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Smell: Toasted/Nutty

Scents Memory

“Those pancakes are burning! Can’t you smell them?” 

In fact I cannot, as my mate well knows. Ditto garlic sizzling in hot sesame oil, and spice cake just out of the oven. Likewise the Mexican marigolds in the garden, their foliage bruised by a tossing wind, and the cold, wet-cardboard smell of a rare rainy day. Too the cedarn atmosphere within a stand of redwoods—my favorite fragrance—and the aura of heat blowing in from the east: a Mississippi of air.

I savor these only in memory. My sense of smell faded about a decade ago, a sign (I found out later) of progressing Parkinson’s disease. It was a loss so gradual and unobtrusive that I didn’t notice until the sense was quite gone. Because they’re so closely linked, my sense of taste is crippled as well: I can detect only saltiness, sweetness, or the burn of capsaicin (which causes the heat you feel when eating chili peppers, and which I’m not even sure is a flavor). The smell and taste sensations appear to me as phantoms—brain-invented illusions without basis or cause—in the most incongruous situations. Lingering in bed in the morning, dozing and waking in short cycles, I’ll catch the salty splatter of bay water and the sinus-stinging smoke from cheap gas churning in the violent wake of the ski boat my family had when I was a teenager. Working the odorless decomposed granite that answers for soil in my vegetable plot, my mouth waters from the smell of popping corn or the taste of hot chocolate.

It’s hard not to be bitter over what I’ve lost: two-fifths of my interface with the world (though, being honest, I’d rather live without taste and smell than sight and hearing). I try to focus on and be grateful for the mechanism, whatever it is, that still allows me to relish the greasy aroma of fat rendered from browning bacon, or the sharp, astringent perfume of lavender soap, even if the former comes during a performance of act two of La Boheme and the latter while driving to the DMV to renew my license. Most of all I treasure the odd, disorienting moments when my senses suddenly return, and I breathe in the incense of the week-old garbage I’m carrying out to the bin. Seconds later, my burden is again odorless, blank as ice, and my memory book one glorious, fragrant chapter richer.

- Jim Brega

Brief Breeze from Childhood

Goat’s smell – strong, stubborn, spicy and spiky, but warm, worth a long hug, like a sun-dried hay embraced. Even though it smells like shit, it fills me with love every time I meet that smart sharp-eyed animal.

- Milda Laužikaitė

Extended Smell of Childhood

Snowy road, salted deep blue. Colored with yellow ochre sand rests its hump . The smell of brick chimneys breathing. Bluish grey rolling down the hill, easy, slow, quiet – no one is around - snow stays whole. All the feet rest home by the fireplaces or central heating. We walk alone. Sound of my shoes opens the curtain of smoke, I see the valley filling up with the morning light. Snowy road, salted white. I carry a bag of frozen boiled potato skins. By the time we get to the river, my warm hand wakes them up and they talk with smell. Dog rushes over ice, barking, excited about friends he is going to meet. Clapping their soft wings to the cold water stream ducks fly quacking loud, ready to share another morning with us and, of course, tasty snacks saved for them by mom. 

- Milda Laužikaitė

The Basketball Story

Every good basketball player who has come out of San Diego has played at Muni Gym.  It’s like the oldest indoor court in San Diego. Or one of the oldest. At least it smells like its the oldest. The ventilation is bad and it gets really hot in the summertime. It reminds me of the way gyms smelled when I was a kid when all the balls were still made out of leather. Even now, I can go to Muni and the gym can be totally empty and it still smells like sweat and leather and wood. It takes me back twenty-five years.

Back in the day, depending on what time of day you’d go, the games could get pretty competitive. If you lost, you could easily wait an hour just to get another game. Forget the other team; your own teammates would get in your face if you did something wrong. That’s the other thing the gym smelled like: nervousness. It’s a different kind of sweaty smell. Sharper, more pungent. Everyone wanted to play their best at Muni.

I’m thinking about this one time—it had to be in ’99 or 2000. I caught a long rebound and turned to run the fast break. My teammate must have known I grabbed the ball, because he took off to start the fast break. I caught the ball, took one dribble, and passed it nearly the length of the court. I passed it so that all my man had to do was catch it, take one step and lay it in. No dribble. Well, he caught it alright. But as he planted his left foot to go up, his left knee popped out of socket, and the lower part of his leg snapped outward—the direction it’s not supposed to bend.  The kid let out a yelp and then just fell on the ground. I can still remember the sound of his yelp, because, it wasn’t, shall we say, commensurate with the injury he sustained. The gym went quiet. All the games stopped and people went looking for the facilities manager. The facilities manager sort of sauntered in, armed with a ghetto icepack—you know, like you fill up a dixie cup with water and put it in the freezer. Anyway, he walks in with this ice pack and sort of goes pale when he sees this guy quivering on the court with his leg broke in half.

The facility manager is dumbfounded. “You want me to call an ambulance?” 
“No man. No. It’s all good, just help me up. It’s all good.”

You need to remember that “It’s all good” was like a year or two old at that time. Everyone was saying, "It’s all good." 

Well here I am in this hot, leathery gym, looking down at this guy who looked like he just stepped on a land mine, and he’s saying “It’s all good” when clearly—CLEARLY—it is anything but good. 

But I wasn’t gonna argue with him. I might have overthrown it a little bit, so if it was all good with him, it was all good with me. 

- Brian Goeltzenleuchter

Olfaction on a trip to Bermuda

Scent has been a part of my life since I can remember; the scent of places, the scent of people, the scent of things. 

The very earliest memory, around three or four, was of my mom's Chanel No5, first thing in the morning, after she left for the office. The kitchen would have the lingering, aromatic molecular mixture of White flowers, Aldehydes and Arachis hypogaea, also known as peanut-butter toast. The second memory is from the same timeframe when Lena, our babysitter, would take us over to her house, where her husband smoked pipe tobacco. I vividly remember watching him play pool in their basement, me sitting on a black leather bar stool, breathing in the acrid, dense air of pipe smoke, spicy Avon cologne and chalk dust from the pool cue. 

At the age of five we went on a trip to Bermuda, where we toured the island for a number of days. Having parents that were travel agents, it seemed that we got to visit every museum and interesting sight, no matter where we traveled. Looking back, I have to thank my parents for exposing me to such amazing art, culture and experiences. Today being Fathers day, I'm posting a picture of my sister, my dad and me standing at one of the armaments from that trip to Bermuda.

During that trip we visited a small perfumery, which I don't remember the name, but might have been The Bermuda Perfumery. The tour of the small perfumery included seeing how they made and bottled the perfume, as well as some of the techniques for creating raw materials. At that time they had raised tables, with wooden legs and glass plates slathered with fat and flowers placed upside-down. I can still see myself on tip toes, looking over the edge of the tables, inhaling the scent. To this day, whenever I take a tour of a city, museum or attend a class, I'm very attentive, never wanting to miss a piece of information. I recall them telling us about how they made perfumes and essences, it all seemed so logical. 

On that trip to Bermuda, I remember getting a few things: my blue t-shirt that said "I Survived the Bermuda Triangle", a slice of aromatic wood with a crystal attached and a profound olfactory experience that inspired my lifelong pursuit of aromatics. The t-shirt is long gone, the aromatic wood, which I deeply inhaled the scent for years, is lost to time but the experience at the perfumery is with me every day. I have my father searching for the photos from that tour. My family remembers many of the photos, but after all these years, which box are they in? Thank you dad for looking for those photos and making my life happen.

- Daniel Krasofski