Between X-mas and New Year's Eve my husband, Bent, and I manage to get lost in the woods in Lodbjerg nearby the West Coast by Agger Tange. This place is special. The pine trees grow out of sand, and what you walk on is a mixture of moss, sand and salt. I lead, and he tells me: 'stop turning right.' He is right that we are going in circles: instead of finding the road we keep hitting the dunes. It occurs to me that while I go by the smell, it is not the nose the leads me. It is more an awareness that the soul of things and people alike - if things and people have one such - resides in something else rather than in themselves, people and things, that is. While we tend to think that decaying and rotten leaves remind us of death, an epiphany flashes through the clearing in the dense woods we find ourselves enjoying. It is smell itself that has a soul. The clearing is round. I stop to smell its shape. Bent stops too, and since I have my eyes closed I bump into his body. No wonder we can't find our way. 'My God,' I say to him, 'you smell of round vanilla, shea, cocoa, peppermint, coumarin, cinnamon leaf, limonen, and a touch of phaseolus.' The trees keep silent. They are impressed. Bent isn't. He is used to my smelling his incredible body every morning (and throughout the day) and delivering verdicts, such as this one: 'today you smell like a steaming garden of Eden.' This morning he smelled of vanilla, again, and ink. I threatened to write about it instantly. He asked: 'is your blog going to have cream in it?' When I said yes, he said it would be unpublishable. But I decide.
Researchers in human olfaction claim that smell is the only sense that never sleeps. I like this idea, especially since I blame my brain for slumbering too often. I forget things. All the time. I only remember things related to smell - or imaginary smell. For instance, when my father died at a young age, my mother was pissed at the stupid circumstances. He died because he hadn't listened to her. She said that the only thing that would comfort her was peeing on his grave. She deserved the act and he deserved the fact. I remember that - but only because I could just smell it.
My sister on the other hand remembers everything else - also imaginary things. I've just met her in connection with a couple of lectures I gave at the University of Cluj, and she reminded me of some things I had forgotten. Such as the time, some 25 years ago, when I went to visit one of my father's brothers (who still lives in the city) at his clinic. He was a dentist then. Now retired. Although we have since lost touch, my sister tempted me with saying yes to going for a visit. Especially since she would like to see his impressive collection of paintings. The desire to share her visual experience got stronger and stronger the more she described this and that impressionist artist. I knew she was in Cluj for a stint before, but I hadn't realized that she also had gone to see my uncle. She hadn't, she told me - the reason why she could describe the paintings in detail was because she remembered that I had described them to her in detail, when I went to visit him at his home after work. I gaped at her in disbelief. If I didn't know about my sister's uncanny ability to remember every goddammed thing, I would say something was wrong with her - I could have sworn that I had never visited my uncle's home. The only thing I could remember was the smell of tooth filling paste. My heart sank. We decided that I would not be a reliable guest, so we dropped the impulse to surprise people.
Back in the woods, I decide to switch on my nasal instincts. As a matter of fact, I can also boast of having an ability not many have: to smell direction. It's been a couple of years since I became aware that my sense of smell is much, much stronger than most people's. And the fact that it could also guide me was a revelation. If I forget the time when we lost the trail of a car in Trondheim which we were supposed to follow in our own car to take us to our host's house for a conference party, Bent will never forget it. I said, 'turn right, make a left, go straight ahead, make another left, take the second turn at the round-about and then take the blind alley.' Lo and behold, we found the house in a cul-de-sac, and we didn't even have the address. Everybody in the car with us decided - after the moment of 'how weird!' had passed - that that was most impressive. In Lodbjerg, we found the road and hurried back home. Bent was going to cook. In our household he is in charge of the kitchen smells. I take care of steering.