Scent + Memory

Scent + Memory

You know how a certain time in your life has a certain smell?

I'm not talking about the seasonal smells because those come around every year. I'm talking about really specific smells: like the air freshener in your best friend's car in high school, or the soap you used in your early 20s, etc.

Oldest picture I could find at the moment. Here I'm about 23/24. Once a goober, always a goober.

Oldest picture I could find at the moment. Here I'm about 23/24. Once a goober, always a goober.

We know in theory that scent and memory are closely tied, but when it hits you it's pretty amazing that a smell can conjure up feelings as well. When you really break it down (depending on your associated memory), something like a Sharpie marker could actually bring you to tears!

There are a few times when the Girls discuss this during the course of the series. Dorothy describes Sophia's Midnight in Paris perfume and that particular time in her childhood. Blanche describes her first time with Billy as "the air thick with perfume."

...or Bobby, yeah it was Bobby. 

...or was it Ben? Oh who knows? Anyway it started with a 'B!'

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I've been thinking about this concept a lot and even had a dream the other night about how things were in high school, especially as it related to an old friend. We're not friends anymore, but I remember the summer I spent the most time with her and the guy I dated that summer, and just have a smell associated with it. I can't describe the smell, but I'd know it if I ever came across it again. 

Also, every once in a while (I'm talking like, once every year or two) I will get a whiff of my Grandma's perfume. It's there for a second and then it goes away and I can't find it again.

I know some people might say, 'Well, yeah it was probably someone else wearing the same perfume.'

Really?! While I was standing alone, in the lumber aisle IN HOME DEPOT???

I think not, friends.

What I've always found so interesting about the relationship between scent and memory is that it happens without you realizing that it's happening. Sure, you recognize scents that are around you all the time in the present moment, but you don't necessarily make the conscious association as, 'Ok, so this scent directly correlates with this particular season of my life.' And sometimes, those smells can't be recaptured 10 years later so if you can't just revisit when you want.

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I could always cook peppers and it would take me right back to my family's home in Brooklyn and specifically, the apartment where some extended family lived because it always smelled like cooked peppers. But I can't revisit my summer music program in Saratoga and how the dorm smelled because, a) I don't live there and it would be a huge pain to make the trip, and b) it just wouldn't be the same. Likely, renovations have occurred and the town has changed so the smell I know and loved will undoubtedly stay in my past. But I remember the smell even though I couldn’t describe it for anything.

The past shapes who we are and who we will become. Maybe we’re better off leaving those smells in the past where they belong. With all the emotional associations that come with smell and memory, I think it's better to leave that piece and move forward toward hindsight, with a clearer understanding of what happened and how we can learn from it without the fog that so often comes with emotional attachment.

 

In friendship and cheesecake, 

H

 

And just for funsies, I'm including some images of perfume scents that I find comforting:

Tear down the “ideal,” not each other

Tear down the “ideal,” not each other

Year 1

Year 1