Saturday, March 14, 2015

Smells like...


The conundrum of objectively good art vs. subjectively good art is hard enough. Let us set it aside and talk instead today about smell. Can everyone in the world agree that vanilla is a beautiful scent? Real, true, pure vanilla? I cannot imagine otherwise, and yet somewhere someone's stomach turns at the thought of vanilla! The start of a summer rain on a city? Fresh wood smoke? Roses? I love the smell of tar, swamps, tangerines. I loathe the smell of mothballs, old pee. What will we make of all this? I have a flexible, creative, agile mind, bending into all sorts of corners of the world, and yet it completely surpasses the comprehension of my brain the idea of, the sense of not liking the smell of pine sap.  All my grand imagination just shuts down at something that simple.

Yesterday I woke up and everything smelled terrible to me. Stale garlic was on everyone's breath, old sweated curry. When I was shelving in fiction the myopic man who spends all day at the library browsed the "M's" for awhile. I don't think he had showered for a long time, and well after his browsing he left behind a cloud that would not disperse. It smelled like an old, unchanged bandage on a bad wound. I did no better later at the front desk where someone apparently paid their fines with cash they had been storing in a box of mothballs. The cash register and everything within five feet of it was like a repellent gauntlet of poison gas to me. I got home at night and it smelled wrong there too. Had one of my onions rotted, a potato? I threw things out. I washed. I went to bed early, best to end so unpleasing a day.

Everything was different the next morning, today. Our lavender hand soap pleased me. My clean shirt was satisfying. I went downstairs to make my lovely cafe miel. I pounded out my old spent coffee grounds into our battered compost bin full of liquefying black banana peels and other molds. A smell, so strange and unrepeatable rose to meet me, exhausted coffee weaving into an oversweet banana smell. It was absolutely lovely and new and rotten. Never smelled it before in my life, but what a scent!

And so today I make my argument for subjective. It is all in how you feel and what you like. No acclimation can affirm or deny your affection if it is true. Another day maybe I'll campaign for the objective, Caravaggio perhaps. What matter if his paintings do nothing for you? Everyone is wrong sometimes and even your heart can seem to lie to you if you don't listen closely enough. 

But for today, glorious today, everyone's judgement is law. Choose frivolously.

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