In one of my favorite books, The English Patient, the nurse tells how her father would take his dog’s paw in his hand and sniff, as if it was a bouquet. It revealed, he expounded, “the aromas of a garden, a field of grasses, a walk through cyclamen—a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal had taken during the day.”
I’ve been studying aromatherapy, playing with sensations, the recall of a fragrance to me that you can’t experience, or “hallucinogenic perfumery”, as Diane Ackerman called it in her opus, A Natural History of the Senses. But for myself, distant memories are less refined. Like summers on the beach in Cape Town sucking granadilla lollies tinged with sand, the pungent aroma of asphalt and sunshine, my first trip to The Bush, oh, and the proximity of the warm velvet night high on elementary things. Now that my friends is the scent I’d like to bottle into luminous bubbles.
So you know that the majority of our sense receptors are in our eyes, which makes smell even more damn magical. Sight so dominates our intellectual practices that we construct mazes so we can see what is possible, what is happening. Synaesthetes inhabit our fragile bodies, feeling shapes, smelling noises, seeing flavors, and hearing colors. It’s a subject I’ve only started delving into, and I’m absolutely enthralled. Can you imagine having colored hearing? Thinking that kisses evoke thoughts of orange sherbet, and maintaining that apples taste blue. Sensual responses that are mighty unpredictable, like when I try and convince myself that writing is like trying to paint emerald green leaves and sky-blue flowers over crossed t’s and dotted i’s.
I’ll liken these revelations to something private that seems to be disconcertingly public and ubiquitous. The world talks about smell in a way that’s insatiably consuming entertainment, the way in which it permeates our soul like a strange and striking hymn to culture.
All smells worth their salt beg to be remade and reinterpreted, to be animated and then “see what happens.” Because in our heads, we are all film directors or novelists, imagining lifetimes inside odors, telling ourselves the stories incited by the pictures they illicit.
Fragrance makes those imaginative encounters luridly visible to me. Pulses of bass like fingers on skin, a rhythm that gradually bends you to its own syncopation. I think of fragrance as a her, and she’s got me hooked for life.
source: Marcel Christ/plenty of colour