THE SCENT OF WATER

Beijing, 12 October 2012

How would you describe the scent of water? This evening, as I reached the bridge which crosses my piece of canal a gentle breeze lifted the scent off the water’s surface and wafted it over to me. And I asked myself that question.

Let me take a leaf out of wine reviews and try a little of their purple prose: “I sense a hint of moss, with an undercurrent of peat, perhaps a whiff of algal respiration”. But actually what I was smelling was my childhood. Don’t you find that scents are a powerful trigger of memories? I do: a drift of scent will suddenly have me awash in memories. And so it was that as I crossed the bridge I was suddenly ten years old again, on my grandmother’s sail boat on the Norfolk Broads, moored at her buoy on Barton Broad. The sun has set, a light breeze is blowing off the water bringing me the scent of the Broad’s peaty water, and small waves are slapping quietly at the boat’s hull. A grebe calls out in the night.

I loved the Broads. My grandmother spent most of her summer on the boat, taking her numerous grandchildren in shifts of two weeks. I must have gone five years in a row. The sailing didn’t really excite me; it was kayaking among the rushes and in the little creeks on the edges of the Broads that I loved, watching the wildlife and discovering small marsh flowers at every turn.

But I grew up, and my grandmother grew old, and life moved on.  I stopped going and haven’t been back since. Yet I am sure that the Broads made me what I am today: an environmental engineer who for more than thirty years has tried to push back the tide of waste threatening to wash away the natural beauties that are around us.
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pix from:
http://maalie.blogspot.com/2010/08/kayaking-on-norfolk-broads.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/norfolk/hi/people_and_places/nature/newsid_8090000/8090224.stm

A CARPET OF NASTURTIUMS

San Francisco, 24 September 2012

While in San Francisco (see the previous post), we did a few touristy things. One of these was a bus tour of the city. Our guide and driver, a chatty fellow prone to making politically incorrect comments, took us down to the bay shore below the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, he invited us to take advantage of the only toilet stop on the tour and admire what he intriguingly called an excellent example of industrial art nouveau – never heard of that category of art. But what I admired more was a veritable carpet of tropaeolum majus, or garden nasturtiums, tumbling down the slope on the side of the road. I had never seen so many nasturtiums before.

I love nasturtiums. In my previous post, I mentioned my childhood memory of morning glories. Another memory from the same period is of nasturtiums growing luxuriantly up the wall of our house, under my elder sister’s bedroom window (the window through which I spied on her “carrying on” with her boyfriend, who proceeded to give me money for an ice-cream to get rid of me). I fell in love with the flower’s fiery colour scheme, red, orange and yellow, against a background of smooth round green leaves. And at some point, I had learned to pick a flower and suck the nectar out of the nectar spur at its base. It gives your taste buds a delightfully tiny burst of soft sweetness.

I loved nasturtiums so much that when my mother gave me a small strip of land in the garden to plant as I wished I chose to plant nasturtium seeds. I watched carefully as the little plants emerged and started to grow. And I still remember sharply my concern when my parents decided to have a nearby tree cut down. It looked alarmingly like the tree was going to fall on my nasturtiums. I sat there with the whole family, watching the tree cutters proceed. My siblings found the whole thing exciting and chattered along happily. But I was in an agony of apprehension for my nasturtiums. Sure enough, the tree fell on them and flattened them. What misery!

I close with a recipe. I discovered recently that both the flowers and the leaves of nasturtium are edible. This particular recipe is from the following web site: http://fruitandveggieville.blogspot.com/2008/06/flowers-you-can-eat-nasturtiums.html.

“Recipe for a Nasturtium Salad
­       1 lettuce – iceberg, butter or cos
­       small bunch of nasturtiums – leaves and flowers
­       ripe red tomatoes
­       1 tablespoon capers
­       feta cheese

Decide quantities to your own taste. The nasturtium leaves are peppery and the more you put in the hotter the salad gets. Wash and dry the lettuce and tear into the size pieces you prefer. Rinse the nasturtium leaves, and tear or chop into rough strips. If you’re using baby tomatoes halve them, chop bigger ones into cubes. Cube the feta cheese and sprinkle over the salad with the capers. Top with the whole flowers and maybe one or two whole leaves. This peppery, bright salad is just right to accompany pizza, cold meats or as a starter on its own.”

Enjoy!