When I was growing up and living with my parents, my mum would bake bread every Sunday. She still does in fact, I am just rarely there to witness it. Every Sunday she would be in the kitchen, radio on, quietly humming along and kneading dough for buns and loafs. She would roll out the buns, nice and round with practiced hands. Repeating the same roll-scoot-scoot-roll over and over, like she was kneading out the rhythm of a foxtrot.
In the windowsill her wristwatch and her ring would sit glinting, the sure sign that she was hard at work. They had been exchanged for the old washed-out apron with the vertical stripes and the stains of a thousand home-cooked meals.
When a familiar song came on the radio her clear voice would search for the words and fade in and out of the passages she knew. At noon the radio station would play the bells from the city hall in Copenhagen and the smell of freshly baked bread would be wafting throughout the whole house.
The bells ring out the oldest written melody in Denmark, “Drømte mig en drøm i nat” (Dreamt a dream last night). It is not an elegant melody when played on gigantic bells, instead I always found it to be rather haunting, but a strange thing happened once I moved away from home. Whenever I hear those bells, I smell freshly baked bread.
The first time I remember it happening was on a bus filled to the brim on a hot August afternoon. The bus smelled anything but nice, more like sweat, cigarettes and diesel, but the radio was on and the clock struck twelve and suddenly the smell of my mother’s freshly baked rye bread was wafting through the air. I closed my eyes and I was standing right there in our kitchen with the cracked floorboard by the door and my father’s million bottles of oils and vinegars in the windowsill. I sniffed at the air trying to retain the image, but it only lasted for a moment and I was back on the cramped no. 41. If only the other experience had left me as quickly, it was not nearly as pleasant.
A moment ago I was watching a movie, X-Men: First class to be exact. The first few scenes has a young Erik Lehnsherr (later Magneto) in a concentration camp. An Evil Nazi German wants to experiment on him and learn about his mutation. The scene was in German and as I had not put on subtitles I had to concentrate to understand what they were saying. As Evil Nazi German spoke of Evil Nazi things, I could suddenly smell the car-deck of the old Great Belt ferries. I felt nauseous and trapped.
Now normally I have no issue with people speaking German. I might even understand some things if they speak slow and clear. I don’t recall German ever making me nauseous, but something about Evil Nazi German’s voice or inflection made me remember the frequent messages in multiple languages announced over the tin-can PA and the terror those foreign words made me feel.
I know those ferries no longer sail, haven’t for 17 years, but the fear they made me feel as a child is still very much alive inside me. The seemingly endless sea-sickness, the cramped car-deck that made you feel like you were trapped in a maze of sedans, the distinct smell of oil, seawater and exhaust and the constant fear that we would sink and die. I was utterly terrified and I just experienced all that again. The mind-numbing fear of a small child roaring through my adult head and rooting me to the spot.
Man I need a smoke!