Since I’ve been too preoccupied with life lately to spend time here on WordPress (how busy and creative y’all have been!) and have continued to struggle with content that’s up to my all-but-unattainable standards, here is a post from my erstwhile blog, Fairy of Disenchantment, which I have been missing a lot lately. It does still exist, hidden away, though the export broke all the associated image files. It would be work to revive it, but sometimes I think I’d enjoy hanging out there instead of this new space. It was a good blog… And the Fairy was a good friend…
Anyway, the post was written around my birthday five years ago and still feels relevant except that the lindens this year don’t seem to be flowering at the same time and currently the scent is quite subtle. Hopefully in another week I will be gloriously overwhelmed.
Many scents are portals, but in summer, the heat sketches so many of them into the air that I’m damned if I don’t pass through a hundred places just traversing seven city blocks. Crossing a steaming parking lot, the tarmac almost fluid under my feet, I pass through cities from Athens to Phoenix, with a short stop at the Dane County Fair. Before heat became my mortal enemy, I loved it unconditionally, as one might expect of anyone who was born on the summer solstice. I imagine that even in that first season, while my ears were full of the music and laughter and chatter of birds, insects, and my family, the chemical language of all living things that thrive at high temperatures was penetrating my senses. And the aroma that’s worked its way deepest into my into psyche — that says, irrefutably, this is the start of your season — belongs to the linden tree.
I’m a little surprised that it took me 43 years to realize that linden blossoms are olfactory wormholes in space/time. I know I’ve always loved these trees, though I didn’t always live right next to one. It was certainly the only saving grace of the house we last lived in (though we cursed the sap and feathery seedpods it dropped on our car). Now, I have to walk a few blocks, but at the bottom of our street, there is a convocation of about ten of them, and when I turned the corner the other day, their scent in the air hit me like a Mahler symphony — specifically, the Third, which belongs to summer. That was my first stop. My second was Mahler’s city, Vienna — where I have persisted in believing that the hotel my parents and I stayed in when I was a teenager — and where I tasted my first Pilsner Urquell and my first Hasenrücken and Spätzle — was called “Die Drei Linden”. In fact, this hotel was in Nürnberg, Germany (West Germany, then), where I discovered I was madly in love with a centuries-dead artist named Albrecht Dürer, who inspired a sculpture by Jürgen Görtz that I found delightfully horrible. Ten years later, when I was studying for a month at the Goethe-Institut in München, I’d jump a train and go back to that spot, fleeing from a crazy landlady with electric blue eyeliner — only to find that in the summer (it’d been spring the first time I went) the city arguably resembles that statue of Der Hase with tourists pushing like little rabbits out of their overgrown hutch… I ended up retreating to the peace of München’s many pleasant parks and ended the day, somehow, with an Afghanistani boyfriend — so it was one of those days.
You might think that was the last of my destinations but oh no, because thinking about any of that time — when my father worked a customer service job for United Airlines that no sane person would perform without substantial travel benefits — takes me a hundred places, on three continents and several islands. Only this time, I didn’t have to fly stand-by or sleep in any airports, though truthfully, I never minded that part; I’m German and it just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t suffer, especially for a privilege I didn’t earn. (Incidentally, Father’s Day and my birthday coincide every 7 years; there’s no card or t-shirt or CD that could repay him for even one of those trips.) In the end, and inevitably, my whirlwind tour left me with a crushing nostalgia. Many people think that the origin of the word nostalgia is Russian; it’s actually a compound of Greek words, but that didn’t stop me from thinking of Russia as I passed under the lindens.
I’ve never been there, except through music. But there’s a tune I first heard when I was 20, on a great album of Russian folk songs sung by Dmitiri Hvorostovsky, called “The Lime Tree.” Something about the play of light in the leaves and the scent and the sound evoked that recording, and of course I went home and listened to it instantly, and was satisfied. I had no notion, though, until I started looking up other versions of the song, that ‘lime’ is just another name for ‘linden’.
But either all this virtual travel has tired me out a little, or I’m still a bit hungover from the longest day of the year. So I think I’ll close now with a nice video of the song, performed by a classic Russian folk orchestra. If you haven’t yet passed through your own summer portal, linden or otherwise, bon voyage! Send me a postcard.