I’ve been thinking a lot about smells lately (both fragrances and odours — I like the BrE spelling better, it seems to have more smell to it). It is a curiosity of the paternal line of my family that we have astonishingly powerful sniffers. Smells that other folks don’t even detect drive us crazy. And this despite the fact that we also often suffer from allergies and sinus problems.

The human sense of smell, though weaker than that of many other animals, is still a powerful one. C.G. Jung was one of the first modern thinkers to associate smell and memory; it’s interesting that the part of the brain that perceives smells is linked to the parts of the brain that are responsible for learning and affect. And one of the key aspects of mindfulness practice is to remind ourselves to actively smell what’s going on around us, as we tend not to notice.

So what smells are on my mind these days? First, there’s last week’s wonderful perfume sample that I’ve now used up. If I get any Xmas dosh in the form of gifts or a payout from El Gordo (the Xmas lottery), that’s what I’m going to buy for myself… and I may just buy it anyway.

Then there are the ever-present cooking odours that find their way into my flat from the bar downstairs and the woman down the hall. Neither of them appear ever to have met an allium they didn’t like. Don’t misunderstand me. I love onions and garlic myself, and the only recipes that I make that don’t call for them are for desserts. But I want to decide when I’m going to stink up the house, thanks. (It’s not likely to be at 10:00 AM.) I’ve got the Lampe Berger going even as I type this.

Also in the olfactory parade upon which I have turned my thoughts are cleaning products, specifically laundry soap. Here in Spain, the preference is for detergent that leaves your wash smelling really clean. (I’m an Ariel girl, myself, and I love it when my flat smells of clean clothes.) It needs to last and last, too, for days after you’ve done your laundry. My guess is that this is because there are a lot of other smells in these parts (see above) that compete and because doing laundry is a relatively arduous procedure* so we wear our clothes more times per wash than in the U.S. Undergarments are not included in this tally, of course.

What gets your nostrils in a knot? What smells make you happy, or bring you memories? If you’re not actively smelling the world around you, it might be an interesting change to undertake — even if you end up overwhelmed by garlic!


*Average wash cycles last 90 minutes — though my washer has a blessed “quick wash” setting that gets it done in 30 — and of course we air dry everything because dryers are still quite rare. At Casa Rubi, there’s a handy-dandy folding laundry dryer that lives under the bed when not in use. When it’s completely unfolded, it will hold two loads of wash, and it occupies about half of my flat!