Some say it was the name of an Italian princess, but for me it’s spring in Andalucía.

Neroli is the essential oil distilled from the flowers of Seville oranges, and it was the scent of Granada, Córdoba, Mérida, and most of the pueblos between them when I walked the Camino Mozárabe. The streets and squares of my stops were lined with citrus trees in blossom. The air smelled fresh and pure, tangy, a little sharp, and full of the promise of summer.

Like a princess, perhaps?

Probably not like a pilgrim!

This morning I stepped out the back door and stopped in my tracks. I was in Spain. Late afternoon. Road’s end. Treading on cobbles strewn with white petals, inhaling the name of a princess.

Spain? How?

The lemon tree is in flower! It’s not quite neroli, but it’s close.

But then, Melbourne isn’t quite Granada…or Córdoba…

It’s late spring here at the bottom of the world, but if I close my eyes, that scent and its associated memories can almost make my toes throb as though I’ve walked 30kms. Almost!

My memory of those days is becoming like mobile phone photos.

Hazy and soft focus.


I’m glad I had a journal and my sister’s camera with me when I walked. Now, when I look back, those photos and scrawls balance my tendency to romanticise. They are there to remind me of the hard yards, the bigger pictures and the non-pastel days; the harsh light and the cold winds; the fear of failure; the sombra that is the contrast to all my remembered sol.

I’m in conversation with Monsignor Tony Doherty next week – do read his guest post here if you haven’t already,  and check the Events and Media tab above if you’d like to come. My prep for that event has made me reflect on my amigo, and our time walking together. Always, when people enquire after him, what they want to know about is my wrestle with desire. Rarely am I asked about the secret he carried, and the pain it gave him. Rarely does anyone want to discuss the shame that he felt, for himself and his brother. That may be politeness and good manners, but I wonder sometimes if it is more about a collective unwillingness to dwell in those places because we feel helpless. I certainly did, in the face of his story. Nonetheless, while I know that conversations about suicide and abuse are difficult, I do believe they are vital for understanding, and hopefully, for change.

So I’m glad that Tony’s dialogue with me comes now, in spring, when thoughts turn to horse racing and pretty hats; to lazy afternoons and cricket whites; to roses and wisteria. I want to remind myself to check the shadows sometimes, when all this sunshine can dazzle and distract me. I feel safe to do that in Tony’s company, because his generosity, humour and compassion make it possible to walk into any shadow and know that there will be a yellow arrow waiting when we walk out the other side – which we surely will, with him guiding!

It was lovely to surrender to that moment of citrus recall this morning. Seductive, enticing, sensual – and completely sin-free. But I owe it to my amigo, and to all of those who carry loads that cost them dear, to remember that the camino was not always painless – and that it would be foolish to expect that of any road.

A bush camino in springtime...

A postscript…

I’ve just been told that bookings are now full for the event with Tony. Sorry if you missed out. If you were really really keen to come, I’m told that you can call the number on the booking form and explain that you are a subscriber here and they may put you on a waiting list – but for now, registrations have closed.

And while I’m talking about subscribers, a hearty thankyou for the valuable feedback after the previous post. All of it has been noted, and I’m feeling less like a serial stalker, and more like a contributor to a village conversation. I’m very grateful.


14 thoughts on “Neroli…

  1. As a young twenty-something widow with two small boys – in a village outside of Tamworth – my mother cared for an elderly dementia-affected farmer. Hanging over the fence from the next-door neighbours – an orange tree laden with fruit. I remember it still – and a kind of race in the morning between the old man and my brother and me – to collect any fruit which had fallen through the night. In 1988 at Easter in Kalamata (yes, noted for olives – and a then recently-suffered earthquake) orange groves the blossoms of which soaked the atmosphere with that delicious tangy perfume about which you so lyrically wrote in your own tribute to memories evoked by lemon trees. And on my own Japanese 88-temple pilgrimage – a springtime morning – climbing up through citrus groves to one of the 88 – suddenly being reminded of Kalamata – and of Kootingal (near Tamworth)!

    I understood about the amigo – not distracted by your own “distraction” – thought how generously in fact you wrote of his pain. Didn’t think I needed to comment – but like so many – none of us escape unscathed from certain sufferings – none of us are Robinson Crusoes – I filed away your sensitivity as a positive caring aside – not a little warmed by your feeling – in fact!

  2. Dear Jim,
    Isn’t our sense of smell the most wondrous gift? All those memories locked inside an orange! Amazing. And I love that image of the early-morning rush for the fallen fruit. Even through the dementia it sounds like some sensory pleasures were very alive for that man.
    And Kalamata…what a word! I actually love kalamata olives tossed in a little olive oil with some orange and lemon rind. Only very quickly. Quite delicious. A young Greek-Swedish friend taught me that!
    And thank you, finally, for your words about the amigo. I still recall the helplessness as I heard his story. I’m grateful you read it with such compassion.
    As ever…

  3. I agree with Jim regarding your amigo, by being open to listening and then sharing that with us you have lessened his pain. We can be the conduit for good without knowing it at the time. I believe your resistance to desire was part of your “camino” and helped you stay focussed on your amigo and to pass his story on to us.

    1. Thanks for your words of reassurance, David.
      Although I know that he is well and glad of the book’s publication, I still hope that some day he will not have to carry that burden. But of course our burdens – like our backpacks! – can also give us resilience I guess. Or at least is my hope for him.
      Thank you again. You’re very kind.

  4. When I read all the superb posts I,too, feel as though we are all in a delightfulvillage somewhere conversing with each other. This post, and its thoughts have been just wonderful. Ailsa, I missed your conversation with Macca last Sunday, sadly I couldn’t listen all the time as I had to go shopping for a family dinner that night. Heard Macca just now and he was speaking to a young girl who had written a little play which was being produced in Melbourne and he said that she had a lovely voice and then mentioned that he had been speaking last week to “Ailsa Piper” who he said had a beautiful voice. I thought to myself that she couldn’t have anything else as she writes so superbly and with so much feeling and sensitivity. Jim’s post to you was very evocative and as you have said, fullof compassion. I also adore the perfume of the Seville Orange blossom and we are lucky to have a few of these trees on our property and the pure essence of Neroli is just sheer heaven! Again thank you for your posts and for having such wonderful people who reply to you. One should always start the day by reading them! I am looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks.

    1. Dear Bertina,
      I’m looking forward to our meeting so much – and to the book. What a fantastic title – and the premise is so enticing.
      Thanks for your generous words. I’m glad that the sense of village extends from one “commenter” to another as well. It feels like people are getting to know each other in this space – the town square! – and doing it via intimacies and observations that are moving and respectful. So lovely.
      Thanks too for the compliment on the voice! I think I will probably have a chat to Macca again next week, to discuss what the “going back/home” was like. I’m still making sense of it.
      Thanks for taking the time to stop in the square and leave a little of yourself for all of us. xx

  5. It was a good point you brought up in the book about Australia’s favourite song being about a swag-man who commits suicide by jumping in a bilabong.
    I never really thought of it in those harsh terms,but you are right,he does commit suicide,because he taunts his pursuers with the words
    “You’ll never catch me alive”.
    I had a cousin who hung himself,and while I know a lot of people do see suicide as a sin,in my own heart I feel no loving God would condemn someone in so desperate a situation.
    On a lighter note though,I have tickets to see John Williamson play at
    “A Day On The Green” this Sunday and I hope to hear him sing
    “Waltzing Matilda”.

    1. I agree with you Darren. Suicide is far too complex an issue to be reduced to black and white – in my world view, anyway. I can’t see it as a sin, but only as pain that radiates out and out, for a very long time. I always think the song is a great reminder – how quickly the swagman goes from being “jolly” to a ghost – driven, presumably, by desperation and fear.

      I hope you enjoy John Williamson. Perfect time of year for songs and gathering on a green! One day I hope to hear Tom Waits do his version of it live – I love that one too.

  6. I just saw Tom Waits in the movie “Seven Psychopaths” on the weekend.
    Good movie,but quite violent…in a kind of funny way.
    But definitely a bloody (good) movie.-)

    1. Hi Darren,
      I’m a bit of a chicken about violence in the movies. Will I withstand it do you reckon? I sure do love Mr Waits!
      Don’t suppose he sang…

  7. Because the movie is more of a dark comedy,the violence doesn’t seem to have the same effect on you that a straight out crime movie would,but there are a few self inflicted throat cutting scenes and such that are quite graphic.
    My advice would be to look away from the screen when you see someone with a knife to their throat.But it is quite a comical movie that in many ways I think you will enjoy.There is a bit of swearing as well that some may find offensive if taken the wrong way.It’s a unique movie that I find hard to compare against any other.
    Worth checking out though.It’s one of those movies you’ll either love or hate,I guess.

    1. Thanks Darren. Our very own personal reviewer on the site. We’re lucky! I still seem to be battling to find time for the movies I want to see but did get to To Rome With Love – I’m sure all the reviewers are right and that it is nonsense, but it was such happy, silly, hilarious nonsense that I was delighted. And Rome sure did look inviting. As for Penelope Cruz…a goddess.
      I also saw a preview of Silver Linings Playbook. Strange title, and very American – but with our Jacki Weaver as the Mom. I loved it, though others didn’t. I thought its heart was very good, and Robert de Niro was fantastic. The young leads were both splendid.
      Sometimes I think I am just so thrilled to be in the cinema that I have lost some of my critical faculties!
      Did you see Devil’s Dust on ABC? Now that was, I know, superlative drama. I was very proud of my 8 cents per day. One of those stories that really did have to be told!

      1. No I haven’t even heard of “Devil’s Dust”.
        While I do see a few movies,I rarely watch TV,because in my house it’s hard to snatch a TV set off the rest of my family members,who are usually watching some show I’m not interested in.
        I’ll have to keep an eye out for “Devil’s Dust” and the other movies mentioned.
        I did see a trailer of “Silver Linings Playbook” and thought, Jacki Weaver and Robert de Niro? Now there’s a combination I thought I would never see on the screen.
        Looks interesting.

        1. Check out Devil’s Dust on ABC’s marvellous iView. My eight cents per day has never been better spent!
          And yes, De Niro and Weaver is an odd combo – but it works.

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