Friday 3 June 2011

Ringing bells

The OH knows he’ll be in big trouble if he ever buys me my favourite perfume. For years now I’ve been training myself to associate the scent of Lancome’s Miracle with setting off on a plane trip; so as soon as I’m airside, I swing by the duty-free shop for a squirt from their tester bottle. Already, if I catch a lingering whiff on my watch-strap when I’m back home, I can instantly visualise the airport, the passport and boarding pass in my hand, the planes outside — and feel the excitement. The idea is that when I’m a shrivelled old lady and stuck in a chair, I can sniff the bottle and get instantly high: say, 30,000 feet.

When we travel, we take photos and buy souvenirs, but all too often ignore the other senses, which can be much more effective in summoning vivid memories. Smell seems to be a particularly direct route back to the past, although it’s not always possible to reproduce once back home. This is certainly a good thing in the case of the stinking durian, even if it does evoke tropical markets with all their colour and buzz. But vanilla will take me back to Reunion Island, where it’s grown and processed; 4711 cologne to the elegant shop in Cologne where a perfumed fountain tinkling in the corner scents the air; frangipani to Tahiti; cloves to Indonesia.

Taste always works well, although foods that are still limited to their places of origin by definition won’t work as memory aids: you’re not going to find roasted guinea pig, casseroled fruit bat or coconut crab on any menu here. But something you taste for the first time on holiday is good, so for me Parmesan cheese means Sydney, parsnips are England, quinoa is Peru, chowder means Vancouver.

Though crowing roosters bring back Bali for me, sirens and whistles evoke New York, and cawing crows epitomise Australia, music is the best audio trigger. I first came across the quirky compositions of the Penguin Café Orchestra thanks to the driver of my car in Mauritius; an M2M hit sweetly sung to us by our guide at the end of a tour always reminds me of China; and Kelly Clarkson got me dancing on Reunion Island (possibly also the rum). Hear the music, and I’m there: so in Tasmania I used repeat plays of my latest favourite song to fix the association. Now just the first few notes take me back to the Bay of Fires, the spinifex seeds tumbling over the hard sand, the sun on the rocks, the turquoise sea.

This value-adding holiday tip is brought to you by P. Wade: that’s P as in Pavlov.

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