Monday, January 17, 2011


Spice Souk, Deira - Dubai
The sun's out again, at last. For weeks, months maybe, it feels like we've been sheltering from the rain, rarely going out and getting amongst it.

But the sun has brought us out again. And after letting our lawns "go" a bit, the hills around Bangalow are abuzz with the hum of lawnmowers, and the beaches of Byron are heaving with holiday-makers making the most of it.

Rejoining the outdoors has been a pleasant assault on the senses. We're wading through colour and light again. And the air is awash, depending where you are, with the smell of fresh-cut grass and a cocktail of sunscreen lotions, both of which, this week, took me away to places and times long past.

Smells, good and bad, have that quality. The power to lift you from wherever it is you are and deposit you in another time, another place. Music can do the same. But the beauty of the scent-memory is that you're often totally unaware of it at its origin. So the surprise when it strikes you can be truly delicious.

This week, the smell of grass drying on freshly-mowed lawns took me to a game of primary school cricket long ago. And, at The Pass, a whiff of someone's sunscreen sent me to a different beach altogether in Fiji. Just like that. And then it was gone. Fleeting. But rich and real.

It got me thinking about other smells and their attached places, experiences and emotions. A few that work on me are...

> The smell of Tea Tree cream: Backpacking in South America.
> A perfume my wife wears: A dead-ringer for the signature scent of Langham Hotels that takes me to Mong Kok, Hong Kong.
> A particular handwash that sends me comfortably into an Upper Class Suite on Virgin Atlantic.
> Warm, fatty deep-fryer restaurant exhaust whisks me to Le Lagon Resort, Vanuatu circa 1981.
> Wood fire smoke on cold air drops me on the Inca Trail.
> Fumes from old diesel engines can, depending on the particular qualities, transport me to La Paz or Havana or, occasionally, Luang Prabang.

There are more. Conversely, some places like those pictured below have left me with vivid scent memories of my time there. Let's face it, some places have signature scents.

And then there are those scents that are totally generic but inextricably connected to specific places. Like a duty free store's swirling perfume cloud, tennis balls or that new car smell. All are familiar and evoke a response but they don't send me anywhere in particular.

But my scent-memory experiences this week got me thinking...

I currently write travel brochures. I've just written one to help travellers plan their dream driving holiday in Europe. Wouldn't it be awesome for that brochure to have that new car smell when you pick it up? And I've just spent a few weeks working on a South Pacific title. Why not deliver that one a with squirt of frangipani across its pages?

Or let's take it down another level, how about a scented panel for Langham Hotels in every brochure they grace? I'm sure they'd pay for it. Imagine the PR-ability. I can hear the industry chatter already.

I think I'm onto something, but I've got to scoot. I've got a white sauce to make for my kids' mac and cheese...and a trip to my mum's kitchen in 1976.

I'll see you in about 35 years.


  1. @Scott Exactly! That's what I'm talking about. Turn the page, give it a scratch and breathe in the "scents of place".

  2. "Smells, good and bad, have that quality. The power to lift you from wherever it is you are and deposit you in another time, another place." Great words here. The smells of travel I don't think people consider just how powerful they can be.