Friday, September 17, 2010

Guatemala Is A Place of Smells

I have no idea when or where I heard, read, or eavesdropped on this, but at some point in my life I remember someone saying that every place is associated with one sense more than it is with the others.

I don't know if I'm explaining this well. I mean that we feel things like "That city I lived in is a city of sights" or "That lake I grew up visiting is a place of sounds" or "That vacation getaway was one of exotic tastes."  It's a food or a noise or a scent that suddenly catapults us right back to an important place from our lives, and when we file through memories of all our important places, the memories of one sense tend to beat out all the rest. New York is a place of sights to me. Greece was a place of tastes.

Guatemala, it turns out, is a place of smells.

Smells remind me of this place, even while I'm still living here.

Bus exhaust smells like the capital. Burning wood smells like San Pedro on Lake Atitlan. Basil smells like our house when someone's making homemade pizza. Bread baking smells like the panderia at NPH. Corn tortilla dough smells like the hundreds of comedors that dot this country. Even garbage smells like the walk from NPH to Parramos. Gross, yes, but it is what it is.

The other day I was standing in my office, I opened the window, and I turned to Katie and said, "Hey, it smells like Guatemala outside." Well, obviously, Sherlock.

But it's true. When I think of Guatemala now, and when I'll think back on it years from now, the sights and tastes and noises and textures, while completely unique to this place, aren't the things that stick out most to me.

Simply put, 'cause Guatemala is a place of smells.

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