Monday, March 21, 2011

The Nose Knows

As a process consultant and FIC administrator I'm on the road about 60% of the time, which is a gob. Among other things, it further complicates the challenge of spending time with my wife (which is already sufficiently complexified by our not living in the same community—Ma'ikwe's bedroom at Dancing Rabbit is three miles away from mine at Sandhill Farm).

While I'm more or less in regular communication with my wife whenever we're apart (usually by email and occasionally by phone), and my relationship with her is never far from my consciousness, every now and then I get reminded of her in surprising and tender ways. I want to share one of those experiences that occurred this past weekend.

Friday and Saturday night I was staying with a client, in a house that I'd never been in before. They had me in a lovely guest room and the accommodations couldn't have been better (including unlimited access to fresh brewed curl-your-toes coffee with half & half in the morning—my kind of people). My first night there I noticed that there was an unusual, subtle smell in my bedroom that I couldn't place. It wasn't unpleasant (like a dead mouse); it was just odd and I couldn't figure out what it was.

In the morning, I showered, got dressed, and walked into the kitchen, leaving the mystery of my bedroom behind, or so I thought. After worshiping at the altar of the coffee maker—getting psyched for my day on stage as a consultant—I was sipping my java and casually glancing around. The kitchen is my favorite room in a house and they had a well-appointed one.

Among other things, my hosts are wine buffs and I discovered a copy of the Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil sitting on a counter. It's a fat paperback that runs to 910 pages, crammed full of more oenological detail than you can shake at grape scion at. Picking it up and opening it randomly, I was amazed to find a sidebar on the relatively obscure Malvasian grape, that produces a distinctive sweet white wine. According to MacNeil this white wine is only produced today in three relatively isolated locations, one of which is the island of Lipari--one of the Aeolian Islands off the northern coast on Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Holy shit, I'd been there and had drunk that wine!

You Don't Have to Look, You Don't Have to See—You Can Feel it in Your Olfactory
Ma'ikwe and I were married in 2007 and we spent most of the 4+ weeks of our honeymoon traipsing around Italy. One of the places we visited (in fact, one of our favorite places) was the island of Lipari. One of the main reasons that the Malvasian wine produced there is distinctive is that the soil of Lipari is highly volcanic and notes of sulfur—hardly a common accent in wines—come through in the complex flavors of the aged libation. And then it hit me: the smell in the bedroom was sulfur—which is hardly a comment accent in bedrooms either.

While Ma'ikwe and I were on Lipari, we took a day trip (by hydroplane ferry) to the neighboring island of Volcano, which features mud baths reputed to offer amazing curative powers. While we cannot attest to the efficacy of the mud as a healthy elixir, we can attest to the tenacity of the mud as a dominant olfactory sensation. The sulfurous fumes of our bath experience so infused our clothes that for the next two years whenever we happened to don a piece of clothing that we wore that day on Volcano, persistent residual fumes would waft into our nostrils and we'd be right back in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Wow. (And yes, we laundered those clothes regularly—not that it had much impact on diluting the smell.)

All of which is to say, I knew sulfur. I had just forgotten that I knew it until my reading the sidebar on Malvasian wine reminded me of it.

To be clear, the bedroom did not smell like rotten eggs (sulfur on steroids). It was only an undertone. While I'm not sure what association others might have with that odor, for me it evoked powerful positive images of happy days with my wife. While there's nothing particularly unusual about associating my wife with happy days (I could get in a lot of trouble here if I'm not careful), I don't often think about Lipari and I was serendipitously and spontaneously flooded with warmth for my wife (think love not lava).

While I joyously and enthusiastically attempt to weave all of my senses into intimacy, I've learned over the years that smell is dominant for me. (In fact, I suspect humans may be hard-wired that way, but that's a thought for a different blog.) Even though we live in a visually-oriented culture and touch is given a lot focus in the literature of intimacy, my nose knows. So after I made the revelatory connection with sulfur in the kitchen, every time I entered the guest bedroom thereafter, I was immediately in my wife's loving embrace.

What a great way to start the day!

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