Thursday, December 6, 2007

One of us

I took my mother to the Nashville Public Library yesterday to do a StoryCorps session, with her as interviewee. I'm doing a little piece on StoryCorps for the Scene, and decided I needed to experience it firsthand. I have to say it's the most highly regimented exercise in family bonding I have ever seen. Not that that's a bad thing. Structure's good, I guess. And I have never felt so thoroughly a part the current trend for finding virtue in self-exposure. I've always hoped to find money in self-exposure--and I have, though to date I can't say I've reaped any fortune. Maybe I haven't exposed enough.

Anyway, this post is not about me, it's about Eudora Welty, and how I discovered yesterday that she was probably one of us; that is to say, a scent freak, a member of the global community of the osmically fixated. It turned out that my mother and I had a little time to kill before our heartwarming 40 minutes in the StoryCorps booth, so we went to look at a photography exhibit in the library's gallery. It was a series of pictures of authors' homes called "Inspirational Spaces," taken by Bob Schatz, a Nashville photographer. Welty's home in Jackson was featured along with the houses of Carl Sandburg, Thomas Wolfe, Faulkner, and Flannery O'Connor. (The series isn't online anywhere, but you can see some of Schatz's work here. His compositions are very nice.)

Eudora's house, like the others, is a museum now, and maintained with all the reverent attachment to her relics that you'd expect from Southern literary acolytes. Nobody worships a dead author the way we do. You can actually take a virtual tour of her house by going here. If you do, you'll see a picture of her vanity with a little tray of bottles that are almost too small to make out--but in Schatz's photos you can see what they are: Chanel no. 5 eau de cologne (in its box), a pretty milk glass flacon of L'Air du Temps, a powder canister (also L'Air du Temps, I think), and a fourth scent bottle that can't be identified.

Welty was no glamor queen, so the fact that she actually had a scent wardrobe was enough to make me think she was at least a low-key sniff fiend. My suspicion was confirmed by Schatz's photo of her bathroom (it's not on the virtual tour--wonder why?), where there was a jar of Noxzema and a bottle of Revlon Aquamarine lotion. Pretty prosaic toiletries, of course, but both of them have very distinctive, much-loved scents. I seem to recall that there was an entire POL thread devoted to the smell of Noxzema.

So now whenever I read EW's stories, I'll imagine her taking hits off the Noxzema, or putting her wrist to her nose as she scribbled. By the way, Schatz didn't bother documenting the men's personal items, and O'Connor showed no sign at all of being one of us. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, the only bottles on her shelves were prescription medicine and Bayer aspirin.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I love this piece. Everything about it. I just re-read Why I Live At The P.O. Ha. And her house! The four-poster bed with the chenille bedspread! Wood floors and French doors. What I wouldn't give for such a house. Sigh. I'm off to sniff my Aquamarine lotion...

BitterGrace said...

I know, what you mean, that house is just fantastic. She spent almost all her long life there. Looking at the vanity pic again, I think I see yet another scent bottle that was not in Schatz's photo. I guess even relics are shifted from time to time. Maybe she had a perfumista-style stash in her closet!