Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dal baht and Elephant Sweat

It’s been over ten years since I’ve eaten dal bhat, the national dish of Nepal.  Rice and lentils, that’s all it is. We backpacked around Nepal with a guide, SK, who found us the first morning of our trip and attached himself like some crazy super-glue-alien-creature. Seriously, we fired him no less than a dozen times on the month long trip and he just kept coming back.

 We spoke only one phrase in Nepalese.

 Namaste, y’all.

In restaurants we were at his mercy and he ordered dal bhat, every damn time.  Which is what he’d eaten twice a day his entire life.  Presumably, he liked it.  We liked it.  The first six times we ate it.  After that, not so much.

Every morning, even when we changed guesthouses in the middle of the night, there SK would be, with a big accommodating smile. 

“Why you no like me.  Mother, father, I show you good things.”

When we snuck off, rode a bus a couple-hundred miles to the Indian border, and booked an early morning elephant ride, there was SK perched on the elephant when we arrived for our jungle trek.

Yesterday, for the first time in over ten years, I got a hankering for dah baht. When I pulled the recipe from between the pages of my old notebook, the smell of elephant sweat floated up into the air with the yellowed page.  An image filled my head of a young macaque monkey sitting in a sunny circle under huge trees where his family swung and chattered. The monkey raised his hand at me when I swung by on the back of the elephant, mimicked my wave of hello.

Here, finally, is the point of this post.

Smells trigger memory harsh blood-red flashbacks or soft, velvety shadows of feeling and longing. 

In this instance, the case of the elephant sweat, just the thought of the dal baht triggered a false smell which set off the memory.  That’s powerful stuff.  Be good, as writers, to use it in our work. 
Oh yeah, and Happy New Year. May all your smells be good.

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