The Intimate Sense of Smell Mar19


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The Intimate Sense of Smell

The Intimate Sense of Smell

“The Intimate Sense of Smell” in Nat Geo by Boyd Gibbons (Sept. 1986) features the word “mesquite.” In reference to Baudelaire the article uses the word “censer.” ( The former is a kind of tree; the latter is synonymous with “thurible.”)
“What we lack is not a profound sense of smell, but encouragement to talk about intimate odors.” Neither do we practice an adequate vocabulary when it comes to smell. Germans say “Ich kann ihn nicht riechen.” This means “I can’t smell him,” which really means “I can’t stand him.”


In Lawrence James’ “Warrior Race” about the British at war, knights are depicted as physically powerful, highly trained and spiritually intact servants of their king. There’s a “but;” the demands of chivalry were such that over time acquisitiveness became a greater influence. A knight was entitled to the spoils of war. He was, after all, risking life and limb for victory; why shouldn’t he profit? Kings such as Richard III and Henry VIII actively encouraged rapacious, vengeful behaviour in their knights, ensuring that a message was sent – namely that challenging his power entailed consequences.

Not that Big Brother

Lionel Shriver’s “Big Brother” tells the story of Pandora Halfdanarson whose brother Edison was once a successful jazz pianist and is due to stay with her for a while. She collects him at the airport only to discover he is morbidly obese. She acts like she doesn’t notice but before long tensions arise at home, not least because her fitness-obsessed husband Fletcher can’t abide her sibling; neither does the latter try especially hard to get along with his brother-in-law. Edison agrees to lose weight with Pandora’s help but this help may come at the cost of her marriage since she commits to moving out and getting an apartment with Edison to oversee his rehabilitation.
Watch out for a very unexpected twist near the end.

Violent world of arthropods

Aphids are  tiny arthropods that reproduce in different ways at different times; in spring they clone themselves and give birth to live young without sex; in winter they lay eggs. Spiders and insects are arthropods; their world is brutal, violent and pitiless. The preying mantis for example will eat her male suitor while he is still alive. Think about that. She’ll gnaw through his thorax and discard his head and then mate with what remains; she is literally a man-eater. Arthropods account for 80% of all species on Earth: we live in an arthropod world. They’re tiny and seemingly insignificant and even though we humans may feel superior we are nevertheless at a loss to fully appreciate the sacrifice necessary for arthropods to compete for survival. They’ll murder every time they need to because it means continuing their life and passing on their genes.