Monday, August 15, 2011

programming note no.3: nosy hiatus

Nosy readers! I'm taking a trip to Rwanda and my internet access is taking a dive. The once-weekly Nosy Interview posts will resume on the first Tuesday in September, after I return (hopefully having smelled things I've never smelled before).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

you can almost believe

Philip Levine is the new poet laureate! Read this:
Our Valley

We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

(From Levine's 2009 collection, News of the World

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nosy Interview: Christine Hebl

Pika and Christine in Aurora Over Norway, © Ole Christian Salomonsen

Christine and I met through our mutual friend Tina, and I've gotten to know Christine (now a Minneapolitan once again!) better in recent years by reading (and gazing at the lovely photos on) her blog, Pinyon Pines.

What do you smell like? 
I would love to answer this question by saying I smell of a most exquisite and unique eau de toilette, but I cannot. Truthfully, I cannot say I smell of something even arguably delightful. Odiferous compounds make my husband's left elbow hurt. Even a stranger drizzled sparingly with Chanel No. 5 has the potential to set off my partner's left arm joint, if she is within a very vague vicinity of him.  Perfume is not an option for me.

If not a classy aroma, what do I smell like?  I am quite sure my skin and cotton apparel always smell like sweat. I live in Texas, and most of the time the heat index is worse than intolerable. On top of that, I spend considerable portions of weekdays outside with young students. I like the robust smell of sweat, though; it makes me feel like I could actually possess some kind of prized American work ethic.  In addition to perspiration and hard work, there is no doubt that I smell of coffee. I drink lots of it. My breath and my fingers smell like high-quality, snobbish, expensive fair-trade deliciousness. Then, there's my hair, which is plentiful and straw-like and has a tendency to pick up random odors from the day's activities. "What is that smell emanating from me?" I ask myself. I grab a wad of my medium-brown strands for answers and take a big sniff. "Ohhh yeah, I live in Texas, so it's that massive chunk of beef that my neighbor was barbequing in the courtyard adjacent to my apartment door." Or, "that's right, it's the whiteboard markers used by the kiddos in class today." Or, "uh-huh, it's the pickup truck exhaust from that obscenely long red light on my bike commute home from work."

Hmmm, I'm starting to think that I don't smell of anything close to exquisite or delightful.  I have a mate and an acceptable amount of friends, though, so I guess my smell is nominally tolerable.

What do you like to smell?
My dog and I like to smell things. Often, my dog likes to smell different things than I, but it's clear we both rely on and enjoy using the olfactory sense. I respect the fact that my dog smells stinky things impartially; bad smells do not make her gag, but they do make me gag. Even though overzealous smelling of my environs can lead to the occasional, rogue, repulsive odor and a subsequent gagging reflex, I love my sense of smell.  I feel that I have a good smell memory.  The best smells are the sentimental ones. For instance, a whiff of a chlorinated pool has the potential to conjure up good memories involving underwater handstand contests, neon swimsuits, and Ace of Base tunes.

My forever favorite smells: freshly cut watermelon, dandelions, the ocean, cardamom, dusty LP sleeves, thyme, library books, my husband's face, ginger, rain, lemon zest, my husband's cooking, and the multifarious array of smells associated with hiking around a place like Mount Rainier.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

smells like teen mom

 Leah & Amber and Farrah & Sophia and Tyler & Catelynn and Bentley & Maci

Sickly sweet perfumes, fruity-floral body sprays, and Victoria's Secret lotion--too much of all three. Antibacterial gel from a pump. Packaged foods. Tomato sauce. Sweet baby powder. Wood cleaner and the dry hay smell of the underside of an oriental rug. Hair product and lycra. Laundry detergent. Paper towel. Sometimes plum. 

Ointment. More fruity floral perfumes, maybe some citrusy ones, too (ck one would suit her). Cut grass and other lawn smells, dirt and gravel. Denim and sweet lotion. That awful ex-boyfriend of hers probably smells amazing to Maci, and it's probably a challenge for her not to lean in and smell him when she puts their son in his arms, forgetting for a second what a jackass he is, until he opens his mouth. Then whatever he smells like, looks like, doesn't matter, he's brick for brains, and mean. Old gum and chewing tobacco. The new car smell of his truck preserved with the help of a rearview mirror ornament in the shape of his own fine face. 

When Catelynn's fiancé Tyler interviews for a job at a local pizzeria, he's asked why, if his five-year plan has him graduating from college, does he want to work at this dinky pizza place, and he answers that he loves pizza so much. The owner protests, But you're too skinny! Tyler laughs, No, I love it! I eat it all the time. He smells like teenager deodorant and mint and clean sneakers. He also tells the owner, You gotta start somewhere, right? And when Tyler later gets the call saying he got the job, he beams and claps his hands together and says: I'm excited because I just love pizza so much! (Adorable.) So Catelynn and Tyler's apartment smells like day-old pizza. Oily cardboard, parmesan sprinkles, bits of garlicky crust. Warm.

Flypaper and vinyl, crumb-y carpet, self-tanner and all the associated products meant to elongate its cling. Mascara and huge plastic cups of soda, gone flat. Damp winter coat and aloe vera baby wipes. That one sad candle that Gary bought Amber when he tried to win her back in an earlier season, when he brought takeaway Cracker Barrel meatloaf and the scented gift-shop candle and set them up on a table in that terrible hotel room. And Amber said, Mmm, that smells good, Gary, and it was, as it always is, very difficult to watch.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Nosy Interview: Raymond McDaniel

Ray in Abell 2744: Pandora's Cluster of Galaxies, ©NASA

I met Ray on the mean streets of Ann Arbor, and though he was without the "Jesus-grade hair" he mentions below, he had the definite aura of a guru. Purchase Ray's latest book of poems, Saltwater Empire, and read his poetry reviews on the Constant Critic.  

What do you smell like?
Since I can no better determine my own scent than know what I look like when I'm not looking at myself, I had to consult others. There are conflicting reports.  

Some say I smell like summer: Queen Helene's Cocoa Butter and salt. Some insist I smell like cashmere: cream and cardamom. Yet others suggest I smell like suede and book dust. One claims I smell like a weak solution of Halloween, payday and lust. You can take from the variety of these answers one of two things: you can imagine I smell like eating a vanilla cupcake on the beach while reading a used copy of Ficciones, or you can simply imagine that I smell Good, whatever Good smells like. 

What do you like to smell?
Sadly, my sense of smell has deteriorated over the years. I blame this on living in Michigan, where for vast, icy stretches of the year I cannot smell at all, because my nose is clotted with frozen snot. That said, I still have fond recollections of many scents, as per Proust's famous madeleine. I love the smell of things in transition, of matter as it changes form - how a tangerine aerosolizes when you peel it apart, how cedar turns in fire, how rain activates soil by turning it into mud. I know it's merely chemical, but what is more magical than science? There's something about the way scent seems to hide until some action reveals or releases it that has always struck me as essentially erotic. My favorite example of this is the unbinding of hair. Once, many years ago, unbelievably, I had long, thick, Jesus-grade hair, and at the end of the day, when I took it down and shook it loose, there would issue an olfactory cascade of whatever product I had a washed and conditioned it with (usually Aveda, bless its botanical heart). Nose-thrilling! Nose-enthralling! Even now, when on those rare occasions I find myself in a grocery store, I will loiter in the shampoo aisle and surreptitiously sniff from the array of products, each of which might as well be bottled nostalgia, stamped with years and memories otherwise inaccessible. Smells are the external hard drive of experience, the horcruxes of days past. I wasn't drinking when I wrote this, but now I'm drunk. How did that happen, Nosy Girl?