It has been said that smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. Whenever I return to Paris, it’s the scents that trigger my memory first.
For this creativity break, we invite you to follow your nose by mapping your daily commute. What are the smells that strike you the most? Baking bread, laundry detergent, the impermeable cloud of cigarette smoke? Focus on this sense. See how it changes the way you experience your environment and if it changes the places or people you pass by everyday.
If you want to use this prompt as a creativity or meditation break, end here. If you want to take it further, we encourage you to map out your commute and the smells you encounter along the way.
Take a look at our maps and reflections below:
I wouldn’t say that smell is my strongest sense, but it’s hard not to notice the pungent smells that are emitted from Parisian streets. My favorite smell of Paris is the one of freshly baked bread and pastries wafting out from the boulangeries on every corner. Unfortunately the other smells I notice most often are cigarette smoke, pee, and the certain je ne sais quoi stale air smell of the metro. But for every bad sniff there is usually a good one — like brewed coffee or a woman’s chic perfume — and these usually evoke a memory or at least make me pause and be present in the moment as I go about my busy day.
This quote from one of my favorite books sums it up:
“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” -Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
I have always considered smell my strongest sense by far. If there is a cucumber across the room, I will identify it. I used to joke to my friend that I could make a living off of smelling objects for people and relating them to their memories (clearly, I didn’t think out the logistics of how this would actually work).
The ability of a scent to transport you somewhere that you know has always captivated me. I would love to catch a whiff of gardenias and suddenly be back in my grandmother’s house, playing with her perfume. That is why identifying how Paris smells has been a thought and idea of mine since I moved here two years ago. Yet, even with this map in place, there is something unidentifiable, unrecognizable about the scent of Paris that I think will always remain elusive to me. It’s not quite the cloud of cigarette smoke or the fresh bread baking or the Amour Amour of a chic French girl passing me by that marks itself in my mind. It’s some combination of all the above, or perhaps none of the above, some scent I keep attempting to trace that makes this city so completely captivating, so enticingly unattached to both many and none of my memories.
*Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a place to create your scent map, we recommend Café 0 / Gustave in the 10th (see if you can find it on Nora’s map!). We love this café for the friendly staff, hidden location and relaxed environment. Get inspired by the cozy atmosphere and hipster decor.
+ send us your scent maps! we love getting submissions — submit here