Monday, 12 May 2008

Follow your nose

One of the consequences of the enormous evolutive success of the human species has been the loss of contact with Nature. We live in stone boxes, some meters above the ground, days and days can go on without ever touching any soil with our hands, we drink bottled water and almost everything we eat comes on white trays in plastic wrap.

Some of our forefathers' abilities disappeared (as most surely our toes will do). Others are still there, but I do not believe they would be of any use now, had we have to survive and succeed in the hostile environment the first great apes lived in.

Yesterday I was thinking about that as I discovered, on a bicycle tour along the Danube river banks, some cereal ears. I'm pretty sure they are the same ears with which I played as a kid in school. We ripped them off with our pointing finger and thumb (I still can clearly remind the noise they made) to throw them to the other kids, because they would stick to the clothes, especially to wool pullovers. (*)

I was very aware of how the memory was built in my mind, first seeing the ears at the path sides, then picturing myself ripping them off, then touching them, then remembering the noise, and then the warmth of the memory...


On the other hand, when it is a smell that reminds me of something, it comes to me almost immediately, as if the nose had direct line with the memory. Although they seem to be lost memories, they just need the right smell to be made appear sharply, with every little detail, as if I was living that again.

I always thought I have a good sense of smell. I suppose it is to made up for my short-sightedness and a certain increasingly hearing loss. I think smell is one of the most directly connected senses to our brain. Not to the most "conscious" part of it, but to that almost "reptilian" brain that controls our instincts. Because smell was already there before consciousness appeared, and memory was probably there, too.

I like bicycling to the office because, on this time of year, I am able to smell wild garlic even not being able to see it (did I mention my short-sightedness?). I like the different smells that fill up Salzburg's passages depending on the day of the week, depending on the time, depending on the passage. The passage going from Mozart's birthplace and Universitätsplatz smells of coal and sausages every Saturday noon. Close to Konditorei Schatz it always smells of cakes. Balkan Grill's passage always salutes our noses with the smell of a misterious spice blend and Nagano Restaurant's passage smells of soya sauce and seaweed.

I like the sense of smell, because it is proof of our past in the wilderness, as being able to distinguish a threatening smell from the smell of food could mean survival or death. Because it reminds us that we are nothing but little animals, somehow evolved, but still animals. I like it because my heart misses a beat when I smell the loved one behind me. I like it even though sometimes, when people use too much perfume, I almost can't breathe in the lift. I like the sense of smell because, sometimes, it brings about memories of my childhood, as we threw those cereal ears to each other, as we had not started chasing girls yet...


(*) Mar says they called them the boyfriend plants, because the number of ears sticking to you was the number of boyfriends you had...

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