Trouble sleeping lately, combined with very intense
dreams. Without my mentioning it, some folks out there might know where this
temporary condition comes from, see below.
Preface – my parents
bought a new mattress. I ask my dad if they bought a Tempurpedic, hoping they
did not. I think they’re a sham, at least as far as their cost (I also have
this thing about mattresses; I think they’re all a sham). My parents did not
fall for it; they bought a Bob-o-pedic. That’s basically a generic version. My
parents are frugal. My real problem is when it comes to moving a Tempurpedic. I’ve
moved a lot of people and a lot of mattresses, and moving a Tempurpedic is like
moving a dead body. I tell my dad that; he’s never had the experience.
Hopefully he never will.
Keeping that in mind, last night I have this dream that
my whole family is moving this dead body, in a truck, to somewhere. Why? Not
important, this is a dream. My dad and I are trying to stabilized this dead
body in the back of the utility van/ambulance that we’re all taking on this
family road trip to who-knows-where for who-knows-why, and it’s really hard,
you know, like moving a dead body. Oh, but this was better, because it wasn’t
just any dead body – it had no skin so it was extra slippery, making it extra
hard to move. Like, harder to move than a Tempurpedic mattress.
Anyway, at some point, my dad is like Damn, this thing
smells! And for dream reasons, my brain inputs the “smell” as formaldehyde,
although nobody actually says that. Not “dead body” but “formaldehyde.”
We get the thing stabilized in the back of the truck. My
hands are all slippery and sticky with dead body. I have the sense that I’m
holding my breath, to avoid the smell, and yet I can’t seem to smell anything.
Now, I’m really sensitive to smells, so you would think I notice it, and yet I
don’t. And needless to say, nobody knows they’re dreaming when they’re
dreaming, so that doesn’t compute for me. All I know is, I can’t smell this
thing. And we’re driving, and this skinless dead body is bouncing in the back
of our van, and my hands are still covered in death schmutz.
I can’t believe that I can’t smell it, and so I whisper
to my mom, who’s driving, “Mom, what does it smell like in here?” And she says, “formaldehyde.”
And I say, or think, or dream, “Damn, I’m anosmic to formaldehyde, and that’s weird,
because you’re usually not anosmic to more than one thing.” (I am anosmic to
putrescene, or semen, and for real, not in my dream, but I know this in the
When I wake up, the dream is still real, as it usually is
within the first few seconds, and I am still anosmic to formaldehyde, and I am
surprised and excited that I discovered this via a dream.
But then, alas, I realize – you can’t smell anything in
And I lay there for a minute thinking if this is true or
not. And I conclude, yes, it is true. We can only smell things in the presence
of an initiating chemical. Sure, you can dream about your grandmother’s attic,
or your preschool lunchbox, and have all the connected emotions, but you can’t
do an anosmia test in your dreams. You’re anosmic to everything in your dreams.
And for now, I’m looking for some formaldehyde, just to
And for those of you who have been living in California
or Colorado for the past few years, I suggest you take a step back, and watch the
flood of bombastic, surreal extriculations that you’ve been missing all these
Looking at the World Coffee Research Sensory
Lexicon, a universal language of coffee’s sensory qualities. There's a lot
of good stuff in here, especially in the way they come up with 'reference
smells' for their descriptors. For example, for "Fermented" they have
two seemingly dissimilar things to give you the idea of what it is - 1.
Guinness Extra Stout beer in a glass, and 2. grass left in a sealed jar for two
weeks (to ferment).
The category for "Sour" seemed way simpler than I expected,
with only four substances, all acids. There's plenty of good stuff in here, but
I'll start with this brief category.
They begin by reminding you what Sour is: "The
fundamental taste factor associated with a citric acid solution," and this
is best represented by Citric Acid. They then go on to describe Sour Aromatics:
"An aromatic associated with the impression of a sour product," and
this is best represented by Bush's brand Pinto beans from a can (go figure,
I'll have to remind myself what this smells like). Then we get into the acids
themselves; there's only four.
A sour, astringent, slightly pungent aromatic associated
A sour, fermented-dairy aromatic associated with certain
aged cheeses such as Parmesan.
A pungent, sour aromatic associated with sweaty,
perspiration-generated foot odor and certain aged cheeses such as Romano.
A mild, clean, sour aromatic with slight citrus notes
accompanied by astringency.
A sour, sharp, somewhat fruity aromatic accompanied by astringency.
Now for the good part. All of these, except for citric and malic acid (I think) are the core of body odor aromas. Can I call them aromas then?
The smell comes not from the body itself, but from the
skin flora, the critters that live on your body, digesting your excreta and
then themselves excreting the odorful products. They break down the fat in your
sweat to get energy for themselves, and their waste product is a smelly acid.
Different species of bacteria produce different acids, and these listed above
are the big three. I guess they're in your coffee too.
I tried to look for some info about why feeding
astronauts is so hard; taste and smell just don’t act the same out there. It
seems like we still aren’t sure why this problem exists, though the menu has
made significant improvements since the days of liquid borscht balls floating
I did, however, come across this interesting mention
about a time when astronauts requested an aperitif to celebrate their mission. Paul
Masson Rare Cream Sherry was purchased for a Skylab mission, one for the
spaceship, and one for testing prior. (Everything has to be tested.) Problem 1.
NASA was afraid that people – the public – wouldn’t be cool with drinking in
space. Problem 2. Smells move way faster in microgravity, and alcohol is very
volatile meaning it evaporates into the air faster. Because of all this it was
found to trigger the gag reflex. No drinking in space.
Shoot, let’s not forget, however, that there was this
time a distillery sent their whiskey into
orbit to see how it ferments differently.
Ross-Nazzal, Jennifer (7 April 2006). "Edited Oral
History Transcript - Charles T. Bourland". NASA Johnson Space Center Oral
History Project. link
Here's an article talking about a robot that can see
similarities between artworks, and it's praised as finding something that no
art historian has yet to discover. I wrote something about this on Network
Address, because I like to write about more art-based things there. But there
was a quote from the article that I thought was perfect for this blog in
particular. They describe the process of training this algorithm to do its
art-historian job. They feed it countless images, and with each one they have
tagged with descriptions of its style, design, content, and (perhaps?)
historical context. That way the algorithm 'knows' what it's looking at. And
Comparing images is then a process of comparing the words
that describe them, for which there are a number of well-established
One of the main points of Hidden Scents is that the
internet is and must be (for now) machine-readable - it must be made of words.
Even the pictures must be reduced to words in order for this algorithm to 'see'
them. Consequently, smell is word-averse. There is no language of smell,
meaning there is no universal language to label the things we smell. Therefore,
there cannot (for now) be such a thing as an internet for smells.