Thursday, June 30, 2011

nosy postcard, nostalgia express

 fern furling, unfurling

On Monday, I returned from what was probably the second-best-smelling vacation of my life (a trip to Zanzibar tops the list the place, in my experience so far, is unrivaled in terms of sheer smell-quantity and intensity). This trip was to a small island off the coast of Maine, and it was with a bunch of people I love, and it smelled unbelievable. So good, in fact, that I found myself telling myself (more than once!): reign it in, weirdo, these people do not need to hear you say yet again that it smells SO AMAZING here. But it did! Even toning the nosy down a bit, I do believe I made my husband stick his nose into at least three walls: "Smell this wall!" (old cedar, years of salt air). "Now smell this wall!" (newer cedar, fresh as a clean sheet). "What about this wall?!" (maybe not even cedar, and I'm talking to myself by this point).

 nosy research

A little bit of what else it smelled like, so I can remember: 
summer camp (sleeping bags; closets unopened through winter months; the tiniest bit of moldering in the wall, but the beautiful kindcan something moldering also be fresh? In saltwater air, I think it can be.); wild beach roses; fiddlehead ferns (I have only ever smelled these when they're curled up tight and frying in a pan, not when they're neon green and neon smelling, unfurling upwards and vibrating some bright scent unlike anything I've ever smelled before); cedar (walls old and new, trees, piers); new board game box; screened-in porch; damp towel; sailboat; smoke; Basil gas; lemon; Play-Doh; bowls of melted butter on lobster night; boiled eggs; hot toddies; fish curry; wine breath; garlic-bomb croutons; golden roasting marshmallows and outdoor fireplace; smoke; cool granite; rubber boots; assorted piney smells; and saltwater. Saltwater on skin, in hair, in sheets, in air. Everywhere.  

 what does fog smell like?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nosy Interview: Michael Shilling

Michael in M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, © Marco Burali, Tiziano Capecchi, Marco Mancini

Michael and I have lived at the same Ann Arbor address (at different times) and in the same Seattle ZIP code (at different times) and I really hope we'll live in the same city (at the same time) again in the future. Read more about Michael and his novel, Rock Bottom, here.

What do you smell like?
I have often wondered if I have a smell native to myself. Others have strong, identifiable scents, but on the occasions when I have asked significant others what I smell like, they shrug and provide an answer that I will composite as, "I don't know. It's nice though. Except when you're mad. Then you smell weird." Me, I think I smell like grass, broad lush expanses of it, English country lawns that act as verdant moats to bare ruined estates, preferably haunted. I also probably smell a little like a cat, because two cats sleep on me every night. PS Cats smell great.

What do you like to smell?
I like vetiver, bay rum, vanilla, and sandalwood. There's my inner hippie at it again. I also like the smell of gasoline, a BBQ pit, coffee, donuts, and laundromats, which brings to mind one of my favorite poems about smell, though it may not be particularly smell-forward, which is Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World." What a poem! And since you didn't ask, I hate the smell of licorice, and the taste of it, too. Licorice . . . The Devil's Breath. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nosy Interview: Valerie Laken

Valerie assembles a manuscript in the Peculiar Galaxies of Arp 273,  © NASA

I met Valerie at the University of Michigan, where she finished the MFA program a few years ahead of me. I distinctly remember her visiting workshop and giving me and my classmates some very sound advice, though I have no recollection of what, exactly, the advice was. Perhaps this explains why I am still slogging away on a novel while Valerie is celebrating the recent publication of her second book, Separate Kingdoms. Learn more about Valerie and her work by visiting her website.

What do you smell like?
I have no idea what I smell like. Does anyone really know? I get headaches and watery eyes in the presence of perfumes, so when it comes to products that will end up on my body, I tend to shoot for those that smell as little as possible. But because I have a super old, perpetually sick dog, I'm paranoid that both my house and I reek of dying dog. Sometimes I ask my friends if this is the case, but they just shrug noncommittally. I take this as a bad sign. My mother sends me plumeria-scented hand lotion from Hawaii when they're on vacation, and it's the only perfumed thing I like. It's a slightly fake, grandmotherly scent, but the lotion is dreamy and I'm hooked. So I suppose I smell like a 15-year-old coughing dog wearing a plumeria lei. 

What do you like to smell? 
Although it's an artificial scent, sunscreen transports me to sunny vacation days. Good red wine shocks my eyes open and transmits something of all the people and plants who worked to get it in the bottle. The smell of melting pavement and poorly filtered bus exhaust sends me straight to Moscow in the 1990s, where in the mornings, on the metro, you'd get serious blasts of half-digested vodka and BO. I was shocked when people said I'd get used to it, but they were right. I did. It came to feel like home. And now, when I smell BO, I'm right back on the Moscow metro, swaying on my feet between stations. I guess what I mean is, sometimes it's the nasty smells that move and define us.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

riggins forever

Six noseworthy posts and no Friday Night Lights representation!? Tim Riggins to the rescue. Let's all take a moment and imagine what he smells like.

EDIT: Others are already imagining:
  • "Trucks. Oil.  Camp fires and pine trees.  Dirt.  Leather.  Gunpowder.  Armpit sweat.  Chopping wood.  Meat.  Pizza.  Sex." via
  • "like stale beer and sweat" via
  • "And yes he smells good. He smells … like nothing. Like him. No fuss. Love." [on the actor,  not the character, but what a cop-out!]
  • "i don’t know why, but whenever i see a picture of tim riggins i just smell and feel summer" via
  • "a little like gasoline and a lot like locker room" via 
  • "like last night's mistakes" via 
Are other fictional TV characters' smells imagined so vividly on the internet? Or just the ones that look like this?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nosy Interview: Sarah DeVore

Sarah in WISE: Heart and Soul Nebulas in Infrared,  ©NASA

Sarah and I met through our curly-haired husbands, who became fast friends in college. Read more about her adventures on her blog

What do you smell like?  
On the day of my wedding, Nosy Girl asked me what fragrance I was which my Minnesota-raised reaction was to apologize "Oh!  I'm sorry!  I know, it's strong!"  I was a nervous wreck and decided to overcompensate to mask the raw nervous sweat smell...I don't think I even got to tell you the day of my wedding, because I was running around like a Chihuahua on Red Bull, nervous but happy, scurrying in circles.  So!  At last!  My rather pungent (6 sprays!  6!) smell came from an itty bitty beat up bottle of "Eternity Moment" by Calvin Klein that I keep around for special occasions, when I actually pull out my makeup bag.  This does not happen often, I don't usually wear makeup or perfume, so this little bottle has lasted way too long...I think I used up half of it just for that day! 

Now I'd like to know, what fragrance did Nosy Girl wear to dazzle her guests' noses with the day of her wedding?!? 

I won't talk about what I've smelled like this past year traveling.  Eww, gross! Thank god for natural pheromones...the man still likes me!

I used to keep a large bottle of work-Christmas-present-body-mist in my room back when I had a room and didn't live out of a suitcase.  It was part of the daily morning routine. R man would sit up in bed for the free entertainment and watch me run around the bedroom getting my things together at 6 a.m. for work.  Somewhere in the process, half dressed with keys in hand and bagel in mouth, I would grab a large spray bottle of coconut lime green mystery water, spray a big cloud of mist in the air in front of me and jump around in it like a crazy women, arms flailing up and down like a desperate pelican getting ready for lift off, all while jumping up and down, kind of like the chicken dance, finished off with my eyes crinkled tightly shut and the sound of Rodolfo laughing hysterically. What's funny is, I never remember actually smelling like lime coconut post-cloud!

What do you like to smell?
Over this past year, R man and I have gotten to visit some really awesome places in S.E. Asia, Africa, Europe, N. America (States + Montreal) and S. America and something all these places have had in common is outdoor markets, a circus of smells! All a little bit different but with surprisingly aromatic similarities which make me happy.  I love smelling street markets! Produce!  Seafood!  Meats!  Live chickens!  The dirtier and more questionable, the better! 

A good street market experience for me tends to have a raw, earthy smell to it.  A combination of sweat, herbs, salty ocean, spice, dust, fried foods, street dogs, rotten produce, blood and of course fish entrails...not always the most appetizing smells, but I've grown to love the chaos of it in my nose, it makes me feel alive. I love the people smells in markets too.  Strangers slowly meandering by, standing next to me long enough to catch a hint of where they've just been, what they had for lunch or their perfume...sometimes, they too smell like dirt and meat entrails, it's always a surprise! 

Markets are a great way to get to smell the foods local people enjoy eating. Sometimes, it's an adventure just to smell!  I will never forget walking by my first durian fruit cart in Singapore...the smell was enough to pinch my nose shut 10 feet away, so I knew I would never be able to eat me, they smell like a 16 year-old boy's sweaty gym sock after it's been forgotten in his locker for a year.  How awesome is that!?! 

I miss the smells of spicy chiles, salty ocean critters and sweet exotic fruits dripping from their ripeness attacking my senses...the farmer's markets here in the States are slightly too clean for my taste, but our recent aromatic experience of fresh ground coffee and fresh cut flowers at the St. Paul, MN farmers' market brought back my love for my hometown. 

My nose is always looking forward to our next street market meander and whatever smells it finds there! 

Monday, June 13, 2011

home state smells

I spotted this punny t-shirt in Wisconsin, where the olfactory highlights of my visit (aside from the
dairy air) have so far been: 
  • homemade cinnamon buns courtesy of tomorrow's nosy interviewee 
  • cheese frying up on a griddle at the farmers' market in Madison
  • fresh-mown lawn on a breezy summer night
  • a bouquet of tiny tea roses and six types of rosemary (also at the farmers' market) 
Food and flowers and feces, Wisconsin you do not disappoint.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

your voice in my head & your notes in my nose

Those of you curious to learn more about Emma Forrest's reading at the Scent Bar, mentioned in this week's nosy interview post, should hightail it over to Katie Puckrik Smells to read Puckrik's lovely account of the evening's "book/fragrance pairing."

Look at all those beautiful bottles! And books! And humans! (photo via

This event combines two of my favorite things (books & fragrances if you're visiting Nosy Girl for the first time today) and makes me want to reread passages from Your Voice in My Head with Katie-curated fragrance strips in hand. I hope this reading inspires loads more events like it (and I also hope Boston gets a store half as fantastic as the Scent Bar seems. Its owners should open a little inn above the shop for scent-nerds like me who would like to travel to LA and spend every minute of their non-taco-eating time at the Scent Bar).

interested in life

photo via miss moss (click for loads more nosy goodness)

Anjelica Huston on 1000 by Jean Patou:
Joy never did it for me. My friend Joan Juliet Buck, then the rédactrice en chef of French Vogue — and what’s known in the business as a very good nose — showed me Mille when I was visiting in Paris and said, ‘‘This would be great for you.’’ From the moment I smelled it, it was mine in a way that no other perfume had been since Blue Grass, which my mother first gave me when I was a child. It’s round and floral and warm, with just a hint of spice without being too hippie, and just floral enough without being too sweet. It smells like midnight in the Bois de Boulogne — sexy and mysterious. I think it creates a mood. It’s alluring. It says, I’m interested in life, in olfactory senses as well as visual ones. It says, I’m in the mood for something. It also says, I’m feminine, I’m complete. It stands to exist with my mother’s perfume, Shalimar, which haunts me to this day. I even wear it to go to bed: I spray it behind my ears, old style. (Unless I’m wearing pearls.) People really like it. Even when I was a smoker, they told me I smelled good — which is saying something! When you find yourself in an embrace and someone tells you that you smell good, it’s wonderful and unexpected. Mille is rare, hard to find, which I like about it. It means I don’t bump into many people who smell like me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nosy Interview: Emma Forrest

 Emma Forrest (photographed by Seamus McGarvey) in front of WISE Infrared Andromeda, ©NASA

I haven't met Emma Forrest, but I feel towards her that odd mix of intimacy and gratitude that comes from reading a memoir that moves you. And, like many of her readers, I'm pretty enamored of her parents. I so wish I could have attended Emma's recent reading at the Scent Bar in Los Angeles, complete with fragrances chosen, by past nosy interviewee Katie Puckrik, to connect to the book's emotions. (You can read a description of the event on Emma's blog.) Here is a fitting passage from Your Voice in My Head to tide you over until you get your hands on her book
I don't exercise every day and I don't meditate every day, but I do think of suicide every day, as if nodding respectfully at it on my way to work. Some days I awake with the thought of it, or am woken by it. Other days it comes to me when I don't get out of bed fast enough. More rarely, it is my last thought as I drift to sleep. I haven't ever had the thoughts once I am out in the world. It isn't often reactive it's unusual that something happens to make me think, I should kill myself! It's something softer, something more like a scent. Is it my signature scent, I've come to wonder, and I barely notice it. Just every few years it gets overpowering. For the most part, the touch of the cats distracts me. Music distracts me. Making love when I am in love distracts me.

What do you smell like?  
I smell of Ojon dry shampoo, which I use so I don't have to wash my hair more than once or twice a week. It smells of macadamia nut. If I wear a scent it's Praline de Santal by Pierre Guillame  a salty-sweet perfume (praline and sandalwood) that you have to use sparingly.

What do you like to smell?
I like to smell my cat's paw pads  which weirdly, smell of tacos. I also like to hold their paws in my mouth, which my boyfriend thinks is absolutely disgusting. I like to smell his armpits when he's been without deodorant, which he thinks is disgusting too, but I think it's heaven.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

smelliest sentence

Nosy writers! This week's nosy interviewee, Anne, alerted me this morning to a Narrative magazine contest you might like to enter. (Anne wrote here about two stories she recommends from Narrative). The theme of their Literary Puzzler this week is "Sensory Sentences," specifically smelly ones:
The best writing provides great sensory description, but of all the five senses—touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell—the last is a particularly challenging one to describe. How do you morph a specific smell into accurate and captivating words?
This week, Puzzler challenges you to capture that scent on the page with a single sentence about a favorite smell—from nature, from the oven, from memory.
Post your sentence as a comment on our Facebook page, or send it to Literary Puzzler, by Sunday noon, Pacific daylight time.
You can win cash at the end of the year (though I'm not sure how much, or how many other puzzlers you'd need to win to walk away holding the money), and you can count on me to admire your efforts.