That Which We Call a Rose...
Try this: go for a walk in your neighbourhood, and every ten paces or so stop and have a really good deep smell. Walk a couple of blocks doing this. If you're really obsessive like me, take a notebook and write down everything you smell. Isn't it amazing? Cut grass, curry, bitumen, paint, cat piss, magnolia, mildew, petrol, leaf mulch, cigarettes, burnt toast, eucalyptus leaves... why is it that we don't pay more attention to our sense of smell?
I really like perfumes. This is not these days usually considered a desirable trait in a man unless he is gay, or a perfumier, or both. I'm not talking about the industrial solvent-style 'male' scents that are marketed under irksome butch brand names to wearers of cheap bling, but of the astonishing seduction of jasmine and sandalwood, vetiver, Damask rose, freesia and magnolia, gardenia, rosemary, frangipani and murraya, frankinsense, golden wattle, carnation, bergamot, lilac and violet, pine and vanilla... some of the gorgeous fragrances that are, for the most part, the province of perfumes made for women.
I know almost nothing about how to assess a perfume. But I do know that when I smell certain things, I have strong, sometimes almost knee-weakening rapid-fire flashes of nostalgia or desire. It's almost like the scent is a hardwire directly and unambiguously into the usually mazelike recesses of my emotional core. I remember a few summers ago passing a woman in the street not far from my house. It was dark between the streetlights and I couldn't see her face at all. The perfume she was wearing was, as far as my conscious brain can tell, not something I had smelled before, and yet the sense of eroticism and yearning it evoked was so overpowering that it is a testament to the sterling quality of my upbringing that I didn't ravish her on the spot.
The amazing thing is, the mechanism of the sense of smell is very poorly understood. In fact, there is quite some controversy in scientific thought on the matter, and there is no better account of it than Chandler Burr's fascinating literary portrait of maverick perfume scientist Luca Turin, 'The Emperor of Scent'
Some of my favourite perfumes:
George Trumper 'Eucris'
Annick Goutal 'Gardenia Passion'
Christain Dior 'Dioressence'
I can really understand how people get passionate about perfume and I love to dip into this blog every now and then: 'Now Smell This'