Friday, June 09, 2006

I have often heard that the most compelling of the 5 senses is olfactory. Sense of smell can be incredibly powerful, and it's so easy to be transported to another time in your life by exposure to a scent which is very similar to something from earlier in your life. Smell imprinting is a mind-boggling thing.

I was walking near a grade school in at city in Belgium once, about age 22, and I smelled bread baking that was a dead ringer for the scent of bread baking at the school in which I attended 5th & 6th grades. It was a very cold winter day, and the heady yeasty smell was glorious, even though I never really cared for the bread in the cafeteria. It was just a fragrant snapshot that seemed like a time machine.

I don't think mimeographs are done in schools any more, but those of us who are old-fartish will remember the halcyon pre-photocopier era of school in which all our tests and class handouts were printed in the office on a bulky and loud dinosaur of a mimeograph machine. I would always volunteer to help hand out the stacks of mimeos, because they were cool to the touch, slightly moist and perfumed by the mimeo fluid, which I found heady and oh-so-pleasing. Yeah, yeah. That's probably why I couldn't have babies, right? Whatever.

Then there's that other fragrance of yore which I'll never smell again, but which I found delightful all those years ago. Gather round children, and marvel at the thought that gasoline used to only come in leaded. Leaded gas had a strange and distinctive odor which was glorious in small doses. I wouldn't want to be locked in a small airtight space with the stuff, by any means, but even though I was a kid at the time I always liked hovering near the gas pump when dad filled up the car, or at least hanging my head out the open window and taking a nice deep whiff.

I feel a pang of remorse for the aroma treasury which has been snuffed forever by freaky-outy environmentalists and a government run amok.

21 comments:

MJ said...

Remember when store-bought tomatoes smelled fresh off the vine? And tasted fresh off the vine?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I used to love the smell of gasoline as well, until my dad decided that putting gasoline on our weeping sores would be a good way of drying up the bad case of poison ivy that we kids had. It worked but in retrospect it likely wasn't too wise.

Freshly mowed grass! That smell never goes out of style!

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

The nose has direct wiring to the heart.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

I always loved the smell of gas, too.

MJ said...

Gas? What about the smell of napalm in the morning?

LJ said...

You and me, PF. I adored the smell of gasoline.
And even the mention of mimeograph brought the smell back.
Best smells:
Coffee
gasoline
fresh bread
pine trees
healthy dog fur (sorry, can't help it, I like that smell)
line-dried laundry
apples
sweaty little-kid hair
real lavender
lemons
old gym shoes (just kidding)

Leazwell said...

Is it just me or does Joy parfum not smell as it once did? 25 years ago a college roommate had a huge bottle some woman had given her because she was tired of it. I dare say the woman had had it a while. I from time to time removed the stopper to take a whiff. It was light and airy and gave me a lift. But these days the stuff is heavy and musky. Like gasoline, it clings long and strong. There is a desire to scrubb it off not long after it is applied.

Kelly said...

I also loved the smell of mimeograph ink. And the purply-blue color was so pretty.

You should come and work with me. I get to sniff ethanol every day. So bad for my brain, but the sweet-sharp scent is tantalizing.

Same thing with permanent markers and Elmer's Glue.

I think I have a problem...

Oh, and sometimes, just by thinking of someone, I can almost smell them, like they were sitting by me.

Does this make me sound crazy?

Tam said...

Ah, yes... memory from the old factory...

I have one that, oddly enough, reminds me of wandering about Brussels myself; the first old European city I explored alone and on foot. It was high Summer, and I'd come tramping back to my hotel from my wanderings late in the evening, around sunset. There was an Italian restaurant across the street from my digs, and I usually ate there.

Now any time I'm out on foot, on a bike, or in the car with the top down, and there's that certain slant of late Summer afternoon light, with the smells of Italian cooking and a whiff of diesel exhaust... BAM! It's like a time machine back to 1994.

phlegmfatale said...

mj - wow, do you EVER have a point! I bought some home-grown green tomatoes last week on the way home from Canton - GLORIOUS!
I had a tomato plant volunteer this spring (came up on its own, even though I've never planted them here) and I'm letting it be and watering it occasionally - I'm wondering what kind of tomatoes I'll get. I'm also thinking of getting a cherry tomato plant and starting to pickle some tart little green tomatoes - they are heavenly in a vodka martini.

barbara - wow - gas on open sores - that's a new one. I guess he thought no self-respecting germ could live through it! Yes, fresh cut grass and newly mown hay. Heaven.

lightning bug's butt - that is very well-put - the heart being directly wired to the nose. Yeah, that gas, I'd like to smell it once more. Ain't gonna happen, though.

mj - gas and napalm - YUM! Oh, and I love the smell of Europe in the morning!


lj - damn skippy about the coffee - it smells waaay better than it tastes. Pine trees. Hmmmm... smoke...
driving out of Yosemite and then into Sequoia a couple years ago, there were wild fires burning here and there around the forests, and the air smelled like burning pinon wood - glorious. Heavenly.

phlegmfatale said...

leazwell- I never was that familiar with Joy parfum, so I couldn't say. I will say I never thought Chanel no. 5 smelled very good, but I LOVE Coco. Sweet! I hate when perfumes start going wonky with your chemistry and end up smelling nothing like they did in the bottle. Shame, that pheremone thingy.

o.g. - yeah, LOVEd the color of mimeo stuff - I still think of making my business cards like that - only they'd be perfect if they could be scratch'n'sniff. I think if we worked together, we'd get into trouble. That doesn't make you sound crazy- it just sounds like you imprint with smells especially well. :o) Lucky you. Pass the mimeo fluid.

Tam - and what GREAT restaurants they have in Belgium, yeah? Avenue Louise. The Grande Place I ended up killing a marvelous afternoon with glorious belgian brews and a queeny hairdresser in a gay bar I happened into just off the Grande Place. Good times! Funny - I was in Brussels in Feb of 1994, too. :o) Diesel fuel in crisply cold air can remind me of 2 places, but it's a fine line which. Chicago and London. Love that smell.

MJ said...

Vodka? Did I hear somebody mention vodka?
*perks up*

phlegmfatale said...

yeah, baby. And when I pickle some baby green tomatoes, I'll pass them all around. Yum!

shpprgrl said...

I remember the mimeograph smell. I remember all of us dorky kids hoping to get the paper while they were still wet and smelly. We would ALL then hold the paper up to our noses and take a long whiff. I also have fond memories of the smell of paste, barbie dolls, Polo (80's thing!), and Wrigley Spearmint gum.

chuck said...

WHEN I WAS A KID DELIVERING NEWSPAPERS IN THE 1950'S TO YOUNG, MARRIED FACULTY AT 'POKER FLATS' APARTMENTS AT WILLIAMS COLLEGE...I LOVED THE SMELL OF FRYING ONIONS COMING FROM SEVERAL APARTMENTS IN PARTICULAR.

WHEN I WENT TO BAI VIRBAIJI SOPARIWALLA SCHOOL IN KARACHI (PAKISTAN) IN 1956 I LOVED THE SMELL OF SAMOSAS COOKING OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL'S GATE. THE SMELL OF SAMOSAS MEANT 'BREAK' (RECESS) WAS COMING IN 10 OR 15 MINUTES: "YUM."

:P fuzzbox said...

'Only two things that money can't buy and thats true love and homegrown tomatoes.' One of my favorite old ditties.

Try to watch it with the gas huffing. That stuff melts brain cells.

phlegmfatale said...

shpprgrl - yeah, take a nice deep whiff. aaaahhhh, lovely. Oh, and Paste, and what a lovely texture paste had, eh? I'll bet it doesn't smell the same these days? I'll have to pick some up later. Yeah, Barbies DO have their own smell, don't they? Hadn't thought of that.

chuck - wow - that was your first exposure to indian cooking? OOOOOHHH, samosas! I LOVES me some samosas. Give me sommoah samosas! Heaven. Wow, you went to school in Pakistan? You must have eaten the most heavenly food! I could eat vegetable Jalfriezi (spelling?) every day of my life, especially if it's heavy on the cauliflower. Divine.

fuzzbox - and that's a great saying for a very good reason: it's totally true.
Not still huffing gas fumes since the old fussbudgets started getting the lead out. Selfish bastards!

Vita said...

Just gotta bring up those small rental fishing boats and the fumes of the gas and the fuel offal floating around the motor on top of the water with all the rainbow colors.

phlegmfatale said...

vita - boaty smells, the lake, etc. The smell of creosote on timbers around the parking area of a lake always reminds me of Shelby Forest in Memphis where we'd go fishing on Sunday afternoons when I was a wee lass.

Kim Carney said...

everyone's comments are making me want to run to the indian restaurant down the street and go stick my nose up a gas nozzle...mimeographs had the best smell, I rmemeber it fondly. The smell of a baby is incredible..the new skin smell...and of course peonies, jacobs ladder, the smell of baking chocolate, of air being swept clean with a heavy wind -- early in the morning -- that is an incredible one. Salt water, o my mom's Joy perfume on a warm day, honeysuckle, fish markets in Malta, oh,oh, the perfect smell of horse manure mixed with arena dirt (one of my faves)...ok, I must quit and go to work now ;)

phlegmfatale said...

kimmer - ah, mimeo stuff. SWEET! Oh, and Indian food. Yeah, I get it on the horse manure and arena dirt - you can take the cowgirl out of the country, blah blah blah. It's a pleasant smell - one of those wonderfully predictable smells. It's a state fair and a Ft Worth Stock Show smell, isn't it?