Monday, May 18, 2009

The Bohemian Fruit Boat Strikes Again

I recently wrote about the case of Dr. Thomas and the Bohemian fruit boat—a pre-Proustian episode of smell-evoked memory. While walking over a bridge in Berlin each day, Thomas was puzzled to find himself thinking of a time years before when he had lived in a rural area of Germany. He finally realized that what’s triggering the memory is the smell of burning brown coal from a Bohemian fruit boat moored under the bridge.

Thomas published his olfactory observation in a scientific journal in 1896. Fast forward one hundred and thirteen years and here’s Catherine Bodry writing on the travel site about “A Scent of Place”:
For an entire year, every time I jogged past a nearby house I was smacked with memories of Ireland, where I lived for six months. Finally, after nearly making myself crazy trying to figure out what the smell was, I realized that they were burning coal. It was the scent of coal smoke that reminded me so much of Ireland, though I can't recall ever noticing it when I lived there.
Ms. Bodry seems to be highly attuned to scent:
And when I arrived in Bangkok for work last fall, I couldn’t stop smiling because all the smells I had forgotten about were slamming me. The city mixes a chunky scent stew of frying oil, curry, exhaust, urine, incense, and wet cement. I love it – it’s Thailand to me.
I haven’t been to Bangkok, but I’m already getting the picture . . .


Nathan Branch said...

Notes of frying oil, curry, exhaust, urine, incense, and wet cement -- kind of sounds like something Comme des Garcons would produce, doesn't it?

Avery Gilbert said...