— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

September 7, 2011

'But connection, flavor, love?'




What did I want to ask? Questions swirled around in my mind, unformed and unacknowledged. I fully understood the importance of smell, but knew none of the specifics. I knew what scent provided through the lens of my loss, through each aroma that painstakingly crawled back into my nose. I knew that if damaged, the sense of smell could come back. That it could return in mysterious ways, ebbing and flowing with my emotions, turning around with words, flipping with color or sound. But I had been avoiding deeper scientific understanding for close to two years. I found in the numb months that I lived in an odorless, textureless world that I just didn't want to know. I found in the exciting, colorful months of return that I didn't care how or why. Just keep coming, I thought. But when recovery proved to be less swift, less concrete than I imagined, a more primal curiosity emerged. What was this mystery happening beneath my skin?
      I could now smell the milk-white steam of my coffee and the floral haze of perfume emanating from the woman who sat to my right. But my sense was far from fully restored. I couldn't detect the intricacies of Syrian oregano or lemon thyme, the herbs that were once so relevant to my daily life. The potency of their aromas had faded to vague, vaporous ghosts of memory. They were ones no longer racked with pain, but I could feel the absence nevertheless. Each time I stepped into the kitchen it hung like an apostrophe over the stove. I could feel it in the buzz of my desire to cook, to no longer feel alone. I didn't miss David, but I did miss something. What was it? My wonder made me wake up early, tapping me again and again with the inescapable hand of anxiety as I waited for understanding. Why don't you find out? It whispered. Do you really want to know?
      
After I read a spate of contemporary memoirs last summer, each one worse than the last, I almost promised myself that I wouldn't ever read another one.  I think the problem with those three books might have been that they seemed to shout 'there's something wrong/damaged/quirky about me; I think I'll write a book to justify/celebrate/talk endlessly about that,' and it's hard to pull that off.

But Molly Birnbaum's Season to Taste:  How I Lost My Sense of Smell  and Found My Way, was different, and so very much more uplifting. A few months after graduating from college, while she was working in a restaurant to gain work experience for culinary school, she was struck by a car {at an intersection that I drive through so often} and badly injured, the most lasting effect {from a head injury} being the loss of her sense of smell.  As she describes what happens next, she acknowledges that she is angry, and frustrated, and depressed {who wouldn't be},  but she is also strong and curious and very hopeful. The story that she tells is a mixture of emotions, folklore and science, food writing and romance.  I found myself wanting to cook the way she does, and happy for her, and for every good thing that has happened to her since.


{spice jars found here}

1 comment:

Nan said...

I'm very interested in this book. I'm going to try and get it soon. Thanks.

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