I have an acute sense of smell.
Although this has stood me in good stead in the past -- I am everyone's first line of defense in the event of a gas leak -- it can be a real headache. At a friend's house a couple of months ago I sat on her sofa fidgeting and desperate for a breath of fresh air: she had bought a new air freshener, I later learned, which no one else in the room seemed to mind one bit. I'm pretty sure they weren't just pretending: two of them asked her what it was and I know for a fact that one of them went out and bought the same thing because when I next visited her, I went through the same torment.
My problem is that although I can smell the difference between my children, can smell when the cat has brought a rodent into the house or the next-door neighbors are brewing coffee or smoking, I can't always tell what the source of the smell is -- even when it is me. Once, years ago, I sat in the dentist's chair, waiting for the dentist, wondering why the room stank so badly. Only minutes before the dentist finally entered the room, I discovered the source of the smell: I was breaking in a brand new pair of hiking boots with a half-inch tread, and on inspection, I saw that I had stepped in a big one. Wet, too, and very fresh. That made for a pretty embarrassing encounter.
Another time, I helped a group of friends sell their daikon pickles at an open-air market in Tokyo. Every culture has its own particularly strong-smelling food, and the Japanese have their fair share. Daikon, or large white radishes, taste great but tend to smell a bit fecal, especially after they are pickled. As I was just getting over a cold, my sense of smell was blunted, and what with that and the fact that we were outside on a brisk, windy autumn evening, the pungent quality of the daikon pickles eluded me. But on the overheated train home, I looked around me in irritation, wondering whose baby was in such desperate need of a change and why everyone else was ignoring this. Two or three young couples with infants suffered my exasperated scrutiny; so did a grandmother with a toddler. Only after I had changed seats once and changed train cars twice, each time taking with me my complimentary bag of daikon pickles, did I realize that I myself was the source of the smell. Oh, the shame, when I remembered the dirty looks I had given those innocent children and their guardians.
Yet another time, I was complimented on my perfume at work, which I found odd because I wasn't wearing any -- given my sensitive nose, there are few that appeal to me. Hours later, sitting in a seminar, my perfume was commented upon again. It was only when I got home and changed out of my clothes that I realized what had happened. On the train to work in the morning, a man who had virtually bathed in aftershave had sat next to me, almost asphixiating me. Thirty minutes later he got off and my nose, duly traumatized, had grown so used to the smell that I could not tell it had rubbed off on my clothes. Even my hair still reeked of it.
I'm lucky in that my husband and I tend to like and hate the same smells. We both love the smell of lavender, cedar, oranges, garlic and coffee. Artificial air fresheners, fragrance oils, deodorants, and detergent make us ill: we'd rather put up with the odors they are intended to mask. And for both of us, a little bit of anything goes a long way.
For the past few weeks, I've been suffering from a cough. Last night I went to put a few drops of eucalyptus oil on my pillow and spilled half of the bottle on the quilt. My husband, already fast asleep, was clutching his side of the quilt so tightly that after a few half-hearted tugs, I gave up on trying to pull it off the bed. I put my pillow over my head in a desperate attempt to block the smell, but it was in vain: the eucalyptus was absolutely overpowering.
I lay there for a good twenty minutes, utterly miserable, wondering if I could die from eucalyptus overdose -- or worse still, if I were possibly murdering my husband with it, too? I rolled up the tainted corner of the quilt, which made no difference whatsoever. Finally, still swooning from eucalyptus fumes, I got out of bed and found another quilt. I rolled the affected part of the first quilt over, wedging it against my husband, and covered myself with the new quilt. This made a little difference, but the smell was still so awful I woke up dizzy from it. Eighteen hours later, I can still smell it on my hair, and our room is going to smell of eucalyptus for some time to come.
At least this time I knew I was to blame.
Sunday, 13 January 2008
I have an acute sense of smell.