Rejectionist Nostalgia Tour, Part Two: Tenzing Momo

It is not allowed to take pictures in Tenzing Momo, so we will have to describe it for you: it is in a funny corner of the market that is hard to find and we always have to wander around a long time before we go down the right doorway, which leads you into an atrium that is flooded with light and all at once you are out of the crowds and bustle and it is just you and maybe a confused tourist or two. There is a little créperie, which we are pretty sure was something else when we were young but we can't remember, and there is a lonely-looking toy store that sells novelty things like plastic bacon with google-eyes, and then there are the wooden French doors of Tenzing Momo, festooned with Tibetan prayer flags. Tenzing Momo is a long rectangular shop; when you cross the threshold there are walls of bookshelves to your left, with titles like Goddess Divination and Magickal Herbcraft and Following the Moon, and at your right are shelves and shelves of vitamins and tinctures and incenses and mysterious potions, and the far right wall is nearly all window and looks out over the bay, so that Tenzing Momo is not gloomy or spooky at all. But the light has a quality to it that is thicker and richer than ordinary light, and it flickers across the glass bottles and casts shadows among the incense boxes.

In front of you is a long counter with a glass case that runs half the length of the store, holding innumerable tarot decks: the Rider Waite and the Crowley Thoth deck, the Osho Zen Tarot, the Russian tarot and the Medieval tarot, goddess tarots, moon tarots. The counter is cluttered with china bowls filled with beaded bracelets and more incense, pentacle charms, little stones that have special powers; there are jars of rose petals and salts, ceramic Buddhas garlanded with jade, bundles of sage. At the end of the counter nearest the window is a huge rack filled with brown glass bottles of essential oil, their tiny black labels with Tenzing Momo printed on them in copper, and the names of the smells are written in silver marker in the same handwriting that has labeled those bottles since we were fourteen--it seems impossible that the same person has been labeling the Tenzing Momo essential oil bottles for the last eighteen years, but you never know. Tenzing Momo is a very magical place. There is another glass case, freestanding, filled with jewelry: amber and silver, ankhs and pentacles, snakes twining around things, hunks of quartz and halved geodes with their amethyst interiors glimmering; and there are hanging baskets, filled with more incense, and prayer flags; and there is a somewhat incongruous rack of Tenzing Momo mugs and canvas bags, which are quite ordinary. Behind the counter are floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with gallon glass jars of herbs that you can buy by the pound, for your spells, or just for tea.

There is a kind of girl who works at Tenzing Momo, who has always worked at Tenzing Momo for as long as we can remember, although it is certainly not the same girl, unless she is ageless, which is also possible--a kind of girl who seems to spring out of the earth fully formed and then vanish back into Faerie a few years later. She is tiny but not at all frail, and has black-dyed hair piled on top of her head in complicated knots, and Cleopatra eyes drawn on in black; her arms are inky with tattoos, which are most often sigils of some kind, and she is always wearing black: black lace dresses cut short and ragged, threadbare black shirts and ratty black jeans, black boots or battered black sneakers. She has silver rings on every finger and silver pendants on silver chains, and she smells of incense and secrets. When we were young it was our greatest ambition to someday be the Tenzing Momo girl, and we spent whole afternoons poking among the boxes of incenses, sneaking glances at her and imagining her life: her apartment filled with altars and candles and tapestries, her bed strewn with crushed-velvet pillows and bits of herbs, the moonlight coming in through her window and alighting on her record player, her collection of Dead Can Dance and Siouxsie and Clan of Xymox and This Mortal Coil on vinyl. Probably her boyfriend was one of the other people who worked in the market, one of the fruit-stand boys, equally cool-eyed and mysterious and beautiful. When we bought our vanilla oil and Nag Champa the Tenzing Momo girl would ignore us until the last possible minute, looking out the window with one finger holding her place in her book, which was always a book of spells, and we would stand there twisting one foot behind the other, wanting to ask her if it was possible to move into her life, or even just what that life looked like, what she did after work, what she thought about, who she loved, could she tell our fortune from the pack of tarot cards she kept in her bag with her pot and her clove cigarettes. But although we would put on our best outfits when we went to Seattle, once we were actually in the city our clothes would seem suddenly shabby and stupid, our Manic Panic-streaked hair high-school and garish, and there would be the Tenzing Momo girl with her effortless haze of glamor, counting out our change into our palm, and we would never say anything at all other than "thank you."

We are much, much older now, and so you will think it is nostalgia, what happened to us this afternoon in Tenzing Momo, but it was not nostalgia at all. It was something else, something like being catapulted straight into our past. Something about that smell which is still the same rich and heavy smell; or the light; or the girl behind the counter whose silver bracelets clanked softly when she moved, the same witchy, clear-eyed girl with her tattooed fingers; and it was long moments before we remembered who we were and where we live now, and that we are probably nearly a decade older than that girl, that girl who we did not grow up to be after all, although there is some not-so-small part of us that wishes rather terribly that we had. The Tenzing Momo girl did not ask if she could help us, for which we were grateful; she understood we did not want to have the spell broken, or else they are just used to tourists in Tenzing Momo, and although we imagine we look more special than a tourist, that is probably wishful thinking. We smelled all the smells in their rack, uncapping the glass bottles one by one: bergamot, geranium, hyssop, rose, ocean, vetivert, until they all mixed together in our head, and we put a drop of patchouli on one wrist with one of the toothpicks that is provided for this purpose, for old times' sake--we must confess to you now, we still love the smell of patchouli, although you may laugh. It is not nostalgia; it is more like going outside of time, to a place we forget we remember, until we are there again, and even now the scent of it still lingers on our clothes.