all-around sensory overload...
And then, there is the smell of jasmine; a jasmine that may not rival its Indian, or Persian varieties, but it is certainly much more fragrant than anything I've ever smelled in non-Mediterranean countries. In the summer nights, when the intense heat of the day slowly dissipates but lingers on just enough that you can sit bare-armed on a terrace under a jasmine/entwined pergola and converse with your friends into the wee hours while sipping some cold white wine, the smell of jasmine emanating from above your head can be deeply intoxicating.
Maybe I'm bitter because my own memoir might never get published, and it will certainly never sell for a six-figure sum, but I just don't get the appeal of books like "Eat Pray Love". She didn't have to go to three different countries for these activities, she could have found them all in Italy. And the foods to accompany each one of them.
Yes, basil for eating, coffee for praying, and the jasmine most definitely for loving.