Friday, July 8, 2011
Déjà Vu for the Proximal Senses, AKA Olfactory Transportation
Had a funny experience the other day. They say the sense of smell is the sense most intimately connected to memory - and I believe it. Have you ever had that experience when a smell reminds you of a place? Not just smelling some thing in wine, e.g. "this wine smells of strawberry" or blueberry or lemon starburst or green beans or sticky toffee pudding or moldy hummus (no joke - come to think of it, I really shouldn’t have told the wine rep), but when you catch a whiff of a scent that sort of transports you to some place you've got locked in your memory. I've revisited my great grandmother's old kitchen in this fashion (haven't been there since I was about 10), my grandparents’ bathroom, and a good friend's house, among other places. With objects it’s less profound, but even more common - I can’t count the number of childhood treats I’ve been reminded of since I’ve started seriously tasting wine. It's a sort of déjà vu for the proximal senses. A fascinating feeling. But while again I've obviously smelled things in wine, plums, prunes, my wife's hairspray, etc., and occasionally gotten tiny doses of that fun olfactory déjà vu feeling, nothing that I can recall that was not in fact wine has ever reminded (in the same visceral sense) of wine. Until the other day. Anyway, on the bus a little while ago I opened a tin of Altoids and got hit with that blast of menthol, which is normal, but for some reason totally piqued my sense memory and gave me a curiously strong (get it?) sensation of fresh mint leaves, which immediately sort of transported me to red wine. I "remembered" a wine smelling strongly of menthol...though I rarely identify that characteristic in red wines, and never so clearly (so it wasn't a particular wine I was "remembering"). Really fascinating, and really puzzling, but fun. Amazing how our minds can create complex compound sensations out of disparate atomic parts. It’s days like these that I’m thankful for my cerebral cortex.