20 September 2013

Summer Vitality

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because tinkering obsessively with commas, modifiers, etc. gives me an uncontrollable urge to pull my hair, and hair-pulling is not healthy.

Everywhere there was the smell of vitality in clothes, the vital something in wool and flannel and corduroy which spring releases. I had forgotten that this existed, this smell which instead of the first robin, or the first bud or leaf, means to me that spring has come.

Reading A Separate Peace by John Knowles made me nostalgic. This, among other things, is probably what the book is supposed to do: make the reader revisit his own scenes of childhood. Mine were set not in spring but in summer (in the Philippines we don’t actually have spring): days I’d spent mostly with my cousin E. Together we were a version of Gene and Finny. A more happily irresponsible version, that is: we didn’t study French industriously or talk about world wars. Our activities were a lot less grand, a lot less sophisticated. We drew comics on construction paper, discussed neighborhood crushes and alliances, picked on our nannies and made them nervous. And instead of in clothes the smell of vitality that summer releases was smelled rather in trees, in its leaves, in the way these leaves fell to the asphalt concrete ground, which had a hot, sweaty, vital smell of its own, as if it meant to slowly bake skin. There was one tree in particular—a tamarind tree—that stood in front of the Spanish-looking house where E and I both lived. In lazy summer afternoons we would climb it and pick the tamarinds that were ripe for eating. You knew which ones they were by feeling up the brown shells, which, if the fruit was ripened, would feel like peanut shells—brittle, hollow, pregnant with mystery; then you cracked the thing open and licked the fleshy pulp. With even the most cautious of bites, it burst always with explosive sweet-and-sour goodness. This taste which instead of the end of the last day of school, or the fiestas, meant to me that summer had come.

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