Saturday, December 3, 2011

Smells Like...

Shannon and I spent the better part of the year planning a pilgrimage to our mecca.  Portland represents everything we admire and strive for:  a thriving craft community, good music, fine food, beautifully designed storefronts, well dressed souls, and a can-do attitude paired with a healthy dose of ease and well being.  My guess is that this sort of lifestyle derives largely from the weather.  The chilly drizzles kept us inside mostly, fueled by coffee and beer. My favorite rainy day haunt was the lobby of this hotel.
Just around the corner from Powell's, and across the street from Living Room Theaters, the Ace was the perfect place to curl up and read, write postcards, and to try my first (and last) cup of coffee.
(Taste isn't the only thing deterring me from drinking coffee: caffeine, you see, doesn't agree with me, and one cup from Stumptown Coffee Roasters was enough to keep me awake all night.  This single cup resulted in the fire alarm going off for hours in the middle of the night as I attempted to make midnight pizza in the hostel kitchen.   With the perfunctory caffeine induced heart palpitations inhibiting my decision making skills,  I spent the rest of the night hiding with my head under a pillow in anxiety. Needless to say I did not make many friends, nor will I ever drink coffee again.)


It is said that olfactory sensations are the strongest links to memory.  I do not dispute this idea for a second.  On my little shelf here in Bordeaux, I have a bottle of Portland.  The Shepard and the Sea, a tiny perfume vial that Shannon and I picked out in a pop-up shop on the  south-west side, smells soapy, and soft, like the pages of an old book and light green, like moss and sage and cedar trees.   Most of all though, it smells like Portland.  And even here, half a world away in a tiny stone room in France, I can recall the memories of that week in Oregon, the long morning walks to Voodoo doughnuts, the feeling of the air and the smell of the wet sidewalks and stone buildings, of the bridge and the river, the coffee in the hotel, the sound of the music that we listened to, the memories of the books we were reading, the things that we ate and the people that we met, all just by opening the bottle. 
The strength of the link between the smells of this perfume and the time we spent in Portland inspired me to start making lists of other smells, smells that reminded me of home and of people that I miss.
I want to bottle these scents, and keep my memories in jars.  The essence of these perfumes would not be to smell good, necessarily, but to smell "right".  If I put my scented memories in a perfume they would be bottled landscapes, a means of linking myself inextricably to my land and a means of identification.
Until I figure out how exactly to make perfume, I'll have to be contented with making lists. One of the lists I've been working on is the smell of the apartment I shared with Shannon last year. Here is what fall smelled like in 2010.
Green Tomato Vines
The Hum of the Computer and Sewing Machine
Metal (like a ring)
Dust from a Cool Road*
Wet Wood
Wet Terra Cotta
a little bit like Nat Shermans and 27s
White Paint
Bike Tires
Wet Redwood Bark
The Floral Notes of Gin
National Parks Perfume
and very faintly of Mint and Felafels

*In making these lists, it occured to me how many different types of dust smells there are. Have you noticed a difference in the smells between the dust on the road when it's hot versus when it's cool.  Then there's library dust which is different than antique store dust, the dust on a mantle, clay dust, dust that falls in the streams of light between tree branches, the dust that birds create when the fluff their feathers, snow...  The lists are very addicting.