Scentsory perception – or smellivision is here to stay

May 15, 2008

Quick. What’s the last smell that made you have a truly visceral or overwhelming reaction. This could have been a mental flashback to a meal or encounter. Or a physical dodge to the side just to avoid the actual odor?

For me, it was the smell of a beer in a sushi restaurant. I got a whiff of the Tsingtao and felt immediately like I was back in 1983. Tsingtao isn’t a great beer and neither was the Moosehead brand that I had sipped for the first time during my senior year in college.

Until that point I didn’t drink and I still only dabble occasionally in the liquor arts, but as with any event, the first time is memorable.

I’m amazed at how quickly I was transported back in time and thought about other fragrances that have had that power over me.

I can certainly list the perfumes that various girlfriends have worn. Well, I can’t list them by name but if you spray them near me I can name the girl.

And I reflexively reach for my skis and boots anytime I smell diesel fuel. We rode busses to the mountain when I was a teenager, so the acrid and overpowering scent of diesel signifies a three-hour bus ride to a snow-covered mountain.

Old Spice means my father. He hasn’t used that junk for decades, but it was the perfect choice when I was using paper-route money to buy holiday and Father’s Day gifts.

And smoke from a fire makes me think of marshmallows, pig roasts and backyard bonfires.

Some scientists say that our emotions and our memories are tied more closely to scent than to any other sense. I fully agree.

The smell of a particular laundry detergent on a blanket will soothe a crying baby. The sea air near the shore is a welcome sign for weary ocean travelers. Fresh cut grass means neighborhoods and safety.

I’m sure people have their own odd smell-mind connections, too. Mine include the smell of gasoline on my hands making me think of meatball subs.

It’s because I was pumping gas for my family’s business when I was 11 and my favorite meal at the station was a meatball sub. I still associate the whiff of petroleum with a perfectly toasted sub.

How about you? What jogs your memory or makes your mind perk up when you smell it?

Share your smell-mories in the comments here on the blog.

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More to come…