Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Walking back from the coffee shop — just a few minutes ago, with my blue stainless cup filled to the point of overflowing — I passed a new shop near the corner of Bellevue and Memorial called Twig. That's all I know; it looks like a home decors store, a nice one, in the same spot where House used to be. Then a few steps farther along, I came to the Newport Art Museum ... not Griswold House (that stick-style architectural wonder), but the building that looks like a museum: Cushing Gallery. The magnolia tree is still blooming out front, beside the path, though it's already past peak (wasn't peak just last week?) leaving a carpet of shriveling white petals beneath it on the ground.

I was thinking about magnolias the other day, for no obvious reason (as I'm not much of a flower person), and went so far as to search "magnolia" online just because it struck me as a nice tree and a nice word so I was curious about it ... and sometimes I do things for no reason at all. And I remember two things about the description, buried among descriptions of movies with "magnolia" in their titles: that the twigs are aromatic and that magnolias are pollinated by beetles rather than bees, the logic being that magnolias are such an ancient species or genus that they pre-date bees (!!).

So, confident that there were no bees lurking in the flowers, I walked up the path toward the Art Museum and stuck my nose into a few choice blooms to see what they smelled like. Nothing. Then I remembered it was the twigs that were supposed to smell good, so I sniffed some twigs. Still nothing. I was starting to feel self-conscious at this point, i.e., is there something wrong with my nose?? And, furthermore, did I look really weird standing there sniffing magnolia bark?? Probably, even though there was no one around ...

Then I did something awful: I snapped off a twig. Yesterday, I apologized to a moth in my kitchen before smooshing him, thus ending his life, so you can see why I felt guilty (slightly) about breaking off a twig, not to mention that I hate it when people do that, even though I realize of course that the tree will be fine. Anyway, the magnolia twig was aromatic, sort of, if only a notch stronger than those familiar "green" or "brown" smells (being grass or dirt). I can't put my finger on it ... or I can, actually, as the twig is sitting right beside me at my kitchen table at this very moment. The smell is something faintly spicy or sweet or both ... like anise? Or that bizarre teaberry flavor of chewing gum? Or some sort of after-dinner liqueur? I'm not even sure if it's pleasant or unpleasant, but I suppose I'm glad to have tried it ...

And, in all seriousness, I haven't seen the current exhibit (click snapshot to enlarge) at the Art Museum, but I think I'll check it out. Visually, I mean.