Thursday, May 10, 2007

ceonothus, resin, hops

A ceonothus, a shrub, which I have always liked since I saw it growing wild in California, rises over a wall like a cloud of blue smoke.

There is something haunting about the smell of resin, and its taste, if you are eccentric enough to enjoy the white wines of Greece and Cyprus, where a little resin is added to the must. Its use as an ingredient of wine goes back to the Romans, who coated the inside of porous amphorae, to preserve the wine better. That reason for resinated wine eventually became irrelevant when wooden casks were introduced, but it seems to have survived because people had grown accustomed to it.
Thoughts of resin come to me today because of a passage in the wonderful, but sadly neglected part-novel, part-memoir, Years of Childhood, by the Russian writer Sergei Aksakov, published in 1858. Like the other two book in the trilogy, which covers life in Russia spanning the end of the the eighteenth and the and the beginning of the nineteenth century, it is full of beautiful things. This is just one:
"Then I begged successfully for little bits or drops of the fir resin which was everywhere on the walls and window-frames, melting and dropping and making little streams, cooling and drying as it went, and hanging in the air like icicles, with a shape exactly like the common icicles of winter. I was very fond of the smell of resin, which was sometimes used to fumigate our nursery. I smelt the sweet transparent blobs of resin, admired them and played with them; they melted on my hands and made my long fingers sticky..."

In the Pantiles a man with a carrying voice is guiding a group of tourists, who seem unimpressed with what he is saying, or perhaps do not know enough English to understand him. He points to the frieze above the Corn exchange. "Those represent hops," he says. "Hops are used to flavour beer." I keep hearing those words in my head as I move away. For no reason I can think of, I still hear them.


tristan said...

resin ... you've stirred a memory of entering an isolated pine copse at the end of winter by a fork in the road on the great grassy hills going north-east from segovia on the way to burgos, miles from the nearest house ... there were only about fifty trees and to each was attached a little metal cup to catch the resin that crept down from a small incision in the trunk ... the smell of new resin in the clear spring air brought instant happiness

Lucy said...

I remember those little resin cups on the trees in Aegistri in the Saronic Gulf. I'd never considered why the practice started, the resin coated amphoras. I lve retsina, but best with Greek food, and one of those things that taste/sound/look better in situ.