Scents. Thoughts?

Do you smell it? That smell, the kind of smelly smell, a smelly smell that smells smelly…

How fascinating is it, to smell?

Of all of our five senses, it’s definitely up there.

While the manner in which things look, sound, and taste is a subjective experience depending only on the person, our sense of smell creates an invisible and intimate link with memory, and I can’t stop thinking about how every single person has within them a library of scents, all tied to different memories and sensations. Like discovering a lost treasure, or just a piece of trivia, I love learning how other people perceive smells, what their favorite scents are, who smells nice to them or what scent connects them to a specific time and place.

(Note: on the downside, it’s only natural that scents can also be tied to strong, negative experiences. What I’m referring to leans more towards the positive.)

Much like a song will remind us of a certain place or period in our life, smells too, when tied to specific moments, wind up permeating the entire lived experience and thus become the scent of the memory.

For example, the smell of burning wood reminds me of my childhood. I didn’t grow up near a forest or wooded area, but rather my family would sometimes gather together at my great-grandparents’ old house out in a tiny town in the skirts of the Iztaccihuatl volcano. It was a special place to go to, special due to the rarity of our trips, the holiday season, and the change in scenery, standing there beside the woods and taking in new sounds, as well as new scents.

I was still young when those trips became even more scarce; the last time I traveled there was about a year ago and before that at least five years, so much so that the memory of that place has been packaged up nicely and set firmly inside my head, brought forth in my thoughts with the smell of burning wood, the smell of family gatherings, of cold cold weather, of the burn in the fireplace and the whispers of family gossip in the nighttime.

Then we have something like exhaust fumes, the most ridiculous smell to fill my chest with glee and a burning cough. Back in college, I traveled to Glasgow for one semester during an exchange program. Such a lovely and different place, it made me different as well, and one way was how I walked everywhere now.

Public transport was too expensive for a thirty-minute walk, and up until that point, I’d had to drive myself everywhere back home. Here in Glasgow I walked home, to my classes, to the coffee shop, to the store down the street to buy some pens, to the supermarket, even to the nearest museum an hour away and in the middle of the chaotic, Glaswegian weather: sunshine, hail, rain, wind, and rinse and repeat at least five more times before the museum comes into view. I’d spent so much of my commute walking beside the road, cars, taxis, buses all passing me by.

And now the smell of cars (as though I’d never smelled them before), the heat of the engine, the faint smoke trailing behind them, far too toxic to consider romantic, reminds me of those happy and exciting months.

The other morning I was using a bit of my mother’s fancy micellar rose water to clean my face. As I dabbed the clear liquid on my face, the scent wafted into my nose and, oh no, what is this wetness in my eyes?

Once more in Glasgow. A few weeks after my arrival a food market was set up in Sauchiehall Street; meals from all over Europe, delicacies specific to different countries, all sorts of flavors to experience and one vendor, at the very far end of the street, had an entire stand just for Turkish Delight. Carrying already some loaf-sized meringues, I bought a small packet of rose-flavored Turkish Delight, and five years later I was struck with a smell and flavor I hadn’t realized had been so deeply rooted in my heart to that exchange trip.

And then there are scents you can’t explain, scents that seem to exist solely through emotional connections. The way a person smells doesn’t necessarily have to do with sweat or perfume, yet how do you explain that their scent can make them subconsciously attractive to you?

Like the way my best friends smell, like themselves, like comfort and familiarity, not their perfume or shampoo; the way my first love smelled, like tranquility and peace of mind, and I was always grateful he didn’t wear cologne. Even the way my pets smell, each different but all carrying the same sense of love and cuddles, not their food or fur coat.

A few years ago we visited my dad’s side of the family for the holidays and while staying with my aunt everyone decided to go and visit my old grandparent’s house, now left vacant and remodeled.

I couldn’t stomach returning to that house I hadn’t set foot in since I was 12. By sheer luck, I fell ill and was left alone to rest at my aunt’s house. I remember texting my best friends, saying, “I’m terrified that I’ll walk in there and it won’t smell the same,” because of course, it wouldn’t. It would kill me to see the staircase altered and its decorative tiles removed, to see the walls lacking my grandmother’s paintings, that we wouldn’t be greeted by the old grandfather clock smack dab in the middle of the entrance, and most of all, that the people who had made that house a home would be missing.

All I had left, all that was still mine, was the memory of the house’s smell and the sensation it stirred up in me, and I wanted to hold to it as long as possible.

I’ve yet to visit that house.

Mika is a Mexican writer and translator, pretender, pet-lover, and a mess at 1 in the morning. Follow her on Twitter @frequencymika.

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Mika AM

Writer, daydreamer, procrastinator. Always late to the party but loves platypus(es)