Category Archives: Taiwan

瞥肉桂,鳳凰重現

Translated by Sylvia Li from the English version ‘Remember the Cinnamon Birds

-我東逛西走地來到了台灣四處可見的尋常市集,通常是荳蔻、鳄梨當季的時候我才會來,今兒個只想隨意走走。感覺上現在應該是秋天,雖然氣溫還是偏高,教人開心的是熱季總算結束了。走著走著,經過偶爾光顧的小攤,老闆娘還在忙著招呼客人,但是她身旁多了一個年長的男人–也許是他祖父吧! 稀疏的灰髮,滄桑起皺的面容像刨過了的胡桃木,瞬間一瞥好像似曾相識,但我知道我從未見過他。

他注意到我正瞅著他前方桌上的一袋肉桂,似乎對我這個外國人愈來愈感到興趣。其實不是很多台灣人喜歡肉桂的味道,即使大家都知道這種香料有益健康;我想,他可能沒有很多客人,所以像孩子般瞪大眼睛、熱切地注意我的一舉一動,同時投以成熟友善的眼光,心中舒坦,於是我們相視而笑。

我看著這袋肉桂,心中想著:「他可知肉桂來自尼羅河畔的末日傳說?」

相傳肉桂枝是古代埃及人從衣索比亞高原狂瀉而下的水中用網撈出的。

正是我的遠祖遠登山峰,到了鳳凰的棲地,發現這樣的鳥兒用肉桂枝條築巢。另有他人也想遠征,但多半無功而返;而成功的人也不願談論所見所聞。在短短一年內,我的祖先失去全家,悲憤成疾。我想當年的他可不在乎發生何事,只是全心全意讓餘生更具意義,所以才會登高尋求鳳凰的真相。

我本人很少旅行,所以這遠古的記憶是家族傳下的,卻好像我親眼所見–那龐大的巨鳥、體型似天鵝,有著鸛鳥般的長喙銜著從鄰近山區取得的肉桂枝從河流源頭一躍而起。

鳳凰鳥不喜來客—好像他們保守高山更大的秘密,而我那祖先心中沒有私欲,這可能是鳳凰讓他全身而退的因由。

我彷彿親眼所見,他進入山區和鳳凰共處年餘,一片寂默的土地,平靜且安寧,療癒了他的心靈。爾後他下山在坦那湖建立新家,再婚並育三子。倘若鳳凰鳥兒知道他會對山中村民說出這段故事,它們絕不會讓他離開。

我不是多話的人,也不在意別人是否相信我所說的。據說這山和鳥族從那時開始沉於湖底,其實到頭來有誰還能到得了彼處呢? 甚至今日說不定鳳凰依然在尼羅河源頭銜枝築巢呢?

我開口道:「多少錢?」

他想了想,似乎下定決心很快答道:「一百五。」

我給了他兩張紙鈔,他找了一個五十的硬幣,我們再次相視而笑,想想我可能再也不會見到他了。

話說我家中有一個五公分長、手指寬的像膠囊般的小玻璃瓶,時日久了,變得半透明了,就是專門裝那最原始肉桂枝的樹皮的,片片切得同玻璃瓶大小才裝得進去。我心裡知道,如果我打開它,裡面的肉桂馬上化為細塵,要不是剎那永恆,我或可看見聽見鳳凰鳴叫,或可爬上古老山巔,親聞那古老河流的氣息。

又或許,鳳凰鳥兒見我說出一切,就會把我一起帶走。

by Ralph Jensen © 2016. All rights reserved.

399763-high-quality-image-of-cinnamon

Remember the Cinnamon Birds

It is an ordinary day market, one like so many others in this nondescript Taiwanese neighbourhood. I pass by the stand where I occasionally buy cardamom seeds and also avocados when it is the season. Today I just wander and look around. Fall has begun and even though it is still warm I delight in the fact that the hot season is over.

The woman at the stand is busy with customers so she lets me be. With her – I never saw him before – sits an old man, maybe her grandfather, sparse grey hair and weathered skin, a face like whittled from walnut wood. It is as if a shadow of recognition flies across his face though that cannot be because I’m sure we never met before.

On the table before him lies a plastic bag with cinnamon sticks. The attention I pay to it seems to increase his interest in me. Not many Taiwanese enjoy the taste of cinnamon even though the spice is known to be healthy and I wonder if he gets many customers here. He watches me intently, with the eyes of a child eager to learn but also those of a man who has seen it all. His friendly stare is comforting and when he smiles I return it with ease.

I look at the bag and wonder… does he know that cinnamon used to come from the springs of the Nile out at the end of the world? In ancient times cinnamon sticks were fished with nets out of the waters that fell from the heights of the Ethiopian central mountain range.

It was one of my distant ancestors who travelled up the mountains to the lands of the cinnamon birds who use the sticks to build their nests. Others had done the same but few had returned and those who did wouldn’t speak about what they had seen. That ancestor had, within a year, lost his entire family to tragedy and sickness. I suppose he did not care much about what would happen to him. All he wanted was to add some meaning to the remainder of his life. So he also travelled to those mountains and ascended the heights.

I myself have not journeyed much in my life so it must be the faraway memory of that ancestor passed down to me in some way. For it is as if my own eyes have seen those birds, giants of their kind, with swan-like bodies and long beaks like those of storks, collecting cinnamon sticks from the surrounding mountains and building their nests right were the springs arise from the depths.

The birds do not appreciate the visit of strangers – as if they guarded a greater secret, high up in the mountains. But no wish of his own remained in his mind and that must have been the reason why the birds let him pass.

He entered the mountains and for more than a year lived among its people. I know this because I have seen it as if with my own eyes – a silent land, of peace and tranquil minds. His soul healed there and he later retuned to the lowlands where he made his home at Lake T’ana. There he married a second time and fathered three children. Had the birds seen he would tell about his time with the mountain people they would not have let him leave.

I am not a person who speaks a lot and don’t mind knowing things that no one will believe. And after all, it is said those mountains and its people have since descended below the lake. Who then could manage to visit those realms these days? Still, even today the birds gather the cinnamon, building their nests by the springs of the Nile.

“Duo shau,” I ask. (How much?)

He considers my question for a moment and then seems to make up a price on the fly: “Yi bai wu.” (Hundred fifty.)

I give him two bills and he returns a coin. We smile at each other once more. I may never meet him again.

I have at home a small bottle of glass, more like a capsule, five centimeters long, a finger thick. The glass has turned cloudy with time but is still semi-transparent. The vessel contains bark from the original cinnamon trees, sliced and cut to size so they fit into such small a space. I know, should I open it, they would instantly turn into dust. But for a timeless moment my eyes would see again the cinnamon birds and I would hear their song. I would ascend those ancient mountains and smell the springs of the Nile.

And if the birds see that I will tell about it they will take me with them.

 

by Ralph Jensen © 2016. All rights reserved.

399763-high-quality-image-of-cinnamon