The Scent With Power to
Make You Dream Or Run
Some of us like perfumes. Others, stink too much (you know who you are. Maybe). Some use one to cover up the other, to widespread annoyance. And yet, for all we know, the primeval sense of smell may be the scent that has saved our species from extinction. Maybe.
The odor spectrum is radically split into two realms: one transcends us to heaven, if not to sweet remembrances of the past; the other tosses us into the very bowels of hell, all gagging included. But without rot wafts, we wouldn’t know how appreciate so much a whiff of lavender.
Or to breathe into a room full of old books. To some, that’d be the one to bottle and carry around at all times. Humans are partial to jasmine, to myrrh, and to citruses, too, not just to the primeval smell of milk or food in general. Our taste for pleasant smells is its own reward.
A familiar smell can stop people on their tracks, and thrown them into deep reverie. Often, a memory floods the mind even before it can recognize what triggered it. Similar to an old song, a scent can transport anyone to an elusive mix of recollection and comfort feelings.
No wonder the sense of direction has been linked to the nose. It’s where scientists found traces of magnetite, a crystal we share with birds. Of all the places we stick our noses in, or point them to, guessing correctly which is the way back home can be a life saver.
FOR A FEW SCENTS MORE
We should also thank the stars for the nose to point forward and far from what’s better left behind (and unsaid). But either for a matter of survival, as when one smells a fire, or a rat, or for sentimental reasons, it’s hard to imagine organisms depleted from such crucial ability.
But some people are, either by accident or freak of nature. And most are doing just fine, thank you very much. So there you have it, how lucky you’ve been and hardly noticed. And don’t go around saying that nobody told you: you just have. You’re welcome.
Within the vastness of what flares the wings of our nose (beside anger and derangement), two traces are particularly close to us: body odor (you knew it was coming); and city smells. Each or combined, (more)
* Space Odor
* Aroma Holiday
* Two Scents
they hit us first, and often hard enough, to leave an everlasting impact.
THE SENSE YOU MAKE OF IT
Many have decided that the human body never smells good. Except babies, perhaps, when, you know, sometimes. Evolution did make sure that some smells are offensive, to save us from intoxication. But that has nothing to do with this generalized Bromidosiphobia (go ahead, look it up. We did.)
And yet, body odor, specially when it hits in places you have no way to escape from, is indeed mood crushing and for reasons that have little to do with evolution. From poor personal hygiene to genetic factors, we know a lot about why people stink, and still hate them.
For some, there’s no way out, only ways to compensate, or live with it, others be damned. To those living in a world without smells, there are others to whom they trigger sexual arousal. Which overrides any preconceived repulse against B.O. and, studies show, may actually improve our sensory ability.
FRAGRANT SUMMER IN THE CITY
If you neither can stand the redolence of a Chinatown food market, nor have heard of Smelly Kelly, New York City may not be for you. No metropolis is, for that matter. Too bad. You could get rich selling subway and exhaustion pipe extracts. Right on the platform. Eau de Gowanus, anyone?
While cologne manufacturing is a multibillion dollar industry, some olfactory experts are trying to bottle what makes cities come alive. They may collect street food scents, or the essence of a taxi backseat, extract their main chemical components, and voilá, a signature fragrance is born.
But if the whiff of wheezing air conditioners encapsulate entire neighborhoods, books are vessels to the ages, in more ways than one. That’s why some libraries are trying to decode their collections’ smells. So one day, your library card may give you access not just to literature but also to scents of yesteryear.
THE AROMA OF A LIFETIME
Even if one can’t keep their nose clean, what comes rushing and unsuspecting down into the nostrils compounds much of the pleasure and allure of being alive. The morning dew, a wet lawn, the faint smell of a steam locomotive leaving the station in the distance haven’t become visual clichés for nothing.
Seasoned drunks develop immunity against the stench of a bar bathroom, but are still partial to the smell of hoops, and may argue for hours about the nuanced scent of booze and brews. They’re on to something. After all, Ammonia salts have been getting knocked out people back on their feet since at least the Romans.
If your life could be sniffed like an aroma, what would it be? Sweet or sour? Odorous? Pungent? Acrid or insipid? Again, like a melody, we long to be heard like a pleasant chord progression, but often sound like an alarm clock. Still, that memory encapsulated within a single scent molecule is yours to keep. And so is your nose. If something smells burn, don’t expect to see smoke; just run.