What is she talking about now, I hear you ask!
Well I was walking past the Yves Saint Laurent cosmetics counter the other day just as a customer spritzed herself with Rive Gauche. In a giddy breath, I was transported back to those heady days of the mid-70s. For me they were an uneasy marriage between feminist consciousness raising groups (remember them? I miss them!) and dating men my mother would have considered unsuitable had she known about them.
Rive Gauche was the perfume which accompanied me through those days. It was the first perfume I bought as an adult. Considered daring and modern, somewhere between a floral and a chypre, sold in a can, not a bottle, it was aimed at the growing market of independent women. (Here’s a link to a contemporary advert from YouTube.)
And the point of this little trip down memory lane? To understand just how potent our sense of smell is.
I only have to catch a whiff of tomatoes – those old-fashioned varieties with that musky damp green scent clinging to them – to be back in the tomato nursery I visited as a small child, the vines high above my head.
And the bitterness of roasting coffee has my three-year old self toddling along on reins with my mother past the only Italian shop in our North London suburb, insisting that she stop and wait for Henry to catch up. (Henry was my imaginary friend, an immaculately clean pink pig who was a little portly and could not walk as fast as I.)
Our sense of smell has evolved to be useful in all kinds of ways. Was the gas left on? Has the milk gone off? If you don’t have a sharp (or any) sense of smell, you lose a lot of eating enjoyment because the senses of smell and taste are interlinked. (I did an experiment recently in which I allowed a small square of fine dark chocolate to dissolve in my mouth while holding my nose. Very little sensation in the taste department.)
There is evidence that some (not all) loss of the sense of smell as we grow older can be an early indicator of dementia or other serious conditions. But it’s not all one-sided, as aromatherapy can be an effective way of improving quality of life in dementia, and I’ve seen from my own family experience that a familiar smell can cause moments of awareness or recognition.
I could probably name a hundred scents which have a profound influence on me. What are your scent memories?