May 22, 2024

Adventure Awaits Journeyers

Discovering the World Anew

Cinnamon’s Literary Journey – DailyNews

4 min read

Close your eyes and bring a cinnamon stick to your nose. That aroma and such embrace of sweetness and spice can immediately arouse your senses. And then you feel the warmth in the rough, ridged bark. It is somewhere in between heat and warmth. Most of us would not really love the idea of savouring a cinnamon stick in its raw form probably because of the subtle bitterness that accommodates sweetness followed by a gentle tingle on the tongue. Yet what all of us know about cinnamon is clear. It is a spice that has mesmerised humanity for millennia owing to its sensory experience which is unlike any other.

Cinnamon is perhaps the best known crop after coconut and pepper. And Sri Lanka is known for Ceylon Cinnamon which is unique to the land. That species has a lush, inviting scent and a sweet taste, and its quills are soft and light brown in colour, according to Al Jazeera. Around the world it is known as the true cinnamon.

The world’s first cinnamon museum has been creating a buzz in recent news reports. A team of journalists were invited to attend the inauguration. Located on the Mirissa Hills Estate, the museum is the brainchild of Miles Young. Our initial impression of Miles Young, the founder of the world’s first cinnamon museum, was solely as the proprietor of Mirissa Hills Estate. It wasn’t until my colleague, Dinuli Francisco, delved into his background that we, the journalists present, discovered his other passion: art history.

Cinnamon art

“I’m an art historian,” Young revealed, sparking my curiosity. Now, it’s rare to find entrepreneurs with a deep passion for something as seemingly unrelated as art history. Young not only manages a business at Mirissa Hills, but also dedicates significant time to his love of art history. He teaches art history at King’s College.

Young has dedicated years to researching the spice, meticulously recreating artefacts based on descriptions found in historical texts. This passion extends to his cinnamon museum. Interestingly, the museum explores not just the history of the spice, but also its cultural significance, including its portrayal in literature.

The museum’s exhibit on Michael Ondaatje’s poem The Cinnamon Peeler takes a unique approach. Presented in a circular format, it encourages visitors to savour the poem in a winding path. The poem mirrors Ondaatje’s intense and somewhat obsessive desire. The experience explores how cinnamon’s fragrance, warmth, and sweetness can evoke sensuality.

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed

and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets

without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would

stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

The first two verses themselves exhibit the sensuality of the love poem. Cinnamon expresses the speaker’s intense desire for his beloved. “If I were a cinnamon peeler” sets the stage for a world driven by the speaker’s desires. The cinnamon scent becomes so pervasive that the woman wouldn’t be able to hide it – “you could never walk through markets” without revealing the speaker’s touch. The language is evocative yet slightly aggressive. Words like “reek” and “profession of my fingers” suggest a powerful, almost possessive desire.

The poem incorporates vivid sensory details: the yellow dust of cinnamon bark, the smell clinging to the woman, the image of blind people recognizing her by scent, the monsoon rain offering a futile attempt at cleansing. The poem is open to interpretation.

Early references

One of the earliest English references to cinnamon appears in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. In the Wife of Bath’s Prologue, the Wife describes her deceased husbands, noting that the fifth “was a worthy vavasour (landowner) / Who with spices loved me best of all.” Chaucer associates cinnamon with wealth and social status to indicate its rarity and value in medieval Europe. In fact, he makes references to cinnamon throughout The Canterbury Tales. We come across Chaucer’s medieval English “My faire bryd, my sweete cynamome?” in The Miller’s Tale which can be translated into modern English as “My fair bird, my sweet cinnamon?”

Cinnamon’s association with luxury continues in William Shakespeare’s works. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon, the king of the fairies, instructs Puck to fetch a flower “whose juice is on Cupid’s fiery shaft,” further describing it as “sweet-smelling” and “eminent in hue.” This description suggests the flower is a metaphor for cinnamon, linking its sweet aroma to love’s passionate heat.

In Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the protagonist makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for worldly pleasures. Mephistopheles, the devil, conjures a feast for Faustus, complete with “celestial food, manna, and dates, drugs of the Indies, and eunuchs’ flesh.” Doctor Faustus lumps cinnamon with other exotic and potentially dangerous substances, hinting at its association with the forbidden and the potential consequences of excessive indulgence.

John Milton describes Satan’s fiery presence in Paradise Lost: “His the fair face and counterfeit of heaven… Yet all his nature changed for anger and spite. Thenceforth to be destin’d miserable.” The subtle warmth of cinnamon can be seen as a twisted reflection of Satan’s fallen grace. It is a reminder of the beauty lost and the bitter truth that underlies appearances.

Cinnamon’s presence in English literature transcends its culinary roots. It signifies wealth, desire, indulgence, and even the fragility of existence.


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