Glazed them and fluted them and swelled them into an

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glazed them and fluted them and swelled them into an invisible though not impalpable country cake, an immense puff-pastry, in which, barely waiting to savor the crustier, more delicate, more respectable, but also drier smells of the cupboard, the chest-of-drawers, and the patterned wall-paper I always returned with an unconfessed gluttony to bury myself in the nondescript, resinous, dull, indigestible, and fruity smell of the flowered quilt. Throughout his adult life, Charles Dickens claimed that a mere whiff of the type of paste used to fasten labels to bottles would bring back with unbearable force all the anguish of his earliest years, when bankruptcy had driven his father to abandon him in a hellish warehouse where they made such bottles. In the tenth century, in Japan, a glitteringly talented court lady, Lady Murasaki Shikibu, wrote the first real novel, The Tale of Genji , a love story woven into a vast historical and social tapestry, the cast of which includes perfumer-alchemists, who concoct scents based on an individual’s aura and destiny. One of the real tests of writers, especially poets, is how well they write about smells. If they can’t describe the scent of sanctity in a church, can you trust them to describe
the suburbs of the heart? THE WINTER PALACE OF MONARCHS We each have our own aromatic memories. One of my most vivid involves an odor that was as much vapor as scent. One Christmas, I traveled along the coast of California with the Los Angeles Museum’s Monarch Project, locating and tagging great numbers of overwintering monarch butterflies. They prefer to winter in eucalyptus groves, which are deeply fragrant. The first time I stepped into one, and every time thereafter, they filled me with sudden tender memories of mentholated rub and childhood colds. First we reached high into the trees, where the butterflies hung in fluttering gold garlands, and caught a group of them with telescoping nets. Then we sat on the ground, which was densely covered with the South African ice plant, a type of succulent, and one of the very few plants that can tolerate the heavy oils that drop from the trees. The oils kept crawling insects away, too, and, except for the occasional Pacific tree frog croaking like someone working the tumblers of a safe, or a foolish blue jay trying to feed on the butterflies (whose wings contain a digitalis-like poison), the sunlit forests were serene, otherworldly, and immense with quiet. Because of the eucalyptus vapor, I not only smelled the scent, I felt it in my nose and throat. The loudest noise was the occasional sound of a door creaking open, the sound of eucalyptus bark peeling off the trees and falling to the ground, where it would soon roll up like papyrus. Everywhere I looked, there seemed to be proclamations left by some ancient scribe. Yet, to my nose, it was Illinois in the 1950s. It was a school day; I was tucked in bed, safe and cosseted, feeling my mother massage my chest with Vicks VapoRub. That scent and memory brought an added serenity to the hours of sitting

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