Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ll be using manicules (those pointing finger symbols) to direct your attention to something I’m pondering that delights or interests me. Each entry is somehow related to an unusual, obscure, or simply charming to me word.
Y is for…
yeorie – “a certain scent that has the power to sweep you back to childhood – the acrid funk of bug spray, the earthy sweetness of dead leaves on asphalt, the rebellious twang of gasoline fumes in the summer heat.” Pronounced yoh-ree. From yewtor, a pungent scent + yewre, water-bearer.
Today’s word is one from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows which I wrote more about in my L post.
The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. As Lewis Thomas so cogently puts it:
“The act of smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking. Immediately at the moment of perception, you can feel the mind going to work, sending the odor around from place to place, setting off complex repertories through the brain, polling one center after another for signs of recognition, for old memories and old connection. ”
I have a storehouse of childhood scent memories, including my grandmother’s flowers, my mother’s smoking, special packets of bath salts I begged for every birthday, scented with lily of the valley, gardenia, and honeysuckle. The scent of my brother’s well-worn leather baseball mitt, homemade cinnamon rolls, the pungent acrid smell of bleach. So many scents – and I have no doubt you have a million of your own to call up from your childhood.
But where I’m drawn to take you today on my pondering path is a mention of three books that talk about scents from the past.
First up, The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister. I read this novel last year, and while clearly some parts of the story are far stronger than others, I definitely found it worth reading and still think about. It’s about a young girl who lives with her father on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest. He teaches her all the skills necessary to live such a wild nature-based life, and in doing so instructs her how to hone her sense of smell so precisely that it remains the primary skill she uses to navigate her world throughout her life. She love listening to the fairy tales her father tells her, and thrills watching him use his mysterious invention – a machine that produces one-of-a-kind scents which he stores in sealed bottles so they won’t be lost. Her father dies tragically, she is rescued from the island and isolation, but must learn how to live in a world vastly different than the one she’s accustomed to. The backstory about the scent machine unfolds and scent and memory is infused throughout the book.
Keeping with my practice of awarding book review ratings based on floriograpny, the language of flowers, giving a hint at the plot as well as my appraisal, I offer a nosegay of Spring Crocus (youthful gladness), French Honeysuckle (rustic beauty), Bramble (loneliness), and Persicaria (restoration.)
Next up, Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture by Catherine Maxwell. I’m taking my time with this book, as it’s densely packed, and extensively researched. It starts out with a long introduction on Victorian perfume culture, including perfume production and marketing, all of which I find fascinating. But the majority of the book is a review of “the ways in which perfume wafted through Victorian literary culture. It begins with an examination of Keats and Shelley, and continues exploring writers and the obsession with perfume as a way, like writing, to improve on nature. Each section gives me lots to think about and savor, and I’m enjoying taking my time with it – like little dabs of exquisite perfume meant to be thoroughly appreciated in all its nuances.
Since I haven’t finished it yet, I’m tentatively awarding this a nosegay of Clematis (mental beauty), Red Clover (industry), and Pink Acacia (elegance).
Finally, Scents of Time: Perfume from Ancient Egypt to the 21st Century by Edwin T. Morris. This is a publication from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, from 1999. In addition to the book itself, it comes in a larger ribbon-tied bookbox and contains small bottles of eight perfumes created for the book. This is a genuine bit of fun. The book contains photos of art and objects from the museum relevant to each of the nine cultures/periods covered. As you might expect, it’s more of a introductory dip than a deeper dive, but even someone as extraordinarily fascinated by scent as I am, will likely find interesting bits here. The little bottles of perfume are a bonus treat. Whlle I confess I’m a pretty strong advocate for natural botanical perfumes, and these are not, it really is fun to have an opportunity to sniff along while reading.
As an aside, I’ve become very interested in “scentscapes” as an additional component of learning, and they are becoming more widespread in their usage. This book was created back in 1999, so it’s a wayshower in that department.
I offer a nosegay rating of Angelica (inspiration), Dew Plant (a serenade), and Fennel (worthy of all praise).
Isn’t yeorie a great word? What scent(s) from your childhood stands out? Have any scent or perfume-related books to recommend? Do tell – you know I love to hear.