♬ The sense of sight
Is what guides us right
When we go out on walks.
The sense of smell’s
The way you tell
That you need to change your socks. ♬
-Animaniacs, “The Senses”
Smell and taste are funny things. As anyone familiar with my Banquet from Hell could tell you, one man’s sweet savour is another woman’s “Jayzus Bejayzus Keep It Away!”
A lot of it’s chemical. How this molecule fits into that olfactory receptor or that taste bud. And how it all works is beyond me, given that some living creatures have noses jillionty-three times more sensitive than ours.
But it’s not all chemical. A lot of it goes on in our minds.
A case in point. One day in several years ago I walked into our bedroom, which we were keeping closed as we try to maintain it cooler than the rest of the house; at that time my mother, go ndéanai Día trocaire uirthi, was living with us, and at 94 she liked a warmer environment. I said to myself, “It smells like cat’s piss in here.” Impossible – while we now have three cats, at the time we had none, and we had been in the home for a month and a half. I racked my brain trying to figure out what was smelling so bad – it was making me ill.
And then it struck me. We had two large basil plants in the windowsill, and they were getting the benefit of full Southern exposure. The room was filled with the odor of basil. And I love basil. And as soon as my mind had identified the odor, it no longer smelled like cat pee, or repulsive in any way. Same molecules. Same smell. Just a different frame of reference, and my room smelled like an herb garden.
Would it be possible to re-frame one’s mindset so that evil humours are less offensive? Butyric acid is found in puke, but it’s also found in many cheeses. Nobody appreciates a technicolor yawn in public, but if you happen to be an honest to goodness turophile, the smell of a good, authentic European cheese shop is like unto ambrosia, and the smells are astonishingly familiar.
Mind you, some things are not worth the experiment. One of the last times I drove across the country in the spring, I passed through miles and miles of the most fragrant apple orchards in bloom that I have ever seen, followed by the most pungent – and literally lung-searing – stockyards I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. I don’t think I’d like to hang around and see if I could learn to appreciate that evil miasma.
Still, it was an interesting subject to think about. And now I’m craving a portion of gamalost.