Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oranges, roses and the haunted house

The mention of olfactory dreaming in today’s First Nerve post got me thinking about my own smelly dream life. I’ve never kept track but I believe I experience some purely imaginary odor in about one dream out of four. Oddly enough, although I can mentally conjure up the scent of favorite perfumes when I’m awake, I don’t recall ever dreaming a favorite fragrance. If I actually wear a scent to bed it may worm its way into a dream, but my sleeping self seems to have no memory of My Sin or Narcisse Blanc.

Since reading Avery’s post I’ve been trying to catalog my repertoire of dream smells, and I realize it’s quite limited. There are a few foods—chiefly coconut, chocolate and oranges—that I often eat with gusto in dreams, and those feasts always include the pleasure of scent. Rose and pine are my sleeping ‘mood’ scents. They just appear along with whatever images or action I’m dreaming, like an olfactory soundtrack. I’m usually aware of them during the dream, but sometimes I’ll only recall them being present after I wake up. Often as not, they seem to be my way of comforting myself if something disturbing or sad is going on.

The one nasty smell I inflict on myself in dreams is a distinctive dank, musty odor...sort of a cross between damp basement and rotting book. It has had a featured role in some of my worst nightmares. I went through a phase in my twenties when I had terrifying dreams about being pursued through the rambling rooms and halls of a strange house, and that smell was always present. I'd wake up sweating and shaking, the stink still strong in my mind. As I said, it’s a distinctive smell, not just a generic moldy odor. It wasn’t until I wrote a post a while back about my grandfather that I realized where I came to know it. It’s the smell of the haunted house ride he used to take me on, which I loved. Strange how the mind sifts and recycles.

A Dream of a Girl Before Sunrise, Karl Briullov, 1830-33


Michael Sims said...

Beautifully written, as always, Grace. Isn't dream life amazing? So luscious one moment, so terrifying the next. And that odors and colors can be present in it seems to confirm the old idea that dreams are just a different world, a parallel world, not an imaginary one.

BitterGrace said...

Thanks, Michael. Your appearance makes me think of your animal ontogeny book, which in turn makes me wonder whether animals ever dream in smell--I mean, wouldn't a dog have the most fantastic smell dreams? I wonder how you could study that...