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The fragrances of vanilla and chocolate and pear mingle
with some beets and onions”
                    – Diane Wakoski, Un Morceau en Forme de Poire

Although I dislike taking umbrage with an author, especially a poet, regarding a mingling of aromas, I doubt I could pick out the scent of pear from nuances of vanilla and chocolate, beets and onions and yet the idea is right, taking the reader to a place (the kitchen) where mixing occurs of root vegetable (earth) and the ethereal-sensual.

Books I dip into from time-to-time include Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses because of her concerted prodding of how we experience our surroundings. She explains

“. . . the physiological links between the smell and language centers of the brain are pitifully weak. Not so the links between the smell and memory centers, a route that carries us nimbly across time and distance. . . .”

which clarifies why inhaling a scent of rotting leaves or desert dampened by rain may take you away to a place buried in memory, if you have those memories in the first place, but the challenge is to name a fragrance without also naming something else or describing an emotion or feeling. Ackerman states “Smells are our dearest kin, but we cannot remember their names” so second best is to pick labels:

“All smells fall into a few basic categories, almost like primary colors: minty (peppermint), floral (roses), ethereal (pears), musky (musk), resinous (camphor), foul (rotten eggs), and acrid (vinegar). . . .” (Ackerman)

In autumn, I drive past a mint distiller and have no doubt as to the aroma that fills my car, and walking near the Deschutes Brewery when a batch of beer is being brewed I know what causes the almost-suffocating odor: cooking hops.

Ethereal is, I think, a good word for sorbet made from late-picked pears as sweet as they get and cardamom from green pods cracked, the seeds extricated and ground into a powder. When you remove the lid from the frozen mix the scent rising is a spicy desert sunset in the last stages of creeping from faded pink to obsidian. Ackerman’s right. We use code to depict aromas.

Describe ethereal: light, insubstantial, delicate, airy, intangible. A pear’s fragrance is certainly delicate but not intangible. I can attest to that.

Sources:

Diane Ackerman. A Natural History of the Senses. New York: Vintage Books, 1991 (pp 7, 11).

Diane Wakoski. Emerald Ice, Selected Poems 1962-1987. Santa Rosa, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1988 (Un Morceau en Forme de Poire, 1981. pp 319-321).

Dezső Czigány (1883-1937). Still Life With Pears.