He observed that, according to the study, Americans born in the 1930s and 1940s reported that such scents as those of roses, baking bread, and sea air prompted nostalgia, whereas for Americans born in the 1960s, odors of hairspray, nail polish, burnt rubber, and dirty socks prompt nostalgia instead. Camnitzer, who grew up in Uruguay, pointed out that people from outside the US experience nostalgia in association with other odors, and that for him these include those of freshly starched sheets and of meats roasted on the street by masons at work on local buildings.
While numerous aspects of Camnitzer's talk interested me, my imagination was particularly seized by this brief detour onto nostalgia-producing scents. I immediately had to think about what sort of odors provoke my own nostalgia.
I am relieved to say that apart from nail polish, none of the odors cited by the 1960s cohort are even slightly nostalgic for me. I admit that the scent of nail polish does instantly take me back to the age of 7, when I requested and somewhat to my surprise received nail polish for Christmas. But I doubt I would find this unpleasant odor agreeably nostalgic if I had used nail polish regularly in the intervening years. My use of nail polish after the age of 7 was pretty infrequent until I began graduate school, which took me to parts of the country warm enough to make me take off my socks during the summer. I think there has also been a fashion for polished toenails in that time, as I don't remember very many people wearing nail polish when I lived in Southern California and on the rare occasions that I wore nail polish, it was on my fingernails. (But those of us who play piano and most stringed instruments tend to keep our fingernails short and not wear nail polish on them.)
The other nostalgic odors I came up with were the likes of lilac blossoms, marigolds, honeysuckle, rain, fresh dirt, sawdust, tempera paint, and grass clippings. There are also a few odors that take me into the past without being at all pleasantly nostalgic, like that of the inside of an old coffee thermos (yuck) and certain baby shampoos (gross).
I've just thought of another nostalgic odor that isn't normally considered pleasant: the smell of brown coal. It takes me right back to Czechoslovakia before and somewhat after the Velvet Revolution. For me, this is pleasant; for Czechs, I imagine it is usually not.
Labels: daily life