Ghost Scents are not always unpleasant however. Have you ever worn a loved one’s clothes and found yourself living with their smell all day long? I have a friend with whom I exchange clothes. She lives in Greece and I live in the Netherlands… We send each other packets of things that do not quite work in our wardrobes any longer. When her packets arrive, I open them to find myself surrounded by her presence. What’s most surprising is that even after several wears and subsequent washes, her clothes retain her own unique smell - the fibers completely drenched in her essence as it were. When finally the harsh detergents manage to strip away every last bit of her slightly vanilla scented skin, I always feel distinctly disappointed…
From clothes, to cars and houses, the smell of ownership is present, slightly different each time, mingling with the scent of fibers and materials. None are as distinctive and as potent as the smells created by diverse, unrelated individuals sharing a common goal. The smell of the gym, the same in every country you visit, decade after decade: Muscle and sweat, enough to make your adrenaline levels rise and your heart to start pumping the moment you walk in. Even more evocative, the smell of dance. A recent visit to the Ballet Academy to sign up for a class made me feel like I was about to faint from wistfulness the moment I walked in, recently. It smelled of learning, almost like elementary school and high school combined, and its familiar scent was mingled with that of sweat. Not the sweat of a single person, but that of many. It smelled of collective effort and art, of broken toes, blissful misery and hope. There is no way this smell could ever be eradicated, even if the Academy became something else. Like the smell of the Hospital, the ghosts of a thousand dancers’ smell would come back to haunt this place, claim it as their own.
Some ghosts are living, living through the ages. When I travel back to Thessaloniki Greece, I am always greeted by the scent of this ancient city the moment I step out of the airport. Air that’s slightly thicker than I’m used to over here, humid and salty, smelling of the sea and the people, the vague smell of herbs and woods. The smell of a particular sort of energy reverberating in the air. It makes me want to fall down on my knees, Pope-like, and kiss the ground that bore me.
Some scents are truly gone from this earth however. I am lucky to have them living in my head, and I am even luckier to have this strange ability to call them forth and smell them again whenever I wish to. The scent of my maternal grandmother, recently gone from this world, is probably the most precious such Ghost. It smells of her skin, scented like fresh dough after working her capable hands on each and everything that needed attention in the house. That slight smell of sweet and sour dough, the smell of light sweat over clean, soapy skin, calls forth an image of her working in her old kitchen, turning to smile down at me. And all I can do is wish I could run and hug her again. But at least I have her smell. Ghost of a scent.
Images: www.sxc.hu, www.morguefile.com