The Smells of California

This post has nothing to do with the cruise ship rehearsal process, but I wanted to share my thoughts anyway.

Jasmine
Night-blooming jasmine

It’s been fascinating to be back in California.  I was actually born and raised here in Los Angeles, until we moved to the Midwest when I was six.  I didn’t realize till I got my feet on the ground, but it has actually been over ten years since I’ve spent time in L.A. – and boy, have the memories come flooding back!

One of my first choices after arriving here was to go to In-n-Out Burger.  Now, before I go on, for all you folks out there who get into shouting contests about whether Shake Shack/Five Guys/In-n-Out/any other burger chain has the best burger, I want to clarify: In-n-Out is not in the same category as Shake Shack or Five Guys (or my personal NYC favorite, Schnipper’s), so the arguments are pointless.  In-n-Out is in a category all  by itself: extremely fast, very cheap, and highly flavorful.  The more appropriate comparison would be McDonald’s, and In-n-Out blows their burgers out of the water.  (I also prefer their milkshakes.)

I wanted to make sure that In-n-Out was as good as I remembered from all those summers we spent visiting L.A. friends and family.  Thank heavens it was!  It was the perfect way to begin my rehearsal process.  It brought back memories of our family sitting at the In-n-Out by LAX, trying to get one last California meal in before heading back home from vacation (though let’s be honest: I usually needed a vacation after our vacations!), watching the planes land just a few hundred yards away.

A few mornings later, while opting for the 30-minute walk to the rehearsal studios in lieu of riding the bus, I found myself again transported, this time by the scents of eucalyptus trees, night-blooming jasmine, and lily of the Nile blooms.  I think those three plants sum up California for me, especially the night-blooming jasmine.  We had a family friend, Aunt Betty, whom we saw often, as she lived near us, and her gardens were a wonder. The front beds were thick carpets of jasmine, and the back yard was a lovingly tended paradise of rose bushes.  Every time we came to visit, we brushed tendrils of the jasmine as we walked to her front door, so it’s no wonder the smell makes me feel like I’m five.  I have walked to rehearsal every morning since that day, just so that I can inhale that potpourri of sweet and woodsy aromas.

Yesterday I experienced a different smell, one distinctly less pleasant.  We walked out of rehearsal into the 95-degree weather, and instantly I smelled a forest fire.  Given the extreme drought here in California (don’t get me started on how few Californians appear to be taking it seriously – so many lush lawns and gardens!), I was instantly on the alert.  A little Google research confirmed that there had been a house fire that had spread to some nearby brush a couple miles away, but it appeared to have been totally extinguished that same afternoon, for which I was very grateful.

I lived through a couple of large forest fires in Colorado, not to mention a small but devastating kitchen fire in my apartment a few years ago, so it’s a smell I take very, very seriously.  I will never forget the pain of watching two forest fires destroy portions of my hometown of Colorado Springs in two subsequent summers, from the helpless position of my desk 1800 miles away.  To its credit, the Colorado Springs community really came together and helped one another through those experiences.  It was good, old-fashioned neighborliness, something we forget can (and should) exist in today’s fast-paced world.  The best example was that when my high school band director’s family lost their entire home, monetary donations expressing love and appreciation for him came from CMHS band alums and families around the world!  It was really touching, a moment of beauty that shone in the midst of so much apparent sadness and loss.

I’m sure I will discover a whole bunch of new smells on this cruise ship experience, since Alaska, Mexico, and Hawaii are all new adventures for me.  In the meantime, before we set sail on Sunday, I’m going to savor this last week down memory lane.

photo credit: Jasmine via photopin (license)

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