Sweet Madeleines

30 Apr

Z up palm treeIt’s a wonderful thing, being a child. Who would have thought a palm tree could have provided pretty much an entire day’s amusement? Scaling it. Monkey-climbing it. Swinging from it. Jumping from it. Building fires under it…

I had planned to leave Port Barton today, which, given we hadn’t planned on being here in the first place, is understandable. My pocket pyromaniac, however, had other plans. And one of the joys of extending our trip was that I was able to say yes.

It was, of course, the palm tree wot done it. Dead-centre on the flawless crescent of white beach framed by viridian hills, it offers just about the perfect gradient. The slant is sufficiently slight to clamber up with ease, yet sufficiently steep for said activity to provide a challenge, with soft, white sand below it to cushion any fall.

It offers a pirate’s lookout over the tranquil bay, a place to watch the sheet lightning which has been flashing and crashing over the hills for much of the afternoon.

And, after a slight bout of homesickness yesterday, prompted in the most Proustian of fashions by the least Proustian of items – a packet of orange-flavoured chewy sweets — Z has been as happy as, well, as happy as a small boy up a palm tree.

Homesickness, I think, goes with the territory of long-term travel, whether as an individual or as a family. And, given that the complex interaction of scent and taste within the neural system makes olfactory memories the most potent there are, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

But, honestly, Fruitellas of all things! They hit us both.

And they’re not even a particular favourite. Lemon bonbons, yes. Fruit Salads, yes. Pick ‘n’ mix, yes. But Fruitellas?!

We wandered to the sari sari store yesterday, in search of coffee. Buying such comestibles in packets rather than by the cup is an indicator that you have been away a long time and are planning to be away even longer. By the time you’re carrying a portable stove and cups, you’re pretty much doing time.

Anywise, in addition to the usual peso-sweets, and Z’s favourite Mentos, the store (the evocative name means “cheap cheap” in Tagalog) had Fruitellas. We bought a packet each.

So there we were, walking down a sandy backstreet towards the palms, orchids and bougainvillea of our guesthouse garden, under royal blue skies, Filipino election muzak ringing out from a fibreglass outrigger moored in the shallows, cockerels calling, the screams of pigs being unloaded, upside down, onto the beach, the town jeepney shining silver and scarlet outside its corrugated iron shed, barefoot kiddies scampering to and from the turquoise sea, the air velvety with last night’s rain…

And as we walk, we unwrap and chew Fruitellas.

The motion of ambling, chewing and unwrapping, coupled with the chemical orange flavour slowly diluting into bland sweetness, transports me. It’s an almost physical memory, walking back from nursery, by way of Mr Joshi’s dusty store on Shacklewell Lane, Z’s little feet walking besides me in Spiderman wellies and matching suit, his head barely up to my waist.

It’s a moment of sharp, sweet pain. That a baby is a baby no more and will never be again.

In its essence, in fact, the sari sari store is not dissimilar to Mr Joshi’s fine establishment. It sells coffee, cigarettes, tinned foods, cold drinks, fresh eggs, prepared meat, sweet bread, milk, sweets, plasters and peso-sweets from plastic jars on the dark wood counter, the local lonelies clustering outside its door for consolation and gossip.

As at Mr Joshi’s, the more high-ticket items, such as plastic toys (London) or antibiotics (Port Barton), are coated in a fine layer of dust. There are stores like this all over the world. But the Fruitellas make it moving.

I don’t say any of this to Z. Instead, we discuss whether the Fruitellas taste different from the ones in the UK, and conclude that the formula might include a degree of extra bitterness.

That evening, Z decides he is homesick. Not unhappy. Not tearful. Not eager to go home. Not, even, missing anyone or anything in particular. More, I would say, nostalgic.

The word “nostalgia” derives from the Ancient Greek for something close to homesickness, though, in a world where journeys, not just Odysseus’, could take many, many years, it means “the pain of homecoming”. And nostalgia for home, like nostalgia for a child’s babyhood, is a painful thing. Not a bad thing. But painful, all the same.

So we discuss his homesickness. I float the Fruitellas as a possible trigger. He concurs. “They made me think of Fruit Salads, you see,” he says. “And buying chewy sweets in Mr Joshi’s.”

It’s a funny old world.

I should say here, I guess, that Z loves travelling. There is nowhere on our itinerary he wishes to miss, nowhere we have been that he would rather not have visited. He chatters at length about the places we have seen and the people we have met.

One of the various reasons we are extending our trip, in fact, is that he is keen to return to Vietnam so that we can visit Hanoi and take a junk on Halong Bay. At the same time, he would quite like to pop home from time to time. This, sadly, is not practicable.

Anywise. We have talked through plans for the remainder of this year, in particular as regards three significant dates: Halloween, his birthday and Christmas. He spent the last two Halloweens, where a gang from school go trick-or-treating on a nearby street where every house has a pumpkin and kids can wander unescorted, with his grandparents in Greece, where they do not celebrate Halloween. His preference would be to spend this one with his cousins in Australia.

And he spent today alternating contentedly between the palm, the sea and a basket-weave hammock not dissimilar to a coracle, where he is perusing Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Everything, contemplating writing a book(!) about science, and getting phenomenally excited about his first wobbly tooth in getting on for a year.

But back to memory, nostalgia, and the madeleines, or, rather, Fruitellas… Is there a taste that swings you straight back to another time and place? Is it something intimate – your grandmother’s cakes, your mother’s Yorkshire puddings? Or something mundane? Has memory ever caught you by surprise?…

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16 Responses to “Sweet Madeleines”

  1. gaz regan at 8:18 pm #

    This is beautiful, T.

    • MummyT at 9:11 pm #

      Hey!!! How wonderful to hear from you… All is very beautiful here, in its strange way. Loads of love to you xxx

  2. Paolo Baluyot at 3:00 am #

    I am so awed by your post! It inspires me so much.

    How do you like your trip in the Philippines so far?

    I am sorry about the man who led you to Port Barton. It is just very common for them (uneducated man) to fill their boats before heading to a certain destination. It’s also like the Jeepneys in Manila. They don’t go unless the whole long passenger seat of it is full.

    How long are you going to stay in the Phil?

    • MummyT at 4:54 pm #

      Paolo, thank you! We are in the Philippines for another 3 weeks or thereabouts… Headed to the Calamians, then back to Manila via cargo boat, up to northern Luzon and down to northern Luzon. The boatmen are nowhere near as bad as the average London minicab driver! Though what irritated me was not filling the boat, but filling it in the wrong direction…

    • MummyT at 4:56 pm #

      Oh, and I love the Philippines… It’s a fantastic country…

  3. travellingdad at 3:34 am #

    Great post ! Our kids have enjoyed climbing trees for coconuts in Mauritius and Cambodia amongst other. Enjoy your incredible experience !

  4. jessiev at 4:49 am #

    i love this. for me? tastes that bring back are sun-hot tomatoes fresh from the garden, eaten on the way back to the house. rhubarb anything. peach ice cream, remembering hand cranking it summers at our cottage. what a lovely, lovely essay.

    • MummyT at 4:57 pm #

      There’s that musky scent that tomatoes have, isn’t there? very, very evocative…

  5. asa at 5:09 am #

    kudos. this is just so lyrical. beautifully written. enjoy your travels and i hope your son will remember all these wonderful memories when he grows up.

  6. Caroline at 5:33 am #

    Can’t help but think of Fred, Aslan and Laouena all storing up pine cones in their tree dens the other week to pelt the mums with. Lovely that Z loves travelling and wants to write a book but have to admit that both of your recent homesickness themed posts have left me eager for stories about him hanging out with other kids. Is the blogging network hooking you up with other travelling mini families? Also what other small treats are you both missing that we could somehow send you with love from London?

    • MummyT at 5:03 pm #

      Weeellll… Coincidentally, we have just spent today kayaking and snorkelling with a new friend, and will be island-hopping with him and his ma tomorrow, so there will be a post along those lines coming your way. Electricity here is REALLY weird, which means I haven-t had much access to anything… It is the school holidays here, but most of the kids we’ve intersected with have been younger. So he has had some hanging out time. Today’s friend is eleven…

      When we hit Bangkok, politics depending, we have an invitation from a guy we met in Phnom Penh, who has a house, and two daughters aged eight and ten, so that’s more young company. Couchsurfing is also an option, but I’m not sure how much he’s feeling the need for arranged company…

      Small treats… I am going to sort an Amazon order and ask Simon to bring it to Nam. We meet him in Hanoi at the end of the month… Z would like some Werthers Originals. If F fancies sending him anythying, that would be very, very cool. Oh, god. I’m missing olives, now I think about it… Greek Queen Olives… love to all in sunny Hackney…

  7. nicole curry at 8:44 am #

    Wonderful post.

    • MummyT at 5:03 pm #

      Thank you!

    • Caroline at 8:17 pm #

      Fred and I are working on a gift pack before Simon leaves for Hanoi!

      • MummyT at 4:14 pm #

        Wow! Sir says he misses your mum’s Kit and Kat???… Not for inclusion in packet, clearly… How are you looking for meeting up in Dec-Jan somewhere exotic? xxx

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  1. Dodgeblogium » Coalition CoTV? -

    MummyT presents Sweet Madeleines posted at Travels with a Nine Year Old.

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