Soap was one of the things that back in the 80es one would have a hard time obtaining. As everything else deemed as “luxury”: toothpaste, stockings, toilet paper…
There were some old and brittle pieces of soap hidden in grandma`s laundry drawer, but that was “the good soap”, so one was never to use it. It had long ago lost its smell, although grandma would swear she could still detect that fougère or lilly of the valley.
Sometimes in summer my parents would get hold of a piece housemade soap from somebody`s aunt. It was a misterious yellow-greyish chunk that we used for washing everything: our bodies, hair and the laundry. It smelled a bit acrid – “but it`s good for you” – it also left a weird sensation on the skin – I could never imagine how it was obtained just by boiling ashes and grease in a cauldron, but it seemed one could feel the process.
Why couldn`t they throw in some nice smelling flower to the mix? Lindentree or honeysuckle or whatever was growing by the roadside. Flowers were not restricted in any way…
One day a small miracle happened. I went through a drawer and tried to smell a mysterious greenish piece of soap that I had discovered there. It slipped and dropped to the ground, were it broke in two pieces.
Maybe now that it was damaged as an “untouchable memory”, maybe we could use it for washing?
It had a writing on it, so I took it to the sink and made it wet, in order to better decipher the letters on it. Something with Alep.
Once wet, it started smelling: clean-herbal-sweetish-different. It became smooth and shiny. It didn`t reek like the “housemade soap”. It felt nice on the skin.
I used it rarely and always with moderation and respect, for the next ten years: “mit Verstand zu geniessen” was a saying in our family for using valuable things – like chocolate or grandma`s quince jelly, rare finds – so as not to consume it all too fast: to enjoy with reason.
Years later I would actually get the chance to visit a soap manufacture near Aleppo, the place were soap was invented. I got to see how soap emerged in trays and was cut with threads, and walked between lattice walls made of olive-greenish soap chunks that were left out to dry, like brick walls (see it in a filmclip here). Olive and wood ashes (lye). Maybe some laurel oil.
The chunks had the colour of my little nugget from back then – I think I still had a miniature fragment in a drawer back then, in 2004. For the good day that was never to come.
All things have a finite lifetime. So I tossed it one day, as it had completely lost its smell.
Today I found this AlepiDerm soap in a store here in Bucharest. It`s perfect. And it suddenly brought all that back to me: the drawer and the broken soap, the smell of cleanliness and the walk through the Aleppo manufacture. They say, smell goes directly to your cerebellum, the “Kleinhirn“, the oldest part of our brain, not implying the cortex.
It did – and made me happy.
*the store is La Maison du Savon de Marseille, on Dr. Dumitru Râureanu 4, close to Piata Unirii.
This text is part of the WhiteShirtProject: Like a snake sheds its skin, I shed a series of white shirts while writing down memories – to be found in this link.