Sunday, March 11, 2007

Smell - a very under-rated sense!

My wife and I were in the Avoca shop in Powerscourt yesterday. We noticed lavender sacks for sale. The shape and scent brought me back more than 40 years. My mother used to put these sacks in chests of drawers with clothes. The smell of lavender still reminds me of our old house, drawers, comfort, security, letting parents take care of you. When you're an adult you can take on big challenges, but a child should just enjoy growing up in blissful safety.

I'm currently reading a novel called the The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. There is a great passage in it about how the young girl Liesel relates through smell to her foster father, Hans, who is kind to her and is teaching her to read each evening in the basement of their house....

Some nights after working in the basement, Liesel would sit crouched in the bath and hear the same utterances from the kitchen.

"You stink", Mama would say to Hans. "Like cigarettes and kerosene."

Sitting in the water, she imagined the smell of it, mapped out on her papa's clothes. More than anything, it was the smell of friendship, and she could find it on herself too. Liesel loved the smell. She would sniff her arm and smile as the water cooled around her.

I've written last year about how under-rated and powerful the sense of smell can be (Smell..the sense of the past and also comments on the novel Perfume). I'm sure we can all relate certain smells to childhood or other memories. Any thoughts?

7 comments:

that girl said...

Oh I think smell is so evocative. I love lavender and have essential oils burning in my house all the time..Pears soap brings me right back to when I was 10!

John of Dublin said...

Cool! Sounds like a neat house to be in.

I suppose girls have always appreciated scents. Us guys have to think about it more. Yea, Pears soap, I'd almost forgotten about that.

Of course I'm referring to all scents - good and bad and neither. The smells of the seashore and mountain air and wild garlic are all evocative too.

that girl said...

I once dated a guy who was allergic to all chemical stuff so I couldn't wear perfume or any of that stuff around him. I felt lost without it because I've been wearing the same perfume now for nearly 20 years..

-Ann said...

Mothballs reminds me of digging through piles of old toys in my paternal grandmother's basement. Garlic reminds me of my maternal grandmother. I'm sure I can think of some others, if I smelled them. :)

John of Dublin said...

Hi Ann. Yes, garlic is an interesting one. It reminds me of some artist friends I knew. They were big into garlic on all foods and they seemed to smell of garlic themselves. The smell of certain medicines also remind me of childhood.

Paul said...

Hi John,

I remember reading somewhere that of all the senses, the strongest historical associations are through the sense of smell. That's to say, it seems that historical associations are better memorised and more easily recalled when associated with this sense. Maybe because there are fewer smell-based "events" than from the other senses.

John of Dublin said...

Hi Paul. Thanks for the comments. Yes, you could well be right.