Aromas evoke previous journeys, or paths not taken | Information

A wide-mouthed glass sits high on a shelf in my Vermont kitchen and is half full with a bronze-colored liquid. Opening it is a sensual journey into the sunny winter I once spent in Cyprus: the contents are reminiscent of wild oregano that has been squashed underfoot, roses that were left behind in honor of Aphrodite, and plump grapefruits that were on one Street stall were bought.

As always, I dreamed of distant places and had poured these and other ingredients into vodka to make Amaro, a bitter Italian-style liqueur. Not only do I love the taste of Amaro, but it is also infinitely adaptable, a perfect vehicle for Flavors. My Amaro, inspired by Cyprus, sips ice – or just breathes straight out of the glass in the middle of the day – and makes me instantly recognizable.

It is not the fragrance of Cyprus in any universal way; Another visit to the island would give a different olfactory impression. Rather, I bottled the essence of my favorite moments there, like a stormy hike through the pine forest, followed by a cup of aniseed tea. The amaro is an aromatic snapshot of a place I loved and it has a strong impact on my memory.

For travelers like me circumscribed by the pandemic, flavors offer the opportunity to revisit cherished trips. It can be as simple as enjoying the bouquet of a favorite wine, making a homemade amaro or lighting a scented candle.

But the world of flavors – what the writer Harold McGee called the “osmocosmos” after the ancient Greek word for smell – invites you to experience things that go beyond fond memories. In McGee’s recent book, Nose Dive: A Guide to the Smells of the World, he examines the chemistry and history of quotidian scents and explains that they can be traced back billions of years. And today, researchers are exploring how Aroma can enable imaginative journeys through space and time to places you will never smell in real life, from historical battlefields to the dystopian future of a South Pacific island.

In particular, the aroma as a mental journey is not a new idea. Over a century ago, Proust inhaled a freshly baked madeleine that sparked vivid memories of his childhood and described the experience in “Swann’s Way”, the first of seven volumes in which “In Search of Lost Time” was composed. This experience of aroma-evoked memory became known as the Proust phenomenon, familiar to anyone who has lost sight of the present after burying their nose in a box of colored pencils.

The intensity of such moments can result from the communication between the nose and the brain. Information from the odor-processing olfactory bulb goes straight into the limbic system, which is believed to be linked to emotions and memory, said Harvard neuroscientist Venkatesh Murthy. Visual and acoustic information go there in a more cumbersome way.

“Our suspicion is that there is a more direct connection. . . helps us evoke memories more directly through smell, ”Murthy said. But those memories, he noted, are not necessarily memories of the aromas themselves. In fact, it can be difficult to mentally reconstruct the smell of, say, a rose in bloom. “It’s not that you put the scent of the rose in your head,” he said. It’s more of a trigger, Murthy explained. “The smell of the rose is reminiscent of your walk in the garden.”

In other words, it is more than just a smell to unleash the full effects of the aroma. For that you need a story, a philosophy of the scented candle industry, which is booming in the pandemic.

Some candle makers use stories to conjure up places we miss badly right now: Anecdote Candles’ Farmers Market candle, for example, is said to smell “like long lines and tote bags,” while Homesick’s New York candle is said to have “unmistakable scents of spring days in Central Park . “Without the descriptions, they’re just aromatherapy.

“It is never enough to create a new fragrance,” explained the Dutch fragrance historian Caro Verbeek, explaining that storytelling and aroma can merge together to create a uniquely powerful experience. Verbeek helped create multi-sensory exhibits with historical flavors that can give people “a very direct link to a past where they were never part of themselves”.

For Verbeek’s PhD project, she worked with perfumer Birgit Sijbrands of International Flavors & Fragrances to recreate the smell of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated in a sharp mixture of horse sweat, human fear, gunpowder and churned mud. At Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, visitors stood in front of a towering display of the battle while inhaling the custom scent of blotting paper or tiny pumps.

“Things seem so much more real when you smell them,” Verbeek said. “They trigger your emotional brain and your memories.” Verbeek watched visitors absorb it all: one woman exclaimed that the horses on the canvas had begun to move, while others remembered horse rides or childhood walks through the woods. “What a lot of people told me was that the Napoleon perfume – because it is in the composition – reminded them of their grandmothers,” Verbeek said. “You can really combine your personal memory with a collective memory.”

Verbeek’s flavors provide a bridge to the past; Other innovators use fragrance to look into the future. A platform created by OVR Technology releases Aroma to make virtual reality experiences more lively. There are plans for uses ranging from PTSD treatment to training for dangerous jobs. Aroma “dramatically increases the feeling of immersion,” said Aaron Wisniewski, CEO and founder of OVR Technology, reiterating Verbeek’s observations at the museum.

On a February morning that only smelled of snow and salted roads, I visited the OVR Technology office in Burlington, Vt. To see for myself. After putting on a VR headset, I met a digital tour guide named Erin who invited me to uproot a red rose from a pixelated flower bed in the air. The bloom reminded me of perfume, while the roots gave off the moist, organic scent of fresh dirt and gardens. After the cold weather outside it was a touch of pure summer.

However, Wisniewski stated that the most promising aromatic journeys, such as those designed by Verbeek, don’t always smell sweet. For example, treating PTSD requires restoring battlefield flavors while firefighters can train in smoke-scented simulations. And at the upcoming Venice Biennale, OVR Technology will present a collaboration with artist Daniel Stricker that offers an immersive, virtual journey into a possible future of Samoa, a low-lying South Pacific country particularly prone to rising sea levels.

Inside is the virtual traveler in the coastal village of Poutasi, which was wiped out by a tsunami in 2009. The Samoan community is being rebuilt in three dimensions. A village elder speaks about the effects of climate change and pollution. Sea water creeps higher and higher in all directions and falls over the floor of neighboring buildings.

The smell of standing water, sewage and garbage emanate from the VR headset, the aromas of uncontrolled climate change in an island nation. To anticipate this particular future, the project suggests that we may need to travel there ourselves to see – and smell – it firsthand.

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