Friday, 25 March 2011

Almonds, wild chamomille and a sea of sunflowers

We sat on an ancient wall, cracking open fresh almonds with a stone as big as our little hands, in the shade of a magnificent tree. Its leaves were very green, elongated and somehow really elegant. They were almost translucent, as I remember you could see a mysterious green light making its way through their transparency, just like stained glass.

Almond blossom and freesias, with fresh anemoni made its way into our house every Spring time, no matter what! My mother had the ability to bring scents, music and tiny little things  into my life. These tiny little things  would ALWAYS be part of me. They were simple, beautiful things, which made life so very special and unique.

 We lived in the city, so we had to buy branches of the precious "jewels." If I could compare the scent of the small, dog rose like almond blossom with anything, I would say that they smelt of nostalgia, mixed with honey, scented rosemary, Victorian living rooms, and velvet blended with the sweetest of Turkish rose water.


Without knowing it, my mother gave me a passport to the world of "Correspondance" as French poet Baudelaire would have later called the ability human beings have to be connected to a different, far, but not too far away, world, which can sometimes be reached through a simple scent.

But let's go back to the almond tree, before I get lost in a maze of  "memoirs." I'm still there, with my cousin Mariagrazia, on a hot Summer's day, picking almonds from the tree. We are small, so we have to climb (biggest climb was a mulberry tree... but that is another story!) We snap small branches, then get hold of the nuts. They are covered in a thick juicy, bitter coating  protected by an outer green velvety "coat."

We crack each almond, peel the brown inner skin and there: snow white fresh juicy almonds, cool, slippery, deliciously summery almonds! We eat so many of them. Still eating nuts at sunset, just like two sweet little birds, we enjoy the dawn of our life in a place blessed with sun, light, blue sky, kittens, wild chamomile and a sea of sunflowers.

Last Summer, as I left a bar with some family members, on a Sunday lunch time, after an aperitivo, I walked outside to find several stalls, all selling at least six of seven types of olives, and nuts... so many kinds of nuts! And it brought back memories of Sundays past, when our dinner would end with nuts: hazelnuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, chestnuts and more... 

Man selling nuts and olives
During a "festa" stalls would sell "Ceci e semi" (dried chickpeas and pumpkin seeds.) How many pumpkin seeds I must have eaten! God knows! And how about the delicious baked broad beans? I can still taste the wonderful flavour.

Delicious baked broad- fava beans

Almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkins seeds
dry baked chick peas and peanuts

 We bought olives and nuts, then made our way to a Pasticceria to buy tray of Pasticcini, small cakes filled with cream (choux buns, little choux swans) shell shaped cakes filled with sweet ricotta, citrus peel and chocolate chips, then superb little cannoli di ricotta and just two little rum baba`. On the way back I could smell the cream, the sweet ricotta and vanilla. It was so hot!

                                                        Italian Pasticcini

We found refuge in my sister's house, so cool and shady, with its marble floors, thick walls, high ceiling adorned with big fans, before the fresh cream turned sour. What a relief to be out of the sun! Coming in from the heat and the blinding light, it was hard to focus on things and people. But who needed eyes when so many images had been brought to life inside your mind? "The Universe inside a nut"...  Proust was right when he said that someone's universe could be hidden inside a nut. Did he really say nut or was it "A cup of tea?"  Oh, well...

A scent can open a locked gate...

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