Friday, November 6, 2009


i caught a whiff of london yesterday.

i was driving my usual route home from luke's school, the route i drive back and forth and back and forth and back and forth again weekly. i was passing through a nondescript intersection in a nondescript part of town, listening to the banter of six-year-old buddies in my backseat. the windows were open just a crack, as the inside of the car was too warm from having been parked in the sun, but the outdoor air was too November-chilly in a southern sort of chilly way.

and then i smelled it. london. unmistakable.

which is strange, really, because if you had asked me before yesterday what london smelled like, i would have laughed and said i had no idea. though i lived there for six months, i'm not really the type to notice details like smells. i might have thought for a moment about your question and answered "exhaust," which is true, in a way, of any major city. and perhaps that was what was wafting through my cracked windows in that nondescript intersection yesterday. or maybe it was the smell of chilly air mingled with warm; for though london is known for its rainy gray weather, the late winter and spring i spent there comprised more delightfully beautiful days than london-foggy grey. could it have something to do with the building that was being torn down in that nondescript intersection? perhaps it smelled like the old, old, ought-to-be-torn-down building in which i lived during my time away. a particular brand of cigarette being smoked by the driver alongside me at the traffic light, which might remind me of all the pub smoke i came to know as just part of the london air?

i'll never know, as it was just a whiff, and then it was gone.

people, places, times in our lives have odors, for better or worse. there's a particular brand of deodorant, in a particular scent, that i cannot use, as it was eliza's scent and it drives sam crazy. i knew sam had accidentally used my towel this morning as soon as i put it to my face and caught a whiff. luke's lunchbox has a smell, washed out or not, of apples-peanut butter-vanilla pudding-and something else. i know when a borrowed something-or-other piece of clothing has been washed by a friend, because although my laundry detergent smells neutral to me, my friends' laundry detergent has a decidedly them sort of smell. my mom's house smells just so, my grandmother's just another. a school has a scent, doesn't it? of what, i'm not quite sure, but your nose knows when you've walked into one. and doctors' offices and hospitals, too. i know the scent of hospital soap all too well.

i guess i do pay attention to smells, after all.

studies show that scent memory is incredibly powerful. there's a direct link between the part of the brain that processes smells and the part responsible for emotion and memory; and our sense of smell can have a great effect on our mood, even subconsciously.

which gets, i suppose, to why preachers love the verses, "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life" (2 corinthians 2:15-16). they love to ask us to consider our scent; what do we smell like to those around us? good question. if you know me well enough, perhaps you thought from the get-go that i was headed for these verses.

but i'm not today. for today, i'm just remembering london.

1 comment:

Patricia Berman said...

Just think about the smell of chlorine and the memories that conjures up! (For all of us!)