Some time around October of 2016, when I was still adjusting to moving back to New Orleans, I found myself stopping in front of a gate entrance with a “No Parking” sign on St. Louis in the French Quarter. I paused for a moment. I always passed by this, but a gust of air carried with it a familiar smell this time…a smell I could not quite put my finger on until I stood there for a moment.
I looked into the gate entrance. Beyond the gate, there was a long hallway to what seemed like an abandoned courtyard, like the ones I imagine to be a part of old Syrian or French homes. The smell was mixed of paint and wood, and it was too familiar to leave behind. I stood in place for a few moments, and my nose flared as I took it in. I can’t begin to tell you about the connection between smell and memory, but right at that moment, I saw what I was looking at.
The gate entrance led to my grandfather and father’s old antique refurnishing shop. I spent most – if not all – of my weekends there as a child growing up in New Orleans before I moved to Palestine. That hallway that led to the courtyard was where I would put one hand in my mother’s palm and one in my father’s so that they could swing me high up in the air on our way out.
The empty courtyard was where my brother and I would pick on each other or entertain ourselves with whatever toys we got from the French Market.
My grandfather and father owuld be inside working on antiques – painting, refurnishing, polishing. My grandfather would call out to my brother as “Abu Steif” and myself as “Hasheematon”, adding an Arabic grammar affect to my name. He would give us paint brushes he wasn’t using and have us paint on something him and my father didn’t need. After that, he’d give us cotton balls with a bit of alcohol to wipe the paint off our hands.
The paint stains never left his hands, and they haven’t left my father’s.
I stood there a few days ago and looked in. The smell was still there. I moved to Palestine. Hurricane Katrina happened. My father and grandfather relocated their business to a second location since. Thirteen years passed in Palestine. I moved back. A year passed. My grandfather passed away. But the smell is still there reminding me of time…where this journey began.