Friday, January 31, 2014

Sweet (Pea) Memories

 I am quite sensitive to smells. Perfume, candles, incense, reheated fish, burning trash, smoke of any kind, etc. give me almost instant headaches. I am similarly affected by positive (to me) smells, some of which evoke strong memories for me. One of these smells is, oddly enough, Sweet Pea Foaming Hand Soap by Bath and Body Works. One whiff, and I'm transported back to 2005 in Cape Town, South Africa, starting my second semester of grad school...

My good friend B and I were renting a cottage in Newlands, but we had to wait a few weeks for it to be ready for occupation. After abandoning a dark, damp hostel that came perilously close to breaking B's spirit, we found a sunny, spacious flat in Green Point in walking distance to the main thoroughfare and the V&A Waterfront and in commuting distance to UCT.

Our first major task was to buy a car since our cottage would not be safe to walk to/from school from. Plus we'd both lived in Cape Town without a car before, and we were over it. After realizing even the most junker cars were out of our budgets, we went for the option we'd both sworn we wouldn't stoop to: Best Beetle. Cape Town is home to thousands of old VW Beetles, and this one enterprising company fixes them and rents them for pretty cheap, all insurance and repairs included. Break down? No problem, the tow truck will bring you a replacement car while yours is in the shop. Decent deal, except the cars are gaudily painted, rife with advertisements, and they break down quite a bit. We turned down the first car they gave us, a red monstrosity with some energy drink's logo plastered all over it. We settled on car #2, a sporty yellow number with just the Best Beetle logo.

The next task was to teach B how to drive a standard, which we accomplished in the parking lot of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on a weekday afternoon. Soon we were going to all the places we'd just heard about when we'd lived in Cape Town without a car - Bloubergstrand, malls on the other side of town, the casino, etc.

We spent our evenings while living in Green Point walking around the neighborhood, grabbing a bite to eat at the Italian deli/market, and then settling in to watch Sex and the City, the entire series of which I'd recently procured on DVD.

Once we moved to Newlands into our heavenly Lemon Tree Cottage, a mother-in-law house adjacent to our landlord's house on a small compound, we continued with this tradition at least a couple nights a week. We made it through SATC and Friends in the first few months of the semester and then had to start settling for whatever was on the TV.

This was the first time I ever had my own bathroom, and it was absolutely perfect for us, with our bedrooms/bathrooms on opposite sides of the house so we had our own space. We even had a couple of cats who would sometimes hang out on our back porch when they were bored of the main house. True to its name, our cottage had a beautiful lemon tree right outside, and it was usually bursting with fruit.

That was an idyllic time, at least in memory, and B and I still love to tell stories and recount memories of it. From close encounters with cheetahs, penguins, elephants, and ostriches, we traveled the length and breadth of the country (though not in our VW Beetle!) and entertained several visitors from home. We went pony trekking in Lesotho, survived the epic spider invasion of 2005, and had numerous dance parties. In addition to our grueling graduate studies, we also volunteered a few times a week at an orphanage in Khayelitsha, becoming familiar enough in the neighborhood to have everyone stop and wave as we drove by in our yellow bug.

Our cottage was also occasionally a makeshift infirmary, when we'd bring home kids for a night or two who were sick enough not to risk exposing them to the rest of the orphanage but not sick enough for the hospital. We got really good at running back and forth from school so someone was always at home with our 'patient' and experienced our first tastes of parenthood with 3am baths when a toddler woke up vomiting. We learned how to give three year olds ARVs, and our hearts melted when the kids cuddled up to us while reading books together.

All throughout, I had my trusty Sweet Pea soap in my bathroom. I'd brought a large supply after realizing it didn't give me a headache - no small feat. For whatever reason, after coming back to the U.S. I didn't use the soap for a couple of years. The next time, though, that I used that soap the warm memories of Cape Town 2005 came flooding back. I am so glad that this scent-memory hasn't dissipated over time, but I try to rotate Sweet Pea with the other few soaps I can use so I don't overdo it. When I opened a brand new bottle of it this week, there again were all these memories. It's nine years on, and I still cherish this reliable little reminder of such a happy time.

This was clearly soon after we moved in because the plants are still thriving.


So many lemons!

Our sweet back porch

Our Best Beetle

Lemon Tree Cottage

The pool was always freezing cold, but it was nice to have in the backyard.

Our bug, our street, and a lovely rainbow

There's my beloved Sweet Pea soap! I love that I actually took a picture of it...


Nomads By Nature said...

Love the rainbow Bug photo! What a wonderful adventure to have had in Cape Town. I love that you have a sensory prompt to take you back for a visit of sorts.

Alex said...

I can totally relate. I used this one particular shampoo one summer I was in Norway, and whenever I use it I'm immediately transported back. So weird.