Sensory Questionnaire

Located this interesting survey on scent here and determined that this was a good way to introduce myself to this new blog. So enjoy, and consider please that I am merely a novice perfume enthusiast.

1. What does your sense of smell mean to you?

For me, my sense of smell is my vehicle to a different time and place. What motivates me to keep trying fragrance is that each one is capable of telling an entirely unique story. Smells are intended to remind us of all the extremes in our life, our greatest pleasures in sex and food, and some of our greatest dangers which our nose can warn us against before any other sense. But then there is everything in between those extremes. The smell of bread, of metal, of rubber and hot asphalt, of dirt, fresh cut grass, the boastful hyacinth, mildew on wet clothes, the smell of a cat’s tongue licked fur. The plethora of colors that paint our olfactory experience in life. These are what tie us to our sense of self, our sense of time and place, they move us emotionally and guide us instinctively.

2. What are some of your strongest scent memories?

My mom wore a lot of popular 80s and 90s fragrances when I was a kid, so when I catch wind of those I’m instantly transported back and I can’t evaluate them honestly. A lot of vegetation, I have such fond memories of working in the garden. Fresh top soil can’t be beat, and the smell of sun warmed strawberries is pretty much the pinnacle of a good scent to me. Then there are lots of positive scents surrounding lots of nice positive memories, cafes, bakeries, libraries, schools, gardens, shops, even a lot of nice industrial places that I’m now fond of. I am far too much of a novice to say there is a climatic top of the mountain moment of scent for me, but there is a lovely star speckled sky of small gems.

3. What are some of your favorite smells (things in nature, cooking &/or youenvironment)?

I love most if not all cooking smells. I love the smell of fresh meat, of fish, oysters, squid, shrimp. I love the smell of burnt meat, of fire and propane. Herbs galore, produce, fruits. I love the smell of spices, some personal highlights would be cumin, pepper, paprika, garlic, cloves, cardamon, cayenne, turmeric, ginger, and a whole series of others. Elsewhere outside a warm busy kitchen, I love traditionally comforting scents. I love old books, the way the oil on your fingers transforms pages into perfume. I love the smell of clean clothes, which are slightly citrus and slightly floral, but balanced in such a way you’d recognize it anywhere. I love citrus, the smell of cleaning products, of oranges and lemons and to a lesser extent limes. And of water, being surrounded by lakes I am nostalgic for their dirty earthy smell. Ocean sides smell cleaner and fresher to me, the salt scrubbing a lot of the earth away from them. But lakes smell like mud, like cold stones rubbed slowly for years, like wildlife and timber. That’s a deep fondest for me. And the woods, which follow the lakes. A mosaic of scent, especially when it rains.

4. Do you have any favorite smells that are considered strange?

I really love farm smells, horse shit and mud really brighten my mood. And some industrial smells, especially construction. I love the smell of an old garage. Cigarettes, booze, oil, firewood, metal, gas.

5. Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.

More cooking smells! Okay, one specific cooking smell I adore is a curry. Tomatoes, black, white and pink peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, black and green cardamom, a bay leaf, cumin, hot peppers, chicken, peas, coconut cream or yogurt.. You can have a good curry in 15 minutes or you can have one in a hour or 2, the smell of it cooking wont leave the walls of your house for weeks and that’s probably my favorite thing about it. It’s like a perfume for your home.

6. What smells do you most dislike?

Of course any really hazardous scents, sulfur, decay, fecal matter, urine. Anything you can describe as “powdery”. I believe this scent can work, but so far it hasn’t worked for me. Chemical scents, anything that smells really artificial.

7. What smell did you first dislike, but learned to love?

Food smells in perfume, I’m only now starting to open up to them. That’s the only thing I can think of off the top of my head, I’m actually pretty easy to please. Even odd smells like mustard, or stale office supplies can be enticing to me.

8. What mundane smells inspire you?

Stale office supplies! But more specifically I find that commercial smell that comes from new products to actually be kind of charming. What exactly is mundane, though? I find even the most common smells to have some interesting story to tell. Most of our life is filled with common smells. Hall ways, grocery stores, the inside of cars, desks, beds, etc and while all of them occupy the majority of our lives, that doesn’t just simply cast them aside into a bin of mundane smells. I’m not sure how else to answer this one.

9. What scent never fails to take you back in time and why?

The smell of pine trees, hyacinth, a small muddy stream covered in rocks, that was my childhood home. There was a vegetable garden that smelled of peppers and tomatoes and sweet peas. There were strawberry bushes beneath the trees and when you stepped on them, the sweetness of the strawberry would mingle with the hot earth under your foot and follow you around. Figs take me back too, maybe not even to my own time, but to some place heavenly and full of hedonistic indulgences as well as frankincense and myrrh which both are vehicles to another time and place for me.

10. What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?

My mom is magnolias and warm white flowers. I don’t know why, if she wore perfumes like that or if we had them around the house, but it’s a rather instant feeling for me. Smoke from a cigar, whiskey, grease and dirt bring my grandfather to mind. He was always covered in smoke and grime.

11. What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?

“Eternity” by Calvin Klein really nails it on the head.

12. What fragrance(s) remind you of the places you visited on vacation?

Oh I haven’t tried too many out, but “Tam Dao” by Diptyque was rather reminiscent of the U.P. in Michigan. I’d have to get more scents under my belt before I gave a good answer to this one.

13. Describe a piece of sensory literature that is very magical for you.

“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.”

― Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

This whole book is a visceral attack against the senses, but this is a nice quick passage I found to demonstrate that point. Marvelous, it paints a picture for you. Also note worthy off the top of my head, considering it devotes an entire section to scent:

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth. […] Still, when we try to describe a smell, words fail us like the fabrications they are. The physiological links between the smell and language centers of the brain are pitifully weak, not so the links between the smell and memory centers. Our sense of smell can be extraordinarily precise, yet it’s almost impossible to describe how something smells to someone who hasn’t smelled it (e.g. a new book, lilac). Smell is the mute sense, the one without words. We use words in terms of other things to describe smells (e.g. floral, fruity, smoky). We tend to describe how they make us feel.”

– A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman

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