At the back of the hill

Warning: May contain traces of soy, wheat, lecithin and tree nuts. That you are here
strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton.
And that you might like cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


"My dad used to smell like that", she said. There was a wistfulness to her voice.
She herself did not smoke, but she had noticed the faint shade of pipe-tobacco that always accompanies me.
Which was remarkable because the only smell that I was aware of in the coffee-shop was roasted beans.
She was behind me at the counter, and when she first spoke I did not realize it was directed at me. But who else could she be asking "do you smoke a pipe?"
I turned around, curious. Was there another pipe smoker in line?
No, just the young lady who stood behind me.

As I poured a little cream into my cup at the service stand I asked "you said he 'used to' - past tense?"
"Yeah, he stopped years ago. My mom was starting to cough too much, and the smoke bothers her."
Couldn't he have smoked outdoors?
"No, he tried that for a while, still ended up carrying the smell into the house"
After a few seconds she said "I always liked sniffing him when he came back in. Leathery!"

Smells are often tied to memories deeply buried, which start vibrating again with the appropriate stimulus. The remembrance of things we are fond of comes back when carried on the breeze.
Similarly I also remember my father having a certain fragrance-spectrum.
A pipe tobacco blend with a fair amount of Burley - probably one of those American-style mixtures that were more common in the forties and fifties, light on the condimental tobaccos - plus India ink, pencils, and something that might have been soap, or perhaps a peculiar lotion sold at the local drogistery.

My pipe tobacco does not smell like his, and the perimetral odours I carry with me are also different. But sometimes an element of a remembered whiff comes to the nose, and I must pause.

She mentioned that whenever she goes home she still likes her dad's smell, but it isn't the same. The recollections have been washed out of his clothes, now there's only soap and a certain skin-sweetness. The tarry quality of the past is gone.
When she went away to college she took one of his pipes with her, kept it for a while on her bedside table. Now she has it in a shoebox on a top-shelf. Whenever she feels sad she opens the box. In addition to the pipe, which is wrapped in a handkerchief, it also contains her first real watch and some old birthday cards that always make her smile. She holds the pipe for a while, sniffs at the rim. Somehow it always works.
When her mother was hospitalized last year she smelled the pipe a lot. Hasn't needed to do so for a while, mom has recovered. But she's keeping the pipe in reserve. Perhaps she'll put it on her bedside table again.

"Everyone should smell unique, don't you think?"

I'm somewhat surprised that I have a similar nostril-spark as someone else's father. Most of my life I've had a slight reek, but I always thought of it as entirely my own. Years ago some friends said that they always knew when I had been somewhere - the whispery faintness of Latakia would still linger long after I had gone.

I recognize the smells of some other people. If I'm fond of them it's very comforting.
Ideally, others will think so too about me. A hint of Latakia - resinous, tarry, tangy - and a mere suggestion of cigar.
Plus tea. Tea is a nice smell, it speaks of home.

After we had talked for a few more minutes, I excused myself and went to the seats outside to have a smoke.
She sat at one of the tables near the front of the coffee shop, diagonally behind me on the other side of the glass.

You know how you can sometimes tell when you are being observed?
You don't actually see the eyes, but you are aware of their presence.
It's the same when nostrils are aimed right at you.

Almost imperceptibly the window slid open an inch or two.
Had anyone asked, she almost certainly would have said it was for fresh air.
But her subconscious might think that it was to let the past float in.


Whenever I visited friends I could recognize the interior of their dwellings by the fragrances. Cleaning fluids, soaps, particular foods, wood polish, and many other things forming a recognizable symphony.
Our house in Valkenswaard had its own familiar perfume. The faintest trace of the bars of lavender soap with which my mother seeded all the clothes drawers, an herbal greenness drifting in from the garden, and the cigarettes which my parents smoked. Hints of silver polish, and the dust of books.
Plus coffee, of course. Life without strong coffee would've made the Netherlands a very dull place indeed.

This morning my apartment stank. My roommate, Savage Kitten, had burnt a small sauce pan with milk-coffee. Even though I am the smoker, she is responsible for most of the smells. She might disagree with that assessment, though.

Her odours permeate the apartment, mine are mostly limited to the kitchen. When I smoke I close the kitchen door, when she cooks the door is often wide open. Some evenings when I come home the hallway bears fragrant witness to her happily soaking in a warm bath.
Her nose is not as acute as mine.
Late at night I sometimes smoke in the teevee room, she doesn't notice.
I do not know what prompts memories as strongly for her.


For some people the nose is the most sexual part of the body. I can imagine deeply sniffing the hair of a woman, and actually doing that would permanently imprint that person on my mood-mind. What someone smells like is a signature, even if their personal choice of perfumes evolves. If you like the person, you will love their shifting fragrance-spectrum.
Presently my proboscis is quite alone.

I smell faintly of soap. But there's a hint of pipe tobacco. Leather, spice, and incense.
Slightly sharp, slightly tarry.
Even in the darkness you could probably recognize me.


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