Tulips of Holland, lavender of Provence, bluebonnets of Texas. One must add to the list, orange blossoms of Maghdoushe, Lebanon.
"The fragrance of orange-blossom followed us in our morning jaunt through the famous orchards...
We found ourselves lost amid green freshness... The colors are more vivid even than the dreams... life seems to overflow from the picturesque hills, covered with houses and gardens... an inescapable charm, an irresistible attraction!" Gabriel Charmes
A trip to the town of Maghdoushe, 50 kilometers south of Beirut, has become a yearly tradition for my mom. There is where she gets her fresh orange blossom supply to make orange flower water, a staple in her mouneh pantry and any Lebanese pantry. Not that she used up the whole gallon in a year, but it was a cherished tradition, and it is never hard to find an eager grateful recipient for the fragrant homemade elixir. This year was no different, except that she had a new delightful companion, me!
We were coming back from an excursion in the south of Lebanon. The street sign at the fork pointed up to Maghdoushe, our last stop before the city of Saida (Sidon). We followed the curb up the gradually steep road. The majestic Lady of Mantara* suddenly came into sight, its towering height lovingly watching over parishioners and visitors alike. Our car rolled deeper into the village. Impressively, there was not even a speckle of dust on the streets. The place looked like it had just been bathed and lotioned. Mother Nature had adorned itself with vivid green dresses densely sequined with white orange blossoms and occasional precaucious orange gems. It had drenched itself with an exhalting perfume and upped the volume on the rustling of leaves and bird songs. Our awakened senses drowned in the sea of dreamy scenery, fragrances and melodies. This must be how heaven smells. We suddenly wondered. Were we crushing a party?
Turns out Mother Nature is in perpetual celebration in Maghdoushe during the spring months of March and April, and happily partakes its joys and bounties with all those the road brings its way, be they purposeful visitors or simple wanderers.
A couple of hours later, having secured a plentiful supply of blossoms, dozens of pictures, and sipped our obligatory cup of hospitality coffee, we bid goodbye to Maghdoushe and our friend Istez Hanna, teacher turned orange orchard grower.
Mission accomplished! That is until we get back to Beirut and start the slow distilling process.
One more fun adventure to recount to the grandkids one day, one more cherished memory for their future grandmother and great-grandmother now.
"It is the site of my dreams; I will return to it every day." Alphonse De Lamartine
*The name, Maghdouché, originates from the Syriac word, which means "crop collectors." ... According to Christian belief, when Jesus came to Sidon, the Virgin Mary who accompanied him, waited for him at the top of the hill where Maghdouché is located today. She spent the night in a cave that came to be known as Mantara, or the "Awaiting." Emperor Constantine the Great ...transformed the cave into a sanctuary for the Virgin. - Wikipedia