RHYS BOWEN: Just as we are recovering from Thanksgiving the holiday parties start. Food, food and more food. Why does celebration have to revolve around plates piled high with calorie-laden food: pumpkin pie, whipped cream, corn bread stuffing, mince pies, chips and dip? Not that I don't love it, but by January first I regret it deeply.
So I'm wondering if I'd get just as much pleasure if I invited people over for an evening of conversation and holiday smells. I love the scent of spices and fresh pine branches and holiday breads baking. For me they say Christmas more vividly than any actual food. Last year I bought a big candle that filled the house with a pumpkin/cinnamon/cloves sort of smell. It was a perfect way to welcome guests.
It's funny how evocative certain smells are to us, isn't it? The smell of a camp fire in the forest, of bread baking, they conjure up some kind of primeval feeling of security that must be in our genes. When I teach writing classes I always stress bringing a scene alive with the five senses, especially the scent of smell.
I can think of a couple of smells that whisk me straight back to a time and place. The first is chlorine from an indoor swimming pool. A strange choice, you might think. But when I smell it I start to crave cheese rolls. There is a reasonable explanation for this: when I was a teenager my friend and I used to go swimming once a week at the indoor swimming baths. The water was freezing and afterward we were so cold that we went to the cafe next door and had a cheese roll and hot chocolate. That roll was perfect--crusty fresh bread stuffed with sharp cheddar cheese.It's a pleasure I enjoy replicating.
Another smell that takes me straight back to a time and place is my mother's sewing box. My father had it made for her--it opens in layers with room for all her sewing needs. I brought it back from Australia after she died and when I need any kind of sewing tool, it's probably in that box. I open it and instantly I'm back in my parents' house in England--that old smell of damp and furniture polish. Now I put my nose deep into the box and breathe deeply, taking myself home again, if just for a second.
So I'm curious to know, Reds: are there any smells that are evocative to you in the same way?
HALLIE EPHRON: Smells are so evocative. My mother used Elizabeth Arden skin cream and it had a distinctive tangy orange-blossom smell. When I got home from school, I could tell if she was home by whether or not the house smelled of cigarette smoke. And I confess, I pick laundry detergent by its smell. GAIN wins by a mile.
LUCY BURDETTE: Oh Rhys, those cheese rolls sound like heaven! But I don't think a party with good scents but nothing to eat would be very satisfying:). As for smells that take me back, my mother wore Tweed perfume and Jean Nate after-shower spray. I don't see either of those around too much any more, but they come with distinctive memories. And the other day I was riding my bike home from the gym and passed the MARC Plant Store on Seminary Street. Oh my gosh--the scent of pine needles screamed "Christmas." I smiled all the way home.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Hallie, was it Elizabeth Arden Visible Difference? I used that, too, in the 70's. And when I smell it now, it brings back so many memories of those days in Washington DC! At one point they threatened to discontinue it, and I bought a whole slew of it. When we went to Sunday School, all the ladies at temple wore Youth Dew--my sister and I would pretend to gag, so now I laugh every time I smell it. (Sorry, Estee Lauder, it smells...matronly.) Before my Mom died, she (unbeknownst to us) put together boxes for each of us kids of all the stuff of ours she'd saved--school papers, and photos, and clippings, souvenirs and memorabilia. She taped up the boxes, and had them shipped to each of us. When I opened the box, I got a whiff of--I don't even know what it was. Perfume, and home, and Mom, I guess. I keep the box tightly closed now, and sometimes flip it open to sneak a bit of the fragrance.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: In New York City, people come and sell evergreens on city sidewalks. One minute, you're in the city, and the next you're transported to a forest of pine trees in Maine. The smell is absolutely delicious. One of my absolute favorite things about the holiday season in the city.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hank, what a lovely memory. My mom liked L'Occitane Lavender in her later years--just a whiff of that scent makes her seem so close. And isn't it funny how a variation on a scent can call up something completely different? There's a chemist (drugstore) at Notting Hill Gate in London that carries Yardley English Lavender. Whenever I go in the shop I have to use the tester, and suddenly I'm fourteen again...
And Rhys, here's one as weird as chlorine for you: I went to Mexico City for the first time when I was nine. And now, oh how many years later, whenever I smell diesel exhaust I'm right back in the center of Mexico City on a hot day. I just wish we could write books with smell-o-vision:-)
RHYS: So how about you? Is there one particular scent that is evocative for you?
And tomorrow we're celebrating the launch of Red Lucy Burdette's new Christmas book. Don't forget to check in and find out all about it!