Thursday, September 20, 2007

Holding my nose

So I haven’t cooked for myself in over a month. Thank you, graduate school.

The lack of activity in my kitchen, however, has not stopped my olfactory neurons from dancing around in my head. More scent has returned in the last two months than in the last two years combined.

And, frankly, it’s driving me insane.

It feels at times like my nose is going haywire. I’m hit by a smell—often new, sometimes indefinable—and I can’t concentrate. There are moments when I can hardly think beyond the thick, malodorous stench of a simple can of cat food.


A whiff of cologne on the street near my apartment stopped me in my tracks.

I opened a stiff old book at the library and its mildewed pungency sent shivers down my spine.

I sat near the water off of Hunts Point in the south Bronx, and found myself breathing through my mouth because the air smelled so briny that I felt sick.

The only thing I retained from a recent lecture on the ethics of journalism is the shower-fresh deodorant of the man next to me.

And just last night I stared at the stick of butter in my hand—still cold and in its wrapper—not believing that anything could so reek of salt and sweet cream.


My sense of smell is by no means fully back. Many things continue to exist purely in the textural and visual. But the world is certainly coloring itself in a different, thicker way.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is wholly due to my mood.

It’s been clear to me since the beginning of this whole loss-of-smell thing that the re-growth of my damaged olfactory neuron was strongly related to my memory and experience. The smells that returned first had everything to do with moments of happiness. The bad have stayed away or just slowly eked their way back into my consciousness.

And, right now, I’m happier. School is challenging. My apartment has large windows and a cat that only yowls when extremely grumpy. Fall is seeping back into the world and the newspaper’s pages crinkle just so.

If it means that sometimes I have to breathe only out of my mouth—like this afternoon, when I sat on a sunny bench in Union Square trying to read but couldn’t process anything besides the spicy scent of the pasta a woman was eating nearby—I’m OK with that. It’s rather exciting, actually.


Anonymous said...

That's amazing! Congratulations on both your happiness and your new smells. I've never commented before, but I love your posts.

Anonymous said...

I love the pair of exciting journeys you're on right now, Molly. Keep sharing them both with us.

S said...

Dearest Molly, I just discovered your blog this morning and have promptly spent all my time since then going through your archives. You write so beautifully and far more better than I ever will. I love food too and am inspired by your passion for it. Good luck for culinary school and hope you will continue to share your journey with us. Sabrina

p.s. your dinner parties look amazing!! what do i need to do to blag my way into an invite for one of them? :P

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog while doing a search for sense of smell and cooking, like you I have been learning to cook all over again. People like you and I who loose their sense of smell as young adults are rare and I have never met anyone who can relate. Reading your blog it has been amazing how much I can relate to your experiences.

This post in particular has been on my mind since I read it. It is well known that smell is one of the best memory triggers and I believe the reverse is true as well. I found the things I can taste and smell best are the things I really remember the smell and taste of. It has occurred to me that I am really just remembering a taste rather than actually tasting it but somehow in a way I can't explain (but I think you will know what I mean) the two things are intertwined. Anyway, focusing on the memory of a taste or smell has helped me and maybe you can use this trick too.

Thanks for sharing your experience its good know I am not alone! Feel free to email me if you would like to chat more