I travel often to developing countries. Well, perhaps not often enough, for I crave more of these visits which refocus me, rebalance my priorities and increase my humility and gratefulness for all that I have.
One of the things that always shocks me is the way my senses come alive when I am away from our sanitized world where everything is clean and pretty and wrapped and….safe. Or is it? Certainly many studies have proven that our protecting ourselves and our loved ones from dirt and germs has made us, in the end, less able to fight off disease and more prone to allergies. But beyond that, it has, I believe, made us forget what it is like to use our senses deeply, made us less sensual in the purest sense.
Have you smelled a fresh fruit, recently picked, lately? Brought it to your nostrils and inhaled deeply and then let it slide over the surface of your tongue? Perhaps even one that is so ripe that it falls heavy to the ground? (If you answer yes, then you must think I’m quite mad to even mention this, but for those of us living in cities and their wastelands this is becoming harder and harder to do). How long has it been since you’ve experienced the way the ground breathes after a rainfall, its perfume rich and thick with life?
Sounds and sights and smells not always lovely but those of humanity. Those one sees when passing through a crowded souk, or a narrow alleyway hung with laundry and soaked with the sounds of dinner being prepared in dozens of small apartments, the clang of pots and pans and the sizzle of oil. The million hues of powdered pigments or the lushly multilayered smells and sounds and sights of a traditional market.
Our senses, and our emotional response to their stimulation, are dulled, starved. We are deadened by the isolation of our world which does everything to protect us from extremes, from the pungent ripeness of rotten fruit, the deafening thunder of drums, the color riot of a field of flowers under a sunset sky, the caress of a fingertip tracing the curve of a baby’s smooth bottom.
Only the rich can afford “tasting menus,” well thought out symphonies which lead our senses along to the tap tap of the chef conductor’s baton (see my post here on a tasting menu that made me actually wish I might experience it, just this one, in a moment of décadence). The poorest cannot even afford fresh food, and are destined to forget what it even tastes like, everything is packaged and sealed and frozen and…bereft of sensuality. What we eat is divorced from its source and with it its flavor, its beauty. It is ripened in trucks instead of in the sun, its surface is shined with wax not water and a brisk buffing, scaled and filleted and shrink-wrapped and…lost.
Touch. We touch so often the hard plastic of our keyboards, we caress the smooth curves of our plastic mice. We cook with a million different clever kitchen tools and protect our hands with rubber gloves. We pour our prepared food from sanitized plastic sacks and wash our hands a thousand times, fearful of them being stained, marked, dirtied, contaminated. Ahhh we miss out on the sensual pleasures of cooking with all our senses awakened, the smell of fresh ingredients, the feel of their ripeness in our hands, the sight of their colors and textures, the richness of their flavors which yearn to dance in our mouths.
In the midst of this cold winter in this urban wilderness, I am drawn to such things. I find myself lingering over my cooking and its tastes, searching out a fine ball of lambswool to knit with, some fragrant lavender oil to rub into my skin, music I can lose myself in which brings me back to warmer climes and simpler lives lived.
We are by nature sensual, yet we forget.