Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chasing a High

A week ago I was trying to pack for home. My grandparents' bathroom scale was waiting to weigh my bag, and I was trying to guess whether they'd charge me the overweight bag fee or just let it go like the last time. The details helped me stay numb about leaving. It's not that I'm unhappy to return to life here. The end of any vacation is bittersweet, and this was a lot more than a usual vacation. For one thing, most vacations aren't permeated by your favorite smell on the planet.

Argentina has a smell. When I told my friends there they were surprised - you can smell a country? The quality changes, as it does with any place, but it's fixed in my mind. My grandparents house has always had the most concentrated scent - wood, wine, leather, cheese, meat, soaps, books, coffee, pastries. The entire country smells of mate and beef and perfume and I don't know what. Writing about it makes me feel dumb, but then again so does sticking my head in my luggage just to catch a whiff of it. The folds of the clothes trap it. The insides of the packages I brought back contain a bit. It's been disappearing all week, but that doesn't make it any less real.

That smell always meant good things. When family would visit, wheeling their bags in their room (which was usually my room I'd given up for them) I would catch my first hint of it. Then the blessed hour would arrive and they'd unzip them and bring out our treasures. It was always Christmas when someone came from Argentina. Dulce de leche was handed out and before rationing would begin, my mom would often let me have a teaspoonful straight from the jar. Mate was unpacked by the kilo for Dad - Rosamonte, a brand I rarely stray from to this day. We kids usually got presents of some kind. Mom and I got that certain Spanish soap she loves. All those memories of delight were made over that smell of their bags, of the place in which they were packed.

Now that smell I love, the smell I lived in for twenty-six days is evaporating from things. It's dissolving into the air of my home, and I can't seem to find it anymore. It might not sound all that good. Maybe no one even knows about it by me, but that smell is one of my favorite things in the world, and it's disappearing again. I would almost trade it for one of the many beautiful and special things I brought back with me.

My bag weighed 33kilos (almost 73lbs). It was full of presents, clothes, almost 4kilos of cheese, and the best smell I know. Now it's empty. The cheese is in the fridge waiting to be cut and probably frozen before being transported to my family's house where my father will gleefully throw it on the grill and we'll all gleefully try to cheat each other out of the final bites. The clothes are in the laundry waiting to be stripped of their perfume in the washer and dowsed in a new scent from our detergents. The presents will be packaged and given away. But the smell will fade. The soap I brought back will give me a whiff of one facet. The mate and coffee and beef we consume in this house will do the same. I guess I'll just have to head down there again for my next true fix.

Cue the withdrawal symptoms.

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