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list 2: on scent and memories

January 29, 2010

Oh! My ears and whiskers! Has Thursday come and gone already? Am I late for my weekly list a mere two weeks in? Would it make a difference if I said that it feels like Thursday today?  Hmmm.

I thought this week I would share with you some of my favorite smells. I recently started reading Perfume and have since had scent on my mind (like, obsessed with it).  Ah! The glorious sense of smell, this conjurer of vivid memories, the only sense that brings you so close to a place that for a fleeting moment, you travel back in time.  A smell leaps to greet you then lingers like a ghost, for hours and forever… stored in the cerebral cortex until it is triggered, like a trip wire, sending back a flood of memories as fresh as the day they were created.  That’s what I find fascinating about the olfactory system.  As well as the fact that while some aromas appeal to certain people, the very same ones repel others. And I wonder if it perhaps has something to do with the memories associated with them?  For instance, I can’t stand the smell of lilies because they remind me of funeral homes but I oddly rather enjoy the smell of tar, because it brings me back to my grade school playground, the year they repaved the court yard (or maybe it was the roof)?

And so, for this week’s list, favorite scents and associated memories:

  1. nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves: the smells of christmas.
  2. fish and chips: the coast, in general. the first time i went to the maritimes, in particular.
  3. scotch: smells like caramel boiled over a peat bog fire. makes me think of first kisses and montreal rooftops (though not together).
  4. sautéd garlic and mushrooms: sunny autumn day in my apartment in hamilton, ontario. k and i had just returned from collecting wild mushrooms with a funghi expert. we fried them in butter with garlic and put them on toasted bread, fresh from the market. i still remember the quality of the light pouring into the kitchen window.
  5. the way my skin smells after swimming in a lake and laying under the sun: summer’s signature scent.
  6. clean sheets, left out to dry on the line and the way they smell like a field of grass. also makes me think of summer.
  7. olive oil, tomato, garlic and basil will forever equal italy to me.
  8. jasmine: a night in negril, after drinking daiquiris on the beach with a reggae band playing in the background.
  9. nag champa incense: the yoga aroma, hence the sense of peace i feel when i smell it.
  10. old books: my aunt carol’s bedroom on karl street in detroit.
  11. my dog’s paws used to smell of popcorn and freshly mowed grass, which reminds me of all that is good in this world.
  12. freshly ground coffee requires no explanation. it is the scent that has been greeting me each morning for a decade.
  13. chlorine: swim meets in hamilton, when I was doing triathlon training. and my friend’s pool, where i spent my entire summers all through high school.
  14. snow: you might think snow doesn’t have a scent but I assure you, it smells like nelson, BC. cold marble and ice and wet mittens.
  15. october: the last warm winds rising from the fields carry my favorite scents… a mix of hot tomatoes on dry vines and sweet apples.
  16. cilantro: i think this one might be from my past life as a mexican senorita.
  17. rain, before it falls: no memory in particular. it’s just one of those smells that makes me take deep breaths. it is a strange mixture of serenity and excitement.
  18. rain, while it is falling: smells like spring and my childhood.
  19. patchouli: either you love it or hate it. patchouli will forever remind me of paris. the same way i wear angel when i want to be transported back to rome.
  20. dirt: gardening. i am at my happiest with my hands in the soil.
  21. ocean salt and seaweed: the first time i ever saw the ocean when i was 21. maine. raining hard. k parked the car and i ran out and stared at it forever.
  22. autumn leaves: the smell of an earlier time… the 70’s comes to mind.
  23. orange blossoms: spain’s warm nights.
  24. pencil shavings: the first day of school.
  25. campfires: each and everyone of my road trips in canada and the united states. from east to west and up and down both coasts.
  26. red wine: napa valley, california (best road trip, ever)

What are some of your favorite smells?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2010 8:49 am

    The smell of my husband…when we first met…he still has the same aftershave for those special moments…when he wishes to pull at my heart strings.
    MArmite on toast…reminds me of college days when this is all we could afford.
    The earth just after it’s rained and the sun is shining it’s warmth…people say it smells like worms…I beg to differ!
    I could go ON and ON…so maybe I’ll make my own…
    LOVE reading your lists…and hope you feel better. we’ve had one sick house here too this week.
    HUGS to a great Friday.

  2. January 29, 2010 9:18 am

    pumpkin soup:
    it reminds me of the day i got my sense of smell back after not being able to smell a thing for over 15 years (from a bad head injury at the age of 15).

    i was told by a neurologist at the age of 17 that i would never re-gain my sense of smell & of course i believed him as he put me through a battery of tests…

    so the smell of fresh soup wafting down the passage of my friend’s house had me 130 different kinds of excited


  3. January 29, 2010 11:03 am

    Love your list. Wow.

    My favorite smell is (of course) the smell of homemade chocolate chip cookies. It reminds me of my mom and the first day of school. There would always be cookies waiting when we got home.

    I also love the smell of roses. It reminds me of my wedding day.

    And, the smell of a new born baby’s head…which reminds me of the three precious gifts that I have been given.

  4. Alison permalink
    January 29, 2010 12:18 pm

    This might be weird but one of the smells I love is fish washed up on the shore of Lake Michigan. It reminds me so much of vacation and FREEDOM.

    Lavender or Pink Grapefruit lotion. They say pink makes the boys wink and apparantly this pink grapefruit lotion does too.

    The smell of tar as the first drops of rain hit it.

    Pumkin and cinnamon spices of course remind me of Christmas but also of Loafers Glory which reminds me of visiting good folks.

    And just to go even weirder I really don’t mind the smell of little baby puke. My first (hmm, who could that be) threw up on my shoulder till she was 9 months old. When she stopped I always felt like something was missing because I didn’t have that smell on me anymore. 🙂

  5. Ashley Erin permalink
    January 29, 2010 3:38 pm

    Some of my favorites are already on your list, the scents of snow, and rain.

    Freshly sharpened pencils reminds me of 4 years studying animation, and the feeling of joy I would get when I would bring objects and characters to life, just through the act of drawing it.

    Leather car seats heated in the sun reminds me of summers in southern Manitoba with my Opa and Oma, driving around the farm or out to visit neighbours. Actually, a few months ago I got into a cab on a particularly sunny day and smelt that and it almost brought tears to my eyes because the memories of my Opa (now deceased) were suddenly so vivid.

    Campfire smoke reminds me of camping trips with my family and gasoline reminds me of road trips across the country at Christmas time.

    Such a fabulous list. I feel like I’ve learned so much about you just through this. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Frannie permalink
    January 29, 2010 7:28 pm

    Shalimar perfume. When I first met my husband he told me a story of how, when he was a very young man, he once smelled that perfume on a woman on a bus, so asked her what it was. He went on to relate that years later he bought a bottle of Shalimar for his significant other, recounted that story to her, and asked her to wear it for him. She refused on the grounds that it made him think of someone else (he had never had any communication with the woman on the bus other than asking the name of the perfume). When we got together and he told me about it I said, “Yeah! Let’s get some!” So we did. To tell the truth, I seldom wear any scent now, and we both find the smell of Shalimar strong and overpowering, but I still open the bottle now and again and dream about those early days.

    And I always and forever will love the smell of Mike’s skin. At night I burrow in and smell his back.

    I love the smell of mayflowers. It reminds me of being a kid and picking them for my mother.

    Apples baking and ginger cookies makes me a kid again, too.

    Lots more, but whose blog is this anyway? Haha!

  7. kat permalink
    January 30, 2010 2:49 pm

    have you been told today how powerful the words that float from your brain to your finger tips are? thanks for the gift girlfriend now heres my list:
    sweetgrass – reminds me of stamping down circles in the high grass fields laying back to the ground warm in the sun for hours
    eternity perfume – yuck, hours at the hospital with a broken arm prior to respecting your neighbours noses came to rule
    spring earth – when you open it up to plant those seeds and mother earth smells so saweet it fills me with reverence and assurance that what goes in will multiply bountifully
    old spice and scotch – my grandpa george and time spent in his embrace
    vito’s warm skin smell – hello pheremones, we all know what they’re for
    hehe that’s all for me, my nostrils will be quivering for the rest of the day – HUGS

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