Sonntag, 6. Juli 2008

by a nose

I often joke that Ivo as the sense of smell of a pregnant woman. Last fall he came home with a story of olfactory dejavu which is typical of him. Someone at the university had attempted to mask some heavy drinking with peppermint's and the au de alcoholism had tapped into an old association from years past.

I heard somewhere that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. I wish I had understood that earlier in life. I wish that I had a way of bottling those smells which most comforted me as a child. On second thought, I seem to remember my favorite smells, as a child, being gasoline and fresh cigarette smoke. As it is, I delight in finding an old familiar smell and procuring it somehow. Like when my sister kissed me the first day I tried using Pond's face cream and she was struck with a memory of our dead grandmother. This same grandmother is evoked, for me, when I smell that kind of Listerine that is yellow and burns worse than bourbon.

I wish I knew the name of my father's old cologne. I don't know if he only wore it at work or not, but I remember him smelling of it strongly in his dress whites. I have a memory of meeting him at the airport, his clothes miraculously still appeared fresh-pressed. He grinned and from beyond the airport arrivals barrier, stretched his arms out and wiggled his fingers. When he'd passed the small gates and placed his large bag on the floor, I'd taken his big white navy hat with it's black patent-leather brim and gold band. I drank in his smell.

Years later, after doing some obligatory service time with the navy, though he'd moved on to another career, I was staying with his wife and small son. We didn't meet him at the airport. Nevertheless, as he came in, he had the same arrival smile sans far away stretched out arms. I smelled his cologne and in a Pavlovian way, awaited his hat on my now larger head. The cologne deceived me, however and the hat tipped and wobbled over the fat cheeks of my half-brother who took it and ran away clumsily.

Years later, I was invited for a weekend with my father and a woman he was seeing, to Cape Cod. I was older and living with a boyfriend. My father was separated and no longer had a navy hat to give. I drank a glass of wine and felt very old and very strange. I was an adult child, a new role with my father. I felt confident, but something else was different, which made me uneasy. I couldn't name this change, nor could I adjust to it's newness. On our second night, all of us freshly showered and preparing for dinner, my father emerged from the bathroom.
"Your cologne!!!" I nearly shouted.
"Do you like it?" asked the woman he was seeing. She smiled brightly. "I bought it for him."
"very clever." I thought. Is there any better was to eliminate any immediate remembrance
of a life before you, than to eliminate the smell of that life?

I don't often wear perfume nowadays. After quitting smoking, I was less self-conscious of my smell. The smell of smokers in trams give me no pining or reminiscence of my old life as a smoker. For that matter, the smell of folks in Zürich trams in general is something to which I've become accustomsed. I like the smell of Zürich and hope that someday it will smell like home.

People ask if I get homesick and I list small things that I miss before concluding that, no, I am not. That's not to say never. When I smell someone grilling and think on my Philly neighbors and their competing marinades for baby back ribs. When I smell the Swiss version of Mexican restaurants. The worst, however, is when I've been swimming in the Zürich lake. A navy kid from the Ocean State, I take my freshly-dried hair before my face and smell - - nothing. That is when I miss "home".

1 Kommentar:

  1. Andy Warhol used to wear cologne for a week every day, and then he'd keep the bottle on a shelf with the date labled on it. Then when he wanted to think of that time, he'd open the bottle.

    It's interesting how different our memories are. My memories of dad in uniform are all from when he lived with us, and I remember lots of really casual clothes from visits. I also remember dad smelling like a lot of things Polo, I think, Calving Klein (maybe CK1, actually) bay rum....