Making Sense of a Smelly World


Holiday time presents noses with many scents – some stimulating pleasant memories of by-gone days:

  • coming in from a tobogganing afternoon to a cozy kitchen with the cook baking or stewing or basting assorted goodies.
  • the smell of gingerbread or pine trees or even the citrusy smelling frankincense rising from the thurible, (that round thingy in a Catholic Church service that the priest swings about, spewing sweet-smelling smoke floating from the live coals and incense contained within.)

Writing experts encourage intensifying one’s descriptive passages using all five senses – not just sight. I find this difficult, especially smell and (its partner in crime) taste. These instructors further advise avoiding clichés which really backs me in a corner. How do I expand the reader’s imagination describing an approaching thunder storm? Perhaps using words such as tingly, earthy, acidic?

The taste arena includes sweet (cloying?), sour (stinging? citrusy? spoiled?), salty (alkali? metallic?), bitter (sharp? quinine?), and the last, most challenging, a real zinger: umami (savory? meaty?)

To make matters even more interesting, as I age, my taste buds (like a few other essential body parts) seem to be losing interest in participating in my sensory abilities. Current research indicates that insidious master of decay, Father Time, wreaks havoc not only with vision and hearing but also taste. I am progressing from hyposmia (reduced ability to smell) to anosmia (complete loss of smell). At least I am learning new words – even if they are a bit disconcerting. So I could try some new medications (pentoxifylline or Cerefolin) to wake up my olfactory receptors. Right now I prefer the doctor-recommended home remedy treatment plan: smelling anything before I taste it and daily taking a wiff of spices such as cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, even pencil shavings (it provides a cedar scent.) I hope this sniff therapy will stimulate not only my smell nerves but also my creative thinking nerves to add some zest to my eating and my writing.


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