You are currently browsing the daily archive for July 8, 2012.
Because of our senses, so many parts of the past are not lost to us.
Sight? We have images from as far back as 1826.
Sound? The first audio recording ever is from the 1860s. For Christmas last year, when I bought Kelsea her record player, I also bought an album of historical figures speaking, just so we could have a voice to attach to a name and a picture. We are cut off from this part of the past prior to the recorded word. Such is not the case with visuals, as we have paintings prior to photographs that give us images from centuries ago.
Taste? Well, for centuries some people have had good taste and some people have had questionable taste, but we’re not talking about that kind of taste. We’re talking about, say, turnips. A turnip today – at least one grown organically – likely tastes pretty much like a turnip six hundred years ago tasted. Ergo, status quo. We retain a history of taste due to the unchanging nature of basic foodstuffs.
Touch? Ditto taste. A cat’s fur feels the same as it did one thousand years ago. I think. Not everything is the same to the touch but there is a living history, A rock still feels like a rock.
And so we come to smell. And here is where history fails us. The sense of smell is lost with time – it is the most fleeting and least replicable of the senses. You know the fragrance of a rose, yet one fragrant rose is unlike another. And many roses are having the fragrance bred out of them, either because of people’s allergies and oversensitvity, or because the scent is sacrificed for a more stunning visual beauty. Will there come a day when the scent of roses is just a memory? Can it even live on in essential oils if there are no more fragrant roses?
Florals aside, while we can look at Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s picture, Netherlandish Proverbs, and you can see a lot of what life might have been like in a Dutch village in the 1500s.
You can imagine sounds, because you know what a voice sounds like, what a goat sounds like, what a cacophony of noise sounds like, but what is missing is being able to imagine the rich aroma of the place and time.This was an era when people didn’t bathe often, lived in close quarters, kept animals on small parcels of property, and had no particular system for waste disposal of any kind. Of course, they didn’t have all the trash that we do now, but organic waste is just as smelly as any other kind of waste. And there was possibly a lot more organic waste than we have now – I have no idea what they did with dead animals. Buried them, I hope. Or ate them, perhaps? Times could be tough.
This one sense, which in each of us today, is so variable – some can smell things that others cannot – is the element of the past from which we are most disconnected. A curious thought. Especially when scents can trigger such memories. When I open boxes that I packed up five years ago the day after my Mother died, her scent can waft out as if she’s by my shoulder. Perhaps she is.
When I was pregnant, I would have olfactory hallucinations – memories of smells from my past – primarily gardenias. It was lovely.
But then Kelsea came up to me this morning and said, “Mom, smell my shoulder.”
I guess that sense of smell can be a mixed blessing.