Have you ever been struck by an odour which instantly took you back to a place that you had completely forgotten about? This happens to me quite frequently. I can turn a corner and suddenly I am there as a toddler in the land of the fjords, or as a 23-year-old living in Paris. The instigator to these sudden flashbacks can be anything, just as the memories they might bring – the old knitted Norwegian sweaters in the chest smelling of camphor in my childhood home, a taco-shack in an alley some place in Mexico, a tar-impregned fishing pier on the coast of Sweden, home-baking in my grandma’s kitchen, the two-seater privy at our summer house, or the sweet and smoggy stench of old Delhi.
Sensory impressions can take us back in time and place, and revive memories that have been in hibernation for years. Even if it doesn’t happen very often anymore, whenever I hear the Bee Gees’ ‘How deep is your love’, I instantly get teleported back to when I was a 16-year-old nervously grasping my clear as day fake ID in the line-up at a disco that is probably long-time gone. (Ok, now arrest me!) The mere look at a bottle of Matheus rosé wine makes my stomach turn, though it is decades since that drunken bout. And when I touch the keys of a piano, my modern ‘compositions’ and slamming-therapy on my parents upright piano come back to me as if it were yesterday.
In many ways, I think that our senses have a better memory than our minds.
Nine years ago this May, I went to heaven for the first time. Well, at least olfactory heaven. We were travelling around Andalucía for a month exploring where we possibly would come back to live when we left Vancouver. We had been recommended Valle Lecrín, a valley district in the Granada province. As we drove through the first orange grove, the scent was so overwhelming that we had to slow down to 20 km/h and open all the windows. As soon as we could, we stopped the car and jumped out, so that we really could indulge our noses in this heavenly sensory experience.
Ever since that day and for all eternity, orange blossom or azar as it is called in Spanish, will for me be synonymous with that day in the Lecrín Valley in May. So, before summer barges in far too fast, perhaps it is time to reflect on your most memorable sensory spring impressions?