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Peter Kuper
May 2008
Smell-o-Vision
posted:
I may be suffering from PDN (Pre Departure Nostalgia) as we get closer to our stateside return from Mexico this July. Whatever the diagnosis, all my senses seem to be strangely heightened. My eyes constantly watch for new subjects, and drawing in my sketchbook has become a daily obsession. My ears are sharply attuned to the daily parade of sounds, from the ravens that wake me up each morning to the tree frogs that lull me to sleep each night. Yet itís my sense of smell thatís been really off the charts.
They say that humansí olfactory sense can trigger our oldest memories. Smelling cut grass or the type of perfume your mother once wore can instantly transport you back to your childhood. There are so many smells to choose from here in Oaxaca, I expect Iíll have a lot of flash backs long after we depart. It begins when I awake to the scent of wood smoke as our neighbors warm their tortillas on an old metal comal. Heading up our gravel driveway for my daily constitutional, I inhale the delicious fragrance of Jacaranda flowers blooming in every other tree. This is mingled with the aroma of deposits by every local street dog; apparently our driveway is the perfect toilet away from traffic. Continuing down the bumpy cobblestone street I detect a hint of bougainvillea, but this is cancelled out by the stomach- wrenching stench of dead possum. The smell envelops and hangs on my clothes until, passing a fruit stand, the scent of pineapple/orange/papaya and mango brings blessed relief. A passing bus does its best to trump the produce odors with exhaust that would never pass inspection back home, but a dust-filled breeze dissipates the toxic smoke. Farther down the street, a light whiff of Mescal emanates from a sleeping hombre in a doorway then, over a corrugated metal wall, comes the comforting smell of slightly burnt corn tacos and charcoal mixed with something indescribable. Itís Menudo, and I donít mean the 90ís boy band, but a combination of boiled intestines and stomach. I can almost smell the goatís last bleat which makes me retreat to the vegetarian side of my brain. Fortunately the delicious smell of roasting chicken floats by and I return to slavering carnivore. I take an alternative route home along narrow side streets and Iím asphyxiated by a wave of burning plastic coming from a garbage-strewn lot. I head towards the town square and recover thanks to the luscious variety of odors emitted by a corner bakery.
I temporarily shift senses hearing distant marimba music overlaid with seemingly thousands of barking dogs, punctuated by a rising whistle. Thereís a brief pause and then a thundering explosion.
The acrid smell of fireworks snaps me back to my sense of smell as I reach my driveway. I carefully negotiate the landmines left by street dogs, relieved to inhale a masking breath of Jacaranda carried on the warm breeze.
If there is a pill that cures PDN, Iím not taking it.
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