Saturday, October 15, 2016

Intelligent life

Wild Roses
by Ann Wroe

Some smells seize you by the throat.  Others are gentler, elusive.  Some surround you, whether you want them or not; others, diffident, offer you a choice in the matter.

This is the way of most wild flowers, whose scent scarcely travels farther than a bee can scramble.  You must make a detour to smell twinning honeysuckle, and stand on straining, teetering tiptoe when you find it.  Bluebells, even by thousand require you to kneel among them; for scented violets you must wriggle under the hedge.  Even then you may still be disappointed, for the scent of wild flowers is largely anticipation.  The smell of wild violets should be the one we find in livid sugared petals, mauve fondant creams and the handbags of elderly aunts; but under the brambles air, rain and shyness will have thinned it away.

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Bacon
by Philip Pullman

Frying bacon: is there any smell that prompts the saliva glands to gush more freely?  Roasting coffee is almost as good, perhaps, but bacon is king.  And it has to be fried.  Grilling the stuff makes it self-conscious and prim.  Grilled bacon is for people who are too polite for sensuousness, let alone sensuality.

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Baking Bread
by Edward Carr

From sweet peas to sour milk, every smell is a combination of synapses and electricity.  Molecules fire up receptors in the membranes of your nose and signals stream through a delta of neurons into the dark recess of your brain.  By some alchemy, action potentials and dopamine can render an entire world.

There is one smell that casts the same spell in the physical world.  Flour and water incarnate blankness.  They are empty sheets of lined paper.  But mix them with yeast and knead them and heat them hard and they are filled with sublime verse.  The object start with flour and water and the mind with chemical and electricity, but at the apex of both is the poetry of bread, baking in the hearth....

The smell of bread is the smell of home and of motherhood.  In a cynical world, those things are scorned as sentimental.  But when your head is fill of baking bread, you are hungry to believe that everything will turn out right.  Psychologists have found we are more likely to help a stranger when we are outside a bakery.  I have found that bread in the oven fills me with hope.  When we speak the Lord's Prayer, the first thing we ask for is bread.  And when a loaf is baking, we live in a "house of bread" - a Beth-lehem.

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The Rain
by Robin Robertson

Autumn air was leaf-mould and woodsmoke, truffling for spent fireworks and their mysterious bright, damp canisters reeking of gun powder; spring was turned earth and hawthorn; summer, the coconut flowers of the gorse, and its seed-pods detonating, the ursinous jasmine, a newly tarred road.  All year, the doors of the bars swinging open to a dense, secret sweat of beer and cigarettes, wet tweed and whisky.  And all year, every year of my childhood, and in the later years of shape-changing into something else entirely; always there - overlaying the intimate comforts of an oiled penknife blade, the inside of my leather watch-strap, or the new fumes of sex and blood - was the rain, and the smell of the rain which is no smell at all but only a washing-away, a cleanness, and yet another chance to start again.

"What is the best smell?"
Intelligent Life (The Economist), March/ April 2013

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