- Henry David Thoreau
Once in awhile, I enter a coffee shop or place that has brewed coffee and I’m back in my paternal grandmother’s home. It had this unique aroma of coffee and something I can’t quite pinpoint. Although I know it’s (probably) not true, in those moments I feel like she’s there with me.
Every person, every place has a unique scent. I believe my ability to smell is stronger than most people’s. I whiff when things have expired while my husband cannot, and I often detect fragrances in the air first.
Babies have that lovely sour and sweet smell. I used to inhale the scent of my children’s skin as deeply as I could, hoping to capture it in a memory. But I can’t quite bring it back. And the evenings when I kissed their sweaty heads before I turned in, and they no longer smelled like babies made me mourn for the phase they’d left behind.
In my life I’ve moved eight times, and each time it’s not just the piles of boxes that make a place feel foreign. When I can no longer detect the scent of cardboard and newness, then the surroundings truly becomes home.
Houses often emit faint fragrances of the foods most often cooked. How can you separate the pleasure of eating with the anticipation of the food being eaten as the aroma greets your nose? I've heard people who lose their sense of smell also lose their interest in eating.
Since I was a child, for special occasions my mother always wore Channel No. 5. I never understood its appeal, since it smells synthetic to me.
When I was a teenager, other girls were enamored with Loves Baby Soft, but I wore Obsession, and then Poison. Can you imagine 84-pound me wearing strong scents like that? At some point, I switched to Shalimar because my best friend’s mother wore it, and she was the most beautiful woman I knew, resembling Paulina Porizkova:
In my twenties, I flirted with Tresor.
I’m not someone who stands out. Often my friends are prettier than me and capture more attention. But my fragrance choices remind me that I am more than I seem. It’s like wearing sexy underwear, but others are allowed to get a glimpse if they get close enough.
When it comes to perfumes, I no longer practice serial monogamy. Buying nice fragrances is one of my few indulgences, and learning about perfume notes is more exciting to me than learning about wine notes. In fact, when this book,
came out, I read it cover to cover.
Thierry Mugler Angel (Almost all year)
Bond No. 9 New Haarlem (Coldest days)
Kenzo Amour (Summer)
Chopard Cashmir (Summer)
Philosophy Grace (Hottest days)
When I was in the Montreal airport's duty-free shop, I smelled Kenzo Flower, but not the regular one, the La Parfum one, a parfum extrait. I had money from my birthday so I toyed with buying it. But I didn’t. Once I returned home, I regretted it. I stopped in Macy’s and Sephora, but neither carried the fragrance. When I went to New York, I dragged my cousin to the mall. Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdales didn’t have it. When I returned home, I dragged my husband to another mall, to Nordstrom’s. They only carried it online. Grrrr! Finally, I ordered it from Beauty.com because I found a $10 off coupon. I’ve been wearing it everyday for a week.
Yes, I’m a little obsessed with fragrance.
As a child, snuggles with my father carried the comforting scent of Old Spice shaving cream. My first boyfriend wore Polo by Ralph Lauren, which most of the boys were wearing then. I loved it. My husband won’t wear cologne. When we began dating, I tried to get him to choose one, but now I appreciate his scent.
What are the boys wearing today? Axe. Invariably, someone sprays it at the start or end of class, and I have to endure it for the rest of the day. Girls all seem to love the fragrances from Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret, and make the same classroom move. This trend of attempting to smell good for the opposite sex usually starts in fifth-grade. If only every student got the memo because some wait a little too long to begin using deodorant…
Speaking of Axe, you might like this video. It also gives you a glimpse of some of my fellow Long Islanders. I laugh each time I watch it.
What role does scent play in writing? When I write a scene, I’m often aware of my characters’ five senses. The author Cynthia Lord said when she did research for Rules she visited a place on the water that she planned to write about. Instead of a visual, the first thing that struck her was the scent of the sea so that’s what she mentions first about the location in the book. And that makes sense to me because when I visit the village in Northport, NY the strong smell of the salty, fishy harbor is as much a part of the experience as the view.
Somewhere I read about an author who wears a different fragrance for each book she writes. I think she chooses one based on what she imagines the protagonist would wear. I don’t spend much time thinking about what my characters smell like.
When I write, I often choose places I know, and knowing their scents helps add dimension to the manuscript. Aura takes place in Forest Hills, New York, which means it smells like… well… a city. But even in a city, the changing seasons and weather dictate the fragrance of a place. The Disappearances location is in a rural area of western Massachusetts, so I use Long Island and my visits to Worcester as a guide. In fact, nature is such a vital part of The Disappearances that I had to pay even more attention to environment. After all, the theme of the book is the state of our planet. So sight and scent cover virtually every page.
Since living in Cambridge, I miss the scents of suburbia. Often, car exhaust and filth baking on the street overshadow the flowers and leaves. And the scent of earth has been hidden by tar and cement. The Charles River doesn’t provide that energizing scent of the ocean. So when I visit home, I inhale everything. My in-laws property is filled with flowers, and when I’m not there, I miss their yard. My father’s property is dotted with pines, and when I get a whiff of pine trees, I think of his place. His girlfriend lives on the ocean, which is just… amazing. I slept at her place once. Sleeping to the sound of the ocean, and waking to its scent wafting through the open windows was like being on a vacation in paradise.
What scents matter to you?
What are your strongest fragrance memories?
If you write, what part does sense-of-smell play in your writing?