XXX – ‘Unskypeable’ Senses

“The sea smelled like a sail whose billows had caught up water, salt and a cold sun. It had a simple smell, the sea, but at the same time it smelled immense and unique, so much so that Grenouille hesitated to dissect the odours into fishy, salty, watery, seaweedy, fresh-airy, and so on. He preferred to leave the smell of the sea blended together, preserving it as a unit in his memory, relishing it whole. The smell of the sea pleased him so much that he wanted one day to take it in, pure and unadulterated, in such quantities that he could get drunk on it. And later, when he learned from stories how large the sea is and that you can sail upon it in ships for days on end without ever seeing land, nothing pleased him more than the image of himself sitting high up in the crow’s nest of the foremost mast on such a ship, gliding on through the endless smell of the sea – which really was no smell, but a breath, an exhalation of breath, the end of all smells – dissolving with pleasure in that breath.”Perfume’, Patrick Suskind

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I love the smell of the ocean. It’s not too farfetched if I actually claim it to be my favourite scent in the world. I am fortunate enough to have bathed in countless beaches of 3 different oceans. I am qualified to state that no two seas smell exactly the same. Some more similar than others but never exactly the same.

My absolute favourite beach scent is Zambujeira do Mar’s. The description of ‘salt and cold sun’ seems to fit, but poorly, oh so poorly. It’s so much more. It’s the flora, fauna and the warm rocks that add a unique ‘taste’ to the nose. It smells like home.

I really can’t and won’t try to describe it. All I can suggest is that you head to the wall, take a deep breath and know that that’s what home smells like to me. What does home smell like to you?

 

On a 2016 summer night in Zambujeira, my friend L.G. and I were discussing how our noses trigger memories. I was arguing that different scents take me back in time (even today, the slightest whiff of coconut yoghurt reminds me of kindergarten), to the places and experiences they relate to.

L.G. suggested that those smells rather take us back to the feelings at the time of the ‘original whiff’ – whilst memories of those past experiences are revived, it’s not the experience itself that comes back but rather the feeling said experience provided.

It makes more sense to me now as it’s not only a personal lack of descriptive vocabulary – when trying to convey my favourite scent, the only thing I can do is to poorly express the feelings I get from such exquisite fragrance.

 

Unfortunately in Noosa, the sea has no permanent and intoxicating scent. I don’t know if it has to do with the warm water, the local flora and fauna, or the humidity in the air, but the rare occasions I was lucky enough to have a whiff of the sea was always briefly and on a low tide. In those moments I had a fleeting feeling of home.

Whilst technology allows one to listen to and view live what is happening halfway across the world, it has not yet been able to produce the gadget that allows me to smell, touch and taste my dear Zambujeira from the sands of Noosa. Anyway, every decision is a compromise and the choice to live in Australia bears the cost of not smelling Portugal – which is not a cost at all times.

Spending a significant amount of time in any given place makes us immune to the scents of said place. Living in the forest makes one unaware of the scent of pine. But going away for the weekend, when coming back home, the scent of pine will flood the nostrils in celebration. The scent of home.

I know Zambujeira is home because of the smell I get every single time I arrive. “Welcome home” the familiar scented wind whispers, igniting numerous unswerving feelings of happiness, pleasure and delight. The longer I have been away the stronger it hits me.

The book Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, is one where the descriptions of scents is way beyond anything I will ever attempt to do. His description of the ocean’s scent is exceptional, but to me, what’s most appealing and relatable is Grenouille’s wishes (feelings) to get drunk on it and to glide through its endless smell.

The description of a scent, a flavour or a touch are always dependant on the vocabulary and eloquence of the experiencer and how it was originally experienced. It usually boils down to the teller’s aptitude to express feelings.

I will express that the scent of the sea in general and Zambujeira in particular make me cry out like Nina Simone “I’m feeling good!!!”

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