Thursday, November 27, 2008

Memory, Place, and Perfume

It's Thanksgiving in the United States.  Time to travel home, or have folks travel to you.  

No, this is not going to be about the scent of pumpkin pie.

This year is a travel home one for me.  I spent a long time on the road yesterday--twice as long as it should have been, but musings on congestion, cars, and American habits I will save for another day.  By the time I started rolling through what qualifies as "home turf," Andrew Bird was singing about a tic on the left side of the head through the car speakers, and I found myself reflecting on the geography of home and the question of whether or not you can go home again started weaving through thoughts of perfume journeys.

Let's see if I can lead you through this.  It's about how we become who we are, and whether or not our descent into and through the realm of perfume follows a similar pattern.

I have long been fascinated by, and believed, the idea that geography helps shape character.  I also think that somehow, we can find pieces of our very essence in places we might not expect or have never been before.  In other words, home geography might help define us, but it doesn't have to BE part of us.  Hence, some people ride into the turf that was their childhood, and have a visceral sense of connection, place, nostalgia, longing, relief, desire.  For others, crossing through the turf of their childhood may evoke a "I'm so glad I got the hell out of Dodge" kind of response.  Some may not experience much of connection, no repulsion, just "meh." When I drive back to the terroir that incubated me, I have the first kind of response.   

Geographical nurturing  influences some of that response.  But our inner nature can be powerful, also, and I feel some of that comes into play for me.  For someone like my mother, nature trumps nurture; she finds her emotional connection in the desert southwest, even though she was born in the northern plains and raised in the northern woods.  When it comes to our geographic emotional connections, both elements are at play.

When I was making and teaching film, I discussed the idea of geography as part of a character, landscape as both mood and content cue, and indeed, geography as character itself.  Many writers and directors feel the land both defines us, and determines what choices we have for literal and figurative movement.  And land may indeed call to us.

Interesting, but where does the perfume come in to this?

Not as scent memory.   Rather, as metaphor for our olfactory journey.  The journey that is our exploration of perfume, our path through notes, combinations, and preferences.  Consider for a moment the blog writer or poster who discusses their path through perfume:  "When I started, I was into x kind of scents, but now find I am into strong x scents."  Add in a common aversion:  "that is a Grandma perfume," or "I kind of like it, but my mother wore it, so no way for me."  What prompts this movement along a scent path?  Is it entirely an evolving olfactory sophistication?  Or might some portion of the process be defined as a reaction...a movement away from the familiar, the territory of the known, of homeland, and toward exploring new lands?  Perhaps even a form of rebellion against the past, a strong statement of independence...a barbaric yawp of youth?

Will we go home again?  Can we?  Should we?  Must we?

I wonder if eventually, the curve of scent appreciation might lead some folks back home again.  In the same way that many adults who spent the first portion of their independent years forging their identities as far from their stomping grounds as possible, then find themselves back--whether for the emotional connection, or because it is the only place they can imagine their own children spending a youth, or because after exploring all the other places in the world, they find it is the one that suits them best after all.  

Some folks will never come back; the mountains were never right, and a life on or near the sea is what suits them best.

But might not some, who so strongly say "I'll never do that/go back," find that doing that/going back is exactly what they DO do?

I am spending the day in the geography of my youth.  I will not wear the scents of my grandmothers; I am still busy forging and proclaiming my own perfume identity.  But I am feeling quite connected to place.  Perhaps someday I will feel equally connected to a perfume.

I wonder... For those of us with more than a few bottles lying around, does desire to collect scent reflect a desire to chart a journey, record a path?  Is it more than simply wanting to own, but perhaps a need to keep sensory contact with memory?  Might the path of their olfactory exploration, and their choices along the way, somehow mirror their relation to their life path?  

Such were my thoughts in the dark on the two-lane.  Now, the sun is up, and it's time for me to join my family.  Elements of today will be familiar; others will be new.  One day, in a string of others before and more to come.  I plan on it all adding up to a pleasant whole.  

Have a fantastic day.   I'm off to make pumpkin pie.


Rose said...

Wow what a great post and how beautifully written. For me I know I travel to extend myself and explore myself as well as the world.

I suppose my journey with perfume, which wasn't intentional but just happened, is also partly about that. Certainly certain scents bring out certain aspects of my character.

I tend to think it's unlikely I will ever find scents I admire as much as Apres L'Ondee and L'Heure Bleu and I also so far haven't found somewhere I connect with so well as London. Still that doesn't stop me travelling through scent or cities/ countries. It's strange but I think there are more beautiful places than London and quite possibly places where I am happier but no where where I am so much myself (I wasn't born here, I was born in Surrey and I love it there too, I think it would feel strange if I didn't have family there as it would feel strange not to have a bottle of coco mademoiselle which i have worn for years on and off).

Rose said...

PS Hope you had a happy thanksgiving!

ScentScelf said...

I suppose it would follow that in my ideal world, I divide my travelling between exploring and returning, visiting brand new locales and going back to places I've been before. As for places we find ourselves connected to, as you and your London, it's probably not surprising that there's more to it than sheer beauty, no? Appeal is more complex than that. Not that I mind that which is visually appealing... ;)

I too find that, so far, certain scents match aspects of my character, but no one is "it." (Sometimes I'll get an "it" that applies to a limited time frame, but nothing universal.)

Yes, I've had a lovely Thanksgiving. There's a bit of a connection from my corner of the world to yours...I've started reading "I Capture the Castle."

Happy well wishes to you, Rose. :)

Jenavira13 said...

Travel and scent are one of my favorite things to do together, usually for each trip I take I pack one scent so that I perfume that trip with that scent allowing me later on to relive that travel through scent. I must ask after reading that have you read John McPhee?

ScentScelf said...

I have not read any John McPhee, and, I am sorry to say, had to run off and Google him to make sure. But I am intrigued now...have you read writings of his? What brings him up?

(I see he is connected with new journalism; I have read a fair number of others frequently tossed in with that group.)

Jenavira13 said...

Scentscelf- You really should read him, his stuff usually deals with the landscape by looking at the geography, and well I think he is pretty fascinating. I think you would enjoy him.