Saturday, January 17, 2009
The Aroma of Longing
Recently in the combox, some of us have been discussing longing. When I asserted that longing is the post-Romantic condition, Mrs. T corrected me: it is the human condition.
We live on one side of an old two-family house from the 1930s, and when we moved in, I had perhaps irrationally high hopes that our other-side neighbors, a young-ish married couple with no children, would become great friends of mine. But it was not to be. Soon after we arrived, they complained about our noise: our son, whose third birthday was nearing, is a very rambunctious boy, and my husband and I would talk in our bedroom, which abutted theirs, apparently past our neighbors' bedtime. We have tried to be sensitive -- I don't consider us a loud family (except for when I practice, when my husband plays the piano or his accordion, when my son is screaming, when I am yelling ... hmmm) -- but sometimes we forget. My husband was vacuuming the living room the other night when the wife called and said she had just gone to bed and could we please stop; it was, um, 8:30.
So this great friendship was not to be. But I have a kind of olfactory voyeurism into my neighbors' lives. The house has two separate basements, one for each side, with built-in chutes on the first and second floors to throw dirty clothes down to the laundry room. Whenever I open one of the chutes, I can smell what my neighbors are cooking. It always smells so good that I feel disappointed by what I'm cooking on my own side of the house (which is usually also quite good) and seized with longing for what they're having for dinner. They make a lot of popcorn, which is not something we have over on this side. And this morning, as I was throwing last night's pajamas down to the basement, I caught the aroma of their coffee. It was wonderful - cinnamony, inviting, seemingly nothing at all like the coffee I was brewing back home. I imagined what life must be like on the other side of the house: bathed in warm colors, with attractive, artsy knick-knacks strewn about. But my own coffee was good too, and the husband of the couple is getting his doctorate in something called post-subculture studies, so maybe it's just as well we didn't become friends.