They had set up a factory, one cannot say clandestine in a country where everything was prohibited, to make tomato puree. My grandfather had the land and Omar had the resources, of uncertain origin, to set up that factory under the mango tree that was in the ravine. The place was perfect, because it had shade all day, it was not in sight and it had this small stream that we called La Cañada right next to it, where the remains of the puree production process could be easily disposed of.
“La Cosa” (the economic situation) was not easy at that time (not that it has gotten better over time, to be honest), and you had to do whatever you could, something in which Papi was an expert: the old art of foraging. Thus he sold bottles of tomato puree, recycled by the way, like the bottle cap, for 7 pesos. The quality of that puree was excellent, and everything was done under fairly good sanitary conditions for the patio of a house in the open. I remember that some bottles exploded on their own in the boxes where they were stored, others were purchased and the sealing had not been airtight, which meant that the puree was spoiled, but of course, the customer, generally residents of the neighborhood, came and it changed them.
For some time now, and as a result of the mass migration we have seen ourselves subject to, the smells I encounter daily have changed from the real to the synthetic, somehow. Here, clothes softeners, toilet fragrances and electric sprayers are used so that the houses do not smell like what they are, but different, like what we would like them to be. That’s why I’m immensely happy when, every so often, I get the smell of burning firewood.
There are two points near our house where this happens: one is our kitchen window, and the other is around a house located on the way to work that uses wood for heat.
Every time I smell burning wood I am immediately transported to my childhood, to those years full of the happiness that emanates from innocence. I immediately came to when tomato puree was made in the patio and when animal food was cooked with firewood.
As we associate certain smells with specific experiences and moments, several other moments come to my mind, like those when we used to make this soup called caldosa, in front of La Placita, in the neighborhood on the night of November 27, waiting for the 28th to celebrate, no one questioned ever why, the creation of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). I remember that time, perhaps the best edition of such celebrations in the neighborhood, where the state had assigned each CDR a pig’s head and some vegetables to make la caldosa. I remember when we made these color paper chains (called cadenetas in Spanish) with paper and flour glue, which turned out to be more or less the same as a bechamel sauce.
There are so many moments linked to the simple fact of encountering a real smell in a place where everything is usually sterile or artificial, that I stand still for minutes, just absorbing it and traveling in time, returning to those unique moments where we were all together, and which will never return.
That’s why on these holidays seasons, where we should all be together but aren’t, I can only think about the lack of perception we suffer from not realizing how much we are actually missing. Each of those places and situations to which the smell of firewood takes me today were idyllic and unique for all the people whose destinies converged there punctually, and who then separated forever. Let us then unite as many as we can in each day of our lives, since it will most likely be impossible for us to do it again later, but we will always have those memories, sometimes revived by something as simple as a smell or a taste.
The following are photos of the places where these events happened.
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