the immense edifice of memory

I knew someone in college who had no sense of smell (the condition is called anosmia), and hence no sense of taste either, since the two are intertwined. I can't imagine what that must be like. Some of our best memories are often tied up with scents (and tastes). I can't tell you how many times I've smelled something and it took me right back to my childhood. Maybe it was a whiff of perfume and cigarette smoke that reminded me of my Aunt Peggy, or the smell of the honeysuckle I mentioned a few days ago taking me back to my great-grandmother's porch.

Marcel Proust, in The Remembrance of Things Past, described what happened to him after drinking a spoonful of tea in which he had soaked a piece of madeleine: "No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses...with no suggestion of its origin..."

"Suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was of a little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings...my Aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea.... Immediately the old gray house on the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set...and the entire town, with its people and houses, gardens, church, and surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being from my cup of tea."

"When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered...the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls...bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory."

Some of my favorite smells:
• baking, especially fresh bread or anything with cinnamon
• the wet dirt smell right after it rains
• fresh-picked strawberries in summer


• the farm smell of vintage feedsacks that haven't been laundered yet
• sheets that have hung out on the line all day in the sunshine
• Coppertone suntan lotion at the beach

What are some of yours?


Shoshonee said...

Maybe because I was born near orange groves the smell of the orange trees in bloom brings so many wonderful memories. There's also a smell that comes in the early morning near the beach that reminds me of my cousins and grandparents. Lastly, Hawaiian Tropics suntan oil reminds me of my sister and brothers as we would lay out to get tan before summer.

giddy99 said...

the smell of strong espresso or fresh coffee, and the smell of salt air as you near a coastline. I associate those with happy times and happy places!

Shades of Blue said...

*The smell of lilac bushes takes me back to when I was a little girl playing in the yard of my childhood home.
*Zest soap reminds me of my only grandmother, her bathroom always had a fresh bar out, she said it was the only soap she could use because of the hard water.
*The gritty feeling that blackberries have when you eat them reminds me of my grandmother when the family use to go camping and we would "hunt for berries" early in the morning. Are blackberries gritty? Maybe it was another kind of berry, it was a long time ago :)

Unknown said...

I cannot smell manure or other similar pongy smells! Came in handy when nappy changing though!

Anonymous said...

I had the horrible experience of losing my sense of smell a few years back. I had developed a very nasty sinus infection (never had one before) and I freaked out when I realized I couldn't smell the pot roast I was cooking. I couldn't taste anything because you need the sense of smell in order to taste. I went to specialists, had tests run and nothing...the Dr. said sometimes the sense doesn't return...they gave me flonase nasal spray...I became very, very depressed...I longed for the smell of my baby girl most of all! (I am getting emotional right now)...it was weeks later when some tiny smells could be detected and that was the exhaust from big buses and very heavy perfume. Little by little some more smell came in time, but every time I got a minor cold it knocked right out again for weeks...it took years before I could smell things like I used to and I thank God so much for that. Unfortunately, the dang flonase I was using religiously had a bad effect of my retinas - holes in my retinas that can't be repaired! I was told by the eye specialist to stop using the nasal spray. The holes in my retinas have affected my vision (which is very poor to begin with - one eye is legally blind since childhood and the other is extremely near-sighted..add the retina problems and it is getting harder to see...my big fear is to lose my sight)...oh, boy sorry to go on - I am very grateful for the senses and I don't take them for granted...I just don't want to lose any of them. It is getting harder to see to do my love...embroidery, sewing and reading...harder to read the blogs which I love so much, too.