An old Jim Croce song starts with, “If I could save time in a bottle, …” and although I may want a collection of bottles with different times of my life, that I can relive by opening them, perhaps the reality is not as farfetched.
As I got ready for work this morning, I thought of what cologne I should put on for the day. I set my decision to Giorgio Armani’s “Eau de Cedre”. As the smell wafts from the spray to my skin, for an instant I was transported back to New York in October 2018. I had opened a particular time in a bottle. Before I continue, allow me to digress to mention about my affinity to fragrances.
Undeniably, I am quite a heavy buyer of fragrances and I must have inherited this from my parents – Dad used to love smelling good despite his skin sensitivity to perfumes. His hair would be perfectly set using the Yardley pomade that all of his children would be familiar with. Unfortunately very few men use the product these days, as I’m sure that if I smell somebody with this pomade, I would be reminded of my late father in a split second.
Our olfactory system – or our sense of smell – is often overlooked and overshadowed by the importance of other senses. The loss of smell that COVID19 causes puts some focus into this important sensory system – and if you read on and follow my train of thoughts, you’d also come to appreciate your olfactory system, too.
Besides the usefulness of the sense of smell to detect danger, disgust, or delight, and to bring extra joy and oomph to what we eat, our olfactory system is actually a collection of time capsules ready to be release in an instant when any one of them is triggered. Have you ever been in a party or in a crowd, and a faint waft of a perfume reminds you of a loved one, or a moment in the past when you associate the smell with that exact point in time?
These triggers can be spontaneous and unplanned – like a smell of food that brings you back to your holiday in Asia. If you put your mind to a particular incidence, your brain may probably remind you of the smell, even if your nose doesn’t physically detect it at this very time being.
However, perhaps it is possible to consciously put a particular moment in a bottle. The next time you’re about to go on a holiday, an important trip, or experience an important event in your life, pick a fragrance that would anchor you to that moment. When the office sent me to spend a month in New York in October 2018, without much thinking and deliberation, I put my Giorgio Armani “Eau de Cedre” in my bag of toiletries. Now when I spray it, I can relive the moments, even just for a whiff. When I got married in December 2009, I remembered spraying Prada “Amber Pour Homme” to the reception. I still haven’t finished the bottle … so when I want to be reminded of the day, or just when I want to relive the warm and fuzzies, I would return to the scent. There are other fragrances that I associate with a trip to Portugal (Antiga Barbearia de Bairro “Príncipe Real”), a period of my life in Singapore (Azzaro “Chrome”), or even a lost friendship (Hugo Boss “Number One”) – among other events. There are also fragrances that are still waiting for their anchors – their time will come.
COVID19’s devastating effects on us are undeniable – and the loss of smell is often mentioned as an early symptom detection, but not as a major casualty of the virus. Taking away the keys that would unlock our cache of time capsules is cruel. Yes, as I mentioned earlier, we can probably close our eyes and focus to remember the smell or a moment in time in the past – but our memory deteriorates as we get older – and an easier way to access those time capsules is the ability to receive and process the trigger.
So, let’s celebrate and appreciate our olfactory system. It’s the best thing to transport us across time and place in this time of isolation.