El Olor Del Jasmín Y La MadreselvaMonday, August 11, 2014
Jorge Luís Borges
Desde uno de tus patios haber mirado
las antiguas estrellas,
desde el banco de sombra haber mirado
esas luces dispersas
que mi ignorancia no ha aprendido a nombrar
ni a ordenar en constelaciones,
haber sentido el círculo del agua
en el secreto aljibe,
el olor del jazmín y la madreselva,
el silencio del pájaro dormido,
el arco del zaguán, la humedad
–esas cosas, acaso, son el poema.
To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars,
from the bench of shadow to have watched
those scattered lights
that my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations,
to have heard the note of water
in the cistern,
known the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle,
the silence of the sleeping bird,
the arch of the entrance, the damp
–these things perhaps are the poem.
Translation by William S. Merwin
If you ever visit Buenos Aires and ask any porteño on the situation at the time they will tell you it has never been worse than at that precise moment. I sometime wonder that if you feel great pain, will extreme pain be just the same? Porteños complain about everything. In the winter they complain of chilblains in the summer of the heat.
In Vancouver, when it rains, Vancouverites complain about it. When it is hot, as it is now, they complain about it. My Rosemary, not a Vancouver-born Vancouverite, is complaining of the heat and nags me to put sprinklers here, there and everywhere.
I happen to love the heat and to be able to open windows. The opening of windows is verboten in the winter as heat bills are high and we must save.
I happen to love the heat. I love humidity, its smell in heat. It, the humid heat, reminds me of the tropics. My mother was born in Manila and often spoke of the heat. She never complained of the Buenos Aires heat.
In the late 60s and early 70s my Rosemary and I would drive our Beetle from Mexico City to the gulf coast port city of Veracruz where my mother lived.
We taught English in American companies so this meant that we would leave after our last classes on Fridays afternoon. Almost halfway between Mexico City and Veracruz we would plummet from 2,250 to 817 metres when we approached the city of Córdoba. By then it was night and you could smell that tropical heat. In Córdoba after a fine coffee (Veracruz has excellent and well made coffee) on the plaza I would change the carburetor jet of our VW. The jet allowed for more fuel to enter the carburetor as there was more oxygen to mix with it. Then we would open all the windows and glory at the feel of the heat and humidity. We could hear the insects and birds. It was a tropical paradise for our senses.
In Veracruz the tropical heat came with the smell of the decay of a port city. I liked those smells of salt, bunker oil and fish. Rosemary who was born in New Dublin, Ontario, could not handle the heat and spent most of the day taking cold showers.
On the Zócalo Rosemary and I would go to the Parroquia. It was a corner coffee establishment to one side of the local church. La Parroquia had walls of white tiles and waiters who might have been born for the job and had retained it. The corner coffee establishment had portales. In fact the zócalo of Veracruz is a four sided portales. Here we could sit or be inside under the large whirling fans that moved the air. But on the portales side we could listen to the marimbas that played and that for a few pesos would compose personal lyrics about you on the spot and sing them, competing with the sounds of the clanging streetcars and the ever honking cars of restless jarochos (as Mexicans call people of Veracruz).
In the Argentine Navy it was a high-ranking admiral who decided when the cool Buenos Aires spring met up with the humid hot summer. When the admiral decided for us, only then, could we switch from the heavy dark blue woollens of our winter uniform to our lighter white cotton summer one. My companions complained but I managed to not sweat and I ignored the whole thing. I guess I like to feel hot.
In Vancouver there are about two weeks when at night you can sleep on the bed without anything on and not under sheets. I find this luxuriously exotic/erotic. Unfortunately Rosemary doesn’t and she complains oblivious to my naughty advances.
Heat and cigarras are part of each other in the tropics. A cigarra is a cicada. Their afternoon drones give me nostalgia for tropical siestas with the anticipation of a cool drink and meal in the evening. In Veracruz this included walks with Rosemary on the seaside Malecón (before I married her) holding hands and enjoying the sea breeze.
I cannot explain the paradoxical delight of leaving my friend Michael East’s air conditioned ranch house in south Texas, and to experience outside the furnace-like heat a couple of years ago. Lauren, now 12, could not and can not understand why I wore blue or black jeans in that heat. I have told her that I do not usually wear shorts because I am ashamed of my legs. In fact I inherited my mother’s beautiful legs. I guess I need not worry of insects or in Texas of marauding rattlesnakes.
It is hot today and I hope it persists a few more days. I can take Rosemary’s nagging to position the sprinkler. The heat simply makes me understand that in the past one never thinks that the precise moment of that present will one day be a memory, even a nostalgic memory.
I live the memories of the past in this present while the present quickly recedes into a past to make fresh new ones for tomorrow.
As for the picture of Rosemary and Ale taken so long ago I remember Rosemary's bikini well. I purchased a bra and panties at a department store. Rosemary and I decided on the happy material that featured pink hearts. Then I carefully took the bra and panties apart and I made a pattern. We cut the material and Rosemary sewed her bikini. Later we made one out of a black almost latex-like material.