They say that smell is the sense with the closest link to memory. The other day, as I washed some beer glasses with a new dish soap, I was transported to a distant time and place. I was suddenly in a bubble bath in my parents’ home. I recognized the aroma immediately, even though it has certainly been over twenty years.

I have heard that one does not have memories of events, only memories of the last time that the event was remembered. That could explain how memories degrade or take on new, extraneous parts. For example, over the last few months, I listened to audio-books while walking from place to place. Later, I found myself thinking about specific chapters when I happened to be in the same place that I heard it. The sight of a particular building or shop would remind me of a character or a fictional village.

The intensely personal nature of these memory links is what really intrigues me. Such an association seems perfectly natural, but it is interesting that I am almost certainly the only person in the world with that specific connection. Of the thousands of people who walk past that shop, I am the only one who is reminded of that book. Let alone being reminded of a given chapter, line or character. The smell of that dish soap probably reminds at least some other people of their childhood bubble baths, but even that isn’t really the same. The memory for me includes the color of the tile and the feel of the washcloth, details that are unique to me.



Beer of the week: Berghoff Winter Ale – Berghoff is a well known name in Chicago, but probably unheard of in most other places. Berghoff started as an Indiana brewery, but eventually became a downtown Chicago beer hall. Their Winter Ale is a real treat. It is a dark, full bodied beer. The aroma has hints of marshmallow and the sweet, cakey malt makes this beer a delicious winter drink.

Reading of the week: Winter by William Shakespeare – Winter brings with it both the undesirable and the desirable. Coughs and red, raw noses are an unavoidable part of this season, but there is also the cheerful “Tu-whoo” of owls and the smell of roasting… crabs? Maybe winter traditions have changed a bit since Shakespeare’s time.

Question of the week: Could the most pleasant parts of winter (hot chocolate, open hearth fires, skiing) be nearly so good without the less pleasant parts (runny noses, wet socks)? And are the memories of the pleasant and unpleasant inextricably linked?

2 Comments on “Memories”

  1. Strażniczka Browara says:

    The connections that human minds make between specific incentives and events is indeed very interesting. I myself can’t stop admiring pop culture for playing with it. People are just so much more likely to be fond of something they already know or at least find familiar. Don’t we all smile when we notice a reference to a cultural text we already know? This is the moment when an author blinks to you bringing up a Matrix line or a creating a scene based on a Lovecraft’s story. What I am trying to say here is that for me the links in culture are very similar to these in ours heads.

    You did mention how amazing you find the uniqueness of memory links. I find the versatility of them even more impressive. There are many ingrained associations that are the same for people living in the same country, social class etc.

    • I think that is an excellent observation. Pop culture at its best taps into our common backgrounds to make something broadly appealing. One of the reasons that the readings on this blog are almost entirely “western canon” is because we (I and the people that I know and interact with) are all familiar with the underlying themes to some extent. Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Copernicus, and so forth have shaped our culture and collective history in profound ways and I think it is very important to explore those shared connections.

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