Friday, October 28, 2016


Do any of these smells bring back memories for you?

How about the smell of green tea?

While living overseas, we developed a better 'nose' for aromas that quickly reminded us that life can be different.

After a six-week home leave, we returned each year to Tokyo at the beginning of September. When we emerged from the taxi at our apartment, we took our first breath of the humid air, and the sweet aroma of baking rice cakes filled our lungs. Besides the din of thousands of cicadas in Arisagawa Park, the odor from the rice cake bakery nearby reminded us we were home.

We are so cleansed of smells in our modern world that pungent odors can be surprising. Nothing emanates from our computers, smartphones, or televisions -- not yet, at least. We have reduced the scents from flowers, use mouthwash to cover bad breath, and work to expunge other unpleasant odors. I remember riding in a bus in Paris when a man with an unwashed body and dreadlocks entered the bus. His body odor overwhelmed me so that I had to retreat from the bus at the next stop. I thought of what life in a large city must have been like two hundred years ago. Now we are all so washed clean that we rarely notice body odor except when we are in an enclosed space such as a bus or a gym.

Do you like to color? You are welcome to download these two Inktober drawings.

While living in Paris, we attended wine fairs where as many as 800 independent wineries would offer tastings. One day, even though my head felt full of congestion from a cold, we walked through the door of a huge hall, inhaled the thick, moist air, and spent several hours trying to identify the aromas of the offered wines. At the end of the day, my cold was gone.

At the fair we purchased a wine game called "Le Nez du Vin," which included 54 small vials of liquid, which when opened offered a sniff of various aromas found in wine. We played the game with friends. Very few of us could identify the fragrances. Sometimes we would recognize a scent, but we couldn't name it. So we would pass on Grapefruit, Cherry, Violet, Mushroom, Thyme, Leather, and Toast.

The smells of cigar smoke reminds my husband of his dad, who smoked one continuously for years, lighting up after dinner and filling the dining room with the thick smoke. Do you have similar odors from your past that bring back memories of someone or of some place? Of the five senses, which do you use the most?

This month, along with my Inktober drawing-a-day, I have focused my posts on the senses. As a visual person, I found writing about the sense of sight to be easy, asking Rose Owens to talk of her love of cheese made the sense of taste come alive, but writing about smells so that you could be there with me was much harder. I needed to know more about what the sense of smell means to us. I found a research paper called Aroma, the Cultural History of Smells by Constance Classen, David Howes, and Anthony Sinnott, to be full of information about the importance of smells throughout human history. Good, short read!  Did you know that dwellers in the rainforest depend on their sense of smell because their sight is so restricted by the canopy they live in?

Keep going with your Inktober practice-a-day!


  1. Such wonderful places and memories you have inhabited. You bring them to life - a gift of our senses and memories overlapping. Yum!

    I assumed the first feast is with the eyes for all of us. To lose eyesight, which my mother did, was to remove the feast, leaving her disoriented and bitter. But here in your post, I'm reminded that we use all senses to orient us and engage. About our senses - I believe one reason we souls inhabit our bodies is because we haven't the physical senses until we're incarnated. So much to savor here on earth! When senses transmit love, they are easy on us, but even when they transmit hurt, they teach us valuable lessons, if we use that sixth(?) sense, our heart.

    You reminded me about an article I read in the New York Times a few years ago. A man - I believe it was a man - went many days and weeks without washing in an experiment. He then wrote about it. Gradually odor eating bacteria began inhabiting his skin. He may have also have been 'washing' with dust, I forget. After a while, he was no longer malodorous, just his 'normal' scent. Back in the day, before our anti-bacterial, no scent lifestyle, Mother Nature didn't leave us reeking and repulsive!

    1. Flo, I'm glad you remembered that NYT article. That makes good sense to me because otherwise, how could we all stand each other?
      Also, I agree that we need to count a sixth sense -- your heart/feeling sense. You absorb so much through that last sense. Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my post!

  2. This blog reminded me of our trip to China in the early 80’s. I was so amazed by the different smells I encountered in the markets and restaurants. You’re right, we’ve become so sanitized that our sense of smell isn’t very well developed. We played that smelling game at a winery a few years back and did very poorly, but it was an awakening.

  3. Christmas Tangerine
    burst of invisible spray
    fills my nose the instant
    I begin to peel it
    olfactory promise
    tongue delight

    1. I'm so glad you answer in poetry, Jan. Yes, the burst of Tangerine aroma is delicious. Thank you!


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