I was born and raised in a small village east of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. A friendly place where everyone was somehow related to everyone else. There were three schools in the village and the school I went to was situated at the bottom of the mountain that was the border between Syria and Lebanon. I used to walk to school with other kids from my neighborhood. Lebanon has the perfect Mediterranean weather and in spring when all the trees blossomed the air was filled with the aroma of the flowers. Every street that we walked through had its own significant smell. And on weekdays at noon during lunch break when I walked home and back with my friends I could smell the cooking from the different houses that we passed by, wondering what my mom was cooking. See I didn’t like to eat breakfast then, it’s still not my favorite food, and come lunch time I would be starving and would hurry home to my mom’s cooking.
Years went by and it was time for me to leave for the city, Beirut, to study at the American University. Even though I was busy with my studies and friends sometimes at the end of the day when I walked to my dorm after a hard and tiring day I missed the smell that reminded me of home.
I met my husband on campus, fell in love and got married right after I graduated. Not long after my husband got transferred to Dubai and we had to leave. I was happy and sad at the same time. Happy because we were given a chance to live a normal life in a normal city that wasn’t ravaged by civil war. Sad because I was leaving everyone and everything behind and going to a place I didn’t know. Mind you there were no cell phones, no personal computers back then, no online communication. It was almost impossible to communicate by phone or even mail because of the civil war that had started in Lebanon many years ago. The first months we were in Dubai, I used to walk around whenever possible (since most of the time the weather was extremely hot and humid), trying to look for something familiar. I used to roam the streets looking for the smell that reminded me of home. I never found what I was looking for. Dubai became my home away from home in yet a different way.
Then after almost a quarter of a century later it was time to move again, this time to Canada. We spent most of our days in Toronto but visited Montreal for just one day. I walked the streets of downtown Montreal with my husband and two teenage children. We walked through Sherbrooke street, stopping at McGill university. Then we walked down University street, along St. Catherine, down Crescent. Everything about the place reminded me of Beirut during the time when I was a student there. The streets looked and smelled the same minus the fear of the war of course, they smelled like home.
Who said cities don’t smell?