The Sense of Smell

“Waking up to a smell is a lot more satisfying than waking up to a noise.Instead of barging in uninvited and yanking you out into reality,smells enter your dreams with a silent knock and a polite "Excuse me?”― Adi Alsaid

Each morning my day begins the same, my ritualized behaviour is always pretty well the same ... I visit the bathroom, drink water with lemon, and while waiting for my coffee to be made, I light incense (always Sandalwood or Nag Champa) – one in the living room, one in the bathroom. I follow that by then plugging in the aromatherapy diffuser, so that when the incense is done the oils ( my latest concoction is patchouli, neroli, sandalwood, orange, rose and a drop or two of frankincense ) will have begun to waft through the air. I light a soy candle made with good quality essential oils and then I sit and write in my journal. I believe that for me the aroma creates a sense of grounding.

When I travel, I always have a few oils, a candle and incense, to create a sense of home/ground wherever I am in the world. My kids always comment that “it smells like home” – not too sure if it's to their liking or not, but it has introduced them to the intoxicating world of scent. These days I layer scents much like I layer my canvases, one building off another. What I end up I'll often never able to be reproduce perfectly, but there is a connectedness: they are all created from my personal sense of smell. I feel this is similar to finding your voice as a writer, your style as a painter. Our signature scents are as individual as we are.

Smell is our most primitive sense, no longer needed for survival yet we smell our way through our world often unconsciously.  Think of the smell of your coffee, your partner's pillow cover, the comforting smell of your mother’s perfume. Smells anchor us in the moment, creating a sense of place. There are scents we choose to surround ourselves with for comfort and pleasure. And there are those that bombard us whether we like it or not: bodies slammed together in rush hour on mass transit; exhaust fumes in congested traffic; the mix of salt and fish at the ocean shore; the ripe smell of a cheese counter and tsk tsk drivers in Delhi in May.


Your first exercise this week is to go on a scent sojourn.

Using your journal, record every smell you come across during a wander.

Starting from home, see where your nose leads you: the hallway, the alley, flowers, fresh cut grass, rain, the bakery, trash, car fumes, cigarette smoke, old pages of a book, a perfume counter. You might like to go on several sojourns this week. How much richer are the smells of the ocean compared to the a park? Main Street compared to alleyways? Is there a place you are drawn to?


Take several small wanders around your neighbourhood. What smells do you find in your home? Your car? Your life? Wander at different times of the day. Is morning more fragrant than evening? How about different seasons? Give yourself the freedom to  experience the smells you come across without making them ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Stand somewhere and shut your eyes ... how many layers of scents can you smell?

You could use your camera to document your outcomes  – try making a collage of scents you liked and those you didn’t. Are there any surprises in either group?

This scent-inspired sojourn can be be done over and over. When you’re in need of a fresh perspective, take your nose out for a wander.

As we immerse ourselves in all things Morocco, our sense of smell will be busy unearthing new insights and inspirations.