Monday, March 23, 2015

It’s Here! The All-New Paperback Edition of What the Nose Knows

The original hardcover edition of What the Nose Knows has been sold out for a long time. There has always been a Kindle edition but never a paperback. Until now.

After sweating every detail for months, I’ve finally released my own paperback edition on Amazon. It’s a beautiful thing, if I do say so myself. (And I do!) Grab a copy.

Order one for your newbie DIY perfumer friend. Get one for Uncle Fred who likes to read about science and psychology but needs a break from Malcolm Gladwell. Assign it as additional reading for your next Sensation & Perception course at Faber College. Take one to Starbucks and finally get a conversation going with that cute barista.

Friday, March 13, 2015

ISDP: The Call of Cthulhu

Can it really be Friday the 13th again? It seems like we just posted a Friday the 13th edition of ISDP. Have we, like an H.P. Lovecraft character, entered some sort of hallucinatory dream state? Have we floated right out the window of our miserable garret and across the Mountains of Madness? Well, yes and no. It is indeed the second month in a row with a Friday the 13th, and west of us, atop the Watchung ridge, stand the ruins of an abandoned psychiatric asylum. Who’s to know what malevolent spirits from Ward 41 may be tugging at our sleep-addled subconscious? Who are we to say that the bat hanging from our desk lamp is not real?

What we do know, courtesy of FOX reporter Adrian Acosta, is that in Anderson, South Carolina, a guy named Tony Johnson recently rented a house from Perry Pruitt. Pruitt himself lives next door and the two houses share a forty-foot deep well. Soon after moving in Johnson complained to his landlord about the water.
“It had a foul odor,” Johnson said. “But he (Pruitt) said it was just stagnant water.”

Johnson said after various treatments failed to fix the problem he asked Pruitt to take a water sample from the well to have it tested and that led to a confrontation and to Pruitt shutting off the water. Johnson said at that point he called deputies.

“Once the officer saw how he (Pruitt) was acting he called detectives,” Johnson said.

A few hours later Johnson said detectives told him they had found a body in the well.
The body was that of Patricia Freeman, with whom Pruitt had had a relationship. She had been missing for weeks. Pruitt was arrested and later released on bond.

But wait, there’s more:
Johnson said his luckily his family had not consumed any of the well water because of the smell but had taken showers with it.

“It’s just disturbing,” Johnson said.
Remember, friends, Always trust your nose™.

About 20 miles east of La Jolla is the community of Lakeside, California. Deputies there were serving an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent at the Riverview Villa Apartments. When a woman in the unit let them in they noticed “the odor of decomposition” and discovered it was coming from a body inside a container sealed with duct tape. It appears to have been there anywhere from six months to more than a year.

Our fans know the rules: it can be an ISDP incident only if the body is discovered by smell. So, no dice. However, we are thrilled to nominate the non-deceased resident of the rental unit for the 2015 Norman Bates Award™. She is “described by neighbors as a quiet woman in her late 50s.”

Flue Season

Our musty, sad-smelling archives are full of ISDP incidents where the proverbial foul odor led to the discovery of a body in a chimney. It has happened in a French bank, an English barrister’s office, and twice in California. In Bakersfield the victim was a female M.D. who was stalking her boyfriend and tried to enter his home through the chimney. In Fontana, the unfortunate individual was a homeless man who attempted to break into an unoccupied residence.

This month’s case is an odd twist on the usual pattern. In San Antonio, Texas, a 32-year-old man with a history of mental issues had been living in the guest house behind the home of his parents. The man hadn’t been seen since late January. His parent thought he might have gone to Austin.
The parents noticed a foul odor that continued to get worse as time went by, but they were unable to identify the source of the odor. While searching the guest house again Thursday, they found their son curled up inside the fireplace behind a screen.
There appear to be no signs of foul play.

That’s it for this edition. Be sure to stop by the gift shop on your way out and pick up a spiffy ISDP coffee mug. And yes, yes, of course you can use it to collect the tears running down the face of Nyarlathotep.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Henry Adams and The Non-Blonde

Gaia Fishler blogs indefatigably about fragrance and cosmetics as The Non-Blonde. Yesterday, in a change of pace, she wrote about her earliest scent memories. The smells themselves are not remarkable: her mother’s brand of soap; a Moroccan neighbor’s cooking; a summer weekend at the beach. But the web of associations she spins around them gives them unique vividness, detail and emotional tone. She describes them in a way that lets the rest of us imagine them, even when Gaia the pre-schooler relates her idiosyncratic impression of the inside of a washing machine as “white and ominous”.

Note that Fishler’s olfactory memories as not Proustian. They are not spontaneously evoked by a scent in the air (or the tedious madeleine dipped in tea). Rather, they are the product of deliberate recall. Also, they do not require a prolonged inner struggle to place them in time and space. Instead, Fishler tells us about them in an easy, compelling way that, to my mind, qualifies as olfactory memoir.

In What the Nose Knows, I contrasted Proust’s over-praised madeleine passage with a more open and democratic type of olfactory memoir:
Henry Adams gave us a small sample of a true olfactory memoir—it puts you behind another person’s nose in another time and place. In his honor, I call it Adamsonian memory. To my way of thinking, Adamsonian memory beats Proustian memory because it deals with smells that are deliberately sniffed and voluntarily recalled. These are not the buried landmines of Proustian memory; Henry Adams describes a smellscape that was familiar to his entire generation, and his memory of it is open to the public. Proustian memory inhabits a private, interior place, and is open by invitation only. For Proust, smell was a tool, a reflex hammer he used to probe his own mind. For the young Henry Adams, smell was the whole world; for the old Henry Adams, it was an open gateway to the past.
Gaia Fishler has given us a lovely Adamsonian glimpse into her early life. Brava!

Friday, February 13, 2015

ISDP: Sixth Anniversary Edition

The scent alarm on the steampunk astrolabe in the living room just delivered a puff of cadaverine to remind us that today is the thirteenth of the month and time to roll out a new edition of I Smell Dead People. As if we needed reminding: date is auspicious. Today is Friday the 13th, and it was exactly six years ago today—on Friday the 13th, 2009—that that we posted our premier edition. Six years of chronicling gruesome discoveries prompted by the scent of decay. Ah, good times, good times.

Today’s collection of the olfactory macabre is an especially violent one. (Happy Valentine’s Day, BTW). But we begin with a rather featureless case at the Alexander Courts apartment complex in Dothan, Alabama, where a complaint about “a foul smell” led police to a dead body in one of the units. The deceased: white male. The cause: natural.

Out in Los Angeles things took a darker turn: “Elderly couple, adult son found decomposing in LA apartment.”
Their apartment manager entered the home in the 1100 block of Crenshaw Boulevard at about 3 p.m. Saturday because of a strong odor, police said.
(We have said it before: being an apartment manager is not a job for the squeamish.)

The case appears to be a double-murder-suicide. The son was 54 and his father 86. The exact cause of death has not been determined.

And on to our final item, as initially reported by KZTV in Corpus Christie, Texas: “A complaint about a foul smell led officers to a badly decomposed body.” The body in the house on Paul Jones Avenue was in an advanced stage of decomposition and the cause of death unclear.

On further investigation, the body turned out to be that of an adult woman and police treated the case as a homicide. The victim’s 15-year-old son was considered a suspect and he was arrested.

The eventual release of the arrest affidavit contained troubling details. The police first went to the home on a welfare check, not because someone reported the smell of decay. According to the Rules Committee, this disqualifies the incident for ISDP.
Holden Clark answered the door. His face and neck were bloodied. Inside the home, officers found the decomposed body of Clark’s mother, Pamela Clark, stuffed in a trash can in the kitchen.
Hmmmm . . . On the bright side hat means Mr. Clark may still be eligible for the Norman Bates Award™.
a friend of the boy went to the home and saw the body. The document says Holden Clark told that friend that he shot his mother and then dragged her body to the kitchen. The friend allegedly saw the body stuffed in a trash can. That friend later contacted another friend, who then called police.
Well, kudos to the other friend, at least.

Longtime ISDP fans know this isn’t the first case of living with the remains following a matricide. Recall 16-year-old Kit Darrant of Miami, Florida, who police say choked and stabbed his mother to death and lived in the home for another eight days. He threw some laundry detergent on the body to mask to odor before having friends over to party. The episode earned Mr. Darrant a nod for the 2012 Norman Bates Award.

Monday, February 9, 2015

FN Review: Sense of Smell, by Marcel van Brakel, et al.

I had my doubts when this oddly shaped book arrived in the mail. At nearly two hundred printed pages, its foldover, center-stitched format gives its open side a goofy beveled edge. It looks and feels like a gigantic pamphlet.

What’s inside, however, is fresh, compelling and thought-provoking.

Sense of Smell is a collective work, a co-creation of the faculty and students at Avans University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands who took part in a field study in Berlin and an intensive 48-hour brainstorming “sweatshop” that produced novel olfactory design concepts, some of which were later realized as art installations.

The book is arranged in themed sections: data, temporality, taboo, perfumication, and ethereal. Each section features essays, projects (descriptions of exhibits), and concepts. The layout—English (black) and Dutch (red) text side by side or over/under—is pleasing and the many color images are striking and beautifully printed.

I was wary initially of the essays which introduce each section. Brief overviews of smell topics risk being inaccurate or lightweight. And indeed, when the essay in the “Ethereal” section cited The Matrix as a philosophic reference, the alarm on the FN Bogosity Meter went off big time. Many of the other essays, however, are crisp, lucid and quite accurate. There is discernment at play here.

My only quibble with the essay “Cinesexual smell: The ecstatic olfactory face” is that “smelling a nice smell” is a conventionalized facial expression, rather than the involuntary expression of deeply emotional experience that author Patricia MacCormack assumes it to be. However all is forgiven because she includes the great image of Udo Kier as Baron Frankenstein reaching orgasm while fondling the entrails of a female zombie. Awesome. And speaking of entrails, fans of I Smell Dead People will enjoy Nienke Huitenga’s interview with forensic sniffer Harry Jongen.

Rosi Braidotti uses Pinka, Virginia Woolf’s cocker spaniel, as an olfactory lens to examine the author’s relationship with Vita Sackville-West. Woolf’s Flush, written from a dog’s sensory point of view, has a lot to recommend it. But Braidotti’s turgid academic prose (“Nomadic becomings express the positive structure of difference, unhinged from the binary system of dialectics that opposed it to Sameness”) snuffs out any motivation to follow her thesis. This one dud proves to be the exception among a set of readable and entertaining essays.

By now I have read most of the available cultural chestnuts about olfaction. So when, for example, Sense of Smell plays with the Warhol “smell museum” idea that I wrote about in my own book, I get fidgety. But I was pleased and excited to find anecdotes that were totally new to me, like Judy Garland’s BO problem and how she tried to solve it. I also had never heard of the Italian Futurist Carlo CarrĂ ’s interest in olfactory-visual synesthesia, or of the Shinto benjo-gami (privy gods) in Japan. (This should give you some idea of range of ideas entertained in this volume.)

The concepts and design projects in Sense of Smell provide a comprehensive look at recent artistic and technological explorations of scent. Some, like Amy Radclife’s Scentography system, or the whole-body-odor extraction of Martynka Wawrzyniak, or Lernert & Sander’s potpourri stunt will be familiar to FN readers. And ISDP fans will have been all over the “Famous Deaths” installation (imagined smellscapes from the JFK assassination, etc.) that made waves recently.

There are many other entries to surprise and delight the olfactively-inclined reader, such as the piece on the stinky booby-trapped underwear design called Skunk Grenade, or the one about sneaker smell-fetish websites. (I admit I’d never heard of sneakerslaves until now, but having met the leading prophet of the Fart Smeller Movement I can’t say I’m surprised.)

The Lucid Dream Generator CMD Concept is the merest germ of an idea, but one that got me thinking. I believe there is a lot of potential here, given that commenters have made my “Dreaming of Smell” post one of the top rated search engine results on the topic. There are surely a lot of ways to use scent to bend the trajectory of dreams.

Bottom line: Sense of Smell is a beautifully produced omnium gatherum of the contemporary scene in olfactory art, design, and inspiration. If you want to get a sense of where creative minds are taking the field, you should get yourself a copy.

The book reviewed here is Sense of smell, edited by Marcel van Brakel, Wander Eikelboom, Frederik Duerinck, et al., 2014. Published by The Eriskay Connection. ISBN 978-94-92051-00-4

P.S. A earlier version of this post misidentified the academic affiliation of the authors. Hat tip to commenter Wander for pointing it out.