Thursday, December 04, 2008

Nose wide shut

I've taken of late to smelling my food and drink with my eyes closed.
I got the idea when I bought a cup of Blue Bottle coffee, which had a
particularly good aroma. When I closed my eyes, the smell became far
more complex and intense. After all of these years in the ultra food-
centric Bay Area, and trying to compete with all of those "it has
redolent whispers of cherry and pepper, finished with a startling
crescendo of smoke and citrus" types, I finally have a way into their
world.

Smell is a particulary awesome sense because it's so evocative,
apparently because it is evolutionarily primitive and has such low-
level hooks into memory. A lot is made of that in popular science and
literature and we've all felt it, I'm sure, but I'd never realized how
much intensity is potentially there. Like a house circuit with
blender, hair dryer, and stereo going where the lights grow brown and
dim, one sense dilutes the others. Without the distractions of sight,
smell immediately does bring into sharp focus those associations and
descriptions. This cup of coffee right now has chocolate and the not
unpleasant must of a basement on a cool spring day. The other cup
reminded me of hotdogs cooking on a smoky campfire. I saw that pale
golden light on faces surrounded by the utter pitch black of the
outdoor night. The scotch last night did smell of iodine and anise.

The other thing I realized was that attempting understand tastes and
smells through language is pointlessly impossible. These are senses
that pre-date the development of the language and grammar parts of the
brain, I bet. You can't smell and then grope for the words. You have
to let the pictures form and the memories rise.

Also, my coffee now has the faintest aroma of potato chips. The good,
cheap kind, greasy and salty.


\t : iPhone->you

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