Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I have a really keen sense of smell. My nose is super sensitive to both good and bad smells; I can often smell things that others can’t. Maybe I have a superpower after all!

I think smell is an amazing thing. It always amazes me how one whiff of something can transport you back in time to a specific place. I think a lot of our memories are made more poignant by the smells that go along with them.

On the flip side, I think smells can be tortuous as well.

Some smells I could do without:
  • Licorice
  • Burning rubber
  • Burnt hair
  • Lexi’s, um, “toots”
  • Mothballs
  • Leftovers that have been in the fridge too long
  • Wet dog
  • Fingernail clippings (sorry if that was too gross)
  • Beer
  • Nasty street corners baking in the hot Madrid sun
I’ll end on a fresh and happy note! These are some of my favorite smells:
  • Freshly brewed coffee
  • Baking bread
  • Garlic, especially roasted
  • Honeysuckle (although it makes me sneeze like a crazy person)
  • Turkey and stuffing roasting in the oven
  • Fresh basil just pinched off the plant
  • Cinnamon
  • Sprigs of fresh mint
  • Lilacs
  • Chocolate
  • The air during and after a good rainstorm
  • Baby powder
  • Hot chocolate chip cookies
  • Just mowed grass (but, again with the sneezing)
  • My kids, after a bath or shower
  • Fallen leaves in autumn
  • Vanilla
  • Cotton sheets, line-dried in the sun

Being an actor, I’ve learned that smell is more connected to emotion than sight. Try it out now. In your mind’s eye imagine these scents:

Fresh cut grass
The sea
Roast turkey
A strawberry scented candle
Shower gel
A lit match
Fresh tobacco

Okay, now imagine these smells:
Bad breath
Dirty socks
Cigarette smoke
Wet dog
Cooked cabbage
Moldy egg salad
A field covered in fresh manure
Insect repellent
Old carnival ponies
Stale, imitation crab meat
Zucchini gone bad
Rancid, uncooked potatoes

My guess is: there were a handful of items from the first list that conjured positive emotions. Smell has the potential to actually make one feel less fearful even. By the same token, there were likely a handful of items from the second list that called forth negative emotions.

Some of the scents, both good and bad, have particular memories attached to them and recalling these memories results in (quite often) strong emotional impulses. That’s why, depending on your experiences, some of the items from the first (“positive”) list may actually call forth negative emotions, even though we tend to regard those scents as generally pleasant. For example, perfume: if you’re divorced and you imagine the perfume your ex-wife wore, this could have a negative effect.

Interesting, isn’t it? What are some other scents that you’d add to either list? Are there any scents from the first list you’d regard as negative?


Mary Clara said...

I love that you two did the lists in reverse order.

And Troy, for some reason, I consider pine negative.... and I have no idea, because it's a nice smell.
Will have to ponder this one:).

paulo said...

i was with a friend once and we passed an entrance to the atlanta metro system once and caught a whiff of that metro smell--a mix of dust and urine and metal--right as the train went by, and we both took it in and remembered madrid. we did this simulataneously, then looked at each, having just realized what we did, and laughed.

Anonymous said...

Heather, you left off the most awesome smell there is- good CLEAN man after a heavy workout.
It's a scent both comforting and rewarding, especially when he's YOUR MAN :)