A smelly beginning to Blog No11

2 02 2009

Dear world, Bear with me. Today I want to take you by the nose. But gently! Gently! I am a gentle man. I have been chatting with you about about Thailand, but, I realized today, I have been talking in the most visual manner—telling you what I saw.( interspersed of course by my unstoppable musings). The experiential template was always visual although all the time I wandered around this fascinating culture I was aware that perhaps the most striking experiences I processed were nasal. For Asia in general and Thailand in particular are very smelly places. And here let me add that every culture has its particular smells but we become so accustomed to our own that we no longer ‘read them’  though foreigners undoubtably do. Moreover for some reason possibly associated with the West’s toxic Puritanism, the very languages we use to describe smells are laden with inhibition and censorship to such an extent that the vocabularies we have available to explain and distinguish smells are sadly limited in comparison with the rich verbal palette we access when taking about the world of sight.Smells are largely taboo and a massive industry profits from the business of trying to eradicate a large number of them, especially those that arise from our own bodies. However these taboos are by no means international and some of the deepest delights of travel  are nasal, though Westerners must be led by the nose in order to enjoy them. All too easily we relapse into our own cultural stereotypes.




For some reason understood only by the terminally perverted we Westerners have been persuaded that , unlike all other mammals, estrus in human females is not heralded by incredibly powerful discharges of pheremones that hyper-motivate the opposite gender.Very strange. All of which adds up to a tragic paucity of descriptive communication surrounding one of our most  powerful senses..For, as the philosopher Wittgenstein said “Whereof we cannot speak , thereof we must be silent.”

To which I must add “Whereof we have been silenced, thereof  must we shout.”

I have heard it said that we only use two thirds of our brains, though this seems to me to be one of those self-limiting statements since in order to know there was a piece of unused brain beyond the used two thirds seems to demand a self knowledge of and by the unused piece itself. Which, because it is said to be unused is therefore unperceived. But seeing it’s unusedness consitutes ‘identity’ –the identity of unusedness. And that can only be stated by the unused piece using itself. All very complicated so lets get back to our nosey investigation. Which will lead us , dog-like, down the market opposite, following the wonderful serpentine road of aromas and, just for today, lest we be seduced by our cultural preconditioning to discard some of them with the callous and shallow labels of "’bad smells” or “nasty smells, lets just experience them. Off we go into the market.!Uuuuummmmm. Interesting! Fishy!  And then, strongly fishy. But now we are walking past the fishiness into roast chicken-ness. Uuuuummmm! followed almost immediately by more fishiness only a little older fishiness here where the market floor is awash in a dark black liquid with it’s own rank identity. And that blends in with the roast chicken-ness to create a totally unique aroma for which I don’t think  we  have  a word. And before we go any further, please excuse the expostulations and the apostrophes and the onomatopoeics because when it comes to smells we have very limited language.

(Yes! Mr Grammarian. I see you are having conniptions: and yes you may leave the room. And good riddance!.And don’t forget to take your little rule book with you. Your legitimate function is descriptive not proscriptive) 

Hmmm! Hard not to slap a perjorative label on that scent! Now wait! The fishy and the old-fishy and roast chicken are fading a little and curried pork is blending into the weave. And what is that sweetness? Aaha! Palm sugar being rendered in the big wok there. And ouch ! That highlight in the nasal fabric bites the old probosis and monopolizes the senses for an uncomfortable time. It seems to be the wok full of red-hot chillies dry-roasting there with it’s cloud of acrid blue smoke. And now that one, this new one. What is that? Could be drains-blocked sewage. It is pretty grotty underfoot here,and whoa! That new one just arriving is mouth-watering. The plump lady with the gold teeth is sewing a broad band of aroma into our tapestry with her wok full of seafood and is it ever nice. On and on it goes, this magical fabric. A blue cloud behind the tuk tuk’s roaring sputtering motor introduced a cloud of exhaust, burnt oil, that blocked out everything for a minute or so and then a pretty woman stalking past on her clicking high-heels laid a trail of perfume and female exudate and I swivel around, suddenly becoming aware that my body hair was all standing up and of the scent of my own armpits.RRRRrrrrrrrrrrrr  Pheremones are sexual assault.  Officer! Arrest that woman! Phew. that was close! I was having trouble distinguishing whether I was hungry or horny. Now the fish ball maker 011 tapestry has bands of incense weaving across the warp.A pretty little girl of eight or nine in a blue frock has slipped off her flip-flops, kneeled on the rough concrete beside her Mum’s restaurant stall and with a big bunch of joss sticks blowing clouds of incense in her face is praying unself-consciously for about five earnest, angelic minutes while people and traffic pass by and the incense blends in with mum’s  delicious-smelling cooking.Mysterious that one. Wait—perhaps this was what she was conjuring up without realizing it, because a wave of butter cookies or something with palm sugar and caramel and egg are cooking somewhere around here and it is such a palpable odour that I can actually taste it I think.My mouth is full of sweetness.I want some. Wonder if I can track it down  or maybe Google Earth it and see if it shows as a small red dot of honey and desire nestled in the middle of Bangkok’s concrete maze.But excuse me. Right now a coffee stand has me by the nose like a ringed bull and I am heading that way, ignoring the sweet scents of frangipanni blossoms and jasmine. Don’t ask me why I love this culture. I just do. I adore the way it smells as though it was a lover’s body: the sharp, the sweet, the acidic,the grotty, the sexual, the sensual, the stinky, the sweet. All of it.Thailand je t’aime.Nasally yours, Laurie.




One response

6 02 2009

Hi Guy,

I’ve been sening you emails. Can you please chekc and try to answere the questions. I’ll get to you on that medium I’m just too suree who all is going to read this one.


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