• Carmen Marie Fabio

Common scents


I accidentally turned down the scented candle aisle of a large retailer recently and almost knocked over a toddler in my attempt to quickly escape the low-lying clouds of simulated Rainy Spring Day, Soothing Spruce, and something cinnamonny. And while all these scents are nice on their own, synthesized in a lab, added to some petroleum product, and poured into a container to be burnt at home in order to mask other scents of life just never seems to work.

As we approach the gift-giving season, I’ve clearly marked on my wish-list ‘no perfumes.’ I’ve been through the perfume phase when I was younger. I remember the summer when Christian Dior’s ‘Poison’ was launched, a candy-ish concoction with evil base notes that clung acridly to the humid tunnels of the Montreal metro system.

“Seriously?” asked a friend of mine. “They named a perfume ‘Poison’?”

“No,” said her well-intentioned but misinformed boyfriend. “It’s pronounced ‘Poisson’.

This came a few years after the ubiquitous clouds of ‘Lauren’ by Ralph Lauren and Gianni Versace's eponymous fragrance that will forever remind me of my lab partner in Cegep chemistry class.

Scents are such a tricky and personal thing that unless someone specifically asks for a fragrance by name, it’s really best not to take a shot in the dark and hope the recipient will appreciate your gift choice. If you insist on venturing along that path, be sure and get a gift receipt.

Also be aware that studies suggest men and women perceive scents differently, and women reportedly have a better sense of smell than men. Which just adds to the fun of it all.

I can remember opening a doorway to a conference room as I headed towards a meeting in my former life (before joining a community newspaper). I was immediately blasted with what I recognized as a rug and room deodorizer – the kind you sprinkle on then vacuum up – that a former landlady used to use to cover up the smell of the cannabis plants in her basement.

“Whoa!” I called as I entered the conference room. “You guys smell that? What the heck has the janitor been using on the carpet?”

My comment was met with uncomfortable silence while the meeting participants quickly shuffled papers and looked elsewhere. I quickly realized that it wasn’t rug and room deodorizer – it was the cologne of one of the guys sitting at the table. A lesson learned while the heated flush of embarrassment slowly creeps up your cheeks tends to stay with you.

Maybe it’s part of getting older (and no longer smoking cigarettes) that I can’t be bothered with a product that, at its basic form, is essentially just benzyl alcohol and aroma compounds propped up with a pretty package and a whole lot of marketing. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the best scents are the ones that impart the strongest memories. The smell of your newborn when you’re holding him next to you. The Lily of the Valley (the real one, not in a bottle) that grows in a friend’s yard. Apple wood burning in the woodstove during a power outage. And the kids coming in after playing outside in the snow. My little dog, even though she kind of stinks, as she jumps on me when I get home from work.

Once I came to that realization, about the craziest I go these days is using a laundry soap that smells vaguely of green apples.

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