Sense of smell as time travelling machine

I am amazed again and again about the dimensions with which we can percept the world. We can see, we can touch, we can hear (maybe not always listening), we can taste and we can smell. We can also feel the world in many other ways too, outside of what is considered to be traditional five senses. But even the five already blow my mind how they provide us with five dimensions (four additional to the three of vision) to experience the world around us. Simply amazing!

Every living being has one or more leading senses. My father had incredible strength of vision. Once as we were driving on a not illuminated road in Algeria in the middle of night, he suddenly stopped the car on the side lane, walked out of the car and went some distance so that my Mom and I lost him out of sight. He came back holding a black umbrella, which we brought back with us to Moldova and which we used for many years to come. We still keep wondering how he could have seen a black umbrella in the middle of the night.

My sister’s hearing sense is close to miraculous. When I was a kid, I hated it, because she could hear every single complain I had about her to my Mom. And I loved complaining. I will not exaggerate too much saying that my sister can hear through walls and closed doors without any intention and without any special tools. I was not the only one not liking it. Her students were not quite comfortable with it either. They had no chance to gossip behind her back during her lectures. But ultimately, they didn’t have to. They loved her too much. She still stays in contact with quite a few of them after so many years.

My mother has also a good vision, but more in a photographic sense. I remember when we went sightseeing in a town we had never been before. On our way back to the holiday apartment my Mom found the way immediately, while my sister and I argued which turn to take.

My niece is brilliant in hearing and listening. She and also my husband are the masters in concentrating on a task at hand and focusing. I am still to find out what my son’s leading sense is. Right now, it looks like all five. Or more.

I’ve been blessed with a sharp sense of smell. When I tell this to somebody, many start wrinkling their noses sympathizing with me having to experience the bad smells stronger than others. The interesting thing is, I don’t remember having been shocked by some really bad smells. I surely disliked one or another, but those that remained in my memory are all about wonderful experiences.

And the best thing about these smelling highlights is that they transport me into the world of wonderful experiences I have made long time ago.

I probably won’t be unique to say that I used to suppress my past and tried to negate it in one or another way. I used to think that after my father’s death most of it was negative. But my top three smelling experiences I have had after leaving Moldova have proven to me that the time after my father’s death was full of many wonderful memories about it and that not all in the “Soviet times” was that bad.

Sicily, summer 2007. My husband and I had spent that summer vacation in Sicily. One of the highlights of our vacation was the eruption of Etna on our last evening there. We were watching it from a safe distance from the hotel terrace and calling our families who were watching it through a live-cam on the Internet. Another memory is connected to the taste senses, when we walked into a small pizzeria on top of one of the mountains outside of Taormina and the owner of this little business has served us the simplest but most amazing dishes we have ever tasted. Dipping fresh bread into olive oil was like a beautiful song.

The highlight connected to my sense of smell happened when we walked along one of the old narrow streets of Taormina, which we did quite often during that vacation. At some point I told to Michael: “Wow, can you smell it?”

“No. What?”

“Freshly cooked tomato sauce with fried onions! Can’t you really smell it? It’s so strong!”

“No, I can’t.”

After walking about twenty meters, Michael said: “Now that you say it, I can feel something, but it’s quite weak.”

I was in awe that I could experience this wonderful aroma from the very beginning to the end of the long street. I sighed with pleasure and said: “Just like my Mom used to do!”

It was the year before my sister, my niece, my husband and I, and a bit later my mother moved to Denmark and my closest family was reunited again after twelve years apart. Since 2008 I could taste many meals with that famous sauce from my Mom.

Darmstadt, Germany, Fall 2000. Indian restaurant. I worked as a post-doctoral assistant at the Technical University Darmstadt during that time. One of our guest PhD students from India has recommended me an Indian Restaurant in Darmstadt, the meal in which, he claimed, tasted just like at his home in India. He said that usually the Indian restaurants outside of India were often very different from what they were at home. But this one had the flair and the meals just like in India, where to locals would go, not the tourists. My colleagues and I were intrigued. So we went there.

When I entered through the door, I was struck by both vision and smell memories. It wasn’t the smell of a particular meal. It was an overall smell of the room. And the hand-woven carpets and rugs lying on the floors confirmed what place I had been reminded of. This restaurant smelled and felt exactly as the houses of my relatives in the villages around fifty kilometers away from the capital we lived in. When we couldn’t go on vacation, my mother sent me to my great-aunt for a couple of weeks. Or we went to the village and the house my mother grew up.

I somehow thought that I didn’t like those times because I always thought of myself as a city girl. But being transported from the Indian restaurant to those places, made me remember that there were wonderful experiences with animals our relatives had, with flowers, picking cherries in summer, getting warm near the old stoves in winter. And walk over all those hand-woven carpets and rugs. Simply wonderful.

Outskirts of Bonn, Germany, Spring 2005/2006. Bonn and its surroundings offer a lot of great hiking routes and Michael and I used to hike many times there just the two of us and with friends. On one of the hiking tours with our friends I caught up a familiar but long forgotten smell. I stopped, turned around. And saw them. Rose bushes! Tall bushes with gigantic light pink flowers open completely to the sun, showing their yellow middle to the world. These were tea roses. You would not usually find them in a flower shop. They are not quite suitable for bouquets and flower arrangements. These flowers are used for perfumery, medicine. And in Moldova they are also used by many in baking and in confectionary.

I ran to those bushes and called all the friends who were with us and made them smell. “This is the true smell of a rose! Not the one you buy in a shop. Smell it! Smell it!”

All girls on the tour joined me and agreed. They loved it. “But how do you know?”

“Ah!” I was thrilled to be able to share one of my childhood stories. “The students at the Universities and sometimes the students finishing the ten classes, equivalent to high school, were taken to collective farms to help with the harvest. While at school, I remember two such harvesting trips. One was to gather apples. And the other was to gather petals of tea roses.”

We had to gather baskets full of petals and we had to be very careful with them, in order not to damage them. Therefore the work had to be done with bare hands. We ended up with many scratches. But I was simply bathing in that wonderful tea rose aroma. It was like from the little rose oil bottle my Mom got as a present, but was much more gentle and embracing.

The boys first protested doing this and claimed it to be girly work, but later were taken by the competition who could gather the most baskets in the shortest time. I don’t think I managed to finish one.

All these experiences and many other have transported me to the time after my father died and reminded me of wonderful times I have had with my family, relatives and friends, while growing up. I am in pure wonder of the way how fast and how exact the sense of smell leads me to the exact memory in a flash. Immediately with a wonderful experience I am transported into time and space of my childhood or my teenager time. There is not a glimpse of thinking or wondering where I could have experienced it. It is just immediately clear. And all I can think is: “Wow! That is wonderful and what I have experienced is so amazing and uplifting.”

Whatever your favorite and leading sense is: let it transport you to the wonderful times and moments, I am sure, you have experienced in your past. Past is not something to worry about that it could repeat itself. It is something to include, to take pride and pleasure in. It led to where you are today. To the beautiful moment of now.

What was your latest time travel to your past?

Pictures: With my strong sense of smell I simply devour flowers. You can find me quite often with my nose poked into a flower, however strong and dizzying its odor might be. I can’t get enough! A clematis in my parents-in-law backyard, Germany, and a young rhododendron bush at the zoo, Aalborg, Denmark.

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2 thoughts on “Sense of smell as time travelling machine

  1. Vica, your story has taken me back to my own “smell of years gone by”. Sometimes I think I smell that wonderful summer smell, I can’t identify it, but I associate it with my childhood summers in the mountains of California.
    Thank you for another great story!

    1. Thank you, Marcy! You once wrote to me about how wonderful it is to see what kind of memories our stories generate in others. This is so true! Thank you for sharing your memories on you childhood summers in the mountains!

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