Must You Smell Everything

Blues of Falling Leaves by Leonid Afremov

Blues of Falling Leaves by Leonid Afremov

4 November 2013
11:18 PM


Around this time during my years at the university, the fire trees would’ve been silent and somber. The rain falls constantly, gently, having passed through the worst typhoons, and I eagerly wait for December, because the smell changes. Everything becomes…crisper, I suppose? Fresher. As if the earth is renewing itself, the northeast monsoon bringing with it cold winds that seem to push away the pollution for a little while.

I’ve talked about the weather before, how we only have the wet season (late May to November) and dry season (December to early May). Around March to May, it’s ‘summer’, and it is when the fire trees would be in full bloom, magnificent and impossible, somehow, as if a dream. I never had a vacation when I was still in school, because I was always in school then. It used to be that students get about two months off before classes begin again in June, but I was completing a minor and I had to take the additional courses.

It was a curse to study in all that heat–the only thing that saved me were the trees. They seem to light the whole place on fire. When they start to shed–it’s the closest I can get to fall. The fire trees made me moony, and they made me think how fleeting life is, how orange is both a color and a fruit, how insignificant I am compared to this planet’s life cycle, how grand and mysterious the universe is, and what it gives me as I sit in the classroom bored out of my mind.

I find it fascinating that we have words for all the seasons that exist in other parts of the world. (Although I suppose we use it not to mean the seasons per se.)

Spring is tagsibol. The literal translation of sibol means growth. Summer is tag-araw. Araw means sun or day. Fall is taglagas. Lagas means to fall, to wilt. Winter is taglamig. Lamig means cold.

I’m afraid that you have me at a disadvantage–I don’t know what all of these smell like. It makes me feel small, a little bit, to come to this realisation. Once again I can’t help but wish I were somewhere else. Mostly in a place where there’s fall (why does this season have two names, I wonder?), because I have fallen in love with it ever since I was a child, even if I haven’t truly experienced it.

Have you ever loved something that you absolutely know nothing about?

But perhaps it isn’t all that different.

Our dry season has a name, too: it is both tag-init and tagtuyot. Init means heat, tuyot means extremely dry. From December to February, it smells like bibingka and puto-bumbong. Morning dew. Firecrackers. Coal and chocolate and cheese. A deep sky full of stars, blankets, wind in your hair.

From March to early May, it smells like sweat and hot metal. Laundry. Rubber flip-flops. Dust and dirt. Freshly squeezed calamansi or dalandan juice. If you’re out of the city then you’re either by the sea–with its salt and fish and coconuts and shells, sunscreen and smoke and bonfires and alcohol–or by the mountains. Up north it smells green–all soil and trees and grass. Here in the city, it smells like mangoes. Strawberry jam and purple yam, brought home from Baguio or Tagaytay. Shaved ice, ice cream, milk and beans (halo-halo). Chlorine and traffic. Candles and palm fronds and musty prayer books. Watermelons.

Our wet season is called tag-ulan. Ulan means rain. It smells like earth, wet pavement. Coffee and champorado. Avocadoes. Wet dog hair. The decay of leaves. Soup. It is wine and books. Loose jasmine leaves. Somewhere in the house my sister would be baking. Somewhere in my life things are turning, returning.

William Carlos Williams

Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
beneath them. With what deep thirst
we quicken our desires
to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
for something less unlovely? What girl will care
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
Must you have a part in everything?

What it smells like right now in my house: the lingering sweat of men who worked all day, hoping to finish the house renovations by the end of this month. Oats and dried fruit. Dust. Paper, all over my desk. Tamarinds.

And rain. All this rain. The kind that lulls you to sleep. The kind that makes you think you are worth someone’s forgiveness. The kind that makes you wish you are not so alone. The kind that brings out a letter like this, one I hadn’t meant to write, but has written itself anyway.



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