Scent is arresting. Bypassing the intellect it resonates with long forgotten associations buried deep within the mind. It is visceral, captivating, at once familiar and unknown. It can flood the memory with thoughts of a particular place, time, person or sensation. We frequently underestimate its power. It is no mystery that we find scent so difficult to articulate, searching fruitlessly for synonyms, for olfaction is ancient, a different way of sensing and perceiving the world around us. Compelling.
Returning to a place lived and loved is to walk back through an olfactory journey experienced over years, perceived through mountain and sea, herb and flower, earth and sun. Since leaving Cyprus, at the start of every April I find myself irresistibly drawn to return, albeit fleetingly, to rediscover the scent, the heat and the landscape. And so it was that I arrived from a cold, damp UK at the same time as the Bee Eaters made their annual journey from Africa. A happy migrational meeting.
April is the month of Orange Blossom, the moment that the already orange-laden groves turn to starry white as the new growth clothes itself in blossom. It is a sensory delight. We always arrive at night, tired from a long flight but driving the 45 minutes from the airport to our home from home, past familiar landmarks is both comforting and exciting. Half a mile from the groves we open the windows and the scent rushes in. There is nothing quite like it, the warmth of the air, the smell of the blossom along with the scent of the ground – floral, rich, heady and earthy. I find myself lost in memory of days spent in the groves accompanied by the reassuring presence of the bees, of the sea, of the feel of sun on my skin and the piles of flowers drying in boxes on a wall, of the hours sitting outside drinking coffee in the early morning and of my children playing completely free. It is a powerfully joyful, bright scent association. I’m glad to be back.
The following morning we set off for Mariam’s, her home built amidst orange, lemon, walnut, olive, loquat and papaya with beds filled with roses, aloe vera, sage, thyme and lavender. It is a haven. As a Herbalist and Sufi, she gardens entirely organically and the plants are fully used and loved. I feel blessed to be welcomed into the magic of the place.
Together with my sister and Mariam we picked for hours, stopping to eat oranges straight from the sweet orange trees, the juice ran down our chins and dripped to the ground – a sacrifice of sweetness. Hot and tiring but full of pleasure and then the moment of loading the Still, switching on the heat and waiting with baited breath for the first drops of orange blossom water and essential oil. The first sign is the sound of the water heating and then starting to boil, it makes a low swirling sound as the blossom begins to tumble in the water breaking open the scent glands and releasing the oils. And then there is the moment, so easily missed, just before the flower water emerges there is a little puff of vapour – known as the Angel’s breath – it is the essence of the blossom, overwhelmingly strongly scented, utterly sublime and fleeting.
We worked from morning until night for days, a rhythm of picking, distilling, feasting and resting broken only by chatter with children, kittens arriving and chickens scratching around our feet. Precious time. Stillness of mind amidst activity of hands.
And now home with the precious cargo of aromatic waters, gums, resins, essential oils and pressed leaves and flowers. I go to the bottles and smell the scent, it is arresting and immediately restorative - a very good harvest.