Of all the senses …

… the one I think is the most seductive, even more than ‘touch’, is our sense of smell. It is certainly the most evocative, at least it is for me. And it’s the most smelldifficult to capture with words. Which is why writing copy for a perfume can be so challenging.

Last week I wrote about memories and some of the triggers that cause them. A friend of mine commented on how scents trigger memories for her. She’s so right. They do. Powerful ones, at that. And then when I was at the market last week one of my first stops was for bread. No sooner did I idle up to the counter, then the sales gal helping me
inhaled deeply, sighed gently, smiled broadly and asked me if I was wearing patchouli.

She was referring to my perfume.

Indeed, it does have patchouli in it.

In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s rather woodsy, or musky. Earthy. I happen to love it; and every fragrance I’ve ever been attracted to has had patchouli as an ingredient. Not that I knew that until I dabbed the last few droplets remaining in my bottle of eau de toilette behind my ears.

Quite a while ago I blogged about the horror of having to find a new perfume after Gucci sold the Saint Laurent

fragrance division to L’Oreal. I’d been wearing Opium (from YSL) for years and years and years. It really had become my signature.

L’Oreal completely changed the formulation — which I didn’t know until after I’d run out and had to buy a new bottle — and it was so gross it took me weeks to get the smell out of my nose. It literally made me nauseous.

Anyway, it was a visit to a fragrance boutique where I became enlightened. The owner of the shop looked up the ‘ingredients’ in Opium. I can’t remember them all now but I do remember patchouli, cinnamon, pepper and some citrus. And the slightest hint of vanilla. She helped me find a new fragrance with most of the same ingredients, although in different amounts. Kind of spicy. And exotic. And dramatic. And mysterious, because although there’s something familiar about it, you just can’t put your finger on what it is. And that’s what I was wearing when I went to the market.

That encounter, coupled with my friend’s comments, has made me think of some of my favourite smells and the feelings and memories they evoke.

Right at the top of the list is jasmine. Just thinking of it instantly transports me back to India. Every hotel we stayed at during our month-long visit had little fragrance pots in all the guest rooms, filled with jasmine oil. All you had to do was plug them in and you were instantly enveloped. Glorious. They also lined all the corridors and hallways with the pots — which they placed on the floor, either beside or behind furniture. So it greeted you every time you left your room or got off an elevator.

If you’re thinking it must have been disgusting and overpowering, nothing could be further from the truth. It was actually very subtle. Totally intoxicating. Soft and sexy and soothing. I brought several tiny bottles of jasmine oil home with me but alas, they’re all gone now. Used up. Enjoyed. But gone. You can get candles and incense here, scented with jasmine, but I find them cloying. Nothing like what I experienced in India.

Another favourite is the smell of basil. If you and I ever happen to find ourselves in the same super market, at the same time, I’ll be the woman with her head buried in the basil. I could stand there, happily, for hours. Jo Malone, the London-based perfume, hair-and-skincare company used to have a fragrance that smelled like basil. I did try it, but it was disappointing. And thinking about it now, smelling like a caprese salad isn’t really all that appealing.

Unless maybe you’re a tomato.

When I was a kid, and I mean about six or seven years old, I loved the smell of gasoline. I always used to open the windows of the car when my father went for a fill up. I wonder what that meant. In hindsight, a medical intervention might have been in order.

Coconut always reminds me of a vacation once spent in Nassau. Even now it’s as if I’m back there. Enjoying the tropical climate, sunny skies, the sound of the ocean and steel drums. I can see all the baking bodies, slathered in oil, my own included. It was there I was introduced to the Goombay Smash — and coconut rum.

You know, it could be the dead of winter, with three-foot high piles of snow and I could be shivering with cold, but one whiff of coconut and I’m back in a hammock with a rum-based fruit drink in my hand and a huge grin on my face.

Chocolate? No thanks. Way too sweet for me. Sick-making. The smell of baking bread, on the other hand, makes my mouth water immediately. Which is why I try to avoid bakeries where they actually make the bread on the premises. The bag would be empty before I got home. As a kid in Montreal a treat on Saturday nights was to go, with my father, late at night to pick up bagels for breakfast the next morning. The trick was to arrive just as they were coming out of the oven. Heavenly! We always had to buy extra because the smell of them, in the car, was just too good to resist.

And the sea. I love the smell of the sea. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s fresh. A little salty. A little ‘raw’. Briny? Don’t know. I just know it’s distinctive and I like being there. Love walking on beaches, preferably by myself. Love watching the ebb and flow of the ocean. Love the sound of the waves slapping against the shore. They’re a great place to think, to work out problems, to come to terms with all your frustrations and disappointments and worries, to make peace with yourself, to formulate ideas, to dream, or just stare out into infinity and be mellow.

Speaking of the beach, some freshly-caught oysters and a cold beer would go down very nicely right now. Well maybe not exactly right now, it’s barely 7:00 am, but you know what I mean, don’t you?

I can already smell the lemon for my oysters. Come to think of it, the beer smells pretty damn good, too.



14 thoughts on “Of all the senses …

  1. I’d wear basil cologne. Jasmine couldn’t be overpowering. Patchouli? See I wouldn’t pin you as a Patchouli person! CHOCOLATE HMMM!

    I have scent fetishes, particularly herbs in the garden. I grab mint and shove it in face to inhale and it fills me right. Many others. Lemon balm, rosemary sure, fennel, lavender, bee balm, mother’s wort, phlox and gosh many others I’m sure.

    It’s very sexy!

    • I’m with you, I love all herbs as well. Adore all the above — not familiar with mother’s wort, though. I love, love, love lavender. The problem with the basil cologne was, it was too weak a scent. Really didn’t smell of anything — at least not on me. Now I know we’d have no trouble recognizing each other at the market. We’d both be bent over the herbs, inhaling with great joy and abandon! They’d probably call the cops on us πŸ™‚ Who cares, right????

  2. yes all the above very evocative…I have a ‘rose’ thing going at the moment……a bit old lady I guess but really uplifting in the morning via shower wash and body lotion! Tisserand is the best..I also love that ‘fresh air’ smell on kittens and the grandchildren when they have been playing outside! all the best- Caryl x

    • You’re lucky. Scented body lotions and soaps irritate my skin and give me a rash. It’s odd because I am fine with perfume. Love roses — don’t think they’re ‘old lady’ at all πŸ™‚

  3. Loved this post! I think one of the reasons I grow herbs in the summer is just so I can inhale the rosemary. And totally agree with you about the smell of the ocean – it was such a treat being in PEI this past weekend, and being surrounded by that wonderful smell. When combined with the smell of warm pine needles, I am instantly back camping in the South of France twenty-five years ago…

    • Thanks! Ahhh yes, pine needles. I adore the smell of pine needles too. And rosemary, of course. Of course you had that “ocean smell” in PEI. Did you stuff yourself with seafood? I sure hope so!! I’m looking forward to a blog about it πŸ™‚

  4. You’re so right, as usual. The sense of smell is powerful, memory-inducing, and incredibly difficult to describe. If a writer can manage an effective description though, it makes a story or setting that much more vivid for the reader.

    Some of my favorite smells: a new box of Crayola crayons, freshly cut grass, brewing coffee, a fresh canister of Play doh, the air inside an Italian restaurant (especially in winter), and my weird one: the oil used in hydraulic engine elevators.

    • Oh I forgot about crayolas and Play Doh. You are so right! I used to love those smells. And Italian restaurants, absolutely! You just made me think of a vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown where I go for Pho.

      The minute you walk through the door you are enveloped by the scent of sesame oil, basil and the most glorious herbs and spices. It’s not overpowering at all, just lusciously aromatic and somewhat foreign and exotic.

      You just can’t wait to get that gorgeous bowl of soup in front of you.

      Now I think I may have to go there for lunch πŸ™‚

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