Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Sense of Smell

"At four in the morning, in summertime,

Love's drowsiness still lasts...

The bushes blow away the odor

Of the night's feast."
Rimbaud, Alchemy of the Word

They say blind people can hear better than sighted people, or if not better, they can focus and understand what they’re hearing better. So, when I started to lose my hearing, I figured I was going to be compensated by a gradual ramping up of my sight: perhaps into galactically hallucinatory levels. Instead, I can’t see to thread a needle any more.

I was compensated however by developing hyper smell. It’s like a radioactive anteater bit me. (I say anteater because they have this long snout, so it’s like they must be able to smell ants at 100 anteater paces.) Unlike my mediocre gardening skills, my mad sense of smell could beat up my mother’s sense of smell.

During those lately fleeting moments of consciousness, it never starts to amaze me when information is conveyed to my brain by my senses of smell: like having a conversation without words.

My unasked for superpower is a mixed blessing, which I guess is pretty typical of superpowers. My flights of olfactory abandon take me to the fathomless deep space of the atom, with electrons spinning around it to make the logo of the old Disneyland’s old Tomorrowland. (Kind of funny how Walt got that wrong. Instead of flying around in our jetpacks or sliding along a motorized walkway, we’re texting our Swiss bankers for account updates via the cloud.)

So instead of offsetting my superpower like I would have in my younger days - by buying stuff I don’t need to comfort me – I am trying to use my super powers only for good, by planting a garden for smelling. You can buy stuff to please your eye. You can work with the Internet to find music that only you can appreciate deep within your genome. (You know, like how some song lyrics seem to be a confidential message addressed to you alone in the world. If that were so, the soundtrack to today would be the lyrics to the song Mahna, Mahna, Mahna, but that’s for another post.) But you can’t easily surround yourself with good smells. I don’t count the entire aisle of the supermarket that is filled with multitudes of “air fresheners” that purport to bathe your rooms in aromas of mountain glens, freshly cleaned laundry, or cinnabuns.

This morning I took a walk through the backyard still fresh from a day of soft overnight rain, and I smelled the flowers. I mean I really smelled the flowers.

There was the white rose, moments away from burning out in a solar flare of blown rose: full, filled with dew. It exuded a scent of melting mountain snow and with faint finish of charcoal fire, and the damp whiff of high thread count cotton.

To me, there is a world of difference between the honest essential oil fragrance of say, lavender, and the oily chemical lavender with an undertone of burnt toast. All floral and herbal smells are like that to me. Only the genuine essential oil smell pleases my nose; never the synthetic poser fragrances that always leave an olfactory aftertaste of petroleum products and wet cardboard.

The blue flower spikes on the white sage, smell somehow like green tea, with a tincture of sweet sage and a pinch of the honey from of adjacent sweet white alyssum. The heavy dew doesn’t just wake up these smells, it kicks them out of bed and onto the floor, tangled up in a pile of sheets.

The flowering ornamental quince flowers don’t seem to have a fragrance so much as they seem to wear an olfactory trench coat that permits only a faint trace of scent to escape - like something you can remember so clearly you can almost smell it - a lingering smell that combines night-blooming jasmine and spicy lemon verbena, combined with an earthy smell something like ripe blue cheese.

I don’t generally garden with flowers, preferring the scented herbs and other fragrant plants. I have a lemon area that includes lemongrass and a lemony vetiver grass, lemon verbena, lemon thyme and, of course, a dwarf Meyer lemon variety that might actually produce lemons this year. A trip through my yard before the morning dew evaporates is an olfactory delight.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, PA, November 19, 1863

Monday, May 09, 2011

Possible Evidence of Insanity/Eggnog Recipe

"I felt despair. Though it seems to me now there's two kinds of it: the sort that causes a person to surrender and then the sort I had which made me take risks and make plans."
Erica Eisdorfer, The Wet Nurse's Tale

For some time now, I’ve been thinking of re-naming this blog: “Notes to Self” and with a subtitle: Looking for a foolproof plan and an airtight alibi. My idea is to post tips that I come across for committing the perfect crime. There are several problems with this.

The first and more obvious problem is that in the event I ever stumbled on the details of a perfect crime, some clever detective might track down the blog and it would be submitted as evidence of premeditation. So you see my dilemma.

The second problem is that I have not come up with very many ideas. Accordingly, I have graciously decided to share the few tips I have unearthed with the entire internets. By disclosing these ideas I have implicitly decided never to use them. Well, now, explicitly.

1. Arsenic poising wasn’t testable until the Marsh test in 1836. Thus, it is now too late to use this colorless, tasteless poison and remain undetected these days. If you have a time machine, you might want to consider transporting you and your intended victim back before 1836. On the other hand, you might simply go back and dispose of this Marsh fellow before he comes up with the test.

2. Don’t just wipe the pistol clean of fingerprints: remember to wipe prints off the bullets.

3. The lethal dose of nutmeg is 5 grams. Disclaimer: I’m not sure if this is true, not to mention whether subsequent tests would indicate nutmeg poisoning. I can’t remember whether I got this info from the google or whether it came to me in a dream. If I were going to use nutmeg (which, of course, I’m not) I’d offer it to my intended victim(s) as Killer Eggnog, and put in enough Southern Comfort to mask the nutmeg, i.e. a lot.

BTW, always use Southern Comfort instead of rum to make your eggnog. See, even if you don’t contemplate criminal activity, you now know my Daddy’s secret to good eggnog.

You can thank me later.