Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Sniff Test

I was thinking with my nose recently. I am visiting Battle Creek, Michigan, home of Kellogg Company - the Cereal City. On Monday morning I stepped out of my hotel and the smell hit me. It was like something wonderful baking. I was pretty sure my grandma was lurking nearby, pulling a pan of something golden and toasty out of someone's oven. Except for the fact that it was raining, I wanted to stand and inhale deeply...many times.

When I entered the Kellogg Company headquarters, the smell disappeared. I had nearly forgotten it when I left the building that afternoon, but there it was again. Stop, take a deep breath. A flood of memories, all linked to baked goods. The feeling was so overpowering, I ran into the nearest coffee shop and bought a pumpkin scone to savor on the trip home.

Smell can be a powerful force. It can trigger deep, strong memories and emotions without warning. I remember a stay at the Koehler resort in Wisconsin a few days before Christmas. The weather was strange - no snow, just an annoying drizzle. We checked in, then started across the courtyard to our room. Again - stand and inhale. This time, though, I breathed the intoxicating nectar that is cocoa. By the time we unpacked our bags, I was gripped by a craving for chocolate. We sought out the concierge to find out where the chocolatier was that was creating these wonderful aromas. He looked puzzled for a moment, then his face lit up. There was no chocolatier (rats!) but the gardener had just mulched the plantings in the courtyard with cocoa husks, the waste by-product of making chocolate. Alors! I was desolate...and desperate! Chocolate! I must have chocolate! Fortunately, it was the holiday season at a resort. I didn't have to venture too far to find some, but it was far inferior to what my imagination conjured up, based on the musky smell.

Think about it. What smells jog your mind or emotions? Does the smell of chlorine bring back memories of swim classes, or your mom doing laundry? What about the smell of baking or toasting bread? Fresh herbs? I can't just use fresh herbs when I cook - I must thrust my face into the leafy greenness and breathe. I can't walk past a pot of lavender without running my fingers through it like I was tousling my little boy's hair, then holding my hands to my face with a goofy smile, I'm sure.

You know what? I was going to talk about how bad smells can be equally compelling, but I won't. I'm having too much fun with the good stuff. What about bubble gum - the old Bazooka eraser-pink hunk o'stuff? or face powder - does it make you think of a favorite aunt? Mmmmm...

So this afternoon I pulled back into Battle Creek and when I opened the car door, I stopped and inhaled for a moment. Yes, I'm sure grandma is here somewhere, and I'm getting hungry again. I love this town!