Thursday, August 8, 2013

Smell

The smell of cooking garlic floats in through the open window from a neighbour's kitchen.  For an instant I'm back in the 1980s in Paris outside a restaurant on a humid summer's evening.  Never mind the madeleines, it's smell not taste that does it for me.

I read once that smell is the most evocative of the senses, that it accesses the greatest amount of memory stored in the computer that is the brain.  I believe it.  Woodsmoke, oh yes especially woodsmoke. An earlier French memory from my au pair days in 1968 of the host family's chateau (they had aristocratic forebears).    Situated near Troyes, seventeenth century or earlier, there were a multitude of  beautiful but shabby and dilapidated high-ceilinged rooms and, above all, massive fireplaces where logs from the estate had burned for several centuries. The smell of woodsmoke had over time permeated the walls and it hung in the air, even in high summer. I can't describe the intensity of that smell, not that it was unpleasant, rather it was subtly sensual and thus almost frightening to my awkward and dislocated eighteen-year old self.

And also:  Roasting coffee beans. Lilac. Horses. Autumn mornings. New books.  Creosote.  Brief but oh-so-detailed scenes from the past - places, seasons, houses, people - attach themselves to each one.

Hoping for more. Counting on more. Smells and memories.

6 comments:

Relatively Retiring said...

That's lovely, and as I read your words about woodsmoke I realise I have a memory for the smell - the old house of my youth, where logs had burned for many, many years.

mm said...

RR: Of course at one time woodsmoke would have been a memory for most people .... now not so many of us.

Relatively Retiring said...

I meant that I can create the actual smell as a memory - I didn't realise I could do that. I can 'do' some flower scents, too.

mm said...

Ah yes, I see what you mean, RR. For me I can't "memorise" the exact smell completely but I can summon up a faint reflection of it in my mind, if that makes sense .....

Leslee said...

Mmm, your mention of woodsmoke immediately brought it to mind, with scenes of fall days where I used to live out in the countryside. And cooking garlic smells - yum! My poor mother had nasal polyps and couldn't smell, which meant she also couldn't taste many things either - preferring sweet things mainly. She had surgery to remove them a few times (never lasted) and she'd go around exclaiming at the smell of everything - often way too overwhelming.

mm said...

Leslee: I love autumn smells. And your poor mother indeed - I know someone who has the same condition and it seems to me it is a real loss - not as lifechanging as blindness or deafness, but a loss nonetheless.