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Smell, A Fragrant Memory

words & photography by Edana Isobel Jamora




“An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup.” 

― H.L. Mencken

Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.

— Helen Keller

Smells, scents and fragrance have a perplexing ability to awaken memories and trigger deep emotions. Expressions that resonate our rich history along with the collective unconscious. Triggering several different things, such as sentiments of love, hate, anger, fear, sadness or nostalgia. 

There is a strong connection between smell and memory that often coordinates with the past, a certain time and place. There is nothing quite as memorable as the sense of smell. One particular scent whether prolonged, fleeting, or momentary can unexpectedly conjure up an array of memories. From childhood summers spent in the arid Californian sun, the distinct fresh apple smell at the holiday house and the feelings of a distant yet familiar mind of a young child without little to no worry in the world. To adolescent winters in New York and the all too nostalgic smell of freshly brewed diner coffee, dusty streets of Lower Manhattan filled with dense air raging with lust and desire for the mysterious, the adventures and shared hot ciders with cute boys. 

Smell delicately detonates in our cognition like sharp lines of trip wire, poignantly buried under the mass of collected experiences and baggage that we know as daily life. A familiar scent smelt can hit a trip wire and from there an explosive montage of past sequences leap from places we didn't know existed within us. However, memory is a subjective notion, which can often be blurry, chaotic, perverse and non-sequential. The actual memory tends to be received internally however the transition into words are often hard to relay and describe. So more often than not the extraordinarily precise recognition for oneself is often not felt by others. Smell can be described as a mute sense, one that is commonly felt rather than articulated. A very discombobulating occasion for one who is left with a plethora of incomprehensible pleasure and elation yet no one to share it with. The contact-less sensory of smell is unlike the other senses we possess, as to purposefully deny ourselves of smelling- we do not live. One simply cannot cover their nose to stop smelling, however one can certainly deter away from touch, sight, hearing and taste. 

The beauty of fragrance and scent is its ability to be perfectly impervious to time and change, it is evocative and vivid, seductive and tantalising. The function is of a primitive nature where we store events that require cognitive recognition. This relationship allows us to be reminded rather than consciously participating in the act of remembering an instance.

Smell enters our bodies with its own language and how it transposes with our brain is truly fascinating. Before we are even able to respond, react or recognise we have already been filled with insurmountable sorts of emotions. There are certain scents that can tap into the centre core of our cognition and the meet can cause reverberations of additional memories and emotions. 

Nothing sensual or sinful is immortal. The death of a false material sense and of sin, not the death of organic matter, is what reveals man and Life, harmonious, real, and eternal. The so-called pleasures and pains of matter perish, and they must go out under the blaze of Truth, spiritual sense, and the actuality of being. 

- Mary Baker Eddy

We are constantly flickering into the real and the surreal alike exploring a sensory safari. There is almost solace in the notion of untimely and unwarranted encounters with peculiar fragrances, were it is possible to take a small little trip down memory lane if only for that moment.