Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Nose Knows: The Most Powerful Sense

A physician friend says the most powerful sense is the sense of smell. I’m not sure whether he’s right. I’ve heard that for women auditory is the strongest sense—hence the tendency to believe a man when he says, “I promise I’ll never do it again.”

But my friend is right about the sense of smell being the most evocative of memory. On Saturdays my mother sometimes brought home from the local grocery a mortadella, a cured type of pork luncheon meat that spared no fat and was laced with black pepper, nutmeg and pistachios. If it sat unwrapped on the counter, when I smelled it my first thought was—Italy. The aromatic smell instantly brought back my grandmother’s small off-white stucco kitchen in the agricultural Marche region of central Italy. Suddenly I was back in that kitchen, with its naked light bulb hanging over the rectangular table where we gathered with my cousins for meals. In those days I hated eating and would rather be playing hide and seek in the hillside grass in the gathering summer evenings.

The powerful sense memory that came form the mortadella was more than food and a recollection of Italy. What I actually thought when I smelled it was—home. That’s the wonder of sensory detail well-used.

To put today’s musing into action, check out the writing tip at the top of the list at the bottom of the page and let me know how it goes.

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