Here’s a fun question to ask at your next dinner party: Would your guests rather lose their eyes or their olfactory organs? As it turns out, the choice most people make is arguable if not wrong: The blind adjust to their condition, but recent studies indicate that anosmics do not. In fact, many people who lose their sense of smell eventually sink into depression and require hospitalization.
Smells affect us at the most primal level, plugging directly into the memory and emotional centers of our brains. Hence perfume, and Proust’s famous madeleine. Earlier this year, a British art gallery asked scientists, botanists, and fragrance designers to re-create smells that have gone the way of Proust’s remembrances. Now, splendidly, it has published the catalog in scratch-and-sniff form: If There Ever Was: A Book of Extinct and Impossible Smells features the aroma of vanished roses, the sickly stench of bubonic plague, and the metallic odor that follows atomic explosions. It will fill you with memories for people and places you’ve never actually known.
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