Sunday, February 04, 2007

What's That Smell?

Smells are extremely important to me. It's little wonder why. I practically come from a family of obsessive-compulsive bloodhounds. Everyone I'm related to has a heightened sense of smell. I'm convinced that there's a gene for it. It's got to be an Italian thing. It's in the nose.

Growing up, Bro and I used to spend every summer with our Italian grandparents. After endless hours of travel, we could always expect to be hugged and kissed for at least a half hour when we arrived. But then, per the ritual, my grandparents would wring their hands and declare that we smelled like "the road". My grandmother would cart our bags off to her famous laundry facilities in the cellar, and my grandfather would draw the hot water for our respective bubble baths. My grandfather was the one with "the nose". He was constantly searching out the root cause of any unpleasant smell. My grandmother had her own issues with smell. She smelled everything before it went in the washing machine. When I asked her why she did this, she told me that it was her way of monitoring if the machine was doing its job. To this day, my grandmother still keeps an old fashioned scrub board and wash basin. She has a thing about only doing the wash by hand in the morning, because the morning hours are the "most pure". Of course, I've never asked whether this, too, makes her clothes smell better. I'm still in search of the recipe for clothes to smell as good as my grandmother's wash.

My mother was the same way. Bro and I wouldn't even have the door shut behind us before we would hear from the living room, "You both stink like the creek! Take a bath before dinner!" In my family, it was practically a crime to smell of anything malodorous, especially when eating.

Speaking of this, I have an aunt who smells her food. Yes, her food! She brings everything to her nose at least once or twice before putting it in her mouth. I remember mimicking this behavior at the dinner table once, and my mother told me not to act crazy like my Aunt Zita. Go figure.

As one can imagine, having grown up in this madness, Bro and I have our own compulsive ticks. Bro, for example, has an association in his mind that yellow teeth means bad breath. The boy has the whitest teeth you will ever see. Bro also has no problem telling me when I need a stick of gum, or when he thinks that my teeth are looking like they need to be polished. We could be having tea with the Queen, and Bro would have no problem interrupting in front of everyone and telling me that my breath nauseates him (from across the room). I try to always carry mints or gum with me, which I kindly end up giving to people at random, who equally nauseate me. And, yes, I, too, have a thing about the sight of plaque on other people's teeth. Thanks, Bro.

I happen to have a particular sensativity to the smell of a drunk or hungover man. I can smell a drunk from a mile away. It turns my stomach inside out. I can also sense the smell of vodka on someone once they've injested it. Strange, but true.

My last boyfriend was a very nice guy, but, man, he was stinky. Everything about him reeked, and not in a good, positive-phermone sort of way. In fact, it was the complete opposite of sexy. Because he is not American, I attempted to pardon him for his stinkiness. And while I really tried to overlook it for a while, it ended up being such a deal breaker for me. Sometimes he would put on cologne, which only fundamentally added to his funk. It just wasn't good. It was as if his clothes never got washed properly, or at all. Even my grandmother would have her work cut out for her with this one. One time, after a sweaty, rainy night of salsa dancing, I insisted that we jump in the shower before hitting the sack. He refused. He acted like the water would melt him or something. Without losing my cool, I simply told him that he smelled like feet and that he if he didn't want to shower, he could sleep in the couch. Of course, even though he reluctantly bathed, he still smelled. Looking back, I have a feeling that liquid soap confused him. And yes, I still washed my sheets the next day. Towards the end of our time together, I started to wonder if it was the American diet that is making him smell like an absolute corpse. He really did love those frozen pizzas with the terrible sausage on it. I have little doubt that his body was rebelling; my nose certainly was.

We still meet for coffee on occassion. The other day, I was more wistful about our past relationship than usual. We met for coffee, and I could smell his bitter funk from across the table, which only came as a reminder of why I don't want him to touch me anymore. His smell burns my nose and makes my eyes water. No need to repeat the offense...ever...again. I am a huge sucker for man who smells good. I once dated a guy who wore one of the Dolce & Gabbana scents. Happy, happy memories there. The smell alone is still hypnotizing for me, no matter who is wearing it.

Yes, it's all in the nose. And maybe just a little in the head, too...


I-66 said...

Mostly my powers of smell apply to food. I can smell the tomatoes in a co-worker's soup as soon as soon as they open it, or tell them that they have ham and egg on their croissant from across the room. I once followed the smell of popcorn up 2 flights of stairs to its point of origin. I think the TSA should hire me to be a bomb sniffer.

theflyingmum said...

'K, just wondering, why is your post dated May 2, 2007? Is there some international dateline I don't know about where people are living 3 months in the future? Still I enjoyed reading about your olfactory sensitivities.

VJ said...

Yes, a keen sense of smell does run in families, and is at least partially controlled by several genes. Humans can be trained to use their sense of smell better than anyone has suspected in the past, but many older people could have told you that too. These guys are tops for the research in the area: The Monell Chemical Sense Center: [] see also these folks too: []

Interesting to hear of your prior BF. Yes, food & drink choices are expressed though the skin & on our breath (among the obvious places) and can indicative of certain traditional foods & cultures or even diagnostic for certain medical conditions. You must be a generally forgiving soul to stay with a man with 'the funk' and one who seemed to be particularly recalcitrant about it too! Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

VJ said...

Yes, this should have read in part: "...can be indicative of certain traditional foods & cultures...". Sorry for the confusion. Cheers, VJ