PLAYING WITH THE CATS
I stress that we are still friends.
How could it be otherwise?
When somebody has been central in your life, it is only natural that they remain part of it.
But in all honesty, that says more about her than it does about me. She is in so many ways a nicer and gentler person than I am - she did not want the end to be hard or angry, and she's very much the kind of person I would like to know, and to continue to know.
But we don't do what other friends do.
It's been several months since we went to a restaurant together.
Many years since we were at the movies with each other.
We've never gone out drinking together at all.
That's just not something she wanted.
That last part needs some elucidation. The truth is that she does not like the taste of alcohol, and even the affection many people have for wine baffles her. She does not drink, and has probably never even tasted a cocktail.
Liquor smells incredibly vile and harsh to her.
I still find that utterly charming.
She has also never appreciated tobacco.
I've sort of accepted that.
But it's odd.
I've always regarded the reek of good pipe tobacco as one of the more comforting fragrances possible. Trails of incense wafting through the room, the faint lingering presence of fine Turkish or matured Virginias adhering like a familiar and beloved signature to a tweed jacket and the spines of books - what could possibly be more evocative of the presence, OR the keenly remembered presence, of a beloved relative or companion?
Smells bring back memories more powerfully than almost anything else. The aromas of particular tobaccos recreate sharply differentiated mood rewinds, the merest familiar hint brings back full chapters of experience.
Even today I occasionally sniff at my father's pipes, which he gave me before he died, to recall the man.
During the fifties and early sixties my dad smoked a blend from John's pipe shop in Hollywood. He had started shopping there as a teenager back in the thirties, and when he returned from the war, he resumed doing so.
While I was in Northbeach and my father still lived in the Netherlands, I tried to figure out precisely what that blend was, as it was no longer the same as it had been.
I wanted my father to again experience the pleasures of his past.
Now there isn't even anything by that name.
TIME AND PLACE
In Naarden, in the first years after we moved to Holland, he would sometimes smoke an English flake, and whenever I sniff something similar now I can see crystalline sunlight slanting in and taste again the weak tea that I was allowed to drink at that age.
Teatime is always at four o'clock, don't you know that?
Once we shifted to Valkenswaard I spent innumerable hours reading in the upstairs living room, which spanned the breadth of the building, with my father at his desk engaged in translating technical articles into Dutch, my brother Tobias at his desk in the other corner studying for school, and my mother downstairs in her office typing away.
There were occasional whisps of Dobie's Foursquare (blue) from one of his pipes, if he lit up.
A contemplative odour, signature of that time.
And a cat asleep on the couch.
Years later it would not be till late at night that anyone else was there, as my parents spent the evening in their room together reading or talking, my mother's illness having limited her mobility considerably.
At that time I smoked my own pipes and tobacco in the stillness, with the various desk lamps on to provide sufficient light. My brother, when he was back from Tilburg where he went to school, would be downstairs in the dining room memorizing the chess moves of the masters, where I would occasionally join him for a game.
Again, a different spectrum of smoke.
Plus cats and pipe cleaners.
During summer break Tobias and I occupied the sera off the courtyard, with the French doors open - he pensively clicking chess-pieces and turning pages, I with a favourite book while enjoying a bowlful. Perhaps later Dad would join us, and take some of my tobacco, after much urging.
Sharp dark Syrian, pale Orientals, Virginia.
Especially wonderful when it rained.
Aromas of wet grass and trees.
Whisps of tarry smoke.
Amsterdam during stormy weather? Friesche Baai and Coopvaert, both little more than ribbon-cut Maryland, slightly sharp in the nose. A café terrace on the Prins Hendrik quay, looking out over the water toward the Central Station. Trams and bicyclists go past, shattering the glittering light reflected off wet pavement.
The character of each tobacco is a mnemonic.
Familiar smells become beloved.
Somewhere there is a room that requires an added fragrance.
Perfumes evoking a multi-layered response.
In time memories will arise.
NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.