Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Frankincense, Innocence, and Myrrh

 At the hotel front desk she was laughing.  I hadn’t heard a woman laugh in, well, since coming out of the Saudi desert.  I don’t know how long it had been.  So, I stood there like a dope making every corny joke and one liner I could, because I could, watching this brown skinned Indonesian woman hide her red lips and gasp for air.  Her boss was watching the whole shebang, furious.  By the time he moved to the counter to intercede, I was walking out the spinning glass doors.  She had said through breathy sighs, “You’re just a kid at heart, aren’t you?”   But she didn’t know.  I’d lost my innocence long before she was born.
 In the market souqs along Dubai Creek I followed my nose.  Past the white robbed Thobes and scarves from Jordan and Syria, the belly dancer costumes fresh from Bagdad with the shiny hanging coin braziers and the junk shops selling busted Japanese razors and plastic sandals from China.  Until I got to the spice racks… where my senses came alive.
 No where in my life have I seen or smelled such delights. Brilliant orange saffron thin as spun gold and brown cardamom strong enough to knock a man over. Tumeric and clove and cumin and bitter dills. Cayennes of chili, red, and capsaicin to make eyes sting weepy wet . Anise like mouth watering licorice. Caraway seeds and vanilla, galangal root of citrus and pine and mace of the nutmeg seed. Savory mints and tart sumac berries and actual cinnamon sticks, not the Chinese illusion you buy in stores called cassia, I mean ceylon which is like a faraway dream

“Come my friend,” the short, dark skinned owner of the shop said to me, leading me gently by the arm inside, “Have you ever been seduced by the sweet gum of frankincense or the subtle powder of myrrh?”
The man in the spice shop was so charming. He kept laughing and giving me tastes. I bought small chocolate marbles for my girls and thimbles of lemon tea for friends. He asked how much money I had to spend and I was in such a good mood, an actual jovial mood, I showed him fifty American dollars which he snatched from my hand proclaiming, “I will give you a tablespoon of red pepper flake and dried fig leaves from Crete?”
I thanked him, but no, I only wanted the remainder of my purchase.
“But I will give you thyme from Prussia and dark fennel from the Indus Valley. Crush this in your tea and you will live a hundred years.”
I smiled, agreed, asked again for my change.
“But you must also buy black sage from the Caucasus and sweet coriander from Ethiopian mountains that will ward off evil spirits.”
I was arguing now, demanding my money back.
“No, you buy more. No.”
Finally, I grabbed his wrist, and the money was back in my pocket as I left his store with my chocolate and lemon tea.
The rest of that afternoon, wandering the market, I laughed.  The woman at the hotel had almost convinced me.  Maybe something remained after all.  Anyway, it was a good sign, wasn’t it?

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