The Transportive Powers of Scent

I’m mindlessly pushing my grocery cart down the produce aisle, and mildly distracted by the broken wheel that refuses to roll straight. I need but a few items and am in a hurry. I’m always in a hurry at the grocery. It’s my basic M.O. Seek, retrieve, purchase, get out. Seven perfect lemons, smooth skin, juicy feel, then it hits. A wave of fragrance so intimate, I pause my focused pursuit to look around. For that brief moment I fully expect to see my grandmother standing next to me. It’s Coco Chanel. Unmistakable, and in my mind she’s the only person to ever wear this iconic scent as I have always felt no one wore it like her. It’s the fragrance of love and delicious kitchen smells, dragon breathing irritation and all things she was and continues to be to me long after her passing.

Scent has the power to send you catapulting to another time and place like no other. It’s the sleeper time machine that you didn’t see coming, and a huge piece of my world from my earliest memories. I often identify perfume shops as a destination when planning vacations, and in the processes of locating these often obscure locations, amazing discoveries are made adding to the memory bank.

You see, I grew up surrounded by strong women, each with their own personal fragrance. To this day I can still send my world into a minor tailspin when one of those eau de parfum wafts past my nose, thus the power of olfactory memory. I came to believe that your scent was as unique to you as the rest of your style. The particular perfume will likely change as you grow into yourself, but it will become clear, if only you pay attention, to what type of scent best melds with your being. It’s a marriage. The wrong scent would be akin to having the wrong shoe size on, uncomfortable and perhaps slightly unpleasant. It will certainly not feel like a second skin, as your scent should be something that envelops you in more you-ness.

Perfume itself is thousands of years old. The word itself comes from the Latin per fume, or “through smoke.” Evidence of perfume making began in Egypt and Mesopotamia, for use in rituals both spiritual and sensual, or maybe they just wanted to smell great. Either way, these floral, woodsy and spice notes were a part of their culture. The earliest use of perfume bottles dates back to around 1000 BCE also by Egyptians who also happened to invent glass. Perfume bottles were one of the first common uses for it, but the oldest recorded perfume vessels found comes from the island of Cyprus made of painted ceramic. Upon further analysis traces of anise, pine, coriander, bergamot, almond and parsley, all native to the region, were discovered as preferred scents.

Perfumery in Pyrgos, Cyprus — 4,000 years old

With hopeful determination to find something new and more amazing I will set off in search of the next great discovery in each destination. I am never disappointed. If I don’t find THE perfume, I always find something, a scented lotion, soap or room diffuser with a bouquet that will forever remind me of this particular moment in time, and quite possibly a part of the city or town I may never have seen. This is worth its weight in gold, and will certainly give me the warm and fuzzies every time I lay nose to it. This is the loot I plunder and lug home in my oversized suitcase without fail.

Long after I have forgotten the name of a particular cathedral visited, or what I may have eaten at a particular restaurant, I can count on the smells encountered and more specifically the perfumes sampled to bring me right back. It’s the ultimate souvenir.

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