On Monday this week I got ready for the day ahead, opened the front door and stepped over the threshold. The world outside seemed just the same as I had left it the night before. Yet, there was something different about it in that subtle happy way which fills you up with joy and hope.
A sweet scent was wafting through the air in thick enveloping waves all over town. I recognised it immediately – the warm homely smell of linden trees in full bloom. The large linden trees lining up Vicenza’s streets had blossomed overnight and as I was walking underneath their green branches overloaded with yellow blooms, for a moment I felt like I was not in Italy anymore, but back home in Bulgaria.
It is interesting how a smell can transport you miles away to a memory deeply buried in your mind. The primeval olfactory sense awakens emotions for which we often lack the words to describe them in a rational way. Yet, a smell can evoke vivid pictures and set you up right in the midst of a scene which you may have long forgotten.
As I was walking down the street, heading towards Vicenza’s old town, the sweet linden scent followed me, met me upfront, surrounded me from all sides. And in the eye of my mind I could see yet more streets lined up with linden trees in full bloom. Not too far from where I stood in my vision the sea was lapping the shores of my home town and the gentle sea breeze was mixing in the warm air with the sweetness of the yellow blossoms. It was the start of summer when you are still looking forward to long sunny days and you are not yet exhausted by unbearable heatwaves. And the sweet-salty smell of linden trees and sea breeze gave you imaginary wings, made you feel carefree and young at heart.
Back in Vicenza I crossed the street leading to the Bridge of the Angels and then walked on the pavement following the curve of the river Bacchiglione. On its other side, across the fast-flowing waters, large linden trees caught my eyes.
Another instantly awaken memory made me chuckle. I wondered what the good Italian people would make of me if I had the courage to prop a ladder against the linden trees and pick their blossoms just as it used to be done all over Bulgaria at the start of summer.
As soon as the blooms of the linden trees burst open, you would see Bulgarian men and women armed with ladders and baskets all over town. They would harvest the blossoms, spread them out to dry on a piece of old newspaper and when winter came they would have cups of fragrant linden tea with a bit of sugar. It was a quick and easy way to bring back summer for a second whilst outside the snow fell softly on the frozen ground.
It was one of those things which people did then, many years back, not giving much thought to the fact that the linden trees on the streets in front of their houses actually were owned by the council. Nowadays, I understand that heavy fines had been introduced to try and curtail this spontaneous linden blossom harvesting, as often people would also break the branches of the trees and damage their trunks in an excessive need to pick as much linden as they could.
This problem doesn’t seem to exist here in Vicenza, where the linden trees rustle in the morning breeze undisturbed by the constant stream of passing people. And even though it has been raining a lot since Monday, every chance I get I throw the windows wide open so that the sweet scent of the linden blossoms can permeate the house bringing me its promise of long summer days and awakening the occasional long forgotten yet so vivid memory.
P.S. I mustn’t forget to buy a box of linden blooms tea when I am next in Bulgaria!
Which smells take you back to your childhood? What memories do you associate them with? Let me know!