Written in 2006
Ubud, Bali. Late one Friday evening in July. In the circle of friends sharing laughter, good food and companionship. The songs of our chatter and the voices of frogs blending together in the cool, freshly-washed night air.
Discussions over dinner bounced from one subject to another as we travelled round the globe on a journey from Bhutan to South Africa, the Maldives to Scotland, Singapore to England, from Thimpu to Cape Town, Male to Iona, Changi to Heathrow. We walked along the Ring of Fire and wandered through the Himalaya. We debated nature versus nurture and pondered man’s footsteps on the moon. We counted the joys and the pitfalls of the World Wide Web and decided that reading a novel on a computer screen could never replace the pleasure of turning the pages of a book.
Somehow our food managed to slip in-between our words and after a couple of hours we were ready for dessert. Not too much. Just something small we could share. A touch of sweetness to complete our meal.
As the smiling face of the new moon hid behind a cloud a selection of chocolate desserts was placed in the middle of the table. Hot and cold, rough and smooth, hard and soft, bitter and sweet. Dark temptations placed with care on a single square white plate. Conversation slid from wherever it was into silence as our senses sent high speed memory messages to our brains, triggered by the sight and smell of what lay in front of us.
My first bite of rich dark truffle launched a cascade of memories that tumbled through my consciousness like a waterfall, transporting me in an instant back in time. To a chocolate shop in the depths of a Genoan ghetto, found through serendipity as I cycled through Italy fourteen years earlier. As I let the truffle melt on my tongue I revelled in the deliciousness of chocolate – both of the one I was eating and the memories of those a little old lady had so lovingly chosen for me all those years before.
With my taste buds tangoing from liquid hot chocolate to hard ice cream, from soft soufflé to crunchy biscuit I let my mind wander over the wonder that is memory.
As an aromatherapist I am very aware of the influence an aromatic memory can have on our well-being. An essential oil whose aroma is linked to positive past events will always have a more powerful therapeutic effect than one with a negative association. I mentioned this to one of my dining companions once there was no more chocolate left on the plate to eat. I took from my bag a blend of oils that I call ‘sunshine in a bottle.’ Whenever I ask an English person what its aroma reminds them of they always say the same thing. As did my friend … sherbet lemons. Sweets of our childhood. Hard-boiled lemon candies with refreshingly sour sherbet in the centre. Just inhaling this aroma sparked a walk down memory lane that lasted for ages. We laughed until we cried as we jumped from one childhood sweet to another. Remembering not only their taste but their wrappers, where we bought them, who we ate them with, how some cut the roofs of our mouths if we sucked them too hard and how we always found others in the bottom of our pockets all stuck together and covered in lint.
From remembering sweets so strongly we could taste them, other memories leapt into the conversation. No conscious thought to the process. They were just there. The colour of autumn leaves. The day my father dug up our lawn and planted rose bushes from one end of the garden to the other. The overwhelming smell of lavender that we always associated with elderly ladies when we were children. We talked about maths teachers that were so boring they left us with a lifelong dislike of their subject and how one teacher imbued inanimate objects like rocks and fossils with so much soul that every person in the class achieved an ‘A’ in their Geology ‘O’ Level.
Dinner eventually drew to a close and I rode back home at midnight through a darkness prettily pierced by an infinity of stars. I started with surprise as I pulled into my compound fifteen minutes later. It was one of those moments where I realised I could not recall one centimetre of my journey. Such is the power of memory because since saying goodbye to my friends I had been absorbed in the texture and taste of Indian sweets that I used to buy from a particular place whenever I was in Calcutta. I would buy them nowhere else on the sub-continent. Only there. From a shabby restaurant up a rat-infested side street. They were not even the best quality but they were made and served by a man with a smile that wrapped itself around me and made me feel so special; as if I were his only customer. Every bite of his sweets was imbued with the memory of that smile.
I wandered a while through the garden thinking about the inextricable link between the ‘butterfly effect’ and the creation of memories. How every one of our words, actions and even thoughts, positive and negative, leaves in its place an imprint, a memory. Not just in our minds, but also in those of every person present in the moment that memory was created.
These memories may lie deeply hidden in the recesses of our minds but they are always there. They can never be erased and we never know when they might surface again, triggered by a familiar smell or taste that carries us off, for better or worse, on a cascade of memories.
© Jacqueline Le Sueur 2018