I hold the tea like a bouquet of flowers, thumbing the soft fuzz of leaves and buds clinging to brittle, woody stalks. I breathe in and smell incense: the inside of a small church on Monastiraki square where I stop to light a candle; a censor waved by the German teens who dress up as Wise Men and bless Bavarian homes on January 6th; the icon shop I pass on my way to buy wine tapped from a barrel in Athens. The scent carries knowledge of the sacred, the knowledge of older women, knowledge of Europe and the past.
I boil water, fill a cup, strip the buds and leaves from the stalk and leave it to steep. The water never changes color and takes on only a slight perfume. The tea is underwhelming, but I remember the last time I made this tea: a date that “wasn’t a date,” when two “just friends” met to watch the assigned films for their German class together. I brewed this tea for us, inhaling Greek perfume while surrounded by swirling German voices. The black-and-white film felt flat compared to my rushing heart rate and electrified sensory awareness. We sat side by side, sipping tea, taking notes, sometimes chatting. The film ended, and he left with a one-armed hug. The herbal tea had no caffeine but I lay awake all night.
As I warm my hands on this mug today, the scent of Greek herbs makes me nostalgic not just for Greece, but for a German village and for Providence. The etymological root of nostalgia in Greek refers to “pain in soul and body, burning pain,” a burning ache to journey I feel as I sip this insipid tea (Seremetakis 1994, 4).
I long for the early heady days of college romance. I desire with a burning pain to visit my host sister in Germany. I ache for a journey to Greece where the hand-picked countryside feels within reach. And yet, I settle for a heart-wrenching and angsty Greek music playlist.
Seremetakis, C. Nadia. 1994. The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material
Culture in Modernity. Boulder: Westview Press.