When I looked at the picture Anita put up on Monday’s Top Ten post, those glorious Percherons, my mind was filled with smells. I imagined the smell of the horses (sweaty large animal, hot hair, warm horse breath, dung). Dust, the parched earth, the field of corn in the background. The heat gives everything a smell, a top note like an oil-coated metal sheet in a hot oven.
I doubt normal people go through their days thinking these things.
I am willing to bet that almost all of you – almost everyone who reads these words – has gone through days and years thinking not so much about the way things look, at least not first thing, but about the way they smell. If I said the word forest to you, there might be a picture in your head, but the first words out of your mouth might be about the scent of pines — the pungent needles, the resin, the loamy earth. Tell me about the last time you went to the florist, I might ask, and you’d tell me enthusiastically about the orchid you’d not realized was chocolate-scented, or the elusive, bitter smell that you traced to a prickly-looking houseplant in the corner, or the disappointing, almost scentless long-stem roses flown in from Colombia.
Take me to a new place, a place of wonders, a three-ring circus of smells. Take me to an open-air market in an unfamiliar country, surround me with the smell of strange fruit and piles of fish heads and offal and fabric, do you smell the fabric? Is it the dye that’s scented, or the material itself? Be careful. If they see you sniffing the fabric, they look at you funny. They point out – there – the bats high up in the trees, waiting for sunset. They are absurdly large, like mid-size terriers hanging upside down, and what do I think? I wonder what a bat smells like. Probably nasty, like decay. But I don’t ask. I don’t want anyone to indulge the strange farang lady’s tastes and go get me a bat. I had an awkward experience like that after I asked one too many questions about ladyboys.
I can hear the cicadas. It’s gloomy again, heavy clouds, like perpetual twilight, a strange day. But I can hear the cicadas and it occurs to me: their sound is acrid, acrid like curled and drying leaves. It’s in the high 90s again today, and everything is close and overripe, even the lawn smells like it’s rotting, I don’t know why. My wine glass sweats; the wine is full of ice, the way I like it (even the expensive stuff, it drives people nuts, but hey, it’s the way I like it and I’m in my own home, minding my own business.) The wine smells like sharp citrus; the Indian cotton throw under me of incense, my skin of Nuit de Tubereuse and smoked frankincense — choya loban –and the arnica gel I put on a bug bite earlier. I smell damp wood from the porch (the stairs are crumbling, maybe termites?); the wet-basket smell of the wicker sofa in the constant swelter. There’s a ghost, a gust of something else, the unexpected smell of chlorine, and I realize the twins’ bathing suits are hanging right over there, on the railing. There’s an empty bowl on the sofa by my hip. Tomato, onion, garlic, vinegar, tarragon, green pepper … gazpacho. Sharp and sweet, a smell in my mouth (a taste in my nose?). If I weren’t so lazy I’d wander back into the kitchen and eat another bowl, or maybe a whole tomato, fresh from our friend’s community plot. I have this vague idea in my mind that tomatoes consumed in sufficient quantities are poisonous (aren’t they a member of the nightshade family?) If that’s even a little true, you’d think I’d be dead. Along with half the population of Italy, so … well, it must not be true at all.
If I were more erudite I could sit around and talk about the way a piece by a particular composer moved me. I’d like to be that person, she’d be so clever. You would walk by my house at night and hear that music and think, oh, she’s clever, sensitive type. But instead it’s me, just me, out here on the screened porch, safe from the mosquitoes, more or less, and I’m keeping cool, reading my way through a whole slew of Scandinavian thrillers. I’m vicariously touring Sweden, Norway and now Iceland (it’s littered with dead bodies, unfortunately) and loving it. Kurt Wallender’s maybe not the right fit for me, but Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer mysteries are wonderful, complex, psychological. These ones in Iceland may be too dark for me, not sure yet. But I can tell you, the paper of my Iceland thriller? Jar City smells faintly of glue and benzoin. If you’re going into the kitchen, perhaps you could bring me a tomato. And a pinch off the basil plant, it’s over there. Thanks.
Okay, your turn: paint me a smell-picture from your recent days. Also: Librarything. Who knew? Everyone but me, apparently. (If you type in a book, or an author, you can get a recommendation for other books, or follow other interesting, endless data chains.)
image: first tomatoes, flickr, some rights reserved