Everyone who makes advertisements got it right, nostalgia is powerful stuff.
There are some sights, sounds, smells and tastes that evoke a precise feeling. Or a memory. When the feeling is unpleasant or painful, I waste no time in pushing it back down. Infinite compartments exist for this purpose. Occasionally though, a memory that is warm and delicious comes to the surface. A favourite song from the nineties. A long forgotten dinner staple. The particular smell of a city in summer. Hail stones that throw themselves at the balcony door and melt in a puddle soon after.
I spent much of my childhood, or at least the parts of my childhood I remember, in a country where the locals spoke Arabic. When I hear an accent that does not distinguish p from b, I want to go up to them and say Hi. I want to tell them I like the way the English language behaves under their tongue, even if I made fun of it years ago. I want to tell them about the kuboos I ate growing up, the heat that burnt our feet, the dust storms that made buildings vanish, the cats that seemed to be everywhere, the meat that hung in revolving inverted cones. I also do not want to scare them away, so I smile to myself and keep walking.
If I may become your virtual salesperson for a minute, let me tell you about a cookie I like. A soft, thick cookie filled with dates, which is perfect in every way. It is not too sweet, and is always satisfying to bite into. Some buttery crumbs stick on to your fingers, which you can lick off later. A ma’amoul.
A few days ago, I came across a store that claimed to sell Middle Eastern Foods. Once inside, I spent many minutes looking at the products with English and Arabic lettering. I traced the font with my finger, from right to left. And there it was. A soft, thick cookie filled with dates. I sent my mother a message – Look what I found!
It wasn’t the same, but it was good enough.
This is what Rowan had to say:
It’s hard to walk the line between sentimental and maudlin. It’s even harder, sometimes, to pick a subject knowing that your readers don’t share your history with it. How much education is too much, veering into pedantic writing? How much is just not enough to build the connection? Anusha found that line this week and walked it with precise care. I want to tell them I like the way the English language behaves under their tongue, even if I made fun of it years ago. I want to tell them about the kuboos I ate growing up, the heat that burnt our feet, the dust storms that made buildings vanish, the cats that seemed to be everywhere, the meat that hung in revolving inverted cones. This eye for rich, sensual detail immerses the reader in a world they may not share but can feel through the screen or page. By the time Anusha finds her off-brand ma’amoul, we want one too. But it’s not just the descriptions that make this essay successful. What she’s done here is find a shared, universal emotion – nostalgia real or imagined – and connect her version of it to the reader’s own experience, bracketing the essay in the present day to ease us out of and return us to our daily lives. That’s how you share a memory.