Monday, 29 March 2010

Scent-sational Monday

For the past week or so I've had a cold which, in addition to being annoying, has limited my sense of smell. Olfaction is the sense of smell. Of the five senses, it is often said that smell is the most evocative of memories. When my cold departs, if it should take my sense of smell with it forever, would my memories be altered? Would they be less vivid memories? With that in mind, I pondered some of my favorite olfactory-induced memories.

The Sea
The smell of brine and salty air conjures up memories of so many summers spent at the seashore. I remember my first oyster, a rite of passage. It smelled of the sea, its flesh plump and juicy, milky yet flinty, slippery as it slid down my throat. It was the summer of my first kiss, behind the sand dunes, with that sweet boy with tousled hair the color of wheat. I read Hemingway's 'A Moveable Feast' on the verandah of our rented beach house. Frank Sinatra crooned 'Summer Wind' into the inky darkness, illuminated by the porch lights, the citronella candles, and the fireflies. And the sea air teased and tingled my senses.

Orange Blossom
My wedding day, a bouquet of orange blossoms, and I wore a long white dress and he wore a tuxedo. I floated down the aisle to the bittersweet strains of 'Moon River.' I gripped the orange blossom bouquet as we lay side by side on the verdant carpet of green grass gazing up at a cloudless blue sky. Later that evening, under the prism of twinkling crystal chandeliers, we swayed together on the dance floor to our 'first song', Etta James' 'At Last.' Our joy was reflected in the gilt-framed mirrors, the bubbles leapt out of our champagne glasses, and the scent of orange blossoms floated through the open French doors, lingering in the August heat.

Coffee Beans
The scent of freshly brewed coffee is the quintessence of a lazy Sunday morning. We're still in pyjamas, a mummy and a daddy, two girls and a dog, and we're reading The Times on our overstuffed sofa. Years ago, in my halcyon days, coffee refills fuelled the late night diner discussions about existentialism, atheism, eroticism and capitalism. As a student, it reminds me of espressos, gulped down while standing at a formica counter in Rome, under the shadow of the Colosseum.

Pine, Clementines & Clove
We hiked up to the hills behind our house to reach the wooded area. Our dad had a saw slung over the shoulder of his red and black checkered Woolrich coat. My sister and I scampered to keep up with his long strides. We deliberated and debated before choosing the very best tree and, after it fell, we clung to the spikey needles and helped to drag it through the snow. Later, at home, we sat by the blazing fire and we drank cocoa from steaming mugs, strung popcorn garland, and pushed cloves into the skin and through to the flesh of the clementines. The scents of Christmas day.

For so many mornings of my youth, I pulled the chocolate brown leather saddle down off its peg in the tack room and inhaled its richness, its promise of joy. I saddled up the beautiful chestnut gelding, tightened the girth, adjusted the stirrups and swung one booted leg up and over the horse. We cantered across the field, moving in rhythm as one. The scent of leather rose up and intermingled with the scent of horse and hay and long grass.

There are so many wonderful scents in my memory. There is the milky sweetness of my baby's breath, the scent of beeswax on freshly polished wood, freshly washed clothes hung on the line to dry, the coconut scent of suntan lotion which used to signal the start of summer sunbathing, garlic and olive oil sauteeing, warm apple streudel in a chalet on a ski break.

Which scents conjure up happy memories for you? I'd love to hear them.


  1. A most interesting blog,your Christmases scents (pine, clementines & cloves) make me feel warm just by thinking about them! I hope your cold gets better. I always hate that feeling that comes with sense deprivation. The scents that seem to evoke the strongest memories are ones that remind me of summer (my favorite season), oranges, watermelons, pineapples and coconuts all are the products of many holidays away in exotic places.

  2. What a lovely post. I think the one which I have experienced recently and which always sticks in my mind is that of a plug in air freshner that smells like my dad! He might not thank me for that but it's truly beautiful, just like him.

    CJ xx

  3. DD-I love the scents of summer too.

    CJ-It's lovely that you found a scent to remind you of your dad. I do believe it's true that scent evokes so much emotion.

  4. The smell of freshly-washed children's hair.