Jasmine is the flower of Damascus.
No Jasmine in the world smells like the Damascene Jasmine. But as the city jumped head-first into the Soviet-style progress of the 1960s and 70s, that smell was replaced by the odour of petrol fumes, building site work, dust and cigarettes.
By the turn of the century, the idea of Jasmine in Damascus had become just that – an idea, a memory, slowly fading away until it became nothing more than a myth. But people live on myths, and imagined memories. So a massive Jasmine planting programme began a few years ago. 5000 plants sprung up across the capital, surrounding almost every public building.
Walk along the streets at night, especially at this time of year, and the scent of Jasmine becomes overpowering.
I have some Jasmine scent in a bottle that I take with me when I travel. Its job is to remind me what this city smells like. But truth got mixed up with imagination a few nights ago. I was walking through Damascus, and I could smell the Jasmine. I racked my brain trying to think what it reminded me of.
Then it came to me – the flowers brought back the memory of my bottle of scent.