I remember when I first fell in love – nothing else mattered but that it was true, and the fact that it was true meant that, for a little while at least, most everything was good. It’s certainly a strange period in a person’s life, and it doesn’t last long (I suppose because it is too physically and mentally
draining), but for a brief moment (days, weeks, maybe a month for a lucky couple?), when love is at its newest and most extraordinary, everything is wonderful. Everything.
Now, I don’t mean the general feeling of love that comes from companionship and time, and nor do I really mean sexual or physical love – or, not exactly that. No, instead, I mean that small period of time when you discover for the first time that you love her, and that she loves you. You know it. Later, the information, because it is known, becomes secondary to the fact of being
together and of merging your life with hers, but for a little while the discovery is everything, and the days are very heaven.
Romanian writer Călin Torsan’s short story, The Scent of Love never explicitly indicates that the young couple have only very recently discovered their love for one another, but it is exceedingly obvious to the reader that this is the case. How can we tell? Onions. And garlic.
More precisely, the story – three pages in total – has Izmail, on his way to see his sweetheart, Cezareea, order a drink with mint and garlic, to go with his bean dish. Garlic! Beans! Why would he do this to himself, or more importantly, why would he do this to Cezareea? The poor woman. Izmail recognises this, but he is hungry and, he can’t quite think properly. Cezareea on the other hand, orders a sandwich, telling the man that she wants it,
[…]”with everything”. With onion, with pickled cucumbers, with mayonnaise, with spicy ketchup, but put something sweet as well, with fried potatoes and, perhaps surprising in the light of her meeting in just a few minutes with the man [who] held her interest – with the onion and garlic dressing.
Onion! Garlic! Why would she do this to Izmail?
When they meet a little while later, Izmail is chewing min gum, and Cezareea makes the sign of the cross as they approach one another. Their mouths open in greeting and – garlic! Onions! Beans! – both of their mouths stink. Each can smell the food on the other, and each is momentarily taken aback. But –
But it’s okay. It’s okay. The rush to a restaurant and order dishes with the most garlic and onions possible, and after they’ve both eaten, well – it’s doubly worse, but it’s all okay. Why? Love.
It’s a sweet story, really. Torsan is able to show via a rather unorthodox method that these two are in love, and that when you have recently come to this discovery, everything is okay, even garlic and onion breath. Fast forward six months or a year in their relationship and one would curtly tell the
other that there wouldn’t be any kisses until teeth were cleaned, or some other comment would be made. But now? For those two? All they want to do is kiss, and touch, and be together, and smells be damned.
The Scent of Love takes a rather ordinary event – love – and shows a side of it that I haven’t seen in literature before. Love is obviously far more just emotions and just physical expression, but these other things are often difficult to portray in literature, and even harder in film or television.
Torsan’s method shows us the absurdity, the politeness, the eagerness, of love when it’s young, and – he’s right. We do stress about silly things like garlic or onion when things are new, and we do go out of our way to pretend like everything is wonderful, when what we’d really like to do is grab some gum or find a toothbrush. Garlic breath isn’t a dealbreaker of course, but it’s rather wonderful how Torsan is able to use it as a situation by which to examine the gentle pleasures and the endlessly ridiculous nature of love.