|Rosemary's underwear - Hotel Geneve - Mexico City - 12 December 2012|
The three women of my life, my grandmother, my mother and my Rosemary shared a keen sense of smell.
I do not recall what perfume my grandmother used but before she had her toast heaped with jam for breakfast she would smell it and smile. My mother used Chanel No-5, Joy and a perfume called Calèche by Hèrmes. She always put a tad of perfume behind her ear. She taught me to smell her behind the ear as she did that with mine and told me I smelled like an Englishman.
She would also blow into my ear as she would whisper, “Un secretito para un nenito (a little secret for a little boy).”
My mother said that when she deplaned in Mexico she could smell tortillas while in Buenos Aires it was steak in the air. When I asked her about the US she said, “It smells of French fries.”
Of my father my strongest memory is of his smell that was a complex combination of Old Smuggler Scotch, gin, Player’s Navy Cut Cigarettes and an after shave I have no idea of what it was but that it did smell of lavender. Smelling him involved getting a bit of his not too closely shaved face so that I would have called it a rasping scent.
When we arrived in Canada in 1975 I used Mexican Yardley Vètiver aftershave. I ran out or stopped buying it by 1980. I never used aftershave after that. Our daughter Hilary gives me Yardley lavender soap and talcum for Christmas every couple of years. I love it.
As soon as I met Rosemary I taught her about smelling behind the ear. She rarely used perfume so my recollection to this day is that Rosemary smells like Rosemary. I could smell it on her pillow case, until I washed all the sheets and pillow cases in December.
Both of us enjoyed putting our nose to our old roses. Rosemary grew herbs and of course we prominently had a large rosemary which we rarely used for cooking. We had many kinds of mint.
I did lots of snuggling with my parents as a little boy in the middle of the night and I remember that my drunken father and I would sing My bonnie lies over the ocean and Onward Christian soldiers when he returned from work in the evening.
By all accounts we spend one third of our life in bed.
I calculate that I spent 17 years in bed with Rosemary. I recall all the beds (and one hard floor) we slept in. There was one in my mother’s house in Veracruz, one in our first apartment in Estrasburgo in Mexico City. This bed was very narrow. There was a slightly better bed in our apartment in Herodoto and when activity was going to happen Rosemary would tell me to put Ale and her crib in the bathroom tub. It was in Arboledads, Estado de México where we had a more or less good bed. It was on that bed that one evening, Rosemary came back from visiting her mother in Ottawa that she ravished me as never before and that is when I believe our Hilary was on her way to become our second daughter 9 months later.
There was another bed in our first Vancouver home in Burnaby. I have little recollection of it. Our first good bed was the one we purchased when we moved to Athlone in Kerrisdale. Rosemary complained it did not have a headboard. It was for our Kits house that we bought a Stickley with a nice headboard. Between Kerrisdale and Kits we had breakfast in bed for about 25 years.
What all that above means is that Rosemary and I considered our bed as the favourite place to be.
I was particularly affected by a poem that Mexican poet Homero Aridjis wrote a about bedding an American girl at the then posh Hotel Geneve in the yet-to-be known Zona Rosa. I went to Mexico to see a dying friend. I asked Rosemary to lend me some of her black underwear. I stayed at the Geneve so that I could photograph her underwear on the bed to illustrate Aridjis’s poem for my own pleasure. That blog is this one.
From the very beginning Rosemary was a morning girl and I learned to wait. It was only when Rosemary was beginning to feel sick two months before she died that shenanigans in bed ceased.
But I would still stroke her feet with my own and she would
complain that I needed to cut my toenails. Days before she finally died, I retain
fond and tender memories of stroking her back with my hand and sometimes using
my nails to scratch her itchy back. And I would smell her behind the ears and
sometimes I would blow lightly into one of them. She was very sensitive to this
but I think she liked it. Those last days were the worst as I could not stop thinking of what it would be with her not on that side of the bed. I know now.
I wonder what disappears more quickly from one’s memory. Is it sound or smell? I cannot quite conjure Rosemary’s smell while I can that of a myrrh scented rose. When I am in the tub Niño accompanies me on the tall wicker clothes basket. If I call him, “Niño,” he ignores me. If I say, “Rosemary,” he turns to stare at me. What does he remember? Niña on the bed (I can see her from the tub) stares at me, too.
As days and weeks go by I ponder on her presence, a dent in space, I imagine her walking down the stairs. I talk to the cats in Spanish. She talked to them in Spanish. I walk Niño around the block and take Rosemary’s route.
If anything I must believe in the existence of ghosts. If only I could smell, one in particular, behind her ear.
And I must admit that every once in a while I go to her side of our closet and I take out one of her dresses. I sniff.