Spring is to me what madeleines were to Proust
Spring is finally, officially, definitely here. The buds on the trees, after weeks of bracing themselves against the weekly snowstorms, are now long and full leaves: you can practically see them growing before your eyes. Spring always puts me in mind of Jim Connor, a senior I had a crush on during my freshman year in college at St. Benedict’s. He said, “I love spring. It’s when all the smells come back.” He was sexy rather than handsome, and had one of the most fantastic voices I have ever come across: whiskey, honey and pretension with a soupcon of razor. Today he makes his living as an actor (how many theater majors can say that?) and once in awhile I see him in television commercials.
One time we danced together at a party, after some show, at someone’s house. Right before we turned and found ourselves facing each other, the music had been fun, raucous, and rowdy. My awkwardness increased as I heard the opening strains of Kenny Rogers singing “Lady.” Jim was nothing if not ironic, and he made a small bow to me as invitation. I think he knew I was terribly smitten with him. He was not at all interested in me, but he’d recently heard my poetry in class and seemed surprised that I wrote such things. We danced slowly and closely, and even when he mockingly, softly sang along with Kenny, he could not spoil such a lovely moment for me.
All of this is to say: my sense of smell is precious to me, and I love perfume unabashedly and shamelessly. But not just perfume. I also love that our sense of smell triggers our ancient, reptilian brain and catapults us into a memory faster than anything else. So even in the dead of winter, in the absence of smell, I still remember visiting my friend David at Macalester College one January night. We shared garlicky fettuccine Alfredo and then walked four blocks to O’Gara’s. We could see our stinky breath in white clouds as our feet crunched along the icy-patched sidewalks. The walk home was less cold thanks to the two pitchers of beer we shared.
I love walking in winter, especially the sharp, painful intake of breath when it is so cold. Cold makes me feel deliciously alive, heat leaves me in a stupor. I love Chanel No. 5 because it reminds me of my mother and of the very few times she dressed up when I was a child. I love big, overwhelming Oriental florals because while you can take the girl out of the 80’s, you can’t take the 80’s out of the girl. I love fake violet-y smelling things, because I’m a girl again with my perfume kit and the purple oil that was my favorite. I also love the metallic smell of blood: I know. Incense in a Catholic church makes me love oud perfumes, and I suppose why I don’t mind catching a whiff of a cigarette out on the street. A rose is a rose, but for me, far superior are those flowers of spring: hyacinth, lilac, magnolia, crab apple blossoms.
That’s spring, baby. The return of scent, of life, of everything green and blue again. I can practically see the oxygen coming off the treetops, and my lungs are so full of pollinated air that I am sure they will burst from joy.