I love spices – part of the allure of travel includes exploring another country’s cuisine with its different spices. For my own cooking, I use lots of home-grown herbs and spices: onions and garlic in baskets, dried basil, tarragon, sage, parsley, and oregano in small glass jars; powdered dried orange zest and basil pesto kept in the freezer.
Dictionary.com defines spice as any pungent or aromatic substance of vegetable origin (like pepper, cinnamon, or cloves), used as a seasoning or preservative; something that gives zest; a piquant or interesting element or quality; a small quantity or trace of something.
It is that “piquant or interesting” spicy quality I am enthralled by, the question “What is the spice of life?”
In the sci-fi series “Dune” by Frank Herbert, “the spice” (or melange) is an addictive substance that gives people longevity and psychic powers. It is very rare and extremely dangerous to harvest. Once you are addicted to spice, you cannot let go of it. Withdrawal will kill you. In Herbert’s world, spice is essential for interstellar travel and galactic commerce (Wikipedia).
So what is it that constitutes spice in our life? What adds that buoyant extra to our ordinary existence that we are all looking for – interest, excitement, mystery, adventure, marvel, awe, bliss? I suppose the degree of spice could range from something that gives us a good belly laugh to a peak experience of deep love or profound insight.
What happens when spice is lacking and we are facing the same tasteless dish every day – same old routine, same old faces, same old conversations? We grow bored, restless, dissatisfied, and probably depressed. We look for anything to lift us out of this almost unbearable dullness – a pill, alcohol, a sports event, TV shows highlighting other people’s fictional but exciting lives, a fast car or motorcycle, creating some kind of drama in our family or circle of friends – anything to escape the boredom of ordinary life.
Some people actually like routines, are comforted by them and would be reluctant to add spice to their life, especially an unfamiliar one. But for most of us, what would our world be like without that Marco Polo spirit, the courage to risk falling off the edges of the horizon?
There are the truly large, once-in-a-lifetime adventures: Leaving one’s home country behind to move to a new place in the world; setting off on a walk across the continent, riding a motorcycle around the world, quitting a secure job to try a totally different lifestyle are just a few examples I can think of.
But we don’t (always) have to travel the seven seas or into outer space to add spice to our life. Small doses of spice often do the trick.
For me, a walk in the woods and an occasional encounter with a wild animal are cayenne-pepper hot; exploring a botanical garden or a small stream spell ginger and coriander adventure; inviting a friend for coffee and exploring interesting topics or talking deeply about our inner experiences add cinnamon and clove warmth to my day; watching a sunset paint wild colors across the horizon sprinkles Italian seasoning on my evening; seeing my orchids bloom in the bleakest part of winter splashes my sun-deprived days with rose water and lavender perfume; losing myself in a really good book or exceptional movie adds Chinese Five Spice depth and complexity; following a meaningful discussion in my Facebook feed adds genuine vanilla flavor to my day; discovering an artist I’d never heard of before infuses my own creativity with the best garam masala.
Such experiences are some of my life’s spices at the moment. There have been other spices during earlier phases of my life and I suspect that moving into my elder years will surprise and delight me with others still unknown.
What about yours?
Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week: Spice.