Of our five senses, two possess the power to hold us captive against our will. We can close our eyes to a scary film scene, spit out a bad clam, or drop a hot pan. But if we can’t walk away, a terrible smell or grating sound claims us as prisoner.
Last week I boarded a train, looking forward to two days of reading and watching the northern Midwest roll by. The sleeping car attendant outfitted each restroom and the corridor with electric scent diffusers, in several flavors, including coconut, vanilla, and cinnamon. After a few hours aboard, my head floated in a cloud of chemical odor.
I’m guessing that the scent solution had spilled on a bathroom counter during refilling, because that evening, while I was getting ready for bed, my toiletries and clothes absorbed the oily substance.
The next morning I smelled like a candle shop nightmare. At my destination, I laundered and aired everything I’d carried aboard. No amount of fresh water or frigid air could save my favorite carry-on bag with the image of a large polka-dot clad rodent. Forgive me, Minnie. I will miss you. When I finally decided I had to toss that bag, it stunk up the trash. My travel alarm still hints at imitation cinnamon.
It’s a relief to be back home. Here at the Library I was greeted by the mingled fragrance of aging books and the fresh odor of new volumes, a comforting smell. And our books not only please my sense of smell, many also inform it.
From Essence and Alchemy: A Book of Perfume by Mandy Aftel,
Our olfactory sensibility has been marginalized and deadened by the chemicalization of our food and our environment, and the overwhelming proliferation of unnatural smells. The world of natural odors has been co-opted by products; many people cannot smell a lemon without thinking of furniture cleaner. Oversaturation with chemical smells has compromised our ability to appreciate complex and subtle natural odors.
Books for further reading.
A Garden of Fragrance by Suzy Bales
Heavenly Fragrance: Cooking with Aromatic Asian Herbs, Fruits, Spices and Seasonings by Carol Selva Rajah
The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell by Luca Turin
Trees and Shrubs for Fragrance by Glyn Church