Friday, July 27, 2007

Return from Languedoc

Last week I came back from Languedoc - started the day at 5.30am and spent most of it travelling and as I did so had an idea that it would be interesting to try and describe my day purely in terms of smells - so I have tried for part of it. It was lovely to see Zoe and Lee and La Maison Verte again. I was delighted to see one of the readers, Brenda, again too. And it was warm. The sun shone and for a short while I lay by the pool letting it sink in so I could remember for the rest of the year how this feels.

Here it is then, the day in smells...

I wake. An old house smell and as I lie there I think of how a ghost might smell, or whether it would smell at all and I also think of what someone has told me - about how she's woken every night at 2am and been aware, more than aware, knowing with certainty that there is something in the room with her too. And as soon as I think of this I remember being a child in the dark. The conviction of a presence under my bed or standing close. Something holding its breath waiting to do something and a dread making me rigid. And I am rigid again. Knowing I shouldn't believe in such things but in the dark I do.

But then the light comes through the curtain - a dim morning light not at all like the one I have become used to and with it heating the dust and I turn over, checking the clock on my phone.

Outside the door there a faint smell of perfume and then in the bathroom the smell of shampoo and soap, strong, clean, reassuring somehow.

Down the stone steps, down and down three flights and there is a smell of coffee - and the merest hint of last night's cooking (a reminder of tomato and basil soup which makes my mouth water again). And Isobel who has woken early and for a while we chat and I find out a little about her - what she does, where's she been, why she came. A calling voice makes me pick up my bag and follow Zoe to the car and we part. As we travel along the tree lined avenues I think briefly of Isobel. A woman I met once, briefly - and most likely shall never see again. It always strikes me as strange. All these people I meet once, begin to learn a little about and then quickly wish good-bye.

Then a car smell and faint whiffs of the countryside and we are at the rail station which has its own morning smell of something oily mixed with newsprint and I say good-bye and search for the platform. Then the smell of water as I break open a bottle and get on my train.

The train - what does that smell of? New upholstery, I think, if it smells at all. It is clean, swept out. Then a sharp smell of a French Granny Smith as I gnaw at its skin and then, eventually, the smell of Nimes station and the open air and the diesel of the bus and the cafe beside - coffee again, a cigarette (not mine), and bread and I wait feeling hungry.

At the airport more coffee this time joined by a croissant - up close, nuzzling my face as I break it open and tear at its soft inside. Then the French toilets - an assault of the nose, one after the other - old urine, soap, the stench of the hand drier - and then the shop with its sticky smell of sweets, papers, new cloth.

As I wait in the departure lounge a woman presses against me - a spicy sweaty smell - her clothes not quite fresh and then out through the doors and through banks of the lavender and I smell just that. I pick a flower and squeeze it in my fingers. A last smell of France. A last pull of warm air. Then, after an hour and a half on Ryan Air and the associated smell of warmed up sandwiches, crisps and drinks I am back in Liverpool again and the hot dusty smell is replaced by one much more familiar: the special smell of cold wet British tarmac.


Blogger Jan said...

Have you read " Perfume" by Patrick Suske(i?)nd...
A guy in Paris... his wonderful gift of the sense of smell..
Have a peep if you dont know it.

Sat Jul 28, 01:06:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Yes, thanks Jan, I've seen that around. Not read it yet though.

Also got 'The Emperor of Scent' by Chandler Burr on my wishlist - the (true) story of Luca Turin the man with the 'uncannily powerful nose'. The novel Perfume made real, apparently - that sounds fascinating.

Sat Jul 28, 02:54:00 pm  
Anonymous crimeficreader said...

What a wonderful perspective and a lovely piece of writing.

Sat Jul 28, 08:11:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Thanks CFR!

Sat Jul 28, 09:34:00 pm  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

Oh what a wonderful idea! I loved my journey with you of smells and scents. My lingering memory of France is the smell of lavender and dust.
I loved the description of the wet British pavement smell - I know that smell too!

Sun Jul 29, 02:58:00 am  
Anonymous Clare said...

Thanks CB, yes- lavender and dust those were the dominant perfumes for me too.

Sun Jul 29, 08:34:00 am  

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