What the Nose Knows

By: pbcmedia

Jul 12 2008

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 1, Art, blogging, Family, Humor, Life, Personal, Photography, SMELLS


Focal Length:5.8mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon PowerShot SD850 IS

(**People, I woke up this morning 7/13/2008 and thought of a better image for this post.  So, purple petunias, robin’s egg blue surgical gloves and one click of a camera and we’ve got a new one.  I think you’ll agree, n’est-ce pas???  Mais, oui!)

A beloved cousin and his equally beloved wife were my hosts in Provincetown. An artist and a lawyer. Which one is which? It doesn’t matter for this post because the story I’m going to tell demonstrates their hilarious common bond: they know things no one else knows. Not even experts.

It happened on the last night of my stay. Sitting around the dinner table, I bring up a radio program I had listened to on National Public Radio, called “Science Fridays” and the topic was “The Science of Smell: What the Nose Knows”.

(If you are of a delicate nature easily grossed out, I’d skip this post. No, really. Trust me on this one.)

I don’t know how to artfully describe this properly since you might be eating breakfast while reading this post. Or, perhaps, drinking coffee, or if you are epicurienne perhaps having wild boar sausage on a cracker.

Let me suggest this: are we all familiar with how dogs “greet” one another? Wink. Wink. You know, greet with their nose, another dog, in that special greeting spot? Ok. That’s all I’m saying about that. But. But. My hosts had much more to say.

Anyway, I was talking about this program that was about the science of smell in every day life. The special evocativeness and elusiveness of smell that distinguishes it from all the other senses. Ok. So far so good.

Vanilla is often used in perfumes because people like it. It is considered an ‘aggressive” scent. Penetrates other scents when mixed. People who make wines sometimes use a drop of two of it because it makes their wine sell better.

Mothers know the scent of their babies head.

There were things called “Smell Maps” dating back to 18th century, mainly of bad smells.

How the sense of smell has been neglected in the art world and referenced a recent exhibit in Philadelphia about the Odor Limits which closed June 28, 2008.

Adult body smells change with age. (Don’t get me started on that one, sister) and no word of a lie, this commentator and smell expert exchanged scientific evidence that human female gas smells worse than human male gas but men have more volume of gas compared to women. ( But, we’ve got better language skills- nahnahnanahna!)

PS: Smell Scientists, thank you, for scientific proof for Single for a Reason’s reason #422 for her singletude: Gas Emissions.

(Don’t ever tell me that Single for a Reason gives you “ho, hum: oh, that ol’ canard?” type of info)

Then, a caller gets through and wants to know why humans are repulsed by some smells and dogs are not.

This was my mistake. Bringing this whole subject up at the dinner table, perhaps anywhere.

The expert on the show said, “Ah, very interesting question. That is because humans assign values and meanings to these smells (conscious of what causes the smelly thing, I guess) and dogs don’t. They are just smells to dogs.”

Ok. I thought that would be the last word on that subject.

But, oh, no, I was so wrong.

“I don’t agree with that,” the artist said. “Buddy (their dog) “greets” each dog on the street when I walk him and he assigns great meaning to this.” She paused and said point blank, “That expert is wrong.”

Ok. She’s saying this with authority as if deep thought has produced clarity.

The hilarious ironic factor here? She has no sense of smell herself. Never had. It’s one of those “rare” occurrences say the experts. But, THEN, what do they know?

Then, the lawyer says: “Did you know that dogs “greet” one another each day because each day their “special greeting spot” smells different?”

Whaaaaat? You are seriously simply making this s up. You have thought about this? You have read about this? This has been in your brain along with all those other things you know? You have had a discussion about this before???

“No, he said calmly, as in “Your Honor, let me tell you about my client” sort of calm. “The lining of their special greeting spot ( and here he simply touched the tip of his index finger to the tip of his thumb in a circle motif) emits new “greetings” each day depending upon what they have eaten the previous day.”

Ok, people. I simply go out of my mind here. I push back my chair. Raise both hands in surrender and simply bow to the exception to the rule: this man has more language skills than any woman I know, including me.

After my concession speech, the artist played the piano and the lawyer sang, “My Romance”. He just started taking voice lessons at 60 plus years old.

How’d he sound?

Let’s put it in terms fitting to this post: he didn’t stink at all.

Sang like a lark, emission free. And, that is the truth, for now we know what the nose knows.

(I’m not making one word of this story up, by the way)

©Pat Coakley 2008


14 comments on “What the Nose Knows”

  1. Like watching Jeopardy and shouting out, in Tourettes’ fashion, answers you didn’t even know you knew, you and your readers, have learned more than we ever could have thought we needed to know.

    Think out loud, I always say. You never know where it takes you.
    Obviously that can sometimes be the 10AM boat.

  2. Which proves the “expert’s” point. (artist’s view temporarily put aside) Humans assign meaning and value to this phenomenon and therefore are left with “Did I really really need to know this?” and, dogs? They simply go on greeting one another tails wagging.

  3. You have some interesting friends I must say. I can’t remember dinner conversation around our home to be quite that colorful. But like everything else Pat you are unique!

  4. They sound like the kind of friends I hang out with.

    No subject is taboo at any table I sit at (not for long anyway). We had some great discussions over dinner the other night about the pope coming to Australia and also the nature of relationships and how close do we really want to get with each other. Which led to the question, do we really want to look up each other’s butts (in not only the physical sense but also the psychological sense)?

    It would seem that dogs wouldn’t be confounded by such questions because they have no sense of propriety or shame. We need big brains for that one.

    Dogs have such sensitive noses that they call tell a lot about the other dog they greet. Things like the state of it’s health, is it in season and what it has been eating. There have been experiments with dogs to train them to detect cancers in humans.

    I guess that since dogs don’t have a complex language, they can communicate quite a bit further through smelling each other. I find the directness and commitment to action of dogs very admirable qualities.

  5. Amber, this was a first even for ol’unique girl, herself!

    Razz, I knew I could count on you not to be offended! After all, bull semen dinner conversations are in your past and you wrote about them. You inspired me to take a chance.

    **I edited this post since I first uploaded it so if a word or a phrase is gone that you remember from first reading it, you are not crazy.

  6. Wonderful! Might I recommend “The Emperor of Scent” by Chandler Burr. A true story of science and skullduggery. A great read that sits on the top shelf alongside Mauve, and The Beak of the Finch, et al.

    One of the things that I tell my partner: I love the way you smell. Not perfume, but scent. Her hair/skin/saliva/bodily fluid aggregation has a signature that I can differentiate. Intoxicating. My hearing is failing but it seems that the olfactory is still sensitive. She once called me El Perro Descarado.

  7. I smell a rat!!!

  8. Shane

    Sounds like you and Napoleon have something in common.

  9. People, I woke up this morning and thought of a better image for this post. So, purple petunias, robin’s egg blue surgical gloves and one click of a camera and we’ve got a new one. I think you’ll agree, n’est-ce pas??? Mais, oui!

  10. Gees Pat where are you going with this one?

    So after talk of looking up butts and bodily odours we now have sex organs of a plant and rubber gloves.

    I fear for any plant that looks like a blue sphincter when rubber gloves are near by.

  11. Don’t worry, Razz. I’m going nowhere else with this! I woke up this morning and thought maybe my hosts would not appreciate their faces being attached to this story. Then, I thought the robin’s egg blue surgical gloves went nicely with the purple petunias, sort of degrossing the image of the story in as girly girly way that I could! But, it stops here. PS. Have you answered my questions about your early years post? I know you’ve got a life but honestly I am wondering about your answers!

    Shane, thanks for your comment and all I can say is you have lucky partner to be so appreciated! I love your photography. People, go visit Shane.

  12. Classic! Had a much needed giggle thanks you! You know the one thing I enjoy about being human is the fact that we are capable of having these wonderous moments, ones we’ll reflect on and laugh our heads off to in years to come (if not sooner) – memories, good ones at that are little treasures worth more than anything else! Thanks for sharing this one!

  13. Oh dear! I was doing fine until I recalled the open drains of Taipei. Now I understand the meaning behind the amazing colors and cuisine. It’s all a distraction. Shame I wasn’t there long enough to acclimatise.

  14. If anyone is interested in hearing a little more from Dr. Gilbert about the science of smell and “What the Nose Knows,” the New York Academy of Sciences also recently did a Podcast with him, where he talks about that and similarly “gross” topics. It’s both informative and amusing, so give it a listen if you get a chance. You can find the Podcast here: http://www.nyas.org/snc/podcastdetail.asp?id=1841

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