Sunday, January 28, 2007

What the nose knows

No picture today. It's all about the nose. We talked to Larry's brother the other day, who made the comment that he knew what California smelled like, but he couldn't "picture" us now, since he didn't know what Mexico smelled like. This is a VAST subject, perhaps epitomized by the fact that in Walmart you can buy vanilla extract in gallon jugs, but the largest bottle of white vinegar is less than a pint. I'll make a few stabs here at what stands out to my nose, at least.

Vegetation. Humid, jungly greenstuff. When we came here in October, the air was so heavy it was more biteable than breathable. It's dry and cooler now, but there's still a lot of green smell. If you don't know what I'm talking about, visit a greenhouse.

Smoke. Someone is always burning something somewhere. Usually excessive jungly vegetation.

Wood smoke. Like so many others, Chano and Hilda, our handyman and housekeeper, cook over a woodfire behind their house. Yes there's a kitchen, but who wants to be stuck in a small hot kitchen when you live in the tropics? Last February, Hilda and Chano invited us for pozole -- a feast for the senses in itself -- and served it to us in styrofoam bowls from the big smoky pot that sat directly in the coals in their backyard.

More wood smoke. Carne a la lena read the handwritten signs by the side of the road. (And there's supposed to be a tilde over the n in lena, but I haven't figured out how to do that in this blog. It doesn't act like Microsoft Word). It means meat, usually ribs or chicken, roasted over an open fire. Or there is zarandeado, which is every kind of fish roasted over open fire. There is something about fire and flesh that is so visceral and delicious. Even when I'm not hungry, I start salivating!

Fabuloso. I've mentioned it before. It's the all purpose cleaner that comes in myriad neon koolaid colors with accompanying sweet smells. We walk around barefoot on tile floors kept pristinely immaculate through the efforts of Hilda, her mop, and Fabuloso.

Corner grocery stores. Tiendas de abarrotes. They're not air-conditioned, and the produce sections smell -- for better or worse. Fruits and vegetables are eaten in vast quantities down here, and produce is meant to turn over daily. No waxy coatings to keep oranges fresh for weeks, cucumbers stiff and green forever. Use 'em or lose 'em.

Diesel. Lots of public transportation. Lots of smelly buses. Lots of trucks stuck on narrow cobblestone streets.

Kerosene -- or something that smells like it. Used as a deterrent to termites.

Birds. They're pretty. But they're messy. Do you have any idea how big pelican poop can be?

Gardenias. White blooms are just starting to break out on the bushes lining the stairway to our front door.

Food. Tortillas and chilies. Limes. Beer. Churros frying in oil. Tacos and tortas cooked on street corners. Ceviche tostados. Stands whirring out fresh fruit licuados and aguas frescas. Coconut stands that sell the big cocos with a straw, and myriads of multi-colored, achingly sweet coconut products. Stands that sell rounds of peanut brittle -- eat it fast, before it gets soft!

Coffee. Larry just brought be a cup. I think he'd like breakfast. Hmmmmm. BACON!

No comments: