The Scent of Memories is a slightly poetic podcast episode that I recored only in Polish, maybe indirectly related to improvisation, although improvisation has its share in it. I recorded it in early 2021 and it tells about a world with no sense of smell.
Since October (now it’s March) I’ve been living without the sense of smell and I have a growing fear that it will stay that way. Fear of what I’ve lost. My thoughts can be divided into two groups – the everyday functioning and perception of the world, and the other, in which the sense of smell is the key to memories. What if we lose both?
After a year of a pandemic, I don’t have to explain to you how it happens that people lose their sense of smell.
My sister and I worked at the international impro Spunk Festival in Zurich, Switzerland, which I mentioned in the previous episode of the podcast. Returning after more than a week, I sprayed myself with perfume at the airport and … I felt nothing. I gave my sister a sniff and she snorted saying the smell was too intense. I felt like a film heroine bitten by a zombie.
Then there were tests and various doctors – but it’s not about that.
I know that smell seems to be the least needed of the senses. You can live without it. But when you suddenly lose it, you get an idea of how many times a day people refer to smells. And you feel as if you are surrounded by some astral plane that you cannot access, as if you can’t see what everyone else can see.
It’s very disturbing to hear „do you feel something burning?” – you immediately think that something is on fire and you don’t even know it! If there was a fire in the building, I’d sit with a book until I saw the smoke. What if there is a gas leak? What if YOU STINK and everyone knows it except you? I think it’s easy to fall into obsessive compulsions on this point. You can constantly wash your body and clothes. You don’t know if you are exaggerating with perfumes, assuming you still use them for the sake of others. And you won’t try a new fragrance, because who would want to risk something unpleasant? You use your remembered scent because even though you don’t smell, you KNOW how you smell.
I dream of smells.
I’m suddenly reminded of smells. Grandma’s house, a matryoshka on her shelf. Avon perfumes that I used in high school. Old chess I pulled out after watching Gambit.
I went shopping, went to tea shop, to get a nice coffee for lockdown. A nice lady approached me to advise me on the choice. And she started opening the jars and sticking it under my nose to sniff it. I decided not to explain that I lost my sense of smell, but I am healthy. I started sniffing and saying “mmmmm, they smell great, I don’t know which one to choose”…
I bought two.
Spoiler – flavored coffee is only aromatic coffee. It was never tasty, we only thought so.
When I get flowers from my boyfriend, I smell them. Always. I’m not trying to get rid of this habit. I want to believe that it will still be useful.
I smell what I’m cooking. So I breathe the heat from the pot. Fried onion bites the nose, giving the illusion of smell. So is vinegar.
“Some people won’t taste mandarins this Christmas,” the memes said. Well, actually. In the same way, they will not feel whether the vegetable salad in the jar is already curdled after a few days or not yet.
It’s not just that you don’t smell strawberries or cream. You don’t feel your partner. You don’t feel your own baby. You close your eyes and it feels like a stranger is sleeping next to you. That your child is some alien. You don’t smell your own home when you come back to it after a long absence.
The brain is fighting. It cheats. Makes up for fragrances with memory. The first sniff seems to carry a scent if you can see what you are smelling. Coffee, for example. At the second one, you only expose this illusion. Or when you close your eyes. The brain remembers. But for how long?
Of course, I’ve watched movies like “Last Love on Earth” starring McGregor and Eva Green, where the virus takes all of the senses. It’s hard not to think about the fact that if you can lose your sense of smell (and taste for some) with a snap of infinity stones, how can you be sure that something else can’t turn off your other senses?
For me, the improvement is that I can no longer inhale disinfectants like air. I feel some spirit and the vinegar. I think I felt a freshly fried onion once while keeping my head in a pot.
I think I need to start a chronicle of scented memories. After all, the memories you come back to stay fresh, right?
May and the blooming lilacs. June with jasmine. June nights, the shortest and warmest nights, when you come back after midnight from the party, and the glow of the west does not disappear from the horizon, but moves to the east. The birds are singing and you are looking at the stars. In the middle of hot summer, the scent of sun-warmed skin. Cut grass. Summer rain and thunderstorm. Wet asphalt. Meadow full of hot, dry grasses and flowers. The smell of waffles on the promenade in a tourist seaside town. The smoke from the campfire. The first spring barbecue.
Christmas, the smell of gingerbread, mandarins, cinnamon, mulled wine. Christmas trees, moments after the balcony opens and lets frosty air in.
Autumn forest full of brown leaves, home with candles, incense and essential oils when you want to wrap yourself in a blanket with a book.
The smell of that gasoline, you know which one. Tire in the garage.
The smell of the sea, calming at any time of the year.
Your dog, not wet dirty, just warm, dry and fluffy.
Chlorine in the pool, bad smell, but many days in sports school learning to swim.
Avon perfumed pages. One particular fragrance that I used as an experiment only during the exchange with a school in Sweden to impregnate my memories of this adventure. It worked, I got the key.
Only now it turns out that the door to the exchange office with these keys slammed.
And what are your scent-boosted memories?