My friend has the ability to remember every detail of who ate what at which restaurant in which year; whether they liked it, who served us, who rode home in which car, which couple had a fight… I am continually amazed by her (and grateful, since she is the group’s keeper of history in technicolour detail) – it is dazzling!
When it comes to me, well, I’ve dabbled in useful/useless skill sets, but one thing is clear: I’ve always had a super-sensitive nose. Sometimes more of a curse than a blessing, I have fun with it anyway and I am realising now how much this sense of mine has begun to lead my life in new directions.
The sense of smell is deeply, deeply powerful; a host of both memory and small pleasures.
Dating sites are filled with flowery-dreamy ‘like’ lists which start so often with ‘I like how the grass smells after rain’. And clichés abound around wood-fires and salty sea air… During my MA in Creative Writing, I learned to be jealous of these clichés, but to avoid them, always, so I’ll go another way and quote some lines from one of my favourite poets, Kate Clanchy, who in ‘Poem for a Man with No Sense of Smell’ tells us:
in a breeze, the delicate hairs on the nape
of my neck, just where you might bend
your head, might hesitate and brush your lips,
hold a scent frail and precise as a fleet
of tiny origami ships, just setting out to sea.’
Personally I adore the scent of cut garlic under my fingernails; the tiny, fragile scent of windswept bluebells (preferably experienced while lying among them; an exquisite and highly-recommended, sensual experience sadly too often left to us art models). My dog (a long-haired chihuahua who feels most comfortable in rainbow hand-knitted jumpers) smells like custard creams. The cushions I leant against while I reclined nude in front of a painter every few days for a year (my first sustained foray into the modelling world) had a certain smell (of incense, tapestry, conversation; art itself; of endless glass vases full of paintbrushes). The entire island of Bali is a song of ‘come back!’; it smells of canang sari offering, ginger tea and epiphany; the collaborative interaction of grains of rice, frangipani flowers, sweet snacks and burning sticks all arranged in the coconut leaf baskets which grace the edges of pavements, doorways of temples; tinged with the fiery bolt-pasts of moped petrol oils.